I’m not a big fan of camping. Throughout my formative years, my parents dragged me and my three siblings around New England for countless camping trips. Still, memories of damp sleeping bags, eating ash-covered hot dogs and using a less-than-fragrant outhouse were not enough to completely quell the camping bug, and I continued with this quaint custom into my 20s. Upon waking in a rain filled tent one morning outside of Montreal, I told myself that I was done.
My career has taken me to many countries, and the opportunities to camp persisted in rearing their matted, unwashed heads. I resisted their entreaties each and every time: in Egypt, where I was invited to camp in the famed White Desert or at Ras Mohamed, which is a beautiful seaside preserve in the southern Sinai Peninsula (this meant hot, camping in sand – no chance of showering); in Ghana, where we could have camped along a river or in the mountains (hot and humid, mosquitoes and malaria, and no river swimming because of the very real risk of bilharzia, commonly called snail fever); and in Tanzania my husband and I could have camped on a number of safaris, but are you kidding? Tents are merely sandwich bags for lions. Pass.
This fall we received a call from a friend we had met and taught with in Ghana. A mutual friend had gotten his captain’s license for sailing catamarans. He was planning to rent a 42-foot catamaran for the week of Christmas to sail around the islands of Thailand. Were we interested in joining them? Um, yes, please!
On the day we arrived at the marina from where we were to set sail, I remember taking a deep breath of the fresh, salty air. It was warm, slightly damp and had that indefinable scent that true sea-lovers recognize and crave when they are away from it too long. The sound of the waves gently slapping against the pier was in the background as we packed up the boat and smiles, maybe even grins, were on all of our faces.
Within 30 minutes of motoring out of the marina of Koh Chang, we were all in bathing suits and slathering ourselves with SPF 50. The ocean colors changed from a tropical blue to a light, crystal clear aqua-green. We anchored off our first island, noting that though the water was several meters deep, we could easily see the floor under us. Let the snorkeling begin!
After sundowners, we had dinner on the boat that night, taking turns with the cooking and cleanup. Later, we all relaxed on the front deck – a flexible, trampoline-like area where the “boys” slept each night. We watched the green lights of the local fishing boats trying to net cuttlefish while adjusting to the rhythm of the boat and trying to identify constellations.
Each day of our trip brought new sights that made us search for adjectives to describe the natural beauty. Small, uninhabited islands surrounded by coral reefs competed with isolated, white, sandy beaches for “best” and “most beautiful.” Sunsets and sunrises, each different from the last, all equally stunning.
On Christmas Eve, we took the dinghy to a small fishing village on the island of Koh Kood. Sunken nets contained live fish for us to choose our dinner from, and we tried to communicate with the Thai fisherman that we preferred our fish gutted, not whole. Try pantomiming that!
Another day we took our dingy into a stunning estuary on the island of Koh Kut. Roots of mangrove trees competed for space and sunlight with a variety of palm trees as we boated along a small river community that supported a small shop or two, a restaurant, hostel, and even a Buddhist monastery.
On another day, we hiked to a freshwater waterfall that sported not one, but two Tarzan ropes. Sadly, I learned that my arm muscles were not what they were in my teens at my grandparents’ Maine camp.
As we neared the end of our trip, we sailed to a tiny island with some of the clearest waters we’d seen yet. A small sandbar rose slightly above the water. The water was clear enough to spot a starfish on the bottom.
On our last evening, we dined on leftovers, trying to empty the fridge and storage boxes as much as possible. We all sat on the deck one last time, watching the sunset and marveling at how quickly it changed. We took turns reflecting on what our favorite parts of the trip had been, reminding each other of events and sights seen and felt throughout the week.
As I sat there listening and laughing, I realized that I had essentially been camping for a week, albeit on a boat, surrounded by the sea. And that I would do it again.