Camp Candelaria

Candelaria's main building. Quiet and unassuming. And totally haunted.

The first Camp I ever went to, at least the first I have any memories of, was Candelaria. The campsite was high in the hills far from Cochabamba, impenetrable from threats like marauding villagers, personal hygiene, or warmth. They named it Candelaria after a Virgin or someone that was seen nearby back in the day (they were always seeing virgins over there) or perhaps because calling it Stallag 18 would have been walking on well-trodden ground. Camp Candelaria was the coldest place on earth for camping, or any kind of activity where you needed to be conscious and not stuck on a meat hook in a butcher’s cold room. The boys’ dorms were about 600 years old and had worn-brick hallways which had sunk in the middle over time, so it felt like you were walking through medieval Britain on your way to bed, the occasional warm rat providing some comfort under your feet as tip-toed along in your PJ’s, lit torches pouring light on the hands poking out of the bars searching for scraps of food. Thankfully the cold had already killed off the leper colony amassing in the bathroom. Or it could have been the Vinchucas. Candelaria was always run by Jake and Sarah, who had always run it and probably always will. Sarah was kindly and reminded me of someone out of Little House of the Prairie, and Jake, as Chris pointed out once, looked like a terrorist when he had his beanie on, but the nice kind, who might perhaps teach you to fish one day. Or survive a week at Candelaria without losing several of your extremities.

At the ripe old age of 10, for my first camp, Dad took me on our inaugural father-son trip to the camping store, which, looking back, seems out of place in a city like Cochabamba. Nevertheless, ignoring my insistent cries for the purchasing of a certain-death-producing crossbow hanging on the wall and its distant cousin the Bowie Knife, Dad instead bought me my first sleeping bag. Not being the outdoorsy type, I was hopeless at choosing and got the biggest, warmest one we could see. A Coleman™ monstrosity as big as a hay bale and twice as heavy. It was probably called the Coleman™ Tahoe or Escalade or something. It took me 87 minutes to re-roll after each use and was a complete waste of time for actual camping unless you were Solomon and had 15 servants to help carry your bed and your concubines for you. As sleeping bags go, it was warm, but then, so is a Jacuzzi, which would have been lighter and less cumbersome.
One year a missions team from North Carolina were working at the camp over the summer, so David convinced Sam and I to come along, using American girls as a ruse. I imagine there were girls, somewhere. Somewhere warm, about 1500 miles away. It was so cold in the boys dorm I actually had a quilt INSIDE my sleeping bag (that thing was about as wide as a double bed) and I still got frostbite. Sam and I lay next to each other shivering as the Bolivians told us completely true stories about the goat-man who roamed Cochabamba by night and the virgin who had been sacrificed right on the spot where our dorm was built. Wracked with fear, I puckered up so tight it took 8 bowls of bran and 3 weeks of straining to muster any kind of bowel movement. But my greatest memory of that summer was Wayne’s World arriving at theatres. Not only did I watch the film 3 times in one night, but one of the team members from NC had a cap just like Mike Myers in the movie and gave it to me when he left the country. Thus began the happiest years of my life, until it got stolen by someone riding past on a bike two weeks later.

But I digress, as I am wont to do. Candelaria was nestled in the foothills of whatever mountain range we were attached to, and provided excellent topography for rolling boulders down the mountainside. I tried this later on in life, on other camping trips, but I think Candelaria was my first snort of this highly addictive drug. The excitement from the wonton destruction and carnage associated with boulders flying down a hill leaving a swath of death in their wake cannot be underestimated. Candelaria was also the first (but not the last) time I was afraid of Abi, when she threw Andrew to the ground after his matchmaking proposal in Grade 5. He was only the messenger, asking on Chris’ behalf. It didn’t go well. We also stole his friend Gary’s glasses and used them to start fires from the sun. They were pretty thick shall we say. In grade 8 I think, we actually planned to WALK back from camp to the city, through impenetrable scrub and down sheer cliff faces. THANKFULLY after sleeping in a cave the first night the teachers decided we were all too wimpy and couldn’t possibly put up with any more complaining from the girls, and just spent the week at the camp itself, rather than making us hate our lives for 5 days. It was still a fun week though. On a night hike I left the group and hid behind a tree. Ingrid, bless her heart, came looking for me fearing I was lost or dead or impregnated by some native possum and walked right past me and plunged into a creek in the darkness. She was never heard from again (kidding). Another time, (seriously, we had about 500 camps there) Chris & I got up early with one of the leaders, Mike, to watch the sunrise and we saw the moon move like halfway across the sky. If there’s one story on this site that’s actually true and not made up, this is it. Chris missed the moon but said he saw the shadow from the trees move across my face. Scientific evidence suggests the moon is still in the same old spot, and doing just fine. But that was one weird X-Files morning…

As it happens, Camp Candelaria is no more. Some years ago they changed the name to Camp Kewiña and probably put some decent dorms in too. Who knows. I haven’t seen the place for a couple of decades. If you’ve got Candelaria memories, put ’em in the comments. If you don’t, more than likely you’ve had a warm and comfortable life and I hate you.

2 thoughts on “Camp Candelaria

  1. I distinctly remember the water coming out of the tap (in the boys dorm) at about 34 degrees Fahrenheit, which was so close to freezing that I got an instant headache when I washed my hair. Forget a shower or a sponge bath in that water…

  2. thats funny , I’m reading this and you talk about a group from nc and a guy who gave you a wayne’s world hat. i was just looking up some old stuff and found this. I’m the one who gave you that hat! i like your article, get back at me!

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