30 March, 2013

Our 7th Camping Trip

Getting there

On Wednesday morning, the day we'd planned to leave for our camping trip, we woke to gentle rain. The forecast didn't anticipate rain till later in the day, however. This became a
pattern: the forecasters were wrong the whole day!

We pushed on regardless. David's got this plan for erecting our tent in the rain that he's not had a chance to try yet, maybe this would be the day.

Soon into our drive, though, we realised that traffic was going to be a problem. The electronic boards on the expressways that give traffic information told us that many of the expressways were choked. As we drove, we went from plan A to B to C and finally D. Instead of driving the shortest route across "town", we drove the long way around. I doubt that any of our routes would have gotten us there under the 5 1/2 hrs it took. Midweek wet-day traffic in Tokyo isn't for the light hearted.

We'd been going to drop in to visit some Australian colleagues who live partway down Chiba. Halfway through our journey we realised that we'd run out of time for social calls. We had to call and break the bad news to them.

It rained most of our journey. Only towards the end did we have hope that we'd be setting up without rain.

The campsite

Our humble camp.
When we finally arrived we found the campsite was situated on a hill. Chiba is largely lacking the large mountains of other prefectures in Japan, but it does have lots of knobbly hills. Our campsite was on a hill. A curious place, it's a part of a working farm. A citrus orchard. Compared to most of the campsites we've been to it was really low key.

We missed the tiny office as we scaled the hill in our loaded van. The road up the hill was obviously an inside job: not very neat. They didn't assign us a campsite, just said, "Pick a spot". We found one under a blossoming cherry blossom tree with no near neighbours. They gave us no map, so we had to explore to find the facilities. But they did give us a complementary bag of mikan (Japanese for manderin).
The view from our tent down to the Pacific Ocean.

There was a pre-used campfire spot near our campsite and a cut lumber pile down the hill. Perfect.

A parenting triumph

Set-up was a dream. The dream I'd had when thinking about camping with the boys. It's only taken us nearly two years and seven camping trips to realise it! The key was listing all the jobs out the night before with the boys and calling for volunteers. They knew what was expected, felt jobs had been distributed fairly, and cooperated.

That cooperation continued throughout camp. We had boys washing up too. Packing up also had everyone engaged and helping as best they could. I got less steamy and the process was much less stressful.

What we did

On Thursday morning we lazed around at camp. David and I played Bananagrams. The younger two pulled out some plastic figures and created their own fun. Our eldest one started a Monopoly game with himself. The younger boys floated around and tried Bananagrams and joined in the Monopoly game too.
The Bōsō Peninsula. Red box points to our beach.

This too was something I'd dreamed about: that we'd be able to relax at camp and the boys would find their own fun without needing us to entertain them.

Thursday afternoon we headed off to the nearby beach. We weren't sure what we'd find or where we'd park (yes, even in this rural community, parking is an issue). But we struck gold. A beach that was being groomed for the summer crowd (tractor pulling a machine that was sifting the sand). We hung out there for an hour and a half, until the grey skies began to gently sprinkle. The sea was too cold to swim, but the boys had lots of fun chasing waves and building a castle. David and I sat on a dune in our long pants and jumpers, and played Scrabble Dice. It was divine, especially when you consider how cold it's been today 13 degrees and grimly grey. We didn't have blue sky on Thursday, but the cloud was high and the temperature moderate.
This is what the beach apparently looks like in summer.

We came back for showers (I made sure I didn't take my sneakers into the shower this time) and then set in on dinner prep in ernest. Something I love about camping is how meal prep and meals are an event in themselves, and there's room for lots of involvement from others. The guys worked on the open fire or messed around in the vicinity (playing with badminton rackets and pucks for a time, and making a "shelter" with thin planks of wood from the wood fire). And we used our rice cooker for the first time! Basically it meant putting the right amount of water and liquid in the sealed tin and setting it on coals for a time, then leaving it to steam. The timing is a bit tricky, but David did a sterling job and we had fluffy white rice with our Japanese curry.

The farmers came around again with more mikans, and some kind of salted cooked seafood. We were coming to expect them. They came around the next morning with more, including fresh milk that was still warm!
The fire.

After dinner we tried to make Doughboys (like damper or scones on a skewer), but I made the mixture too runny and it wouldn't stay on the skewer. So we made little foil parcels and enjoyed some damper cooked on the coals. After all the stomachs were satisfied, the fire was too much to resist and the boys built it up again. We sat around talking, singing, and eventually I read two chapters of our family post-dinner book, and then we did the boy's pre-bedtime Bible time. It was a wonderful family time.

The "shelter" which wouldn't stand up to much "weather"!

In conclusion

It was a great trip (aside from all the driving), ticking the boxes on several of our camping goals:

  • exploring other parts of Japan
  • getting the boys into the outdoors
  • getting out of the city
  • seeing the boys grow in helping with jobs around the place
  • relaxing 
    • three days away camping seems much longer than if we'd stayed home
    • we got a fair amount of sleep
  • building family memories

But I'm not sure if we'll be hurrying there (if "hurrying" is a word you can use of driving in heavy Tokyo traffic) again due to the travel time. 10 hours of driving for a two night trip is just too far in our estimation. There are a lot of other places we could go in that time!

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