Last Saturday will be etched into the history of my life as one of the most fun-filled nights of incidental hilarity that I have ever experienced, and I might owe it all to a bottle of whiskey and a few friends to help drink it. These sentences could very easily be the prologue to any tale from a Del Playa balcony, but instead they introduce a story about every outdoorsman’s favorite past time: camping.
I am far from an outdoorsman, preferring pillow mints and mini-bars to sleeping bags and mosquitoes, but this trip took a turn for the surreal and may have changed my thoughts on heading to the beach with little more than a tent and a surfboard. A camping trip conjures up a lot of mental imagery, from smoky bonfires burning marshmallows to whiskey bottles getting passed around amid a few improvised guitar tunes. We didn’t quite have all that on our trip, except the whiskey, of which there was plenty.
We arrived at the campground in the afternoon under a cloudy sky, and with a vacant lineup filled with fun shoulder high waves, I knew that this was as good a place as any along the beautiful shores of Brazil’s Praia do Flamengo to set up camp. What I didn’t know was that Mother Nature was not as enthusiastic about the idea as we were. My friend and I surfed until sunset, getting amazing waves all to ourselves as the rest of the group looked at the darkening, cloudy sky with apprehension. After the session, we made our way back to the campground and opened a bottle of Brazil’s finest whiskey — similar to America’s worst — before heading down the broken dirt path into town to grab dinner.
We ignored the first drops of rain as we made our way back to the tents and opened another bottle. Soon enough we were off to the beach again for a swim, this time leaving the bathing suits in the sand. Skinny-dipping in Brazil can only be described as heavenly, without the familiar sting of cold water that we have to endure back in Santa Barbara. After splashing around for an hour or so, we ventured back to the campground with smiles on our faces, and without a care in the world.
When we got back to the tents, we piled the seven of us into two tents that were probably meant to sleep two people max and put on some music with a pair of battery-powered speakers. I’m not sure if it was the music or just the general haze that we found ourselves in, but we were more or less completely oblivious to the rain that was now coming down with ferocity. What we did notice, however, was that at some point the bottom of the tent began filling with water like a sinking ship. I decided to bail from tent number two and check on my own, but when I got there everyone else had left. All that was left was my backpack floating in the eight inches of water that used to be the floor.
The road that went through the campground was now a snake-like river that flowed through the campsites to the ocean, and the sky was filled with the violent flashes of distant lightning. We all realized that we couldn’t sleep in the pools in the bottom of our tents without life preservers, and we needed to find the rest of our group. We found one of our friends sleeping on top of a sink in the nearby bathroom, looking very comfortable, but the rest of the group was missing in action.
Desperation and whiskey can really help your problem-solving abilities in survival situations, and this was no exception. We saw a nearby abandoned building that used to be a sea turtle research facility, and we decided quickly that we should pull out the tent stakes and move camp under the eerie building’s deteriorated roof. We carried the tent through the decaying wooden doors and looked for a nice dry spot amid the broken glass to set everything down. Suddenly, we were blinded by the beam of a flashlight coming from a corner of the otherwise pitch-black room, and we realized we had found our friends.
Sleeping in a giant spoon-train on my surfboard bag was terrible, and there was no way I was going to go for another surf as I watched the sunrise through the broken windows with tiny drops of water falling from the ceiling onto my head. Exploring another country should give you a sense of adventure, which is exactly what we found in the flooded campground and the decaying walls of our improvised shelter. The experience was surreal, and although I slept for nearly 20 hours when I got back to Salvador, I would gladly trade 10 nights of sleep for another night of insomnia with a few friends in a soaking wet turtle-shack.