Thursday, November 14, 2013


Due to the popularity of some of the sites' pages, Under the Tarp will be dividing into two different websites!

This one will continue to write blogs about the camping experience, and the new one--CAMPING AND HIKING IDEAS--will contain the recipes, tips and guidelines for a great camping experience.

Camping and Hiking Ideas is dedicated to making your outdoor life better. To that end, the new site will have a ton of information in the following areas:

The Campsite--Tents, chairs, making fires--everything you need to know about setting up a campsite for your comfort and enjoyment

Food!--Recipes not only for  standard cooking but also for kids and for dutch ovens, pit cooking and spit cooking.

Campsite Activities--Is it raining? Are the kids bored? First time out and no idea what to do? There are so many ideas to choose from here that you'll never be bored again. Better yet, there will always be something for the kids to do so that you can get back to that book you were reading.

Hiking--Hikers are in a class by themselves. We treat them that way. Gear, tips, reviews; it's all here.

Survival--Survival gear and ideas to help you survive, not just in the woods, but anywhere.

Reviews--Chainsaws, tents, knives, fishing rods--anything and everything is reviews. We also take requests for reviews. Designed to inform you of the pros and cons of something before you buy.

Want to see the site? Click here.

Monday, July 29, 2013

August Camping Weekend

So--We are going camping up in Hope for the August long weekend. Lovely! It was a spur of the moment decision so we are scrambling to get everything together. Because our usual campsite in the bush is likely to be grabbed if we don't move proactively one of my brothers is going to pack up and go in a couple of days. Then we get the big area away from the highway and the bridge and near the river. This is our menu:

     We'll be all there Friday evening. Because some of us work and won't be able to leave until early evening, we may not roll in until about 6 or 7. We are therefore going to do up some shake n' bake chicken at home the evening before and bring it with us, along with a veg plate and dip, and nachos and salsa. Then we can set up our tents, and just sit down and eat and suck back beer, water or iced tea, depending on who we are. No campfire bans yet, so we are crossing fingers and toes and everything else that that will keep up.

     Breakfast--Bacon and eggs over-easy, and chocolate-chip pancakes. Perhaps an apple-pan dowdy for the grownups.
     Dinner--Spaghetti. Yes, spaghetti. From scratch. My brother-in-law is making it. Garlic toast as an accompaniment.

     Breakfast--Pork chops (you haven't lived until you have porkc hops for breakfast), eggs sunny side up, salsa hashbrowns (see recipe page), and baking powder biscuits proudly baked in my little camping oven, with raspberry jam.
     Dinner--Steak with bleu cheese butter and ribs (see recipe), Greek salad, mashed potatoes, herbed bannock bread (see recipe).

     Farmers Pancake (see recipe), to get rid of some of the leftovers.

Readers of this blog already know we gave up making lunches long ago. Far better to take snacks and easy stuff and let everyone make there own. We'll be taking a variety of cheeses and smokies and buns and chili, tapenade and baguettes and ground beef/ground pork mixes, nuts and fruit and nachos and chips. So we'll have plenty to snack on throughout the day.

Even though today was a heavy work day I took the time to check over our kitchen gear. I was glad I did. Remember our plastics bin was stolen when we went up to Sayers last year? All the serving utensils were in that bin. We had to make do mixing stuff with little dinkey plastic ware. So tomorrow when I'm out and about I'll sneak into a dollar store and stock up on mixing spoons, spatulas, egg turners and the like. We'll be good to go then. Also tomorrow when I get home I have to check and see what we have, biffy-wise. Very important gear to remember.

I'm exhausted. I can hardly wait to be sitting around the fire out in the middle of nowhere with my family.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

There's No Place Like Home, There's No Place Like Home...

photo credit: ViaMoi via photopin cc

So here we go.

The real early morning before the day we are due to leave I stumble around the camp kitchen in the dark because I couldn't find my flashlight in my tent. It's not like it's a big tent; it a little teeny dome tent that sleeps two uncomfortably. Fifteen minutes I spent on my hands and knees groping the entire inside perimiter of the blasted thing trying to find my flashlight and no way was it going to show itself. I had brief dreams of Luke Skywalker's lightsaber and how obedient that was. Oh, for a Jedi mind trick...

