I grew up in the city – a big, highly populated and absurdly industrialized city. All the trees I encountered on a daily basis were surrounded by a fence and tented by fancy gardeners. My parents filled out home with plastic plants after enough failed attempts at keeping real flowers alive. Our vacations were in touristic places, attraction parks, other big cities full of museums and theaters. It was fair to say green was one of the least present colors in our lives.
I had an aunt that lived in the city which name I couldn’t remember, but I knew that it was so far up north that it was basically part of the Arctic. She was somewhat eccentric and always an interesting attraction when she showed up at family reunions in Christmas or birthdays. I had heard that where she lived, it was winter for the most part of the years. If there was any kind of nature there, it spent most of the year dead. She had to see gray and gray and gray way too often.
Last but not least, there were my uncle and his wife and three little kids. They lived on the beach. It was beautiful; it was always sunny and never boring. They had the ocean basically as part of their backyard. The kids were always tan and full of life and, of course, that entire family was much more adventurous than the rest of the family.
Anyway, it was a tradition that the entire family got together a few times a year. There were celebrations like Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, things like that. But I’m talking about serious traditions. Going on a trip together every year, something new, something exciting, some adventure. We had visited each other’s homes several times and tried every single touristic spot of our hometowns. We had visited Japan, Egypt and even a bearable corner of Antarctica. How did we afford it? I’m not sure. I never questioned the ways of my eccentric aunt.
The deal was that every year we left things to luck. We threw a dice, we picked a piece of paper out of a hat, we threw darts, we did as many techniques as possible. It was fair. However, this year, luck wasn’t exactly on our side. Because scrawled on a piece of paper, in messy childish handwriting, was written our fate. One of my little cousins had suggested that we went camping in the mountains. No one could fight it.
So we had a small family of the suburbs, we had a mysterious woman of arctic tendencies, and a joyful family tanned with the beauty of the beach. But, had any of us ever camped? Has every gone deep into a forest? Up a mountain? At least a little hill? None of that. Never, not even a single time our adventures had led us into the woods. It was surprising and strange, and it took a slight hit on our pride. So really no one attempted to fight the decision, and some weeks later we were leaving our cars behind and entering a trail that would lead us deep into a mountain’s forest, ready to spend the night there.
It was terrifying and confusing as it was exciting and hilarious – from beginning to end. My mother tripped down to the floor as soon as she got out of the car. My aunt, used to the almost-Arctic cold was wrapped up like a newborn baby – as we walked and got hotter and hotter she started shedding layers and layers of clothes. It was like she was leaving a trail of gloves and scarves and jackets and sweaters behind. She was blushing and we had to stop to get her hydrated in case she was actually overheated.
On the other hand, my uncle, overconfident in his survival instincts and considering himself a wildlife man just because she lived next door to the beach, was awfully under-protected. Who in their right minds attempts to go hiking and camping wearing flip-flops? His feet looked like what I imagine Bigfoot was from head to toe, and it had just been an hour. His kids were losing their minds, cute little guys. But their mother was having a hard time answering their questions when she didn’t know what those flowers and trees and insects were called either.
By the time we reached a pretty nice clearing in the forest, perfect for camping I had laughed so much my stomach had ached. One thing we did enjoy shamelessly was our food. Clueless about what we should bring to a night of camping, we over packed. It had been heavy but so worth it when after collapsing from tiredness we got to enjoy nice drinks, still warm food and a great array of snacks, that part was absolutely perfect.
Of course, sooner rather than later the night arrived. Needless to say, none of the thought about doing the appropriate research on how to build our tents. I wouldn’t be able to explain the chaos we created in that forest. Wild animals started to show up curious, what were those humans doing? We had no idea. Pieces of cloth were flying around, sticks started breaking and disappearing in acts of embarrassment, nothing was making sense. I’m pretty sure my dad cried at some point. The little kids laughed until they fell asleep. My aunt cuddled beside them and fell asleep as well. My mother and my uncle’s wife wrapped them all up in what was supposed to be the ceiling of our tent and ended up as a blanket. They looked so comfy I couldn’t refuse.
I’m not sure how we made it out alive, all I know is that when the sun came up my father and uncle were still pouting like little kids, swearing never to put a foot in the forest again. Of course, being the proud family we were, we were destined to try again next year. Our first night of camping had been the hilarious failure ever. We wanted revenge.