A School of Life: Memories of a Summer Base Camp

Manina Danou writes about the “homeland” of her childhood years, the place where she learned more than anywhere else about nature, people and life itself.


Whenever someone asks me to talk about camping – as though I were some kind of authority on the subject – I feel a tad awkward.

Not that I don’t have the experience to be able to share my views on the subject; after all, I’ve been staying at campsites since the age of five.

It was back then, in the early 1980s, that my parents decided that from then on our vacations were to take on this form, and duly purchased an RV for that purpose.

After that monumental decision, we set off to find some campsite a colleague of theirs had recommended, which was located “somewhere near Astros Kynourias,” in the Peloponnese.

My parents – who, it turned out, were no experts when it came to finding their bearings – along with five-year-old me in the back seat ended up spending hours searching for our own much-longed-for Ithaca, like some kind of modern Odysseuses, lost on the endless curves and bends of the coastal road linking Astros and Leonidio.

At some point we deemed that we’d finally found it. A half-built entrance lay open on the left-hand side of the road; we went through it and descended a steep hill.

At the bottom we came upon a few RVs and a small number of tents, and were thus able to make our way down as far as the seashore.

From what my folks used to tell me (as I’m unable to recall the details), the three of us were rendered speechless by the clear waters, the pristine beach, the fantastic vacant “front-row seat” under the immense old olive tree, the beauty of the bay that lay before us and the mountain that rose behind us – all linked up as in children’s drawings, with the sun sinking behind every evening.

We set up camp, grateful for the colleague’s suggestion, and the RV has stayed there – to this day.

Today, my parents are no longer alive, but with the RV in its same magical spot, my daughter now enjoys the same pleasures I had (well, almost, as the 2020s are quite different compared to the 1980s in terms of summertime carefreeness and parental fears).

And still vacationing around us are our neighbors from way back then, people who‘d begun gathering at that spot that very first summer or the ones that followed.

They gather there now, or their children do, or, best of all, three generations are present.

My childhood friends (we met and grew up there together) are now parents, and their mothers and fathers the grandparents.

As children, we’d spend the entire summer at the campsite.

Whenever the vacation time ran out for one set of parents, we’d be handed over to others who would look after us; thus, our care would pass from aunts to godmothers and from neighbors to parents’ best friends.

Sporting tar-like tans, we’d climb rocks and pry limpets off them, fish for bream, organize treasure hunts, and set up little markets where we’d sell little bracelets we’d woven and big round stones from our beach that we had drawn upon and colored.

Over time, we made our way through childhood, adolescence and university, and we set out on vacations elsewhere as well.

However, everyone always returned to our “base” for at least one week each year, often grumbling about the perpetual repetition of summers at the campsite (but also grateful for this gift, deep down inside).

University studies, marriages, separations and divorces, children, deaths, relocations, career changes, illnesses, trials and tribulations and bankruptcies…

We experienced them all, the only constant for everyone being this little dot on the map.

When we were little, we’d live at the campsite for almost the whole summer, without donning shoes or entering any enclosed spaces except for our RVs, living more in nature than we perceived or could ever wish for.

We’d do the dishes in makeshift sinks, build treehouses in the old olive tree, and chill under the locust tree, cooled by the boukadoura – the afternoon wind that helped parents and children alike to drift asleep.

We’d eat cherries and apricots, tossing the pits into the flower bed with the geraniums and bougainvilleas.

There were years when we were lucky and some of these would sprout; eventually, everyone ended up with a fruit tree in their flower bed.

After we’d grown up a bit, our parents would depart for Athens and leave us there on our own for a few fantastic days.

Whenever they did this, we felt as though the campsite – and the whole world, for that matter – belonged to us.

Of all the adult responsibilities they handed over to us upon departure, the one that made us feel the proudest was that of watering those flower beds.

It was the sole obligation that we’d execute as asked.

All the other ones – like making our beds, taking the trash up to the main garbage bins, keeping the fridge well-stocked with bottled water and keeping the RVs clean and tidy – we’d ignore until the day before our parents’ return.

We did this because we could get away with it, and because when the whole world is yours, you just don’t make your bed.

At the last minute, we’d do everything together.

Our parents would return on Friday evenings and we’d hand over the campsite, and the world at large, in excellent condition.

So, when people ask me about camping as a vacation option – as if I were some kind of expert – I’m not quite sure what to say.

Having the luxury of an RV with a patio-like extension, a kitchen sink, furniture, a fridge, a chemical toilet, a TV, an air-conditioning unit, a shower with hot water until sunset (and even, for one year, a satellite dish), I don’t know if I have the right to talk about what might be called “classic” camping.

I can only talk about my home, my own “village,” the one constant in my life to date, the “homeland” of my childhood years, the place where, more than anywhere else, I learned about nature, the world and people.

And, like everything else in real life, it came about completely by chance.

Remember that campsite the colleague had told my parents about, the one we’d been looking for back in 1981 and that became the spark for 40 summers?

Well, it turns out we ended up finding a completely different one.


Read More

Peloponnese

The “Game of Thrones”, Peloponnese-style

Eight must-see castles in the most underrated Greek destination


Peloponnese

Methoni and Koroni: Messinia’s Charming Castle Towns

The two castle-towns of Messinia, Methoni and Koroni, complement one...


GASTRONOMY

Peloponnesian Wines

Meet the most famous wine varieties from this blessed land


GASTRONOMY

Mapping the Peloponnesian Wineland

German connoisseur Markus Stolz’s passion for Greek wine is plain...


Greece Is Blog Posts

I believe in Greece

BY Greece Is

Every time I see the Parthenon it takes my breath...

read more >

A House in Kritsa

BY Claire Lees Ingham

“It was all a bit spontaneous,” I say, when people...

read more >

Musing on the Greek Legacy in the Shadow of the Acropolis

BY Stella Thomas

How the ancient Greek virtues of wisdom, courage,...

read more >