I’ve always been impressed with Kia when it comes to outdoor adventuring. Ever since our first big trip when we spent a day hiking through the Cambodian jungle beneath torrential downpours, Kia has proved remarkably resilient.
We’ve since hiked to the top of slippery peaks, caved in pitch-black darkness deep underground and waded through icy cold rivers in the highlands and she’s always handled it with grace and mettle.
In fact, when it came to skydiving she put me to shame, barely even flinching as she launched herself out of a plane from 12,000 feet. She has certainly earned her stripes, so I figured it was time to put her to the test and go camping together for the first time. And what better place to do it than a tropical beach?
There’s comfy sandy ground underfoot to sleep on, warm weather so she won’t get too cold and facilities nearby including showers, toilets, a small kitchen and a decked lounge area above the lapping surf of the Pacific Ocean. Electricity was available for a few hours in the evenings and there were even solar lamps available to use after dark.
It was a long way from the freezing and blustery slopes of the Cairngorms with nothing but a self-dug hole for a toilet – what could possibly go wrong?
Day 1 – So far, so good
It all started pretty well. Kia was impressed with the amount of space inside the tent and went so far as to say it was cosy. We had a good meal at a local restaurant and explored the area before bedding down for the night. Her only real complaint was the state of the showers, and I can’t fault her for that.
For some reason, the plumber had chosen to install the shower and toilet next to each other. I mean directly next to each other, or rather on top of each other. So if you’re using the toilet, the shower is dripping on you and if you’re using the shower, you’re banging your legs against the toilet rim while dousing it in water.
Even I, a hardened wild camper, found them pretty nasty and think a self-dug hole may well have been more hygienic and easier to use.
Day 2 – The first signs
“How did you sleep, baby?” I asked tentatively as we woke in the morning.
“Badly,” came the response blankly. “I couldn’t sleep on the inflatable pillow. We’ll have to try something else tonight.” After a short period of silence, her mood quickly lifted when she opened the tent to the beautiful crystal clear waters of the ocean stretching out under a cloudless blue sky.
We ate breakfast in the communal area while trying to ignore the owners’ three dogs that were, to use Kia’s words, “all up in our grill”. Kia isn’t comfortable around dogs so was permanently uneasy around the camp.
No matter: we soon left for the day to explore the island. We hiked a short trail along the Taveuni coast, enjoying some beautiful views along the way and finished off with a dip in a clear pool beneath a waterfall. By evening, she was relaxed once again. However, the pillow experiment in the evening didn’t go so well and Kia was nearing fatigue.
This was after another freezing cold shower, a slimy surprise from a large toad that landed on her foot in the toilet (in the dark so she had no idea what it was and hence freaked out), dogs relentlessly barking around the tent, a shower door falling off its hinges and humidity rising in the tent!
All in all, it made for a fraught evening and a horrendous night’s sleep. This time, the view from the tent offered no redemption.
Day 3 – What can only be described as a breakdown
A day lazing around the beach, swimming in the water and bathing in the sun couldn’t fix Kia’s mood. The dogs followed us around everywhere, yelping at our feet and licking any exposed skin. Kia found it more than a little tiresome.
By now, sand had permeated everything in and around the tent including our sleeping bags and luggage. In addition, when travelling with clothing and equipment for a year, trying to organise yourselves and your luggage in so little space is no easy task. I could see that Kia was beginning to struggle.
That night, as we failed at another attempt to fashion a remotely comfortable pillow, Kia finally snapped. Darkness had descended and, after taking our final trip to the wet and dirty toilets, we were frightened out of our skins by the dogs leaping from the bushes in one of their frenzied outbursts.
I recovered fairly quickly and saw the funny side of it – growing up with dogs and pets in the countryside meant that this was a fairly routine experience.
Kia reacted somewhat differently. I can only describe it as a breakdown. I won’t go into detail but there was an unprecedented yawp of anger and, yes, there was sobbing… This test had broken her.
Fortunately for Kia – and our relationship – we were on commission next, so would be spending five days at a luxury resort. She survived the night and we departed in the morning onto more comfortable dwellings.
Unbelievably, the experience hasn’t put her off camping although she has stipulated that she will need cleaner toilets and showers in the future. Likewise, she suggested that three nights at a time should remain the limit for our camping stops and we agreed an upper limit of six nights a month (20 per cent).
I spend a lot of time wild camping. I enjoy escaping the confines of a city life like the one I lead in London. I like stripping away all the unnecessary things in my life and being left with just the basics. But I also appreciate that this is fairly unique and certainly not for everyone.
There is no shame in needing a little bit of comfort. And there is certainly no shame in finding a compromise. Personally, I’d like to camp more but Kia and I are planning to be on the road for the best part of a year so we will have to find compromises along the way.
Camping is one of those and that’s just fine. There’s no need to slum it all of the time – it doesn’t prove anything. We’ve made a big decision taking this trip. The most important thing is that we’re happy and that we’re enjoying ourselves as much as possible.