Unplugged

Last weekend we shed life’s conveniences and spent some time in the wild. We went camping.

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For three nights we slept in a tent. But before you think it was really miserable and uncomfortable, it was not. We have camping cots, so we did not have to sleep on the ground. We also have comfortable sleeping bags, blankets and pillows.

We did not go hungry as well, for we did not have to forage for something to eat in the forest or hunt for some wild game. We have canned goods and packed foods in our coolers. We even have propane powered stove and oven to cook our food. Though we build an open fire to keep us warm and for real “camping-feel.” In addition, we have to roast our marshmallows for the s’mores in the camp fire, of course.

Furthermore, we did not have to dig a latrine, for there was a modern bathroom facility with several toilet and shower stalls. And with heated running water!

You may argue that what we did was not really camping, but “glamping” – glamorous camping.

However, there’s one life’s convenience or some may even consider this a necessity nowadays, that was not available in the campsite. What is it?

There was no cellular phone signal there. It was a dead zone.

For three days, I have no use of my smart phone, except to take photos. No phone calls, no text messages, no e-mails, no Facebook, no news feed, no Google, no ability to check NBA scores, and no access to my blog. Nothing, nada, zilch.

In this current age, we are so wired up that we have connection with people around us and even people in the opposite side of the world. Phone call, texting, Facetime or Skype has been part of our everyday life now. I am finding out that nowadays courting has been reduced to video chat and sending text messages. What happened to the formal home visit, bringing flowers and asking the girl’s parents if they can meet?

I am not saying that this is bad, as it has made our world smaller. This technology has been a lifeline for families that have loved ones working overseas. Skype, Facetime, or any form of video chat is definitely a boon for them.

With the internet available almost anywhere whether thru Wi-Fi or cellular signal, we have access to any information we need. I remember the days we have to go to the library and search for the facts and data we want. Today, we have that instantly at our fingertips that I am not sure our present society will survive without this technology.

But I survive without a phone signal and internet for 3 long days. Proving we can live without it. The only connection I had there was with people around me in the “here and now.” You may say that we were isolated from the outside world, but there was plenty of interaction and connection in those days we were on the camp.

Where we went was a camporee. My wife and I volunteered to join my son’s club as supervising adults. There were 25 other youth clubs, and more than 300 people in that camp. So there’s a great deal of communicating and socializing. Though not by Facebooking or texting.

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some young people leading the worship service

Yet we did have some “long distance” interaction while we were in the camp. We witnessed the mighty sun as it sets by the lakeside and it was gorgeous. We marveled at the distant bright stars above us at night. Moreover, we had quiet communing with the Creator who surrounded us with these beautiful nature, who by the way, is really nearer than we think.

I believe we should be spending more time unplugged.

(*photos taken with an iPhone) 

 

Autumn Camping

Summer is gone and autumn is upon us. Though last weekend our family and our friends still went out for a camping trip. Maybe this will be the last hurrah for this season before our temperature dips down to bitterly cold range.

We drove down to Lacey-Keosauqua State Park which is about 2 hours from Des Moines. This state park is one of the biggest and most picturesque in Iowa. “Keosauqua” is a Native American term meaning “the stream bearing a floating mass of snow, slush or ice.” Though no snow yet when we were there.

Autumn camping has a different appeal due to the awesome color of the surrounding nature.

fall foliage with its peak color

You may argue that it was not a true camping since we did not sleep in tents. Instead we stayed in small rustic cabins. The cabins were complete with a toilet, shower, heater/air conditioner, refrigerator, stove, microwave and sofa beds. What else can you ask for? A jacuzzi maybe?

our comfy cabin

camping is not complete without a campfire

When I went out for my morning jog, I can hear a lot of movement and rustling in the woods. I know I was not alone. But before you think that there were fairies and supernatural creatures in this forest, it was not that. What I mean were forest animals. In this case, there were deers.

can you spot the three deer?

more deer crossing

There was a lot of hiking trails in this park. And I believe the best way to enjoy nature is by hiking through the woods. And that’s what we did.

hiking trail

We encountered these ghostly creatures in this enchanted forest. OK they were just our kids in a “jumping” photo.

stony path

Our hike led us to the lake. The water was so serene. With the fall-colored foliage reflecting on the water, it was really beautiful. There was even a beach. Alright, alright, it’s probably not a beach that you picture in your mind just like in Hawaii. But still, it is a beach with a sandy shore.

lake

downward pathway leading to the lake

stairway

fall colors reflection in the water

my son and his friend in the beach

The following day, we headed down to a nearby bigger lake. This time we did not just stay on the banks of the lake, we went into the waters. No, not swimming. We went canoeing.

my son and I in one canoe

we even did some fishing

flock of geese flying over the lake

our friends in the other canoe

our friends in the other canoe

my daughter and her friends in another canoe

After almost two hours paddling and fishing, how much fish do you think we caught? A big fat zero! And we thought we can have a freshly caught grilled fish for lunch. O well, we settled for egg-salad sandwich instead.

our canoes side by side

It was a great camping trip and it sure was fun. We may have not caught any fish, but we still do have a lot of stories to tell. (And pictures to show too.) Until the next adventure.