It's four a.m. and not yet light and the rain is pouring this morning, I mean really pouring, and I'm barking my shins on stuff in the camp kitchen and knocking over other stuff in there and gingerly sipping the juice I managed to locate and pour myself. I say 'gingerly' because the last time I poured something in the dark morning and knocked it back thinking it was juice it turned out to be the remnants of a boxed white wine someone had left on the table the night before, and wasn't that a nasty shock for the tastebuds, let me tell you. But all the while I am humming a happy little tune in my brain because I get to go home tomorrow morning as soon as I have packed everything and nothing by gosh can dampen my spirits today, not even the airborne tsunami we seem to be experiencing at the moment.

So I make a huge fire this morning to give it a fighting chance against the downpour (the tarp over us hangs over the fire about halfway, partially keeping the rain off) and I sip my coffee and decide to make pancakes.

At nine a.m. everyone else gets up all glum and unhappy because they want to stay longer, if you can believe it, but I don't care; I have a grin as big as the outdoors this morning and nothing can wipe it off. Then Cam decides to take one more fishing trip on the lake, hang the downpour, and did I want to come along? Do I!

So we get out on the lake and fishing is not too bad and the roaring rain keeps all the mosquitos away and the rainwater is just running off us and filling the canoe and I sugest to Cam don't bail us out the fish we catch can just swim around in the bottom of the canoe and stay fresh, and he mentions sinking and leeches and my smile falters Just A Bit, but then it comes back and I help bail now and then.

Dick is on the shore and sort of hopping up and down.

"WHAT?" Cam screams but it's useless; the rain makes it impossible to hear anything. So we paddle toward shore. We're almost there when Dick cups his hands around his mouth and yells, "North Barre Lake Road is washed out! We may be here for five more days!"

For some reason I heard it all long and drawn out and like it was a 78 rpm record (dating myself here) being played at 33. I gripped the sides of the canoe and leaned forward until Cam and I were nose to nose. "I don't care what you do, if you have to rebuild that damn road you get me out of here tomorrow or so help me someone's going to pay," I said in a hissy, growly voice I've never heard coming from me befofre. I could see it even gave Cam a bit of a turn.

When we finally got back to the campsite Dick and Ellie were as cheerful as two kids who find out that snow has closed the schools. Cam is immediately infected with this attitude, and they laugh and joke and make cheery plans about what to do about food. I plaster a smile on my face which hardens into something immoveable and go about my business. Dick sits down and for some reason regales me with the stupidity of Deep Woods Off users, and how effective the Raid he's been spraying on his hat and clothing has been against the mosquitos. It's abundantly clear we are not dealing with an environmentalist here. I wish something on him but take it back before it lands because it's not very nice. Cam is scrounging around for something to eat; with the exception of the pancakes I have gone on strike as camp cook and both men are showing signs of starvation and Ellie has gone through a 2-kilo container of mixed nuts. These people are pitiful.

"So, what do you think about the wash-out?" Dick suddenly makes the mistake of asking me. "Great, huh?"

I smile sweetly. "Actually, Dick," I say, "It's about the worst camping trip I have ever been on, but I try to make the best of any situation I am in if I can't change it; and if I can't change it I make certain I never find myself in that situation again. So if we have to stay here even one day past tomorrow, well Dick; it's been nice knowing you and Ellie and I hope you two and Cam have wonderful future camping trips together."

Everyone stops smiling. "Max, you can't predict mother nature. It's not like you're in civilization out here. This is the wilds."

It is not, you cretin, I think to myself. This is a provincial campsite. We have roads in, for heaven's sake. There's cleared camping areas and felled logs for the taking. There's a cleaned up slope to launch boats! All we are in is a civilized camping area with bad roads, and if you guys were committed to making it in, you can be committed to making it out.

Fortunately these words do not make it past my lips and so I don't have to feel bad about them later.

The next morning it's not raining and Cam and Dick drive out to the washed-out area of the road, which is past our (alien word) bridge, which has held up just fine in the torrential rain thank you very much, and they find out it's not so bad after all. Really, it's just power-lines down, which the crews are already at work on, and little floods across the roads, which are all passable with our car and camper.

