There’s never really a good way to introduce someone to a serious case of culture shock. Head first, while it may not seem prudent, is probably best and it’s usually the way things are done where I’m originally from. We don’t “babystep” you into anything. We give you the full show. Take it or leave it. And oftentimes people take it and come back for more. Just a couple of weeks ago, however, the tables got turned on me and that head-first experience led to a canoeing-camping trip to Nopiming Provincial Park.
Now, to the average Manitoban, this might seem like no big deal, but for me, “big deal” doesn’t even begin to describe how much of a fish-out-of-water experience this was. I’m a city girl through and through. Even growing up in the Caribbean, I lived a mere 10 minutes away from the capital. And while I have always loved the outdoors, my encounters with it were restricted to jumping waves and off cliffs at the beach during the day, watching turtles lay their eggs at night, or hiking a tree-lined trail to a waterfall. Never once, did any of these experiences take me away from the comforts of a cozy, warm bed and indoor plumbing.
One for the team
So just how exactly did I end up on a camping trip? Well, it all began with a conversation between my colleagues as they tried to resolve who could schedule in a trip with Twin River Travel to Nopiming Provincial Park. (Twin River Travel is a brand new company made up of a few awesome human beings who know more than a thing or two about camping, canoeing, hiking, and just about anything outdoorsy in general. More on this bunch later). When it seemed like no one was available, I decided to volunteer. I could take one for the team! Canoeing wasn’t something I had done before, but I had the perfect balance of curiosity and fascination that I figured I’d be willing to give it a go. For some reason, though, my enthusiasm was met with looks of absolute surprise and simultaneous, responses of “Really?!” I simply couldn’t fathom it. Why was everyone so surprised that I would actually be willing to get into a canoe, onto some water and paddle? Just how hard could it possibly be? But I soon discovered that the canoeing was the least of my worries, they were more surprised by the fact that I would want to go camping.
Say what now?
I think my response to this newly introduced piece of information was something like: “Say what now?” I have to admit that at that very moment, my excitement completely dissipated. No one had said anything about camping! Among my many life creeds, the one that has come to the forefront ever since I adopted Canada as my home – or perhaps I should say since Canada adopted me – has been: “I do not camp. I will not camp.” Yet, here I was involuntarily volunteering…to camp. And so, like anyone with deep conviction, I did the one thing I could think of: tried to get out of it. I reminded them that if the trip fell on my “hair weekend”, I wouldn’t be able to go. (Yes, I have a hair weekend. After all, these braids don’t magically appear every couple weeks). Of course, my colleagues were more than willing to schedule the trip around my hair weekend. So my one and only excuse had no legs on which to stand. And so, I resigned myself to do the one thing I had vowed I never would.
Ready to face the world…sort of
The day had finally arrived and thanks to a comprehensive packing list provided by Twin River Travel ahead of the journey, I felt like I was ready to face the world – well, canoeing anyway. The whole idea of camping had yet to grow on me. I savoured my warm bed for a few extra minutes and relished what felt like the best and last hot shower ever. By 7.30 a.m. a group of seven of us were assembled and introduced by two of the three guys behind Twin River Travel, co-founder Sam, and business partner Liam, who would also be our guide for the weekend. By 7.45 a.m. we were ready to hit the road like a bunch of old friends who had been here and done this before.
Three hours later we arrived in Nopiming Provincial Park and it was now time to truly get the show on the road. One of the great things about Twin River Travel is that they provide you with every essential item. Apart from the basics of clothing, shoes and a few other personal comforts, you really don’t have to worry about much else. Canoes, paddles, tents, sleeping bags, pads (even pillows!), meals, and utensils are all provided. Even the ride to the destination is provided. All you have to do is show up. For someone exploring a potential new hobby, this is the perfect introduction. Of course, a canoe-camping trip isn’t pretty. This is what you call “roughing it”. Before you get on the water you better be ready for some serious portaging. And portaging we did! All of our gear, the canoes, paddles and everything in-between had to be hoisted over to the water.
Liam’s reassurances that the portages were short did nothing to make the burdens any lighter, or the distances any more within reach. Thankfully, there were a few good men on this trip, which helped to lighten the loads. Before we could get on the water, Liam took us through the basics of canoeing from how to hold the paddle to how not to fall into the water and drown. Equipped with our flotation devices, we set off for our first island.
In the middle of breathtaking
There are no words that eloquently express what it is like to be transported from the hustle and bustle of city life to the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but trees, great expanses of water, and the bluest of skies for as far as the eyes can see. The experience is simply breathtaking and would leave even the most stoic in dumbfounded awe. While paddling took some getting used to, and each portage brought not a shred of excitement or an ounce of joy, the feeling of freedom from being on the water and each deep breath of fresh air left those thoughts farther and farther in the distance.
Once we claimed our camping spot, it was time to set up our tents, a task I knew absolutely nothing about, obviously, since my question: “Do I just throw it on the ground and it pops up?” was met with laughs. Thankfully, when it came to setting up tents, novices were in short supply and my tent mate, Sarah, knew a thing a or two about the process.
The next morning, we set out again on the water, while Liam had determined what our destination would be, there were no expectations of when we would get there. And so, Sarah and I simply paddled aimlessly this way and that, soaking up the sun’s rays and imbibing the stunning views around us. Beyond the back-and-forth banter between us and the echoes of our laughter on the water, there was nothing but silence…and serenity. Not even portaging could steal this bliss!
Back to base
We returned to our campsite for a night fireside filled with a passionate dissection of the latest Game of Thrones episodes and Liam’s love life. As the sun set on our small group, it was replaced by the most brilliant night sky bursting with stars, a sight you simply don’t experience living in the city. It was another lasting memory I would walk away with. The next morning, it was time for us to return to the city. As we paddled and portaged our way back, I soaked up the last few moments with a smile and no regrets.
If you’re wondering whether I’d ever go canoeing again. The answer is a resounding yes. Would I ever camp again? Well, while I still haven’t made friends with camping, if it gets me one step closer to beautiful sunrises, breathtaking sunsets and brilliant star-filled skies, I could see us at least becoming acquaintances.