Over the first weekend of June, right after the term ended, I went on my first real camping trip. I’ve camped twice before but this was a more authentic level of camping that I hadn’t experienced yet.
The idea first came up a week and a half before the trip was set to begin. One of the members in our excursions WhatsApp group posted an announcement about this trip being put on by a local tour company, and it caught my interest. I admit to being a little bit apprehensive about it because it was a camping trip on the Lena River, which would require us to row boats. Seeing as I haven’t exercised since I left Jamaica almost a year ago, my strength level isn’t where it used to be and I was concerned that my arms wouldn’t keep up under the strain. But a colleague of mine encouraged me away from that line of thinking, saying that my arms were stronger than I thought since we had been on a quest together several weeks before where I had helped to lift four other women over an obstacle. I took her point and asked the person who posted about the trip to sign me up.
The trip was arranged by the same company with which I had gone hiking on the two previous weekends. They had proved their professionalism and dependability during those two hikes so I had no concerns in that direction. Meanwhile, I started debating with myself about an entirely different subject: whether or not to buy water boots. It was recommended that we bring water boots but I didn’t trust this recommendation entirely since we had been recommended (not by the company) to wear our heavy coats and ski pants on the last hike, which would have left me roasting like I was in a furnace. Thankfully, I had ignored that recommendation, but I wasn’t sure if I should ignore this one.
I dithered about it for a few days, even going to the local Chinese market (it’s a big flea market where everything is sold cheaper than in normal stores) on the Sunday before the trip to check out the water boots there. I ended up not buying anything, still not convinced that I needed them. However, a day later I saw a post on Instagram from the tour company showing pictures from last year’s trip and their preparations for this year’s trip and I immediately realised that water boots weren’t an option; they were a necessity. Off I went to the Chinese market again that Tuesday morning, where I bought a pair of water boots in record time and hurried back to school for my next class.
I spent the rest of the week mentally debating what I should bring with me. On Thursday evening, after our trip to the challenge course and to a shop across the street to pick up mosquito repellent, I finally started packing my backpack.
A word on Yakutian mosquitoes: they’re huge. These are the biggest mosquitoes I’ve ever seen in my life. They’re also numerous in the summer. They land on you in droves and it makes no sense to try to bat them away because they come right back. On the other hand, they’re slow. When they land on you, it takes them a second to work themselves up to actually penetrating your skin, so you have time to get rid of some of them before they do damage. At least, that’s been my experience. So mosquito repellant was a must. Another plus about these mosquitoes is that they don’t carry diseases.
Other than that, I packed a few toiletries, warm tights to sleep in since it would be cold at night, a couple of shirts and my fleece sweater. I wore my rain jacket since it’s also a very effective windbreaker and I figured I’d need it at the start of our journey.
We met on Friday evening at the same rendezvous spot we had used for our two previous hikes, and set off at about 5 pm for an hour-long bus ride to our starting point. Only one of my colleagues and I joined this excursion, although our group for the weekend ended up being twenty-two people in all, including three children. Oh, plus one dog.
After driving on the two-lane highway for a while, we pulled off the main road and drove across a field, eventually ending up at our starting point on the river. There, we alighted from the bus with our luggage, sprayed ourselves with mosquito repellant – they’re thick by the river – and got divided up into groups for each boat, of which there were four. My colleague and I, plus two young women who had won the trip as a prize for coming first in a museum quest, and an older lady, formed a group, along with the only English-speaking guide. I had actually met this guide a few months before when I went to their office to enquire about summer excursions. I was happy to see him on this trip because I hadn’t expected there to be any English speakers.
So here are some statistics about our group. Of the twenty-two people, six were men. Of these six men, four were guides and two were customers. Of the remaining sixteen people, three were children; there was one teenage boy, one teenage girl and a boy under ten years old. The rest of the thirteen people were women. And, of course, we had the dog, Belta, which belongs to one of the guides.
After we were assigned to our groups, we proceeded to pack our backpacks into large waterproof bags, and took turns pumping up and assembling our assigned pontoon boats (they’re boats in a bag, really). After this, the luggage was loaded onto the boats, wrapped in tarp and tied to the frame of the boat. Then we all waded into the water, now decked out in our water boots, and climbed aboard. My colleague and I were assigned to sit in the front on either side, which I didn’t mind at all.
About an hour after the bus dropped us off, we set off up the river. We didn’t go far that evening, travelling for only about forty-five minutes before we rounded an inlet and pulled up on an island. After unloading the baggage, we were given our sleeping bags and mats and our tents, which our guide showed us how to set up. We also took note of the woods in the distance that would serve as our bathroom for our stay on that island.
For the rest of the evening, we settled into camp, walking around and taking photos. Some of the women, a couple of whom I later learned were affiliated with the company, fixed dinner and we all ate around a communal “table”, which was one of the tarps spread out on the ground. During that meal, we all introduced ourselves.
Sometime after 11 pm, my colleague and I ventured into the woods for a last bathroom visit then brushed our teeth at the edge of the river using water scooped into our hands, before settling into our tent for the night. The children were still running around and playing and I hoped that they wouldn’t be at it for too long so that my sleep wouldn’t be disturbed. I needn’t have worried. I cocooned myself into my sleeping bag and was unaware of every sound and movement until seven hours later when my tent-mate got up for the day. Even then, I still dozed for about thirty minutes more before I got up myself.
So far, I had not one regret about going on the trip. I was happy to be in the middle of God’s nature and my soul felt like it was breathing deeply for the first time in ages.
But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; and let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind? Job 12:7-10 (NASV)