Subsequent to this early experience with my brother John, although on occasion I slept rough when I was playing tennis in Europe, (see page 64 of “A Spanish Love Affair” where I spent the night sleeping on the bench of the Spanish/French border) I managed to avoid any further camping trips until I met my husband, Markus. Without prior consultation, he organised our first holiday away together sailing between the Whitsunday islands on a 1920’s schooner, camping on a different island each night. It promised to be “like nothing you’ve ever experienced in your life.” And it certainly was.
It may have sounded romantic to the uninitiated, but the realty was far from that. It was decidedly down and dirty and I hated every moment of it.
Apart from the fact that I’m prone to be seasick, having at times even felt woozy on the wharf, there were many things which I didn’t enjoy.
To start with 25 out of 30 of our fellow passengers were English nurses who had worked in Australia for a year and as part of their deal, received this sailing holiday. Unfortunately, this gang of nurses were worse than any unruly football team you could ever imagine. They drank up a storm and partied loudly all night. They puked with a full range of sound effects and smells seemingly right behind our tent. Even in the day, despite no doubt severe hangovers, they kept their drinking up becoming more were rowdy as the day wore on with extremely colourful language. Apart from Markus and I, there were only three other passengers – a very serious Swiss Doctor and an extremely portly, middle-aged husband and wife combo who were Canadian professors. All three were decidedly unimpressed.
The tents were of the very small and low variety that one had to crawl around in. Getting dressed was a nightmare. I don’t know how the Canadian professors managed quite frankly. Our inflating bed burst in the middle of the first night without warning, not due to any activity on our part except trying to grab some shut eye. There were no mosquito nets or coils and all kinds of insects were constantly on the attack. The pit toilet was most part of a kilometre down the beach and you didn’t have to ask for directions.
There were no showers. This was my first experience of “real camping” and I didn’t like it one bit. I have very greasy skin which breaks out if it doesn’t get thoroughly cleaned twice a day. I also didn’t enjoy cleaning my teeth with seawater.
I had to do without my morning cup of tea, a sacred family tradition, which is normally totally non- negotiable. The food was awful and the wine, which they served in large plastic beakers at a $1 a slug was cheap and nasty. One of the nurses managed to rack up a bill of $99 over the 5 days and that was without shouting anyone a drink.
So you can imagine that when retirement was looming and Markus started talking about taking a camping trip around Australia for a year, I was horrified. I ignored these ramblings and fervently hoped these ideas would go away.