Would you like to hear the story of our worst camping trip ever? This one is known as our Epic Fail camping trip.
Synopsis: Culture shock, Heat, Humidity, Mosquitos, and a Very Mean Lady = BAD CAMPING.
The boys (13, 11) and I love camping. We have camped many times in campgrounds and National Parks all over Australia. In January we attempted a camping trip close to home. But since we are a bit more grown up now (not me, just the guys) this time we decided to raise the difficulty level - leave the car at home, travel by bike, and carry all our gear in backpacks. Hard core!
(Just to clarify, My husband does not do camping. He likes to stay close to his PC, Plasma TV, and other comforts. That's fine. We have agreed that camping can be a mother and boys activity.)
We caught the ferry from Palm Beach with our packs (8kg - 11kg) and bikes. That's the ferry in the picture above. Now, we live on the northern edge of Sydney. The ferry travels across the estuary of the Hawkesbury River where the river meets the Pacific Ocean. The Central Coast district where we planned to camp is close to our home, as the crow flies. But it is not part of Sydney because the river cuts it off. The ferry is a recent thing, even. The reason I mention this? I assumed that life on the other side of the Hawkesbury would not be so different from life on this side - there would be supermarkets, bike paths, friendly people, credit cards and internet...ya know. Normal.
I was wrong.
After we disembarked from the ferry, we biked 4km along a road beside a bay. In heat 31 degrees C (95 F) and humidity 90%, we slogged our way up 2 nasty long hills. We arrived at a village which consisted of a liquor shop, a cafe, 2 fashion boutiques and a beauty salon. No supermarket at all. I asked where the nearest supermarket might be. We were hungry and it was time for lunch.
"Nearest shop is back at the ferry wharf, love," I was told.
My goodness. What existed at the ferry wharf was a dilapidated shack! We had ridden right past it, and I had no intention of going back now. Not in this heat. Then, I saw a cafe.
"Who wants a hamburger?" I announced.
"Me, me. Thanks, Mum!" chorused the kids.
We tied up our bikes, plonked down our packs, and made ourselves at home in the shady, large cafe. Then I saw a sign.
"Takeaway Only: Hamburgers $5.00"
I asked the girl at the counter,
"How much does it cost to eat our hamburgers here?"
"You can't," she said.
"It's our policy. That is our takeaway menu. Our cafe menu is different, and that's what we serve in here."
I stared at her. She was very young. But something in her manner told me she was the owner's daughter. If I picked a fight, she would call in her backup. I would lose and be even hungrier than before. I took a glance at the cafe menu.
"Goat cheese tartlet flamed under a grill with a tapenade of tortured semi-dried tomatoes - $20"
"We'll go with the hamburgers," I said.
I sat down at a table with the kids.
"Mum, even your chin is sweating," said Jumbo (11).
"They won't let us eat our food at this table. They have two menus - Takeaway, and Fancy. We're buying Takeaway, and they're going to make us go outside."
"Where are we supposed to eat?" exclaimed Fixit (13).
We gazed around the room. The outdoor tables were full, but the indoor tables were empty. All of them.
I went to the refrigerator and helped myself to a bottle of chilled tap water and 3 glasses.
"Are we allowed?" whispered Jumbo, his eyes large.
"If they say we can't have any water, I'm going to get very mad. It's illegal not to give people a drink of water."
We ate our burgers on the pavement outside. People were staring at our bikes and packs. Not in a friendly way, but in a disturbed way, as if we smelled bad. I wondered if they thought we were homeless. Where we are from, people are friendly. If you meet a traveller, you are very helpful and kind. Your hospitality is on show! Although I kept a brave face for the kids, I was so shocked by this obviously snobby treatment that I felt like crying.
"What kind of a place has no supermarket?" snorted Jumbo, his mouth full of burger.
"We could buy some alcohol," said Fixit, eyeing the grog shop hopefully.
"And chips, they will have chips!" added his brother.
It seemed like we had come to a snobby, rather impractical place, where you could get false nails at the beauty salon but ordinary groceries came from a shack.
"Let's keep going and find our campsite. Then at least we can have a swim," I said.
In Part II: Mother and Sons Risk Dehydration in Search of A Campsite...