By the time they get back I already have half the stuff packed up and the tents down and packed away. Knowing the group I am camping with a bit better now I was pretty certain a) it wasn't as bad as they originally made it out to be, and b) they would be notoriously slow packing up.

Eventually we are loaded up and move on out. Dick and Ellie decide to take the long way back and stop at a motel on the way, Cam and I decide to make it back home in one six-hour speedy go after gassing up at the first station we come to. Four hours later we see a sign that lets us know we are about forty-five minutes away (yes I am aware of the math) from home. We go faster. A half hour later I am running in the door and tearing my clothes off and turning the shower on to "crazy hot". Then I got out, dried off, put on clean, beautiful nice clean clothes and went into the kitchen to make myself something that I could eat off a real plate.

I was home.

And yet somehow that never stopped me from camping.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Leeches Revisited, Vomiting

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I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and wait for the pitch black to change to its typical dreary wet grey, this camping trip's color of choice that goes so well with my mood and accessorizes so nicely with most of my warm-clothes wardrobe, now covered in muddy clay and also well-smoked.

I utilize this time to check my body for new mosquito bites. The few short episodes of good weather which I begin to search for by day three like a shipwreck victim at sea looking for land are spoiled somewhat by the clouds of mosquitos that make their appearance in tandem with the rays of sunshine. I count twenty. I am very itchy.

Eventually the sky lightens and I get into my last pair of clean jeans and the sweatshirt I was saving for the trip home so as to smell at least half-way respectable when we hit civilization. I also put on my runners which resemble clods of mud, poor soles (heh).

My quiet time is all too brief as the camp wakes up five hours later. The guys scarf down the breakfast I have made and head off to get more wood. This, I suspect, is the real, secret reason Cam and Dick go camping, because they cut up enough dead wood on one trip to supply several campsites. They have done just that on several occasions. This time, however, the cold and wet has actually made it necessary to clear most of the surrounding woods of dead-fall for our own use; dead-fall and, yes, any and all branches with moose-moss on it, my new best friend, which I suspect has a larger IQ than Ellie, so you can see why I love it so, personality-wise, besides being good for burning.

While Cam and Dick are gone I decide to try and wash a couple of shirts which is fine because I never go anywhere without bleach and I have hot water and soap. Drying them will be a bit trickier because of the relentless rain. I have to try, though, because half my wardrobe is summerwear.

I go to the 5-gallon plastic water jug we have for fresh water, turn the spout, and get just enough for laundry purposes before it goes dry.

"I'll get some more," Ellie announces, hefts the jug off the section of wood it's on and wanders off. It is the first work I have seen her do without prompting.

At this point it may be advantageous to explain that on this particular trip Dick has seen fit to bring with him about 150 feet of rubber hose, because the fresh water stream that feeds down to the lake is a little ways away from the campsite. Cam and he have rigged it so that the end at our site sits about four feet off the ground, thanks to a nifty little "Y"-shaped branch rammed into the earth and some duct tape. Don't even go camping without that stuff. I mean it. Set up in this manner, filling jugs is alot easier, although you have to keep the jugs held up and it gets heavy. But the hose end is not sitting in mud, is my point, so the water stays clean.

She gets back by the time I have washed and hung up my shirts and we putter around until the guys return. I help them unload the wood. We spend the rest of the day slogging around in the mud, warming our frozen bodies in front of the fire and eating.

Betty mentions, while Dick is making coffee for the three of them, that she was the one that went and got the water; I assume in a vain attmept to prove that she too is pulling her weight around the campsite, since it has become painfully obvious that I have been doing all the cooking for nearly a week now. I am getting mutinous.

Dick frowns. "How'd you get the jug so full?"

"What do you mean?" Ellie asks.

"You can't hold the jug up off the ground once it gets past a third full. How'd you get it so full?"

"Oh, who needs the spout? I just laid the jug flat in the dip where the stream meets the lake. Filled it up good."

The boys make disgusted sounds. "What's wrong?" Ellie asks.

