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If you can survive one night without modern luxuries, by which I mean: electricity, indoor plumbing and a roof over your head, do not read on.

Back at the camp site I rushed the kids to the public restrooms. Initially I thought I wouldn’t bathe them since we were just staying overnight, and really, how dirty could they possibly get? It turns out the kids were unspeakably grimy and smelly. They reeked of chum, their faces and arms were sticky with the ice cream I’d willingly bought moments before, and their extremities were scratched, bruised and dirty. Really dirty.

Bathing 3 super excited kids in icy cold water, in a narrow and tight space, can be frustrating. Especially if the kids you are bathing are non-compliant. We made our way back to the camp, clean and excited for the evening that lay ahead. I thought to myself the great outdoors perhaps weren’t so bad after all.

Two minutes later I was frantically rummaging for Off! insect repellant. No-see-um mosquitos can unleash hell on earth to any fool who bares his skin anytime between sunset and sunrise. They are impervious to insect repellant so it’s a futile barrier against them. We were relentlessly attacked and assaulted by those mosquitos the entire night.

Unvanquished but reeking of insect repellant, we gathered around a small fire B had ignited near the rocky shore. We roasted marshmallows and watched the sun flicker its last rays behind the horizon.

 

Night fell quickly, without preamble or romance. One moment there was a penumbra of light and suddenly, there wasn’t. We scrambled for flashlights, even though it was just after 6pm.  I looked around at the RVs in the campground and no longer felt contentment or solidarity with those safely ensconced campers. Instead, I felt a creeping sense of panic and doom. Camping was no longer about solidarity. In the words of a geometry teacher I had back in high school, those in RVs had become “the haves,” and those in tents were the “have nots.” Unfortunately, we were part of the less enviable group: the “have nots.”

I envied their light. I envied their roofs and doors. But mostly, I envied their safety. We huddled in our tent. The kids were excited for the night that lay ahead. B tethered Jack up to the bench just beside the tent. Inside, B read a story to the kids. It was perfectly still and quiet outside. Here and there the sound of the wind picking up the leaves, or the rustling sounds of low branches brushing against our tent interrupted the otherwise deep silence of the night. In the distance we could hear small waves reach the shore, but a deep quiet persisted despite the fact that all around us there were others in tents or campers a stone’s throw away.

B marveled at the silence and the clarity of the stars above. Our tent had a skylight and because we had a perfect moon in a cloudless sky, the stars were countless and extremely bright. We gazed at the sky and collectively fell asleep. And though I felt a slight tremor of fear as I drifted off to sleep, B’s sense of peace was somehow deeply comforting.

I’d say about 3 hours later all hell broke loose. It started with a somnambulist moment for Maya. I awoke to find her climbing over Sophie trying to make her way out of the tent. I guided her back to her sleeping bag but the night was shot for me. As I tried to fall asleep, Jack began to growl. It was a growl unlike anything I’d ever heard before. He growled a low menacing sound which at times he punctuated with a very loud bark.

The wind had picked up and what had previously been a pleasant soft breeze had now become a persistently loud gust. I lay there hoping Maya wouldn’t try to make her way out again, and worried Jack’s growl wasn’t the paranoid bark of an urban dog but a meaningful bark from a dog sensing danger.

Somehow I drifted into a quasi state of sleep again. This time, however, I was awakened by Sophie’s stifled cries. Jack’s persistent growling scared her and she now needed to go to the bathroom. B sent us off to the bathroom, mistaking my false bravado with real courage. I nearly sprinted to the restrooms with Sophie, swinging my flashlight from left to right like a madwoman, all the while fully aware I wasn’t doing much to calm her fears. As we made our way out of the bathrooms, a man blocked the entrance holding a flashlight. I pushed past him and SPRINTED with a hysterical Sophie all the way back to our tent. Sophie and I nearly collided with B as we ran into our campsite. He’d heard us running back and had walked out to see what the fuss was all about.

Now Sophie, Jack, B and I were awake. Sophie quietly whimpered beside us as Blas and I exchanged time checks, wondering how many hours were left before sunrise. It was barely past midnight, and the night lay out before us interminably long and full of insidious intent. Now every sound was magnified a thousand fold, and with nearly every growl Jack made, B would walk out of the tent with a knife in one hand and a flashlight in the other. It was both comforting and terrifying to know our collective safety rested on my husband’s wits, a skittish dog and a steak knife.

To reassure me, B kept saying it must be a raccoon prowling around. That damned raccoon tortured our imagination, it seemed, for hours. Sophie drifted in and out of sleep, and Maya, like a Shakespearean soothsayer awoke to warn: “Cover the roof of the tent. It might rain.” And just like that, she drifted off to sleep again.

At 2am B rushed to cover our tent. A cold drizzle had begun and with the possibility of a sturdy rainfall, in the dead of night, B stepped out yet again to cover our tent. The sounds of B swiftly covering the tent and my muttered curses must have awakened our littlest one, Ryder. He stood, walked to the edge of the tent, turned to face us, lowered his pajamas — his purpose was clear. B grabbed Ryder just as he began to urinate in our tent. B returned to the tent with Ryder, just in time to escort Maya to the restroom. Really, the level of absurdity rivals anything I’d ever experienced.

We remained fully awake the rest of the night. Like a sentinel on his night beat, B restlessly covered the perimeter of our campsite, ready to leap at all imagined (or real) intruder who dared upon us. Sophie slept fitfully and repeatedly told me she never wanted to camp out again. Maya and Ryder, more or less, slept blissfully unaware of the hell that had been unleashed throughout the night. Jack greeted us in the morning both hoarse and limp. God knows what demons he faced that night.

Sunrise did not greet us that morning. Instead, we greeted the sunrise. We summoned the sun from its slumber, and with our hearts and minds declared, “Enough is enough. Damn it, we need light.”

We woke the kids up around 6am and fed them breakfast. We rode our bikes out to the aptly named “Garcia’s Flagler’s Folly,” and bore witness to the famous “Florida Keys’s sunrise.” Sophie and I quietly sat in a butterfly garden beside the ocean’s shore, and watched the sun stretch over the sea. B, Ryder and Maya threw out their fishing lines and caught and released more fish during those early morning hours than can be believed.

Together, we packed our tent, cleaned our campsite, and loaded our truck. We left the campgrounds with a sense of excitement, unity and if I might admit it, relief.

Most people who know me and my habits, have since asked me whether I would do it again. The answer is yes. I won’t ever campout again. I don’t have the constitution for it, but, in an RV, as my old geometry teacher once goaded me, as a “have,” yes, I would certainly do it again.

The opportunity to have uninterrupted time with my family, under a cloudless sky, a bicycle and the beautiful outdoors — yes, few things are truer or more beautiful than the time we shared in Bahia Honda.

Yes, I’d do it again — noo-see-ums, raccoons and all.

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