Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Happy campers

We were at a church camp last weekend in Hope, BC.  This was the second year that the Filipino group from our church held a family camp, and my family’s first time to join. I didn’t know what to expect.

Camp Hope is nestled in a valley where the Fraser River flows from the interior mountains into the Fraser Valley to the Lower Mainland (where we live), out into the Pacific Ocean. The campsite rests at the foot of beautiful mountains. We drove almost two hours to this place.

Entrance to the campsite. The road ends here,
then it's the wilderness.

We were the first to arrive at the camp on Friday afternoon. Some campers would be arriving later that night but most were expected Saturday morning. Originally, our plan was to pitch a tent. When I learned there were cabins still available, I immediately reserved one. Tenting is fun, but given a choice, I’d rather stay within four walls. Worth the few extra dollars.

The cabins. Better than tents.

We were fortunate to get the nicest cabin complete with a good fridge, cooking range, toaster, vacuum cleaner, lots of mattresses and other pieces of furniture. It was close to the common washrooms too. We didn’t go checking out cabins. We picked the first one to open with the master key. I instantly liked it.

Friday night was spent settling down and getting to know the first few campers. Back in our cabin, we played cards and Scrabble. Late that night, we were told there would be singing at the assembly area, but by then we were too tired and sleepy. Besides, it was cold outside and we all forgot to bring sweaters. Somebody had to lend us some.

Early Saturday morning, we walked around the campgrounds and ventured into the woods. We wanted to see the waterfalls. “You should follow the narrow trail. It’s the one that leads to the waterfalls,” someone told us. We saw a marker that said Waterfalls Trail but took the wrong trail that only led us to a dumping ground for fallen trees and branches. We missed the narrow trail. I saw some signs nailed to a couple of trees. I thought they were trail markers. Instead, they turned out to be warning signs: BEAR ALERT. We quickly turned around and headed back to our campground.

When the campers had assembled for breakfast and orientation, the camp director gave some guidelines. “Just behind the campgrounds is the wilderness. Don’t go into the forest alone. Every tree looks like every other tree. The greatest danger is getting lost,” he said.

You can get disoriented in these woods.

One lady gave tips on what to do in case we encountered a black bear. “Look down. Avoid eye contact as the bear will take that as a sign of aggression. Quietly walk away. And if the bear becomes aggressive, make a lot of noise.” I don’t think I would have the presence of mind to quietly walk away from a bear. I imagine myself screaming and running like crazy. I heard there might be cougars in those mountains too. I remembered my officemate saying that if ever you saw a cougar, it was too late. You will never outrun it.

I love the mountains and I enjoy hiking, but not as much as I fear wild animals. Although the camp director seemed to downplay the possibility, the slightest chance of bumping into black bears and cougars doused my enthusiasm for a mountain adventure especially with my kids. Nah, not worth the risk.

Typical of Filipino gatherings here, every meal was potluck with lots and lots of food. Not your regular camp food of canned goods and instant food. We had home-cooked buffet food, mostly Filipino dishes. I shared my sinigang, longganisa, itlog na maalat with chopped tomatoes, pork adobo and rice. Food went fast--all the time.

Our assembly place.

Camp Hope being owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, we had no organized activities from Friday dusk to Saturday dusk in compliance with camp rules. We were okay with that. In fact, I felt it made the camp more relaxing unlike previous church camps I had attended that were packed with activities. Having no campsite activities, we spent Saturday sightseeing around Hope. Most went to the Othello tunnels, site of some scenes from the movie Rambo. My family went to Harrison Hot Springs.

At Harrison Hot Springs. Behind Gabriel
is a lagoon. Beyond it is Harrison Lake.

Gabriel and Markus playing at the lagoon.
Hotels and bistros line the beachfront.

Sand sculptures on the beach of Harrison Lake

On Sunday morning, I went early to our assembly place with my guitar to practice with Jay, the keyboardist, the song I was going to sing at the service. I tuned my guitar and we had a run through of my song. When my time to sing came up, my guitar was surprisingly off key with the keyboard. I don’t know how that happened within a short time. I decided to put down the guitar and just sing along with the keyboard. This was actually better for my voice because I was able to concentrate on singing. It was actually harder for me to do both at the same time.

We had a wonderful morning service with Pastor Ken as our guest speaker. Great message about the Living Water. After the service, we had a huge lunch and then some games. We ended with halo-halo and group picture taking.

Pabitin for the children

I got to know a lot of Filipinos from church over the weekend. At church, I hardly have the chance to get to know them because we go to different services. I enjoyed talking with newer immigrants and sharing our experiences and challenges in starting a new life here in Canada. We all know how it feels.

There are plans to book Camp Hope again for next year. Hopefully, we’d be there again. We all enjoyed the camp and felt better connected with our fellow kababayans. We were all happy campers. I know I was.

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