Four Seasons Camping

July 2008

My Stories

Containing Jim in Paris

Ranging the Yellowstone

Lisbon Portugal- Part 1

Lisbon and Sintra- Part 2

Evora Portugal- Part 3

Coimbra Portugal- Part 4

Porto Portugal- Part 5

At the Mammogram Office

Carmel Art Gallery

Venice- Part I

Veneto- Part II

Ravenna- Part III

Cinque Terre- Part IV

Vernazza Bonus- Part V

Granner

Crunch Time

Putting on the Ritz

Granada and Sevilla

Amsterdam

Tuscany and Umbria - 1

Tuscany and Umbria - 2

Driving in England

Dwelling in England

A Dozens Reasons

In the Hamam

Istanbul Greece Diary

Pearl Harbor Team

Old Girl

Paris

Provence

Grandpa's Cabin

Pay-It-Forward Latte

England and France

N. Italy - 1

N. Italy - 2

N. Italy - 3

N. Italy - 4

Lessons from 4 Corners

Mexico

Going to the Dogs

Don't Embarrass Me!

Letter from Siena

Arrivederci Roma

Joining the Matriarchs

Living History

Newlywed Game

Chaos Theory

Zach on the Road

Huckleberry Season

Stanley & the Sunbeam

I Dare Say

Legacy

Middle School Relay

Grad Party

Yellowstone

Moving On

Radio Shack

Newlywed Couches

Visitors

Old Faithful Inn

Snowbound

Sweet Potato

Mother Bear

Two Blondes in Iberia

Revisiting Spain

Four Seasons Camping

Curly's Truck.

Disaster Restorations

Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Ducks and Beavers

Wearing Red

Photo Boxes

Las Vegas Soufflé

40th Birthday Party

The Heart Tickler

Wonderful Little Things

Heritage Tour

Erickson Era

Old Buildings

Chelsea's

Split Seams

All Nighter

Talent Show

A Look Back

I blame it on Annie. If I were five years old, I'd point to her and say, "She started it!"

PRE-SEASON:

Four summers ago, Annie lived like a Costa Rican through a student exchange program. One host family took her on a beach vacation where the mom inspected their accommodations and exclaimed, Casa Fea! Annie understood enough Spanish to know that it was one ugly house.

Not only could you hear through the walls, you could see through them. The bathroom—we won't describe. The bedroom? Annie got one of the better beds—a double—but had to share it with a little girl, a family cousin.

They rode a public bus an hour each morning to get to the beach and ate packed Wonder Bread sandwiches for lunch. Annie grasped the economic reality of her host family and never uttered a word of complaint. She was grateful they'd taken her on this vacation typical of a modest Costa Rican family. But she couldn't help but notice the resort down the beach where foreigners lay in hammocks and sipped slushy drinks, a result of a successful campaign that brought tourist dollars and increased standards of living to all Costa Ricans. Annie started thinking.

The following summer, Jim, Annie and I made plans to visit Annie's Costa Rican host families for a few days and then experience one of those beach resorts. Annie found off-season rates at the new Costa Rican Four Seasons.

Annie's Costa Rican families were generous hosts but the parents spoke essentially no English. Jim speaks no Spanish but picked up the odd word like manana (tomorrow or morning in English) and yelled it at random to our puzzled friends.

I massacred the Spanish language. Nobody answered my questions until Annie explained that my English inflections made my questions sound more like statements to the Costa Rican ear. At a fish hatchery, I tried to conjugate the word for trout (trucha) to everyone's amusement; I was smart enough to laugh along. My brain's language center overheated. Our feet ached, too, after a long, unexpected hike in the slippery mud of the rain forest. We had to wash jungle from our Pumas afterwards.

We thanked Annie's host families and said adios, then set out on our own. Annie helpfully listed all the grammatical errors I'd committed over the previous days, but I didn't care: We were on our way to the Four Seasons.

A hired driver carried us in his rusty Volkswagen bus from San Jose to the Pacific Ocean. In Costa Rica, traffic laws are discretionary, so it's best to let others do the driving while you do the praying. I sat in the back seat, plugged in my iPod and floated along with Jars of Clay's version of "I'll Fly Away."

FOUR SEASONS COSTA RICA:

Annie had done enough research to know they often bump up guests during summer's slow season, when the heat keeps saner folks away. Sure enough, they boosted us from a regular room to a hill-side suite in the trees.

We spoke Spanish and made friends with our adorable Costa Rican bell boys. They laughed while loading our many grocery bags of food into a golf cart. We'd picked up snacks during our Volkswagen journey after hearing about the resort's notorious food prices; we wanted to limit our restaurant meals. We noted the times when the pool boys delivered free Haagen Dazs bars and fresh fruit kebobs. We scavenged trays of apples, pears and almonds around the property. We attended cooking classes partly because we could eat the results for free.

