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Alas, ye old hippy ... endless sand, driftwood shacks and long
nights passed in a ganga haze are getting harder and harder to
Once the defining notion of a life without strings, setting up
camp on a beach is no longer a simple matter... it requires
planning and effort, and even then, the man may have arrived
Said old hippy will recall the days when Long Beach on Vancouver
Island was awash in tie-dye, macrame and a come-what-may vibe.
Modern day libertarians are faced with a different tune. Long
Beach has long been closed to camping, and those beaches that
are still open require a kayak or backpack to get to, and a
willingness to play by the rules.
Here's a quote from the BC Parks Service admonishing those who
plunk themselves down without proper regard for authority
... random campers will be asked to move to one of the
designated campsites. Camping in areas other than designated
campsites is a violation under various Acts, which are rigidly
Ouch; and they want money to boot. Likewise, in the US the
National Park Service makes it clear that, while camping may be
still be allowed in some of their parks, its not going to be
Open fires are prohibited; use a backcountry stove for cooking.
Campsites must be north of the primary dune, not in sight of the
beach, in a sandy area with no vegetation, and at least one mile
inside the wilderness boundary. There are limited dune crossings
from the wilderness to the beach. Dogs and other pets are not
allowed during plover nesting season: March 1 - Labor Day; at
other times they are permitted but must be on a 6' leash at all
So much for bringing the dog. And, lest the old hippy begins to
think such restrictions are a North American phenomena, the same
officious government meddlers have applied rules and regulations
to beaches in Thailand, Costa Rica, Australia, South Africa and
just about anywhere else intrepid freedom lovers may choose to
Restrictions, of course, make sense; peripatetic wanderers have
colonized the globe to the degree that there is no place truly
untouched. The idea that an individual can "leave no trace" has
been largely discounted, and even those who make the attempt
must still admit, that as their numbers increase, the ideal
becomes only that; an ideal and not a practical reality.
No matter what we may wish, or say, or do, our passing leaves an
imprint on the environment, and this is particularly true of the
pristine environments nature lovers most covet. Every
mountaineer knows the disappointment of having attained a summit
only to find bootprints left by the previous party. Likewise,
every sailor, kayaker and canoer can relate stories of running
into long lost classmates 7 days from put-in. Unbelievably,
Mount Rainier National Park plays host to more than 2 million
visitors a year.
With that in mind, old gray beard shouldn't be surprised that
he's been caught in the corral. So what's he to do?
"Work harder, go further, don't get caught." Such is the advice
offered by those who pursue those pristine beaches with a
Isla Espiritu Santo, just off La Paz on the Baja Peninsula
proves the point. Designated a global conservation priority by
The Nature Conservancy, it has all the qualities a adventure
traveler may wish. It, and the surrounding islands are
chock-a-block with picturesque beaches, mangrove lagoons, rock
formations and sea life. They are also chock-a-block with
eco-tour groups, charter boats, and an assortment of independent
travelers intent on getting their fix of mother nature.
And therein lies the challenge ... while its possible to find a
deserted beach one must be prepared to make more effort than the
almost anybody else to get there. In the Sea of Cortez, what
this means is finding an Island with no water supply, and just
that much further off the beaten path, than the organized tours
companies are prepared to push their guests.
Likewise, Playa Naranjo in Costa Rica, a beautiful,
kilometers-long, pale gray sand beach that is legendary in
surfing lore for its steep, powerful tubular waves and for
Witches Rock rising like a sentinel out of the water is on the
map ... it is every bit worth the effort, but be forewarned,
others have been there before. Off season may just be the best
time to go ...
Getting Away With It ...
So that said, it's Thursday afternoon and you've got a deep
longing to hop in a woody, drive less than two hours, and set up
camp in the sand. To get away with it you're going to need some
luck and some planning. Here's what you do --
- arrive after dark
- go solo or in pairs - small groups attract less attention
- keep a low profile - a low tent behind a dune is much less
visible than a 6 person department store special
- no fires - damn!
- no light - have you ever seen tent lit from within?
- no noise - the stereo stays at home
- clean up after yourself - no trash, no trail, no evidence
In short, act like that old hippy should have acted 20 years;
respect the beach and respect those that follow.
About the author:
In addition to his lifelong interest in the outdoors recreation
community, Trevor Paetkau is the proprietor of Moraine Adventure
Books, an independent source of Adventure Travel,
Recreation articles, advice, books and resources.
Written by: Trevor Paetkau
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