Camp Seely is situated at 4,432 feet above sea level, near Lake Gregory, in the scenic San Bernardino County of beautiful Southern California. Nestled in a breathtaking range of mountains, Camp Seely comes alive with tourists and campers visits to this wooded hillside paradise.
I happened to visit my married daughter in Granada Hills, Los Angeles, and she took us–my wife and myself–to experience camping at Camp Seely with the Goans of America group. Fortunately, my son-in-law steered us through the serpentine mountains such that we could enjoy and film the gorgeous flora and fauna on a sweltering September afternoon. The journey was punctuated with traffic diversions due to California summer fires affecting the freeway.
Reaching Camp Seely just as the sun went down majestically over the mountains, we were introduced to the approximate 200 members of the Goans of America attending the camp. Soon dinner was served, after the children had their games and the musicians set their instruments on the stage.
There were about 60 families and they brought their own food, beddings, toiletries, electrical / heating gadgets and some musical instruments. The camp provided refrigeration facilities to store the food and provisions, and a dining hall with around 16 tables with benches on either side. The dinner served was such that anyone could partake of any dishes laid out on the tables by all the families. It was like a buffet. The gastronomy consisted of exquisite and mouth watering delicacies, dished out on the tables, that could excel any five-star menus. The Goans of America had left no stone unturned to get the best–both of quality and quantity–and the appetites were sharpened by the food smell that wafted through the coolness that approached with falling night temperatures.
Interaction between the campers at the food tables brought them closer and they became more than casual friends, exchanging cell numbers and so on. Appetites satiated, they dispersed to the entertainment hall as the strum of a guitar and a drumbeat had heralded the festivities that would last till early dawn. While the children played outdoor games, the adults partook of the dance and songs enacted on the stage by professional campers. The music was reminiscent of the western culture inculcated in Goans by the 450 years of Portuguese rule in Goa.
Goa as we know is called the Rome of the Orient. The incorrupt remains of Saint Francis Xavier are exposed in a silver casket at the Bom Jesus Cathedral in Old Goa for public veneration by the Pope every 20 years or so. The international traveler loves Goa for its scenic beauty.
We, Goans are proud of our culture and the same was enacted by the American Goans. On the second night of camping when we had the Hawai’ian night, all campers were dressed in Hawai’ian style with colorful vestments and garlands. On this day, it also rained that cooled the temperature but not the spirit of the people. The children had indoor games and a scavenger hunt while the adults hiked and played volleyball, carrom and cricket. The highlight of the tea session was the bhel and bingo, that generated a lot of excitement.
After a group photograph in Hawai’ian dresses, individual families were also photographed under a specially designed Hawai’ian backdrop. The campers had dinner then, and got set for another night of music and revelry, which was started with a bang when Lorraine Nogueira, my daughter, took the stage and sang some Portuguese and English songs that brought nostalgia of Portuguese days in Goa, which was finally liberated by India on December 19, 1961. Lorraine was accompanied by the band played by Ryan D'Cunha on drums, Ray Tellis on keyboard, Alex Heynes on bass guitar, Warren on lead guitar, Richard Heynes and Agnelo Fernandes alternating with guitar and vocals.
Some senior citizens like me hit the sack by 1:00 am. But the creaking of the mattresses was overshadowed by the distant sound of music still playing, that sounded like alvorada in Goa. Alvorada is the music played by locals in Goa on the day of vespers of any feast, at dawn to wake up the people. The music still reverberated through the mountains. The whole camp was organized by Selma Rodrigues and her kinetic managing committee consisting of Donovan Rodrigues, Sharel and Aurelius Figueredo, Bina Weller, Amanda Toscano, Jude and Audrey Vieira, Andrea D'Sylva, Sharmila Menezes and Felix Fernandes. Selma the president, is a good combination of beauty and brains and makes her a good leader. Incidentally she grew up in my neighborhood at Pali, Bandra West, Bombay.
All said and done, our visit to Camp Seely was fantastic. Everyone enjoyed and there was no untoward incident. The camp has high security and the City of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation staff collect the garbage, keep the toilets clean and the overall environment is safe from flies and bees. There is an infirmary, first aid facilities and fire hydrants. It was tough parting on the last day though we had to clean our wooden cabins and all other rooms and facilities used. The fine was $30 for leaving any trash anywhere according to the bye-laws.
Camp Seely left an indelible mark on my wife Carol and myself. It was a beautiful place to unwind and we would like to visit Camp Seely again if God gives us the opportunity. Long live the unity of Goans of America. Viva!
(Dr. L. P Misquitta is an ex-journalist of The Times of India and the author of the book ‘Pressure Groups and Democracy in India’).