• The Facebook page, which only opened in December 2020, now has more than 43,000 members.
• The site has rejected more than 6,000 membership applications and deleted more than 500 members for violating rules.
• Despite the strict rules, the site continues to grow and has built a solid reputation for providing valuable campsite reviews.
CAMPSITE – A family enjoys the outdoors under a large tarp in the middle of a campsite where many other tents have already been set up by other campers. (Photo by Zernan Canonigo/Anthony Stark)
There’s a new destination that’s attracting thousands of travelers and offers an odd list of zero amenities — no electricity, shared toilets, no Wi-Fi.
Instead it offers nature, in a forest, next to a river or a beach.
This new destination is called a campsite, and there must be hundreds of them across the country by now, many in the mountains and along the coast. Most of them aren’t easy to get to, with off-road terrain that gets muddy and slippery when it rains, river crossings whose water levels rise seasonally, or single-lane roads that look like hiking trails.
Still, campers keep coming, bringing with them everything they need to “live” outdoors for a day or weekend—cookware, mini-stove, grill, bed, chairs, tables, coolers, even portable toilets and shower rooms.
Campgrounds have attracted a large following since 2020, when lockdown restrictions kept people indoors and the family bubble was born. A Facebook page called Car Camping PH created by Zernan Canonigo on December 8, 2020 now has more than 43,000 members. It is now managed by Luz Pena-Canonigo and Alex Gonzales as Administrators and Lawrence Dy as Moderator.
EVENING GLOW – Camp chairs, a table and fairy lights overlooking a lake create a comfortable place to watch the evening fall. (Photo by Zernan Canonigo/Anthony Stark)
It’s clearly the fastest growing site, attracting the diehard outdoorsman, the just curious, and the new camping enthusiast.
Dy, who also handles membership requests, said they receive about 150 requests each day, about 50 percent of which were rejected for various reasons. And there are also members who are “expelled” from the group for breaking the rules.
Founder Canonigo, known by his Facebook name Anthony Stark, said they had 6,870 membership applications rejected and 515 people banned for not following the rules in the last 11 months alone.
Zernan and Luz Canonigo
The site has evolved into a one-stop shop for information about campground location, services and customer relationships, as well as camping gear – from quality roof racks to grills and cookware. Many believe that the tight control of group behavior by admins and moderators is why it has grown so quickly in less than three years.
“We treat each other like family. That’s why the group’s founder has always made it clear that all family members should be protected from unscrupulous members,” Dy said of her rules on many issues, including bashing and selling or trading gear. Despite the rules, the appeal of joining the group remains.
The rebirth of camping
It’s an odd attraction to an outdoor lifestyle that’s emerged from Covid lockdown restrictions. When the borders opened, people found the car a safe space for leisure activities. That was the rebirth of camping.
“After being barred from malls, theaters, theme parks and even visiting friends, people started looking for ways to entertain themselves. Getting out and staying in the car has become a family pastime,” Dy said.
Campfire – For many campers, the campfire is the culmination of the camping experience, where stories are told and retold and memories are made. (Photo by Zernan Canonigo/Anthony Stark)
Canonigo said: “We stay and sleep in our car while enjoying nature. So this became a safe alternative activity for Filipino families during the time of the pandemic. Take your home outside where you can move and breathe like we used to – but with caution, social distance from those outside your bubble. And so Car Camping PH was born.”
Why people keep joining
Car Camping PH gained prominence on social media as more and more members posted photos of the camp’s setup and activities and described everything about it – from road conditions to camp facilities to “neighbors” at the campsite.
“It’s the main reason why members of our group keep coming back. People want to have an idea of where they can go and, if possible, bring their families and friends to enjoy the outdoors safely, experience auto-camping first-hand and appreciate the beauty of nature – without harming everyone’s health to sacrifice,” Canonigo said.
People behind Car Camping PH
The energy of the group comes from the men and women who have always loved the outdoors.
Canonigo and his wife were hikers until the first child came and hiking was not practical. “We decided to switch to autocamping so we could bring everything we needed for our child and still be able to enjoy nature.”
“We first car camped with our baby at Taal Lake Yacht Club on New Year’s Eve 2010. Since then we have camped by car. We even tried New Year’s camp in misty Mount Benguet and camping on one of the remote islands of Hundred Islands of Pangasinan. Today when my family wants to get away from busy city life, we go to one of our favorite campgrounds, Camp Aurora in Cavinti Laguna,” Canonigo said.
A car turns into a bedroom for a true car camping experience. (Photo by Zenon Canonigo/Anthony Stark)
He believes he will enjoy exposing his child to the outdoor lifestyle at a young age. “We never forget to have a campfire which is the highlight of any trip. There we share short and important stories with our loved ones. Truly, the best memories are made around the campfire!” Canonigo said.
It’s the same lifestyle that Gonzales and his wife Mitz and their two children pursue. Gonzales was interested in 4×4 overlanding and en route camping before joining Car Camping PH long before the pandemic made camping such a popular activity.
Alex and Mitz Gonzales with KoPea.
His camping setup immediately shows everyone how passionately – and for how long – his family enjoys the outdoors. In addition to a rooftop tent (RRT), side awning, mobile shower room and mobile kitchen, he has a power generator on a trailer towed by his FJ Cruiser nicknamed “Pumpkin”.
Dy, the presenter, is a trained mountaineer who has amassed so much camping gear, including a collection of camping stoves, which are kept in the three rooms of his home. He and his wife started camping as an offshoot of long car trips around Luzon with friends – Dr. Jerry and Edith Dizon and Richard and Carol Palaroan. In 1999, Dizon introduced them to Surf Camp in Caliraya, which is where his auto-camping days began.
“We would camp there as often as possible, even if there was no electricity. And they used to only charge 75 pesos per person,” he said.
They enjoyed camping so much that Dy said his kids would be missing a few days right after school started because they’re still camping in a mountain.
“My two children and Carol celebrated their birthdays up in the mountains. Once we didn’t have a birthday cake, so I put a match on a big piece of Monay bread and we had a birthday blast in the cold mountain air,” he said.
These three men ‘met’ on the Car Camping PH site and it’s safe to say the rest is history. But the site shows no signs of making history any time soon.
Group members are predominantly young and middle-aged (from 35 to 36-44 years old), professionals and a significant number of seniors over 60 years of age; 35.7 percent are women who are very active on the group’s Facebook page, Canonigo described the group’s members.
He credits the moms in the group for spreading information that keeps the camping spirit going. “We have the ilaw ng tahanan, the mums. They are the ones who are very eager to search for new car camp sites and buy new equipment for their family. They are also the ones who actively give updates.
It’s important to set the mood of your own camp setup. It starts with the preparation, when someone in the family says – let’s go camping!
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