"Ellie," Dick explains with the exaggerated patience of a psychiatrist to someone who is quite mad, "You can't get the water from that part of the stream. That's why we have the hose picking up water from way upstream."

Ellie is getting defensive. "There's nothing wrong with the water," she replies.

"What is wrong with your memory, Ellie?" Even Cam, who has the patience of a saint, has become exasperated. "Last year when we were here we had to transport water from way up there because of the leeches at the base of the stream where it meets the lake, remember?"

I feel my gorge, which up until now I never knew I had, begin to rise. It seems I have been over-snacking today. I thank my lucky stars that my liquid refreshment for the day has consisted of juice, and that our meals hadn't needed cooking in what my mind has now labelled in mental screams of the damned as "leech water".

Dick dumps the water from out of the coffee pot, goes over to the jug, unscrews the cap and peers in. He looks over at Cam.

Cam says, "No way."

Dick dumps the water on to the ground. I watch the clear liquid, fascinated, my mind supplying my wretched stomach with all the ideas it needs to keep it jumping. As the last of the water gurgles out onto the ground and runs toward the puddles just outside of the tarp, a healthy leech the size of a man's forefinger swandives elegantly from the jug.

It is too much for me. I run from the site and show the world the contents of my stomach.

My brother, who is remarkably sensitive at moments like these, gives me a minute or two, then comes up and places a sympathetic hand on my shoulder. "You o.k., Max?" he asks.

I gaze at him with still-watery eyes. "Can we camp at Lake Lucille next year?" I sound pitiful even to my own ears. Cam pats me on the shoulder.

"Lake Lucille has leeches too, Max," he replies. We go back. Dick has gotten fresh water and is boiling it to sanitize the water jug. Everyone is quiet for the rest of the day.

Last installment:  There's No Place Like Home, There's No Place Like Home..."
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bears And Bare Butts

Day four dawns wet and dark. I sleep a little longer than usual and get up at 5:30 a.m. Everything is grey. The sky is grey. Even the mud is grey because of the clay content. The gravel, which we stole from the logging road leading in to the site and spread along the pathway in an effort to avoid the mud, is grey and sinking out of sight. I fire up the propane burner (oh thank you, thank you whover invented the electric starter) and put a small pot of water on to boil for my tea. When I pour the water into my cup there is whitish-grey residue in the pot; the clay is everywhere.

While my tea is steeping I get some branches with moose-moss on them and re-kindle the fire. I had had the foresight, the day before, to place any branch with moose-moss on it beneath a tarp, and so it is dry and in abundance. Moose-moss is better than paper, which in this weather is almost soggy, even in the tent. I don't even have to use fire-starter, which is (TAKE NOTE) a handy thing but not as good as a fireplace log--I have since taken to bringing a fireplace log for each day I camp, because the thing burns for an hour or so, so you have plenty of time to get your first fire of the day started no matter what the weather is. I throw a few logs on, also saved from rain by the almighty tarp, and as it catches and begins to throw off that lovely sanity-saving heat I make my tea. It's in a thermos mug and stays hot for hours please also take note. After a couple of hours of tea-sipping, fire-gazing and listening to nature (mostly birds and rain), it occurred to me that I should probably get some of the rained-on wood for the fire; it was now burning hotly and could probably handle a smallish log or two of the wet stuff. I dutifully go out and grab a handful.

MEANWHILE, AT DICK'S TENT:  Dick (not his real name) wakes up. It is 9:00 a.m. He peeks outside the tent flap and sees no one about. He is the first one up. He wants to get dressed but the dome tent he and Ellie sleep in is too small to stand up in. He is sick of getting dressing in a crouched  position. So what if he's nude? No one is up. He'll just get dressed really, really quickly in the drizzly rain. No one will be the wiser.

Dick is a scrawny guy on the less fortunate side of 65. His height makes him seem even scrawnier than he is. He has a loveable, homely face and sallow cheeks--both sets.

