As a naïve young mother, I hoped my sons would grow up to be Eagle Scouts. And to put them in the right spirit, we introduced camping early on.
Important lesson #1: Always practice pitching your tent before leaving home.
On our maiden voyage into camping life, we set off for Northern Italy with our rented equipment fixed to the roof of our Pontiac. Arriving just north of Milan near dinner time, we were eager to pitch the tent and then eat. But much to our shock, the tent box had no instructions and it was not user-friendly, so we relied on a team of helpful Italians to set us up as we looked on, stupefied and stupid.
We were so embarrassed that the next morning we staged a pre-dawn get-away. We arrived at Lido di Jesolo near Venice early in the afternoon, giving us plenty of time to try again, but soon enough we realized that our hasty departure left some important poles behind. So we tied a rope from the top loop to a tree branch. (An Eagle Scout problem-solves.) While we ate dinner at St. Mark’s Square, we watched a fantastic lightning storm in the sky. We returned to camp around midnight only to find that the same storm had blown our tent away. In the end, our kids did not become Eagle Scouts. But I did keep camping.
Important Lesson #2: Never set up a tent under a coconut tree.
As an American History teacher in Ghana, I took my students to the slave castles to study the beginnings of the slave trade. We found a beautiful beach in Cape Coast, where we could camp, swim, and eat fresh lobster after spending the day in dank, depressing slave dungeons. We also learned physics: a coconut falling from a great height can collapse a tent.
Important Lesson #3: Hire an outfitter
In India my students and I camped along the banks of the Ganges River (near the source, where the water is crystal clear). Himalayan River Runners operates a wonderful campground near Rishikesh (where the Beatles found their guru). We rafted each day on everything from smooth waters to class five rapids. They cooked a wonderful dinner and then built a bonfire, where we told stories and then star-gazed.
Important Lesson #4: Never judge a tent by its name.
You have probably heard of yurts, round tents with wooden floors, but my friends and I found something even better—Raj Villas in Jaipur, India. We arrived on a slow day, and they changed us to a tent. I was insulted until I saw my (usually) $700 accommodation. In air conditioning, we lay back on the king-sized bed and gold-gazed at the stunning gold embroidered ceiling ten feet above us. We luxuriated in the claw-foot bathtub and overall learned what it was like to be a rajah or a rani back in the day. My kind of camping!