The concept of camping puzzles me. It’s a lot of hard work to do what seems like nothing. You have to spend a couple hours physically constructing a place to live and securing your possessions, and then you spend the next couple days just sitting around it. There isn’t a lot to do but walk around and try to avoid the physical harm that comes hand in hand with nature up close. Knowing that, it makes perfect sense that I decided to spend four days of break on an island in the Gulf, straight up camping. Cayo Costa is a little swath of uncivilized land we renamed Babe Island to suit our purposes. The whole island is a state park that proudly calls itself The Real Florida, which is exactly as scary as it sounds.
Tuesday was Babe Island day, and we headed out of Orlando at 7am cause we had a boat to catch. After an hour waiting for a ferry, an hour on a ferry, and an hour being shuttled to our campsite; we arrived. There was nothing on this island besides a pack of hippies, so you had to carry everything you needed to survive. I’ve heard one too many depression-era horror stories and was convinced we were going to run out of food, so I went crazy in the grocery store. Between three girls under 5’3″, we were carrying an entire car-load of gear. I tried to find a picture to show you what we looked like, but unfortunately the “person carrying way more than they should be carrying” google search doesn’t turn up many helpful results.
So, we’ve just arrived in Paradise. We take a couple minutes to throw up a praise that our campsite is the closest one, check out the sad bathroom, and stalk the only other people our age on the island – a tribe we’ve dubbed the Michigan Boys. We start to set up camp and Joy immediately realizes we’ve made a mistake, there are no tent poles. This may not seem like that big of a deal to you. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. We’ve already sacrificed all the basic comforts of life to walk around in our own filth for a few days, why do we need a few sticks to help us do it? I assure you, tent poles are necessary. Joy is Queen of the Outdoors, and took the full blame for this. To cope with the accompanying guilt, shame, and distress, she immediately stalked off with her hands on her hips exactly like your dad always does. Continuing through the grieving process, she tried to tie various fabrics into the trees to form a sort of lean to. Joella and I changed into our bathing suits and came back to find her laying facedown in the middle of the campsite on a tarp. The only helpful thing we could think to do was just to leave her there. Eventually we came up with a structure comprised of rope and luck that looked like this.
The coolest part of the whole no-poles thing is that when you were in there, it felt like the sky was trying to smother you.
What everything looked like after Audrey bought a tent, bless her soul.
Because we were in South Florida, the humidity hovered around 70%. I love humidity, it makes me feel like I’m one with the air and the trees and we’re all connected through a beautiful water cycle that makes my hair curly. But humidity means dew starts to set in around 7pm. Wherever you’re sitting, whatever you’re doing, you’re suddenly damp. It’s like a moist nightmare. You go to sleep and you wake up and everything around you is damp and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it because you’ve chosen to forego structure. We woke up one morning to 100% humidity which basically means you’ve entered a cloud and the air is made of water and there is no dryness anywhere. You lived with this constant dull fear that all your material possessions were being intentionally destroyed by mother nature.
The only showers on the island were these outdoor numbers by the bathroom which were the most physical violation of everything my parents have ever taught me that I’ve ever seen. The showers were connected and between the men and women’s restrooms which meant it was a giant free for all. You had no choice but to cleanse yourself in your bathing suit in the presence of everyone on the island, including the guy that only wore red spandex shorts for four days straight. If you pressed yourself up against the wall you could sort of shave your armpits without anyone seeing you, but the whole experience made you so jumpy and skittish that you reminded yourself of a rabbit.
To balance the fear of being so overcome by bugs you will never be truly healed was the reality of a tropical wonderland. Babe Island was ours for the taking; we were the queens of our own island paradise. We walked hours down the shore every day trying to touch every part of the island so we could learn all it’s secrets. We set up hammocks over the water, grabbed sand dollars the ocean threw us like gifts, pulled a starfish from it’s natural habitat for a few minutes, and applied sunscreen more habitually than moms at amusement parks. We saw a stingray and watched a dolphin jump at sunrise like we were in a postcard for The Real Florida. It was beautiful.
Almost as beautiful as make eye contact with a stranger while putting on deodorant at your campsite.