Friday, August 5, 2011

Kamper or Kardashian

There’s this unwritten expectation that Peace Corps Volunteers really like to camp/kamp in Shqip. I’ve failed miserably at living up to this expectation. And despite some gentle ridicule from fellow volunteers, I am perfectly comfortable with such failure. Let’s put it this way, if the 10-point camping-comfort scale, with 1 being the Kardashian sisters and 10 being Bear Grylls, I’d likely score somewhere around a 3.2.

It’s a tough score to calculate because I’m not much of girly-girl. From time to time, I happily go without make-up (but never without my Neutrogena SPF moisturizer). And both in the US and Albania, I have practiced the art of No-Shower-Sundays. But my disinterest in eating scorpions, beetles or partially digested berries found in some fresh antelope feces while sleeping on wet rock in a bat-infested cave has me teetering (although painfully) on the Kourtney/Kim/Khloe end of the spectrum.

With further consideration, it is not the camping I dislike, but rather all the required gear and effort that turns me off. (oh, how my commitment issue rears its ugly head again.)

GEAR: Tent, Tent footprint, Tent rain cover, tent stakes, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow, flashlight/headlamp, lantern, swiss army knife and/or leatherman, mess kit, canteen/flask, cooler, matches, flint, kindling, firewood, freeze-dried foods, clif bars (gross), hiking boots, backpack, water bottles, compass, first aid, bug spray, bear spray…..OY! Exhausted yet? I am, and I haven’t even started on clothing or toiletries. Are there any sherpas in the Balkans?

EFFORT: Let’s really take it back. First, you have to commit to the idea of becoming a camper b/c aforementioned gear ain’t cheap. So homegirl/boy needs to start scrimping to save the necessary fundage for the gear investment. Which could require such sacrifices as buying Wet’nWild polish over OPI or going with the “well” instead of Grey Goose. Choices like these have me questioning the integrity of these so-called “campers.” Plus, it’s physically grueling, so you’d better get that lard ass to the nearest gym and work on the ole BMI before hitting the trail!

Once the gear and physical fitness are acquired there are still many TO-DO’s. You have to decide where to go, make a grocery list, do the grocery shopping (which is actually one of my very favorite things to do. I’m serious; I love comparative price-checking.) pack and determine transportation to the trailhead. Sometimes that a few hours in itself….and then you have to start HIKING! So now you have to map out a route to a campsite, expend energy hiking (I can think of a few preferred alternative ways of expending energy… hey oh!), and maybe even bushwhack your way through some unruly flora/fauna.

Upon arrival at the campsite, you have to clear the ground of thorny vegetation, pitch your tent (if you’ve ever been in earshot of H.Lee Dunn pitching a tent, you want to wash your OWN mouth out with soap!), unroll sleeping bags, prepare a fire pit, dig a poop-hole and pre-plan anti-bear attack food storage. Maybe you get a little time to enjoy the nature surrounding your campsite. If you are lucky, a stream, waterfall or view of a snow-capped peak. Sounds nice. (Nicer, if you get flown in via chopper!) But before long, all that energy you spent has your stomach growling and its time to cook. Likely you are too hungry and impatient to cook with any creativity or standards, so meal preparation suffers. You close your day with a few campfire sing-alongs, maybe shots of vodka (the shitty kind since you just had to have those top-of-the-line binoculars), a stumbling walk through newly spun spiderwebs just to pee in private and before you know it... time for bed. Or should I say, time for ground.

Maybe you sleep well, maybe you don’t. Regardless….in the morning ( bright and early since tents don’t have black-out blinds) you get to do it all over again. But this time, in reverse! OK. I’m definitely missing something.

Soo... Here’s the thing, I’m perfectly capable of going without many of life’s creature comforts. And I do envy those who revel in nature and the camping experience. With what I’ve seen of Albania, both with my own eyes and through photos, the idea does become a little more enticing. This is a beautiful country with undiscovered territories and countless picturesque scenes from shorelines to mountaintops. But you know I’m still crossing my fingers for an easy alternative!

Those times when I do reluctantly choose to go camping… upon return, all I can think about is getting to the Spa. Which brings me to my dearest Nicole Rosalina, to whom I dedicate this post. On occasion, she and I have enjoyed OPI pedicures while consuming copious Grey Goose Cosmos or some other trendy and pretentious cocktail and leafing through US Weekly Magazines. It was from Darling Nicki that I adopted my preferred style of "roughing it": sleeping on the mattress pad because your sheets were still in the dryer and you were too tired to wait 10 more minutes or just too lazye to actually MAKE your bed. Kampers... we are NOT!

Peace, Love and Hotel Rooms

PS: If you are wondering how a non-camper such as myself compiled the information and opinions herein, I give an experiential shout out to the WashPa Camping Group, with whom I spent several summers in Deep Creek or Swallow Falls (sounds so much dirtier as an adult!) I will also credit with some helpful nuggets. However I am compelled to draw attention to the following bulleted selling point for an REI tent:

-Mood-elevating colors create a pleasant interior even when the weather outside is less than perfect.

Really REI? Really!?! Although this IS a trick an honorary Kardashian like me would totally fall for… I doubt any self-respecting camper gives a shit. Come on. One more thing… I have sent two nights in this very tent in Gjirokaster, Albania. The tent was set up in the foyer of a fellow volunteer’s home. Again, modified “roughin it.” And although I had a great visit…I do not attribute my enhanced mood to the colors.