I came around the corner with my arm-load of wood and nearly gave myself away by dropping it. To this day I am grateful his back was to me as he hauled his tighty-whities on. I am not a woman given to panic though. I crouch down behind the nearest tent and duck-walked backwards until I was behind a stand of trees. Then I crouched there until my face stopped being red. I gave it a minute or two more to make certain Dick the Stork was fully garbed, then I put on a busy air and srode forward. My foot goes out from under me on the wet greasy clay mud and I hit the ground on my back, wood scattering everywhere.  Suddenly there was a fully-clothed (yay) Dick. "Jeez, Max, are you alright?" He helps me to my feet. I mumble a reply, forgetting most of the consonants that end most of the words, and he helps me pick up the wood and take it back to the fire.

The others get up soon after, I make breakfast and they scarf it down, then Dick and Cam take off in Dick's truck to get more wood. Two hours later they walk back into camp. A young bear shot across the road in front of them and Dick swerved to avoid it, placing the truck firmly into a really deep hole neither of them noticed. We all walk back to the truck and spend the rest of the afternoon creating an (alien word) ramp to get the truck out. We succeed and drive back to camp. Dick goes into his tent and hauls out his rifle, and was gone until well after dark looking for the bear, regulations be damned.

You gotta wonder about a guy who swerves to avoid killing a bear and then spends the next several hours trying to hunt it down.

Eventually he came back. I make dinner and everyone settles down to serious drinking, which I find very entertaining as I am the only sober one there. It is as funny and curious as a Charlie Chaplin film reel.

The next day Dick mentioned he had gotten out of the camper nude and gotten dressed, unaware that I was out getting wood, and how not five minutes later he saw me come around the side of the tent, slip and fall in the mud. He seems to think this is hilarious. "Lucky she didn't show up sooner," he jokes. The others laugh.

I don't say a word.

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Next Installment: Leeches Revisited, Vomiting 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Leeches, Rain and Water

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The next day, of course, dawns bright and clear except for the steady downpour of rain. It was this very morning that I realized the first significant difference in my camping style as opposed to everyone else's. I am a 5:00 a.m. riser, the rest are not, being more of the "brunch" style camping mode. This makes it difficult to coordinate breakfast but I learn in the days ahead to be grateful for this quiet time.

My natural optimism hasn't been twisted into something weird yet, and this morning the rain doesn't bother me at all; when the other three get up some hours later I make chirpy little replies to the mutinous comments of the other three as they realize it's still raining. In the near future, these opinions between the other three and myself will make a radical about-face, but none of us knew that then. I make a massive breakfast, which lifts their spirits, and then I notice Dick and Ellie lifting other sorts of spirits and it's like two hours before lunch.

But what the hey; it's camping!

Cam decides he's going to go fishing today despite the rain. "Wanna tag along, Max?"--which ties in nicely with his personal agenda: Get Max to Catch At Least One Fish, goal "A" having been already reached (Get Max to North Barre Lake or Die). Cam makes hobbies of people. I am a fishing novice, so he has invested in a couple of hundred dollars of rod, reel, tackle-box and year-long fishing licence for me. This little bro of mine is not afraid of personal, time or monetary commitment. It does, however, place a tad of stress on me to perform.

"No, you don't put your dry flies and your wet flies together, Max; stick 'em on two separate shelves in your tackle box."  "Twist the wedding bands around and wind the ends three times to keep them from unravelling."  "You don't want to take those hooks out of their plastic packages just yet Max."

"Why?" I comment sarcastically. "Are they in danger of getting wet?" I am sitting in my camping chair. The fishing rod is leaning against my shoulder and plastic packaging is blowing into the campfire and melting on the rocks, adding an oddly pleasing texture.

Cam and Dick both nod. I stare at them for maybe fifteen seconds before I nearly upset the tackle-box in my lap by leaning forward and gritting, "They're hooks, you idiots"--but they never made the connection. Perhaps I was being obscure.

At any rate, Cam and I eventually got all our stuff into the canoe(yes, canoe Dick always takes a canoe) and Cam started to paddle out a little further onto the lake before he started the motor(yes Dick has an outboard motor jury-rigged onto his canoe). It was quiet and the rain lessened to a mist, and I leaned back in my waterproof rain gear and languidly trailed one hand in the water. This was quite nice, really.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Max; not until we get into deeper water."
"Why not?"

