Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Camping, not of the car type

It has been a while since I’ve posted a blog entry and part of the reason is the subject of this post: camping. Before we even started the trip we debated camping equipment, buying some, replacing some, and even whether to bring it at all. I grew up car camping, we took everything. We even took a TV at times! But now, Sarah and I had to carry everything in our bags, through cities, onto buses, into the trunks of cars…

Several weeks into the the trip when we got ready to fly from Bucharest to Tbilisi, we debated sending all our gear back, our bags were WAY too heavy and we hadn’t even taken the tent out of the bag or used our sleeping pads or bags once. We decided to keep them as we thought Armenia and Georgia would be camp-friendly.

So finally, on the 23rd of June, just shy of 7 weeks into our trip, we camped. We were hitchhiking along the shore of Lake Sevan, at an altitude of 2000 meters (6500+ feet). We had a great lunch with an Iranian family on the beach (a lunch that was 2.5 hours long) and they dropped us off to find a good place to sleep. The whole lake shore is a national park so camping shouldn’t be a problem. We walked into a village to get some food and became the center of attention. It was apparent they didn’t get many tourists. We got back to the lake and wandered off the road into the woods. Mosquitoes were out in force but we got our tent up and inside quickly. After some awful fish in a can (only I ate it, obviously). We tried to sleep. I was too nervous. I hadn’t ever wild camped just a few minutes’ walk from a road. I’d read too many news stories (not about Armenia) about tourists being attacked in villages in India or Brazil. Of course sleeping on a sleeping pad didn’t help matters. We survived the night without issue, of course. 

The Iranians picnic like we usually camp, with plenty of gear!

Sarah worried our tent that won't survive the trip.
The next night we were invited to stay with a family in Yerevan but a surprise party for our host (it was his birthday) changed plans so we went back to our original camping strategy. We were to camp at the base of an ancient monastery, possibly the most visited pilgrimage site in Armenia (thanks Wikipedia). Off in the distance was Mount Ararat, snow covered and cloud topped. This is supposedly the site where Noah’s Arc landed, unfortunately for Armenians, it is now in Turkey. We set up camp around dark in a orchard/picnic area, after a quick but friendly meal shared by an Armenian family (some of whom lived in California).  Some of the caretakers had taken a bit too much of an interest in us and this worried us a bit, we thought about leaving and trying to get to Yerevan, but the real caretaker came and settled our nerves completely, at least for a while. He assured us everyone would leave us alone for the night. As a storm started brewing, blowing dust and the tent about, a car pulled up into the lot. I sent Sarah inside while I tied the tent down then peeked out and watched the occupants. They seemed to be only interested in some photos of the site and then pulled off. A tense few minutes, but our nerves and the tent survived the storm and we slept well. 
Khor Virap and Mount Ararat

Our next camping adventure would be vastly different. We were going to a Rainbow Gathering. Specifically, Peace in the Middle East, a regional gathering with people from all over the world (Russia and Armenia had the biggest contingent). I’d been to a couple in Florida in college, but only for a few hours and once to an event that was globbed onto the gathering but had no resemblance to a regular Rainbow. 
Rainbow at the Rainbow

For those of you unfamiliar with Rainbow Gatherings, they are intentional communities that pop up for a month in a location. Built on principles like sharing, singing, and kinship, they are non-commercial, social, fun, and somewhat hippie-fied. I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it much, not sure why, but I think it is the impressions I got from the ones in the states where many bad elements go along with the good intentions. We planned to stay two nights. 

After the hike to the top (luckily our bags went up on a jeep), I didn’t want to hike back out. As we arrived, we were greeted by hugs and “welcome home”. Oh and a “Roll Tide” from Armenian Robert, who’d lived in Birmingham for a year as an exchange student! After a couple of days, we didn’t want to leave. Much of the work is done communally. Anyone can call for a food mission, or wood mission, or just go along with these. At the food circle, anyone can get the whole group to listen while they talk about items that affect the camp. Speaking of food, everyone pitches in what they can (money, love, help) to the magic hat which is used to buy food for the group which is then cooked as a group and eaten as a group. Everyone gathers around the fire, sings and then eats. It is quite wonderful. I think I could write a whole post just on the food circle. There is so much love and caring going around the circle. There is no leader, just various “focalizers” that handle organizing tasks on a voluntary basis.

We showered in a waterfall, swam in the lake, carried water or firewood for the camp, mostly just talked, sang, and relaxed. It was the most relaxed I’d been in a long time. The weather was a bit hot, but bearable since we were several thousand feet up in the mountains. The field was covered in flowers, villagers would wander in and out on their own “wood missions” or to feed their livestock. 
Singing around the campfire, millions of stars!

Sadly, we had to leave, but had heard about another gathering in Greece that was starting soon, so we plan to try and make it there as well. The Armenian one had about 40-80 people when we were there, 150 at its peak. The Greek (European Gathering) could have upwards of 2000, we’d like to experience the difference.
When we camped again, it was in the backyard of a guest house in the Caucuses. We felt comfortable there, but the rain got into the tent and a pole broke. We know the tent is on its last leg. I don’t think it’ll be flying home with me but this is a good final journey for one that I’ve had since the 90s.

In Georgia, my old trusty tent has been to the state and now the country

Our final camping experience so far was similar to the first, we just got dropped off on the side of the road, hit a market and wandered into a field near the village, this time in Turkey. Again we were too nervous to sleep well, so decided we will be sticking to established camp grounds from now on. Unfortunately, the reeds in the field further compromised the tent by perforating the bottom. I hope it survives until we are through with it.

Having the camping gear definitely gives us options we wouldn’t otherwise have. The Rainbow experience made carrying it worthwhile even if we never used it again, but it is still a lot of weight for very few uses. Two sleeping pads (mine self-inflating, Sarah’s just foam), two sleeping bags, and a two person tent weigh a lot and take up a lot of valuable backpack space. I would not suggest it for people who just think they’ll use it as a last resort. Maybe a sleeping bag and a tarp would suffice.Your backs will thank you.

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