First time campers! Probably the image that comes to your mind with this sentence is that of excited toddlers frolicking in the wilderness. And not that of grownups, with kids of their own, turning up at a camp site anxious, excited but wary. But that was us two weeks ago: camping for the first time in Canada!
All firsts are significant: first smile, first word, first step, first day at school, first flight, first love etc. But not all firsts happen in your childhood or teenage years. For some of us, some very important firsts happen way down the road. We immigrated to Canada some seven years ago and like all immigrants we have being adjusting to the way of life here while carrying on with our own. For years I had seen my Canadian friends and neighbors leave for camping in the summers. I could never understand their excitement about a vacation that needed so much work: pre, during and post! For me a vacation was relaxation without any effort. It was sleeping at a hotel with a comfortable bed and waking up to a breakfast that someone else had prepared. I had only been camping once while at university in Pakistan with some friends and honestly I had no recollection of who set up the tent. We just showed up for food and spent the rest of the time exploring the beautiful desert area near Bhawalpur. The amazing manpower and help in Pakistan had silently taken care of everything (think modern day Downton Abbey, but this is a story for another blog post).
Camping for the first time in Banff
However, now that our daughter is four, we realize the importance of introducing Canadian traditions in her life along with our own Pakistani ones. So this summer we decided to go camping for the first time in Canada. There is a lot of information available online once you decide to take your first camping trip. Parks Canada website and Family Adventures in the Rockies blog are great resources for families. There were so many things to think of: tents, sleeping bags, keeping warm at night, food, safety and logistics.
There was a forecast of heavy rain for our planned weekend. Our group was comprised of some pretty positive individuals, so we decided to proceed, hoping things would change. The days leading up to camping we shared lists and duties. The night before we filled up the cars with equipment and supplies while sharing news, updates and jokes on our common whatsapp and facebook group. There was a heavy downpour on the morning we woke up to leave for camping. Even the most enthusiastic optimists amongst us now seemed wary. But we all decided to still proceed and down scale our plans to a picnic if the weather didn’t co-operate.
Checking the hourly forecast on our phones as we drove towards Banff, my husband and I thought about the days when the only forecast for the next 24 hours was shared at the 9pm news (“mehakmaye-mosamiyat-ke-report-ke-mutabiq”). That was all you had to plan your 24-hours. All this ready information helped us prepare better but also gave us a false feeling of control whereas nature as always, decides on its own.
We were camping at the beautiful Tunnel Mountain Village II Campground near Banff in Alberta. The weather gods smiled at us and we were blessed with no rain through out our stay. We were thankful and excited due to the low expectations we had started off with. A cloudy sky meant no starry blanket at night or watching out for the northern lights, for which there was high alert for that night. We were all however too happy and busy taking in the beautiful mountain views and low clouds dancing around them. Like all immigrants, we compared the landscape and weather to places in Pakistan like Nathiagali and Ayubia that we missed. We were now making memories with our children but nostalgia is never far from an immigrant’s mind.
The campsite was beautiful and well-managed. Having running hot water in a warm toilet on a chilly night, is quite priceless. Having a town site nearby was super convenient because despite the long lists we did forget many things. We unpacked, set up our tents, had snacks, started the camp fire, prepared food, enjoyed it around the fire, sang, chatted and cleaned up before sleeping. The morning was a rush, with preparing breakfast and then packing up to leave. Before we knew it, the trip was over already.
Was it fun? Yes! Was it tiring? Oh Yes! When we got back home, I needed a mid-day nap. After I got up I made myself a cup of coffee and thought about the experience. There were many things we had learnt, many mistakes we decided were best not to repeat (Note: remember to take your baby’s pram, your back will thank you), and many ways we reflected could enhance our experience.
We live in a beautiful country and right by the magnificent Canadian Rockies. Some of the things I loved about camping were the whispering trees that reminded me of Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Forest, sounds of nature, huddling around the camp fire, realizing the value of time without the distraction of electronics and waking up in a beautiful natural setting. As for the challenges of camping and all the work that comes with it, I feel that camping truly brings a group together. Everyone has to pitch in. Everyone does their bit to make sure there is food, warmth and safety. It is from the collective experience of survival and team work that you develop a lovely bond (and inside jokes). I also realized the value of some of the comforts we take so much for granted in our everyday life like a soft warm bed and a hot cup of coffee in the morning!
Will we camp again? Yes! Am I looking forward to it? Yes, but with lots of reservations. I know this time what I’m getting into after camping for the first time. So I will prepare and plan and then hope for the best. Since I moved to Canada I have loved the hard work ethics and patience in Canadians. As I settle down in my identity as a Pakistani-Canadian I’m looking forward to pick more of these traits and I think camping is a great start. However true to our Pakistani roots, food is always the focal point for any getaway. So we will keep enjoying our own lovely mix of a Pakistani-Canadian camping experience: where someone is forever asking “khanay mein kya hai” (what’s for food), there is lots of (off-tune but enthusiastic) singing around the fire and a cup of tea is always brewing.
Hope you enjoyed reading this story of us camping for the first time in Canada. When and where did you camp for the first time?