We took non-food-related classes, too, finding them marvelous entertainment. Jim flourished at flower- arranging class. At yoga dance class, I caught our images in the mirror and laughed so hard that the instructor stopped to check if I ware okay.

We played on the beach and Annie and Jim took advantage of water sports like ocean kayaking. As Annie paddled into shore one afternoon, she flipped over in the roll of a sneaker wave. She'd stuck out her left hand to brace herself and the weight of the kayak jammed her arm. Pool boys, beach boys, bell boys and even the chef (awaiting the day's catch) ran to her aid. The resort's Costa Rican physician (who seemed way too young and cute to be a real doctor) decided that Annie should have her arm x- rayed. A black Suburban materialized and transported us to the nearest town, 45-minutes away.

The resort's activities director, the charming Roberto, escorted us to the humble but tidy office of the local orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon determined that Annie hadn't broken her arm; she'd just strained a ligament. The bill for Annie's after-hours radiology and emergency visits totaled $175.00. We paid in cash. (Our insurance later reimbursed us.)

Roberto kept in communication with the Four Season's general manager throughout our medical field trip. When we pulled back into the resort later that evening, the manager and several staff met us curbside, clipboards and walkie-talkies in hand. The next morning many of these staff members, including the main chef, phoned to check on Annie.

Annie and I took a cooking class from our chef friend the following aftemoon. We learned to make those little potato-pasta balls called gnocchi. Since Annie had one arm in a sling, she partnered with me to divide and shape our balls. We used one arm each, rolling our gnocchi down forks tines to create indentations, as instructed. Our gnocchi were sorry little creatures, but I think our classmates were more annoyed by our frivolous attitude toward the grave business of gnocchi-making. We got to keep our chef hats and purchased our aprons for ten dollars—easily the greatest bargain at the Four Seasons.

We decided it was our best vacation ever. It was all worth it.

FOUR SEASONS PUNTA MITA

Zach couldn't get away because of his job, but Taylor decided to join us the following summer for round- two of resort vacation. We scored another off-season, sizzling-weather rate, this time at the Four Seasons north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

We packed our suitcases with cans of cashews and boxes of Mint Milano cookies. Our airport driver understood my bad Spanish enough to take us grocery shopping on our way to the resort. We stocked up on more snacks and Diet Coke. Once again, we mastered the free food plan at the pool and common areas.

In Mexico, we also had the option to eat in the bordering town of Punta de Mita. We dined on bargain- priced lobster dinners in thatched-hut beach restaurants. When Jim ordered a flaming dessert, the waiters dragged out fire extinguishers. "Just in case," they assured us. Outside resort walls, we consumed fresh fruits and green salads, and drank beverages with ice. Our reckless behavior caused mild digestive issues in the days that followed. But it was worth it.

Back at the resort, we attended Spanish class. The teacher reviewed a list of vocabulary words and then asked us all to go around the room and use those words in a sentence. Jim still shudders at the memory.

We took cooking classes for the free ceviche and guacamole but Taylor surprised us all by actually paying attention. To our delight, Taylor recreates that guacamole recipe for us on a regular basis today. (He's a stickler about using the correct chili peppers.)

We joined a hiking class. Actually, we were the hiking class. Our tour of a nearby historical site began with a ride in the ubiquitous air-conditioned black Suburban. After a short but blazing uphill walk, our leader ushered us over ancient Indian stone walls, which we found disturbing. (The Mexican government can't afford to protect these exposed ruins.) Following a quick history lesson, our Four Seasons guide reached into his backpack and pulled out chilled water bottles and cool washcloths to refresh us. It was surreal.

Aside from the Veronica Mars series we'd brought from home, we watched little television in Mexico. But turn on any resort television, and the same slick promotional video for Four Seasons' Residential Villas starts playing. The song was catchy, I have to admit. We all had it memorized by the end of our stay. I have a better understanding how brain-washing works now.

FOUR SEASONS CAMP SHERMAN

I'm not much of a camper. My family would say I'm not a camper at all. I went yurt camping once ten years ago, but Annie says that doesn't count. Our Girl Scout troop remembers when I wouldn't let us stay ovemight at the Jamboree. To their humiliation, I made us go home at the same time as the Brownies.

My last episode of actual camping, under all definitions, took place the summer of 1984. I remember this well because I was pregnant with Zach. We could barely afford groceries, much less a hotel room, so we camped. I remember thinking that camping was fun but that the necessary preparation and clean-up was a ton of work.