"Leeches. There's a lot around h--"

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"Max, calm down. Unless you actually have one attached to you, standing up in a canoe is in bad form. Besides, toppling the both of us into the lake--MIND THE HOOKS ON THE RODS!!--will only make us leech-bait." Cam's keen insight into an individual's motivation works. I sit down quickly and quietly, checking my hand for leeches for the umpteenth time.

We get out into the middle of the lake. I am given lots of needless advice. I do what comes naturally, fishing-wise. He gets more fish than me, but I get the largest one. We come back to shore, mutually satisfied.

I make lunch for everyone. It's day three of the camping trip all told, and we all agreed we would take turns cooking for the day, but so far that hasn't happened. What the hey. I don't mind camp cooking; in fact, I have decided I like it very much.  Cam teaches me how to clean the fish. "Don't hold them by their mouths when you scale 'em, Max." He goes away and I stick my fingers in the trouts' mouths to hold them steady while I scale 'em. The next morning I wake up with the first three fingers on my left hand full of cuts. They sting like crazy.

Next Installment: Bears and Bare Butts

Saturday, October 6, 2012

I Get My First Real Glimpse of the Rest of the Camping Trip

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An acquaintance once-removed once said, "Adventures are never fun while you're having them." I would like to shake that guy's hand.

We drive down to North Barre Lake and in the sunshine it is everything they promised--picturesque, with large cleared spaces for camping, fresh water nearby(more about that later)...

We park. I am energized by my brother's success in building the (alien word) bridge, so I jump out and start hauling gear out of the car. Tents, chairs, sleeping bags and sundries are whipped out and made into a mountain of retail. I spy the fire-pit and abandon the gear like I am a dog and it is a pile of dirt behind me, and trot over. It has seen more than a few campers and is in dismal shape. The first thing I do is pull the rocks outward into a wider circle, because I believe in white women's fires, which are far larger than native indian fires but far smaller than Cam's white man's fires(this was, of course, before the fire-size regulations that were ushered in by a freaked-out government a year or so ago). This is why I am the fire-starter of the group. Then I haul over my camping chair and place it in an optimal place directly in front of the fire-pit. The other three are walking the parameter of an imaginary giant tarp and discussing height and area and suchlike things. There is much pointing and pushing back of hats.

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I notice it has gotten very cloudy in the last few minutes, from brilliant blue sky to ominous overcast shadows. I feel this should be addressed.

"Hey guys, it sure is getting dark, isn't it ge--"

It begins to rain, like someone has turned on a shower faucet. In the space of maybe fifteen seconds, it becomes a roaring downpour. Cam and Dick race for the trunk of the Buick and haul out the big tarp, in order to get it up over the camp site as fast as possible. Before they even have it completely unfolded, the rain turns to hail--huge hail, a little smaller than a ping-pong ball but only just. I take a moment to dance around in it, excited by the change in weather and convinced we will have summer for the rest of the week anyway, but abruptly the pain of the hailstone onslaught drives me under the tarp, now unfolded but still not up. Ellie is already there, pretending to tie the tarp up from the underside. I am not so concerned about the others' opinions. I am in survival mode and take refuge in a convenient pocket made by some of the abandoned gear. I am glad Cam and Dick are wearing hats and thick camping vests. They will survive long enough to set up the tarp.

The hail stops when the tarp is assembled. There is enough finer hail on the ground, our coolers and my chair to have a quick snowball fight. I am freezing. I layer on a shirt and sweater, which helps, and start a fire, which helps more, and break out the beer, which helps the best of all.

The mosquitos come out of hiding and attack. In droves. We run for the Deep Woods Off. They back off a little but not completely. I set up my tent and throw my inflatable mattress inside, then my mattress liner and my sleeping bag. It is wet, it is cold, it is dark. I go to bed. It is July, at 8:30 of a not-so-balmy evening.

The rest follow suit moments later. The campsite grows quiet, save for the rain, which has begun to fall in a way that bodes ill for the promise of summer sunshine the next day. A bear snuffles nearby.
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"Max?" It is Cam, whose tent is near mine.


"Take this into the tent with you..."

I open the tent flap. A machete is placed in my hand.


Next Installment: Leeches, Rain and Drinking Water

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