Camping in England has never been my favourite pastime. Mention the word tent and my mind takes me back to the yearly Girl Guide Camps my parents forced me to attend. Wet English summers, the smell of damp canvas, soggy cloth on the skin, burnt food, pervasive smoke and nonsensical camp fire songs, eggy bread and tramping across half an acre of cow pat covered, insect infested terrain to get the latrines. Not content with testing teenage bodies resistance to hypothermia and pneumonia, the pack leaders would abandon us in the middle of the South Downs with a compass and a map (no phone) and expect us to find our way back to the site by tea time. Amazingly no one ever got lost, molested or hurt. But that was probably because as soon as the van disappeared over the horizon we hitched a lift down to Brighton and spent the day on the beach and caught the train back.
The Australian idea of roughing it is a whole different story – these guys do it with style. First they have the right weather – which is 80% of the battle. Rock up to any camp site and you will generally find power – essential for charging up ipod, batteries, computer etc, a barbecue area, an undercover eating area that often includes, cooker, fridge, microwave, kettle, TV, tables, chairs, cooking pots and utensils. If it rains you have an alternative as there are equipped cabins on site. Add into the mix the Aussies ability to party/barbie and camping takes on a whole new meaning ie fun. I started to warm to the great outdoors.
Uruguay took camping to a new level. We arrived in time for the summer party season and accommodation cost three times more than normal. Hoards of young ravers from Argentina and Brazil flooded the coast, preparing to take part in a longer version of schoolies week. After hours of waiting in the hot sun we were let in to the site to pitch a tent. One thousand five hundred people were crammed into a 500 tent area. Toilet and shower visits had to be timed well in order to avoid the nightly 2 hour queues. Cooking over an open fire was a given as the restaurants were unimaginative, poor quality and expensive. It was a challenge but nutritionally beneficial, cheaper and more fun. And we had enough money left over to lash out on a bottle of wine at night. No one complained, got drunk, fought, annoyed their neighbours with bad behaviour or loud noise levels. Everyone was out to party, have a good time and make new friends. I loved it. But fifteen days on hard un-giving ground, despite alcohol induced sleeps, took it’s toll. We left Uruguay and headed towards Argentina for some soft mattress down time.