After giving birth a time or two or three, I ignored camping peer-pressure because I didn't want to monitor kids falling into camp fires or drowning in rivers. Once our children got old enough, Jim took them camping by himself. I might have joined them, but it dawned on me--l'd be sacrificing a rare chance for solitude. Jim would ask me what I wanted for my birthday, and I'd say "Take the kids camping!"

They'd go and have a fantastic time, but would usually return early due to some type of disaster. One kid would split open their knee on river rocks and need stitches. Another kid would inexplicably remove their only pair of shoes right before they climbed into the car. Later, I'd discover those little shoes on the garage floor and go, "Uh-oh."

Jim loves camping even more today, and our teenage and young adult children still join him. (l think Taylor remembers his shoes now.) My camping excuses have grown obsolete as our kids have grown. Recently, Jim asked me to join him camping—just the two of us. He promised to do all the prep and clean-up work. We wouldn't cook, but would eat most meals in restaurants. We'd sleep on a comfortable air mattress. I'd have no responsibilities beyond reading my books.

"l want to give you a Four Seasons camping experience," he declared.

How could I refuse?

We drove to Central Oregon and found a spot on the Metolius River at Camp Sherman. Camp Sherman, all rustic and unspoiled, feels like a small National Park--minus the lodge and rangers. The place is beloved around these parts. When I told my neighbors I was going to Camp Sherman, they said things like, "Oh, I love Camp Sherman! My husband wants me to spread his ashes there someday."

When I told my family I was going to Camp Sherman, they said, "You? Camping?"

Someone must have recently vacated our prime river location at the Pine Rest campground. The sites were widely spaced, and ours was at the far end for even greater privacy. In fading light, we set up our tent and bed.

While Jim positioned the rest of his camping gear, I zipped inside the tent and warmed up our bed. I shut my eyes and listened to the river rushing just feet away. A gas lantern hissed and the sound tugged me back to childhood camping trips. I smelled pine trees and neighboring campfires. This is why people camp, I remembered. Jim climbed next to me and inched his cold feet onto mine. I let him. The frigid night made us cuddle like newlyweds for warmth.

Camp Sherman's main restaurant once dished up massive hamburgers and blended milkshakes. Now they offer high gourmet dining in the high desert, serving quail eggs and rabbit and other foods I'd never considered "Oregon specialties." Fortunately the menu included two of our favorites—salmon and crab cakes. My crab cakes looked like billiard balls pulled from yesterday's campfire, all crispy and cratered. Before I could ask, our waitress promised me they weren't burned. Inside these black blobs I unearthed whole crab legs. They were the best crab cakes I'd ever tasted.

During the day Jim and I talked, walked, visited town, read books, and stared at the frantic Metolius until my head spun to its beat. Our camp site looked upon the very scene where 16-year-old Jim and his dad fished following his mom's death. Jack Southworth wasn't a real verbal guy, but Jim discovered he could get his dad talking if he stuck a fishing pole in his hand.

On our last afternoon, Jim asked if I wanted to hike up Black Butte. Like most Oregonians, I'd passed that dark conical mountain more times than I could count, but I never knew it had a trail. Jim suggested we climb just half-way because it was a steep 1.9 mile, 900-foot ascent from the parking area. We made it all the way up. The view at the top made clear why the Forest Service chose this location for their fire lookout stations. Jim and I hike a lot, but rarely on hills, so I expected sore muscles afterwards. That never happened... but it would've been worth it.

Maybe I'll start a TripAdvisor section for camping. Here's my review for Jim's Four Seasons Camping experience:

Excellent Food! (We spent whatever we wanted on meals because our lodging was so cheap.)

Million-Dollar View! (Hard to beat our river view at the campsite or our multiple mountain view from the crest of Black Butte).

Charming Host! (l got to hang out alone for three days with my favorite person in the whole world.)

POST-SEASON:

Anyone who knows about luxury hotels or the Four Seasons in particular understands that they're all about customer service. Jim anticipated my camping needs with Four Seasons-worthy standards. I'm convinced that real luxury comes from being treated well. I had my own personal camping concierge who cared—and cares-for me more than I deserve.

While I wouldn't refuse another Four Seasons vacation, we have no plans for one in the near future. But we're already talking about our next camping trip.

Many years ago when I started showing up at Southworth family gatherings, Jim's little brother (from Jack's second marriage) decided that he didn't like having me around so much. Five-year-old Lucas saw me as competition for the fun and attention that Jim regularly provided. Lucas pointed a finger in my direction and asked, "Does she always have to travel with you?"

Twenty-six years later, and the answer's the same: You betcha.