Mar 23, 2016

A Journey Like No Other

Do you remember your very first canoe trip? While many Tamakwans experience their first canoe trip as a Junior Tamakwan, for our international campers and staff this first trip often happens later in life.

There are countless articles and blogs written about the value of canoe trip for kids. But what about for staff?

Do you ever wonder what it’s like going on trip for the first time as a counsellor? Former counsellor Alejandro Aguilar from Mexico shares his story in the 2009 South Tea Echo.

Below you will find his article “A Journey Like No Other”. Nothing makes an impact like your first canoe trip in Algonquin Park, especially when you come from Mexico for your rookie summer at Tamakwa.


Coming from far away for my ­first summer at a camp in North America, there were many things that were new to me at Tamakwa. One stands out the most in terms of its impact on me. Going on a canoe trip, more than any other experience, made the most lasting impression on me.

Simply put, a canoe trip consists of several days with your friends, your cabin or, in my case, the campers for whom I was their counselor and with whom I spent the summer. But, of course, it’s so much more. It’s an outdoor educational experience, an opportunity to test yourself and to get to know yourself in ways you never imagined.

Right from the start, you are physically tested by the need to paddle for hours. The lakes seem to go on forever, one after another. Each one presents a challenge, as the paddle must overcome the resistance of the water. Weather is always a factor, but in the end, it all adds to the impact. If the sun is ­fiercely shining making you thirsty, if a driving rain is making things seemingly insurmountable or if a strong headwind rocks your canoe and waves splash into the bow, it’s all part of the excitement of the journey.

Eventually, after what seems like a long time, you arrive at the next portage. Campers and staff members face the opportunity to prove themselves, yet again. I remember well my co-counselor’s voice almost every time we were about to start a portage. “Portaging is one of those things that you can’t really explain or fully comprehend,” he’d say, “until you actually live it.” Thinking now of my ­first portage, I know exactly what he meant. He was right. A portage is a battle against yourself. You ­first give backpacks and paddles to the campers and make sure they go on their way, fi­ghting their own personal battle. As a staff member, you save one of the canoes for yourself. Getting the canoe on your back is part of your mission. No one can help you. It’s your responsibility, your goal, your chance to overcome difficulty. One hundred pounds of metal on your shoulders and yet you walk.

It can be a hellish mission. You go uphill, downhill, through narrow pathways, sometimes rocky, slippery terrain, and under enormous trees, all the while often targeted by mosquitoes and other flying creatures.

I suppose everybody has his or her own way of dealing with it. You sing, you tell yourself a story, you count to a million. For my part, I was doing my best to work hard and complete the challenge of every portage along the way.

I started sweating and my mind started to give up. I tried to concentrate on breathing harder, but for several of the portages it was not enough. I lowered the canoe, rested, drank water, and shook my head in disapproval. Then you think about it, and ­find within yourself enough strength to pick up the canoe and continue along the path. You try your best because you know the only defeat is against yourself.

As you near the end of the portage and see water on the other side, you smile with relief. You lower the canoe, which seems to be as happy as you are to be reunited with a lake. It’s not until a few minutes later, when the muscle pain starts to disappear that you begin to feel proud, savoring a great sense of accomplishment. Nobody really cares except you. You had a life experience during which you had a profound conversation with your inner self, fi­nding yourself up against a new reality. But even then, after such a profound moment, you are back to basics, and the paddling starts all over again.

Good things come to those who work for them, and there’s nothing more rewarding than ­finding a beautiful campsite where the breathtaking scenery reminds you of how lucky you are to be there. It’s inspiring. There’s nothing better than cooking your own food, swimming after a hot, strenuous day in a beautiful lake and, of course, spending time with your campers and tripper in ways you never would have imagined. Cliff jumping, swimming in the lake, capture the flag, chef competitions, pot basketball, scary stories and so much more are the order of the day.

When the time ­finally arrives when you have to start heading back to camp, you are overcome by a feeling of nostalgia. It’s something in the smell of the air, the coldness of the water and especially in the subtle changes that took place in your mind and heart. You have spent days with your primitive self and you’ve come to realize there’s no need for man-made things like iPods, DVDs, television, and even time.

As you round that famous bend on South Tea Lake with the paddles and canoe making that soothing sound as they cut through the water, you know that something is now different inside of you. You realize that you’re not quite the same as when you last passed by the Lone Pine heading out on the trip.

Deep in your heart, you know that you will embark again on a journey in the wilderness to ­find yourself in Algonquin Park. Whether it will last 5 days, 10 days, 13 days or even an epic 15 days, you know it’s now a need you have to fulfill next summer.

The South Tea Echo is our annual Newspaper featuring articles from Campers, Staff and Alumni! Click Here to see the full list of publications. This particular article is from the 2009 edition.

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