(*all photos taken with iPhone)

Call of the Wild

I grew up in a city.  I spent the first 27 years of my life thriving in the crowded city of Manila. I also lived for more than three years in New York City, the ultimate urban jungle. Not to mention also my short stint in Los Angeles. In spite of the fact that I am a city kid, I do love the wild. No, I don’t mean the crazy things people find in the city. What I mean is the wilderness.

Camping and mountaineering may not be a big cultural thing among Filipinos, but it has become a tradition in our family. In the school where I went to, camping is a yearly event. And I went to each one of them starting from 4th grade in elementary up until I finished high school. We had church camping as well. Going mountain climbing was also part of these trips. I have climbed to the peak Mt. Makiling, Mt. Makulot and Mt. Banahaw in the Philippines, and they were enchanting. A far cry from Smokey Mountain of Manila.

It is not surprising that I continued this camping and mountain hiking tradition with my own family here in the US. We went camping, almost every year, when we were living in New Jersey, New York, Florida, and now here in Iowa. It does not matter what season, for we camped in the spring, summer, fall and even early winter. Last weekend, my family, together with three other families (total of 11 kids) went for our spring camping.

Camping may not be appealing to many people. Who in their right mind would leave the comfort of their home, and their warm bed, and go and sleep in a tent with bugs and all, and freeze in the cold night? And call it fun? We do.

The weather was perfect during our camping, for it did not rain, though it dip down in the 40’s Fahrenheit in the early morning when we were out in the wild. But we were prepared and well-equipt.

We have a big and spacious tent, and I would not say that it is not without comfort.

our big tent, which can sleep 6 people comfortably

it can be cozy inside, especially when the campfire is near

We have air mattresses, so we don’t have to feel the rocks and uneveness of the dirt when we lay down. Our kids have warm sleeping bags that can be toasty inside even when the temperature is down in the 40’s.

plenty of room for our family of four

We even have a lantern inside the tent.

How about food and preparation of food? I would say that we are far from cooking like the cavemen did. Of course we can cook our food the old fashion way in the open fire.

roasting hotdogs

grilling in the open fire

Cooking in the open fire is fun, but it can take long and laborious. So for good measure we also brought a portable propane gas stove. The modern conveniences of camping!

our trusted propane stove

heating up water for the hot chocolate in the cold morning

We also brought lots of prepared food that we don’t have to cook, like adobo, brownies, cookies, and even cake. I know, I know, not your typical camping meal. So we have bountiful food that we are far from going hungry.

plenty of food on our table

What is camping without taking a hike through the forest and mountain? This year we went to the Backbone State Park near Lamont Iowa. It is Iowa’s oldest state park, dedicated in 1919. The park is more than 2000 acres and has 21 miles trail for hiking. It also has cliffs that climbers and rappellers can find challenging.

me and the trail sign

walking through the woods (“diwata ng gubat”- that’s actually my wife)

hiking under the shadow of a huge rock

open spaces overlooking a cliff

tight spaces between rocks

my best impression of Spiderman

conquering the rock

jumping from rock to rock

The trail even has a cave. It was not a big cavernous cave though. It was small and tight that you have to bend and crawl in the dark most of the way. Too claustrophobic and muddy for me. And it has bats. Yes, a bat cave! But no bat mobile in there.

climbing the trail leading to the cave

bending low to enter the cave

After crawling in the cave and getting dirty, we headed down the nearby creek to clean up. The water is clear and cold.

refreshing stream

We did not encounter much wild animals, just swarm of insects and birds flying around that filled the trail with their bird calls. No cougar, no elk, no bear (yes, there have been reports of black bear in Iowa), and no beaver that we spotted. (Though there are a lot of cows grazing in the prairie just outside the State Park.) But we did see sign of beaver marks around.

This tree was definitely chomped by a beaver.

After all the walking, climbing, jumping, and crouching, we needed some break time.

This type of break? (Don’t worry its all for effects. No fauna nor flora were endangered)

No. This type of break.

