Back to the Basics: One Camper's Fall from Grace

The first time I set up camp in Mexico sans parents, I had just turned 20. Kamari and Sam and I flew into Puerto Vallarta and arrived at playa Tenacatita with tents, a hammock, a one burner stove, a precious cooler, and little else. Our camp furniture consisted of crates salvaged from a local tienda. For two months, we ate crouched in the sand like heathens. We had to keep the beer and the food in (gasp!) the same cooler. Apparently we didn’t learn from the experience. The following year was actually worse: a camp of nine 21-year-olds all relied on one Colman featherweight stove, which barely worked because we were running it on gasoline. The third year, I wised up, got civilized, and drove down in a truck with my boyfriend. We had a real civilized camp with stuff like tables. We also began amassing camping gear, which we stored in the nearby town of El Rebalsito.

Beach camp on Mexican beach.

Camp, circa 2010


Camp Art, circa 2010

Camp Art, circa 2010

Over the years the cache of camping gear grew to mammoth proportions. Every winter I brought down new stuff: refinements like a third cooler just for ice storage. I’d find perfect items at the Melaque mercado: a baby bathtub for dish washing, a post hole digger for building an outhouse. Friends would fly down and, upon returning to the US, decide they didn’t want to haul certain gear: a decrepit tent, or a cowboy hat purchased at the Rebalsito fiesta, or a rake bought to tidy the palapa floor, or the sweaty, rum soaked remnants of a costume from the Coco Open, our annual coconut golf tournament (lingerie or official golf attire required). All of this flotsam and jetsam ended up in storage, and our camp became more elaborate each year. We had a costume bag. We even had artwork.

Then the shit hit the fan, the developers moved in, and we could no longer camp at our favorite beach. Our camping gear languished in storage for three years. Last year, our friend Dobie very understandably asked us if we could finally empty out our storage unit. Peering into the gloom, we found a lot of stuff we’d forgotten we owned…and a python. Sidestepping the sleeping snake, we threw some junk away, threw some stuff on the roof rack of our van, and donated the remaining random items to local friends (including the tote of lingerie).

This year, I can’t afford another van odyssey, but I can’t survive the winter without a trip to Mexico. So I’m back to square one. Rewinding 15 years to my ignominious youth. I’ll be flying down with a suitcase, or maybe a cooler as luggage. For the first time in ten years I’m faced with the prospect of camping without a proper kitchen. I’m faced with the prospect of scrounging in the sand like a philistine.  Over the next two-and-a-half months till departure, I’ll refine my packing list again and again. Maybe I can find a tiny cooler to fit into my big cooler “suitcase”?

5 Responses to “Back to the Basics: One Camper's Fall from Grace”

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  1. Lorena says:

    Thanks Churpa, for the colorful reminder of the realities of the basic beach camping.

    At Dobie’s urging, I also emptied our mini camp trailer that had been mouldering under her palm and mango trees for years. Contents included 3 coolers, comfy camping chairs with backs, not just stools, hammocks, and…. The coolers and the fish grills ended up at Mosca’s and Cuca’s new restaurant. Mosca tried out the hammock while Dobie and I ate Cuca’s renowned chile rellenos.

    The trailer moved out into the campo and become a goat herder camp.

    Your story reminded me of a dinner Carl and I had at your palapa, overflowing with student. It was, of course, dark before dinner was ready. Not only were we crouching in the sand to eat, but we couldn’t actually seeing what we were eating, as the one candle seemed to have disappeared. But I recall it being very tasty ;-)

    This winter, maybe we should coordinate our packing…. I’ll stick a frying pan in my suitcase and you can bring a pot?

    With a bit of luck, we’ll soon be beach bum neanderthals, one again.

  2. sparks says:

    Sure hope you guys an find a beach to camp. Last I heard of 53 beaches on the Costalegre, 3 are open to the public. Tenacatita is now open during the day but I doubt any over nighting.

  3. Churpa says:

    Haha. That sounds about right. We gave a bunch of stuff from our storage unit to Mosca and Cuca as well, including this duffle bag that had a cowboy hat and a snorkle and some other vaguely useful stuff in it. It wasn’t till after we dropped it off that I remembered that the bottom of the bag was filled with old lingerie! I bet Mosca had a good laugh over that. Somewhere I have a picture of him and Bette at the Coco Open.

  4. -El Codo- says:

    I wouldn’t travel again without an insulated cooler BAG. They are surprisingly roomy and keep stuff reasonably cool. If you hog out a hole in the sand, and stuff the bag in it ice will last even longer. Same with an ice chest. Flop something over the top to shade it. Gotta be a little careful about not kicking sand in the cooler but that’s no biggee after everyone has gotten “the word”. A collapsible 5 gallon water jug (with handle and nozzle) is also great to have. Those beaches used to have (“dollar”) room temperature showers in a nearby village. Don’t know about now.

    One of my favorite piece-of-cake dishes, is to slice veggies, then stir fry them. Sprinkle a little queso cotija on top and wowee. A good french press is also handy. But that’s about it. A big bottle of Japanese seasoning for rice (sesame seeds, seaweed) also makes a welcome change.

    And don’t forget the PENNYROYAL OIL for the jejenes, zancudos, pulgas y tabanos.

    Had a friendly python at the hotel. Of course his name was…Monty.

    Check out Amazon for solar recharge lights, that can also charge a USB device.

  5. -El Codo- says:

    I guess now the website is finished enough to congratulate you all. Fancy gizmos that follow the reader down the page and all. Been a long trail from the old newsprint Travel Letter days.