The joys of camping ignited

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Something magical happens when you let a child spend a couple of nights in a sleeping bag and a tent. Throw in some open space, a mountain waterfall or two and a few unfamiliar but friendly faces, and you have created their idea of Utopia. We discovered this recently when we took Erin and Conor on their first camping trip.
I, for one, was not too enamoured with the thought of spending a couple of nights on a blow-up mattress, and the thought of negotiating the seven-minute walk to the nearest ablution blocks with no aid from Eskom to light the way did not fill me with joy.
The much-anticipated camping weekend got off to a rocky start – quite literally – as we realised that our sedan was not designed for the 190-degree, off-road incline (and subsequent descent) to the campsite. As a result, we announced our arrival with the rather unflattering “thwack” of a punctured tyre. We were mortified, but the children thought it was incredibly “cool” to make a noisy entrance. And of course, it was a great talking point to ignite some new friendships right off the bat.
Once the tyre was changed, our next challenge was to find our friends in the sprawling campsite. It was about 35 degrees by then and Erin and Conor were thirsty and anxious to get settled. The search for our site would have put “Where’s Wally” to shame. Every tent looked exactly the same. Fortunately, one of our camping crew has a penchant for decorative board shorts, and we eventually spotted him (or at least his shorts) in the distance. Relief flooded through us and we happily set up camp.
Besides the delight of having to balance on an undulating inflatable mattress, I also had two nights of sleeping in the same T-shirt to look forward to as I had forgotten to pack any pyjamas. Meanwhile, at Camp Conor next door, my son was merrily unpacking all 478 of his Hot Wheels cars and Erin and her friends were playing dress-up in the 14 onesies she had packed “just in case”.
After the excitement of the long drive and the thrill of eating mielies roasted on an open fire (why is it that at home, mielies are “yucky” but, dish them up on a paper plate and suddenly they’re “the best thing ever, Mom”?), the children were ready for their first night in a tent. We heard their animated whispers for a good few moments before they fell into a deep sleep that only fresh air can induce.
Over the next few days, we braaied and swam, the children performed an impromptu concert around the campfire and we made new friends. I learned to balance on the floppy mattress and we got accustomed to hardly seeing our children unless they needed snacks. I found myself coming around to the whole camping vibe. I mean, who needs pyjamas and a warm shower anyway?
And now, weeks after that trip, we find that we can deal with any complaints of boredom by hauling out the sleeping bags and giving Erin and Conor free rein with the lounge pillows to fashion their own campsite. And the best part of keeping the spirit of camp alive, even at home, is that I can keep the children happy without having to forego life’s little luxuries. If only I could get them to eat mielies there as well…
Anél Lewis has bought a fold-up camping bed to ensure that she is well prepared for her family’s next foray into the wild. She’s also tucked a spare pair of pyjamas into the bag, just in case.

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