I love camping and the joie de vivre that comes in the form of flaming marshmallows, ankles sticky with insect repellant and scorched weenies stabbed on a foraged stick. Lately though, falling to sleep on an inflatable mattress makes me instantly dream of chiropractors. We’re not even being authentic anymore with the maxi pad thin two ounce inflatable Thermarest—now it’s the big fat double blow-up and a circus show attempt to wedge it inside the two-man tent. Which is like head-butting a Sumo wrestler slick with butter into a phone booth.
When I first sniffed out the Fronterra Farm Camp Brewery website, I knew that I had found Intelligent Camping at long last. We’re talking canvas prospector tents that you can walk around in—none of this on-your-knees, hair-teased-up from the two-foot high nylon ‘ceiling’ of the tent like you’ve run a balloon wildly back and forth over your head. The Fronterra tents are tall enough for a basketball net (a trampoline even)—they have wood floors, a King bed, armoire, distressed leather couch and arm chair for crying out loud. Woodsy sensibility. Frontier living for those who like the spoils too.
Though we were still sorting laundry and knocking the brick red dirt of Prince Edward Island out of our shoes, Kim and I decided to head back up to Prince Edward County, our future homeland, for a real estate prowl. I was stuck on Fronterra’s luxury tent renderings—we’d have all the accoutrements of camping without the backache! Yes, we could camp at Sandbanks Provincial Park for $40 a night, but $185 seemed reasonable to me for a fabricated but authentic pioneer experience. You could probably still earn a Girl Guide badge. And snore away in a King bed.
Somehow we hacked Fronterra’s online booking system. I was thrilled that we could nab a tent for Canada Day so last minute. I couldn’t type in our credit card info fast enough. A day later the call came—Jens and Inge, the founders of Fronterra, expressed concern. Somehow we had beat the system and had been able to book two nights despite the reservation blocks they had put in place. Fronterra had been socked in by rain and efforts to get the tents up and the kitchens and shower tricked out with running water had been stalled. Jens had been dumping wood chips everywhere (repurposed from Ontario Hydro tree fellings), like sandbags, to absorb Mother Nature’s pissy June attitude. Their intention to open the first week of June was foiled by soupy woods. We understood—we had been rained on every single day in PEI too.
“We can offer you the tented lodge with kitchen and en suite the first night—but on night two, we are double-booked. You could stay in the second tent, without water and toilet—for free. We insist, that is, if you still want to come.”
Kim and I didn’t flinch—it was a no-brainer, YES! We quickly recounted all the places we’d slept without such amenities—although the Posada Jasayma in Tayrona National Park, Colombia somehow found a toilet seat for us that we didn’t question. How do you find a toilet seat in the jungle?
When we arrived at Fronterra owners Jens and Inge (and burbling baby Eska in a candy-cane striped onesie) embraced us as though we had travelled across the Prairies on horseback for months. Their enthusiasm was contagious. They apologized profusely for the rain and the muddy track. Inge offered to shuttle us back and forth in her Subaru Crosstrek (or, we could go with Jens on the tractor to get really farmy); all to save the Saab from a Dakar Rally-type mud bath. Kim was happy to take advantage of the shuttle. In the near future guests will be able to drive directly to a lot near the tents—just a 400m walk with a pushcart along the meadow of tufted vetch, Queen Anne’s Lace and flitting swallowtails. Hardly an effort.
We walked down to the tents first, to take it all in as intended. The world’s greatest migration of mosquitoes had arrived and greeted us with a full-face assault. Had they had followed us from PEI where they threatened to leave us anemic? Relentless rain and bitchy mosquitoes are elements that can’t be neatly arranged and we gave up on capris and flip flops for mosquito unfriendly wear—hoods and jeans and eau de OFF.
I loved our voluntary solitary confinement immediately. If you have ever camped at a provincial park in Ontario, you know that ‘camping’ is a non-stop parade of cars, accidental car alarms going off, music, people yapping like their tent walls are made of brick—basically, everyone carrying on as they would at home, but somewhat more obnoxiously. All through the night, the call of a whip-poor-will is interrupted by someone with a saggy air mattress that needs to be plugged in and re-poofed. Beer bottles are clanking, someone laughs like Woody Woodpecker—the idyllic moment is being shared with 300 people, 5 barking dogs, 6 crying kids and a dozen couples ready for divorce.