I know these camping trips and hiking can be exhausting, but they are also rejuvenating. Until the next call of the wild.

heeding the call of the wild

Fire and Rain

The past several weeks has been a roller coaster ride of emotions for me and my family. First was shock. Followed by joy. Next came more shock. Then grief. (see previous post)

In the few days that followed after our painful loss, a friend of mine asked me if we should cancel the camping for the boys that has been planned for a while, before all the unexpected turn of events had happened. He told me that maybe our family needs to spend time alone in our mourning.

So I asked my wife about this, but she was quick and firm to say that the plans for the boy’s outing should push through. She added that she will be fine while I am away. Besides, my son, who was really looking forward to this trip will be very disappointed if the camping will be postponed.

Yes we grieve for our loss, but we should also continue to celebrate life. For life should go on. No, life MUST go on. I tell you that life can be like butterfly wings: beautiful, yet can be delicate and fragile. But there’s nothing more resilient and tenacious than the human spirit.

Thus me and my son, together with our friends – another father and son team, headed to a lake-side camp and spent two days in the wild. Well it was not really the wild, for we slept in a cabin, that has heat, air-conditioning and even a refrigerator. There were two bunk beds, spacious enough for the four of us. By the way, this trip was only for the boys, but in a few weeks, our whole family, together with other families, will go for a “real” camping, that is sleeping in tents.

One of the main activity in the camp was building a fire. We enjoyed gathering firewood and sticks and starting our own fire like skilled boy scouts. OK, OK, we cheated. We brought lighter and wood fire starter, so it was no sweat at all. We spent hours and hours sitting around the campfire and staring at the fire. We burned woods, sticks, barks, leaves, paper, plastic, paper plates – basically anything we can find to burn. A little open fire brings out the pyromaniac in anybody.

Of course we cooked our meal too in the fire: hotdogs and marshmallows! What is camping without hotdogs and s’mores? We could have sung “Kumbaya” as well, but we’re too busy munching on our “perfectly” cooked food. Well for assurance, just in case we cannot start a fire, my wife did not let us leave without bringing chicken adobo and cooked rice. So we are not really left alone in the wild to fend for ourselves and survive without provisions.

During the early evening, angry rain clouds with gutsy winds came over. Rain fell over our campgrounds . But the rain did not extinguish our fire nor did it dampen our spirits. The rainfall did not spoil our fun, it just made the night more interesting. My son and his friend grab the umbrellas (yes, we even had umbrellas!) and frolic and dance around the fire. It was a mix of Native American fire dance and Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain. Minutes later, the clouds rolled away, and the twinkling stars appeared up in the sky.

This experience just reminded me that in life, even when the winds blow and rain pours, if we just hold on for a little longer and keep our flame burning, we will make it through, and we will see the stars again.

We also spent at least a couple of hours biking (we did hauled our bikes along) around the lake which has a nice bike trail, a loop of about 6-7 miles. Along the trail there was a covered bridge, an old round barn, farmlands, parks, beautiful lake-side houses, and of course the lake. It was certainly a scenic bike ride. Halfway through the trail, there was even a cozy diner that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. So we were far from starving at all!

We did not do any water activity like fishing, kayaking or swimming as it was still too cold for the season. There are many pictures hanging on the wall of the cozy diner exhibiting photos of people showing off their prized catch from the lake, indicating that this place is a prime location for fishing. Maybe we will do that when we return some other time, so we will have big fish stories to brag about. Or should I say “fishy” stories.

As we were going home, I asked my son if he enjoyed our trip. He gave me a wide grin. I don’t need to ask more.

Life indeed continues.

Caveman’s Discovery

We are back from our camping, and it was a weekend of interesting discoveries of contradictions.

Camping is a time to get back to a much simpler living. So we subsist to a simple caveman diet – of fire roasted hotdogs and marshmallows (I wonder if they were made from dinosaur’s meat and dinosaur’s egg). Of course we top it off with a simple healthy dessert…….s’mores! Did the caveman really discovered s’mores?

We spent a lot of time around the campfire, and now I believe that watching a fire burn can be a pastime. After all the years of indoctrination of fire prevention, you think fire starts easily and spreads rapidly……….until you really start to build one. How do they even do it when there were still no matches and lighters? I was so close of pouring gasoline in the firewoods just to start the fire.

We also did a lot of walking – through the woods, up the hill, down the hill, and by the river. At least we were not running chasing our food, or running being chased as food (as real caveman d0).When did hiking 5 miles considered a form of rest and relaxation? But I have to admit, even though it was exhausting, it was also rejuvenating.

And lastly, spending time in the wild and in my search of my wild side, I discovered something divine. Nature………life………..and it’s Creator.