A Contrarian Take on Camping in Paradise

A Contrarian Take on Camping in Paradise

By Silvia Marchetti


Because God created sewage systems for a damn good reason.

By Silvia Marchetti

Let’s get over the idea of living like Robinson Crusoe. Down with the bon sauvage fantasy. Modern comforts are there for a reason — especially stuff like toilets and running water. Why go back to being a troglodyte just for the heck of it? 

I used to love camping in the middle of nowhere, under a starry sky and with grass tickling my neck. But the last time I did that, I changed my mind. 

A bunch of friends and I picked Palmarola, a semi-abandoned tropics-like island off  the west coast of Italy. Time seemed to have stopped. At the Jurassic age. No shops, no roads, no cars. Awesome wild nature: massive cliffs jutting out of the sea, pebble beaches, granite rocks and fluorescent blue waters. 

A boat dumped us there on Friday and would return to fetch us on Sunday. We spent a whole weekend on the atoll in a tent, with a stack of canned food and a net to catch fish (which we did only once), with neither mobile coverage nor Internet. Practically unplugged, voluntarily cast away from civilization. 

By the time I reached the crumbling ruins of a monastery, my blood sugar level was so low I passed out.

But that was the least heavy bit. First we divided up what had to be carried to the campsite: flashlights, the tent, food supplies, water bottles, etc. 

And guess what?

I ended up with the most disgusting object: a small shovel to dig holes for disposing of excrement — a sort of portable toilet flusher, if you will. It didn’t appear to have ever been washed, and it was also pretty heavy. After divvying up the supplies, we walked up a steep path under a scorching sun, mosquitoes and prickly pears nibbling at our heels. We walked all the way to the highest peak, where sunsets are bloodred and the view stretches to Naples. 

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Some people prefer running water to the cerulean blue seas of paradise.

Source Fabio Bianchini / Getty

I mean, cool, fine. But we were on a gorgeous island — why just not camp on the beach, pee in the sea and find a nice shrub for taking care of other bodily functions (which could still be done in the water, just a little farther from shore)?

No way, man. My buddies have strict rules. Wannabe castaways must suffer, enduring fatigue and suffocating heat if they want to live the real experience. 

“My son is a maniac about this kind of adventure. As a father I worked hard to give him a better lifestyle, but he prefers to crawl back to a wilderness state. Can’t understand why,” says Silverio Capone, a restaurant manager on nearby Ponza island, where boats depart for Palmarola. 

Tell me about it! 

At night — luckily there was no need to light a fire — we told one another spooky tales about a fisherman saint whose apparition is said to haunt the island. Never bumped into the lad. During the day, trekking and hiking were killer. By the time I reached the crumbling ruins of a monastery, my blood sugar level was so low I passed out.

And all that is supposed to be fun? Adventurous? 

The most thrilling moment was when the coast guard landed. For a second, I was like, “Wow, are they maybe looking for us?” But even the coast guard has similar annoying “sanitary” issues to take care of. 

Palmarola is cracking down on illegal grotto dwellings that fishermen’s families have built inside the rocks to take refuge during storms and which they now rent to oblivious tourists as chic summer retreats. Trouble is, there are no real toilets or a sewage system, just holes in the ground, and then who knows where it all ends up? The sea …? 

So, please give me a break, all you Robinson Crusoe fanatics. I love the sound my toilet makes when I push the flush button.