At Fronterra, there’s 50 acres of SPACE. At week’s end, Jens assured the second tent would be complete, with plans to construct the third and create three top-shelf suites for the summer of 2015. The ambitious future plan is 10 prospector tents and (spoiler alert) if permits and karma allows—perhaps a floating tented lodge in the bay that their property snugs up against. Since their stay at the Four Rivers floating lodge in Cambodia during a year of unbridled travel pre-Eska, the gusty, life-by-the-bullhorns couple have been long-scheming and wildly inspired. Spin the globe and randomly pick a spot—Jens and Inge have been there. From Ethiopia to New Zealand to zany spa treatments involving electroshocks in Budapest. They’ve migrated from Fernie, BC (Jens) and the Laurentians (Inge) and found gorgeous common ground amongst the ironwoods, the foundation for their vision in Prince Edward County.
The heritage-minded accommodations are just a quarter of the dream. The permaculture gardens are lush with over 160 heirloom veg and edible flowers. They have chickens laying dozens of eggs to keep campers’ cast iron griddles snapping with fried huevos.
Jens, keen on retracing the Barley Days route, has planted a crop of hops with the intent to build an on-site brewery where guests can experience the entire plant to pint process. Better yet—there’s talk of fly-fishing lessons, a beer-centric spa and molten hot saunas! Kim and I have already signed up for the beer workshops of the future—an intimate experience that I know will be engaging with Jens at the helm. This guy can move swiftly from settlement history to knot-tying to Bolivia to plumbing issues to stouts and fire starting.
Visiting Fronterra in the future will be a total immersion in simplicity, learning, self-sufficiency, being, recalibrating. Jens hopes guests will disconnect, but, solar power to recharge will be available.
All the frills are here. The private open sky showers (inhale cedar boards deeply here) are hot enough to boil lobsters. There are super plush towels and lavender-studded bars of Scottish milled soap. And, to Kim’s hair-styling delight—a mirror!
Nature’s alarm clock is at the ready—woodpeckers are knocking at dawn. Dusk is a fireball sunset show as the sun filters its honey beams through the woods in front of the tents. Fireflies emerge on cue—an entire day passes with just birds and hunger as beacons.
We felt very Farley Mowat. That is, if Farley ever made guacamole with just-plucked cilantro from the gardens. Or, foraged with a beer (as seen in photo above). Maybe more Les Stroud—like, lazy Les Stroud, with a lighter and a stack of wood from our shed drier than Chelsea Handler’s humour.
For the urbanite not wanting to invest in camping equipment (because it’s not just a tent and sleeping bag—it’s a domino list of stuff from clothespins to Coleman stoves to water jugs and coolers), you can almost cheat by ‘camping’ at Fronterra. The kitchen is stocked with all the essentials—cast iron pans, strainer, Wiltshire knives, bottle opener, wine and beer glasses, ice box (cooler), a bodum…just bring a stick of butter, ice and a few bottles from Karlo Estates and The Grange.
The only disappointment during our stay at Fronterra was my coffee-making skills. I’ve been too far removed from my bodum days in Toronto. Do you think I could figure out the perfect coffee-water ratio? I made dreaded coff-tea (ie. Is this coffee or is it tea?) two days in a row—even with the most robust Nicaraguan beans going. As a last ditch effort (after watering nearby undergrowth with the crappy hot beige water) I tried Wolfgang Puck one-cup coffee sachets (like tea bags). Worse. Suggestion: learn bodum ratio or, go to Tall Poppy in nearby Wellington for a Phil & Sebastian drip and round it out with a cinder block brownie or lemon square.
Crappy coffee aside, the unexpected thrill was Inge picking us up at their farmhouse to shuttle us to our site with a bucket of chilling Veuve Cliquot strapped into the front seat (baby Eska strapped in the back—both precious cargo). Jens and Inge were so nervous that all the elements out of their control (ie. Dakar Rally entry to camp, no official signage (yet), oppressive mosquitoes, lack of running water or toilet on our second night) would disappoint us. They wanted to ensure that we had the ultimate experience—one we would brag about to friends. They wanted to create a place and time that we would yearn to return to. Done!
The champagne was popped (we all voted against sabrage-style) in front of the handsomely constructed tent as the sun lowered her belly in the treetops. This dream had been nearly 10 years in the making. Earlier, I had asked Jens about the copper band that he wore just above his elbow. He told us it was a daily reminder, to keep his promise…something he had committed to in Ethiopia a decade ago. This was it.
As glasses were filled, Inge told us that we were their very first guests. Ever. How often does that happen? I’d been to Jimmy’s coffee shop on the opening day and some launch party for a bar on Queen West—but, to be the first ever guests to sleep in the prospector tents? I loved that we had become an integral part of the camp’s history and guaranteed long lineage.
Joie de vivre, joie de Veuve. The generous spirit and infectious dream-chasing of Jens and Inge is something to marvel. Go sleep there. Talk to them about living dreams out loud. They’ve created something beautiful—and lucky for us, they’re sharing it.