Camping offers alternative to urban life

FLAMINGO, Fla.— Inch by inch we crawled up the hot black asphalt street. My left foot began to ache as it pressed in the clutch for what seemed like the 50th time.

A red Lexus pulled up along the right side of my old beat up Acura; rap music blaring out of its open windows. Beads of sweat started to drip down my forehead as I stared at the river of red brake lights ahead.

I needed to escape the city.

Miami is a great place to work and live, but its fast pace was getting to me. Instead of asphalt in front of me I longed to see open fields, and instead of a myriad assortment of cars around me, I was beginning to imagine wild creatures.

The view of Florida Bay at the Flamingo Visitors Center, a short walk from the campground, is

A weekend away seemed like the perfect answer. Visions of mountaintop cabins and huts on the beach began to swim in my head. Those fantasies burst however with a quick glance at my wallet. I couldn’t afford airfare anywhere, I only had two days to travel and hotels were way out of my budget.

Then I stumbled upon the likes of secret treasure. Only a stones throw away from Miami’s bright lights was true wilderness.

The Everglades National Park stretches down over the southern tip of the Florida peninsula and is open to the general public for a fee of $10 per vehicle. Within this vast preserve lies both temperate and tropical plant communities, from mangroves to prairies.

Although I had never been camping before, I decided that for $14 a night it was the perfect answer to my money worries.

Five girlfriends and I set off, our car loaded to the brim with sleeping bags, food and water. We reached the park in 30 minutes and paid our $10 entrance fee.

Canoeing and boating are popular among campers and other visitors at Flamingo.

Less than two minutes into the park, squeals of pleasure rung through the car as a small deer bounded through a field near us. We parked the car by the road and sat on the hood for a few minutes, observing the beautiful environment surrounding us.

The first campground, Long Pine Key, is right near the main entrance. But unfortunately that seems to be the redeeming quality it holds. Resembling a parking lot more than anything else, it is a clearing in the woods jam-packed with RVs. We pulled a u-turn and continued onwards down the main park road.

Flamingo is the other campground and, although it is an extra 30 minutes farther into the park than Long Pine Key, it is definitely worth the drive. It has spacious spots for both RVs and tents, the latter in a large grassy field that overlooks the water. There is also a small convenience store (the Flamingo Marina Store) that is great for any forgotten necessities such as beer.

We were lucky enough to get a waterfront spot for our tents, and were relieved to learn that there was a public restroom nearby. Every camping site also comes with its own grill and picnic table. We set up our two small tents, and were pleased with the outcome until we scrutinized our neighbor’s accommodations.

The Eco Pond, near the Flamingo campground, is a nesting area for wild birds.

They had a canoe and three separate tents. One tent was living room like with a table, TV and radio. The other tent we assumed to be a bedroom, and the third turned out to be a solar heated shower. Okay, so maybe our $20 tents from Target weren’t exactly luxurious, but at least they would keep us dry (or so we thought).

After setting up for site we divided up into two groups. One group went to wander around the Eco Pond, which turned out to be a rather dull brownish pond, while the rest of us went to the convenience store for beer and a can opener.

Our next mission was lighting the grill. Surprisingly this was rather easy, although for a good ten minutes our flames were about three feet high. We decided to find sticks to turn our hot dogs with, so we ran over to the mangroves that were only about 10 feet away. We were ripping the limbs away (apparently you want green wood to use with fires) when a neighboring camper came over to us and yelled at us for destroying the mangroves.

After gorging on hot dogs we decided to cook the baked beans. We wrestled the top off and placed the can on the grill top. An hour later the baked beans still weren’t warm, so we gave up and moved on to the s’mores.

Our after dinner gossip session was surprisingly low key. We only had two more sets of neighbors come over and ask us to be quieter.

Okay so we weren’t exactly winning the popularity contest.

Around 11 at night the rain started to come down. Next came howling winds accompanied with thunder and lightning. I was just drifting off to sleep when a head appeared at my tent door.

“Kristina?” I asked hoping it was indeed my camping buddy and not some escaped psycho killer.

“We are going to the car,” she groggily replied. “Our tent has about a foot of water in it.”

I peeked outside and saw the other campers dashing towards the parked car. Winking at me, Kristina turned on her heels and sprinted after them. Suddenly their tent lifted up and flew off the ground. I leaped out of my tent and went chasing after it. Luckily I caught it and we put all our heavy supplies inside it to anchor it. The sound of snickering was unmistakably coming from the surrounding tents.

The next day did not clear up, so after clearing up our site we packed ourselves back into the car and left.

Although we left the park disheveled and wet, for the two days that we were there my friends and I ate enough s’mores to feed a small army, giggled like teenagers for hours on end and learned excruciatingly embarrassing secrets about one another. It was unanimous. My weekend getaway was a success, and it only cost $24 plus food for six people.

I drove back to Miami with a fresh outlook on city life. Suddenly those hours of sitting in traffic didn’t seem quite so torturous after all.


If You Go

As a group of girls who had very limited camping experience, it was only expected that we would have many mishaps throughout our stay in the park. But we definitely learned from our numerous mistakes. So I have compiled a short camping checklist to help future inexperienced campers:

  1. Check the weather forecast. We forgot to, and ended up getting drenched with rain and surviving a tornado. We had to sleep in damp tents and try to ignore the thunder and lightning outside (although we were terrified when we realized our tent poles were metal).
  2. Use the tarp that your tent comes with and place your tent on top of it. This is related to my first point. If we had done this our tents may have remained slightly drier.
  3. When driving, keep your eyes on the road, not on the cute bunny rabbit in the field next to you. One of my friends hit a raccoon for this very reason.
  4. When the boy scouts leave at two in the morning because of the weather, follow their example. Their motto is “be prepared” so this is probably a good indication that you should flee as well.

For reservations call 1-800-365-CAMP.


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