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‘Cowboy Camper’

With his rugged cowboy looks (some call it the Malay version of ‘Clint Eastwood’, Eddie Putera is the new breed of campsite owners who is riding high on ‘camping fever’ now, but doing it his way

A chat with Eddie Putera, with his trademark Esee knives by his side, is like a shared journey to a world far removed from our present civilisation. We talked about solo camping, operating campsites and knives. Yes, knives – those indispensable tools that passionate campers eventually start to own. Because camping is more than just setting up a base outside of your home – it encompasses a whole range of activities like where you set up camp, what you do and eat, how you shelter yourself, soaking up on nature, etc.
Of course, camping means different things to different people – some like it traditional and basic, others camping in style or luxury (glamping), yet others prefer to bring the whole house with them, so to speak.
For Eddie, his preferred style is the most basic of all, just setting up a hammock – “it’s the lightest and easiest to set up; I don’t like to sleep on hard ground yet don’t want to carry a mattress with me either”, explains the veteran camper who has started on his camping adventures since age 17.
After practically touring the whole world as a photographer and a visual storyteller, the former architect finally decided to set up root at the four-acre orchard in Hulu Langat, Selangor. It’s a piece of land by the river that his parents bequeathed to him and his siblings. As his siblings were busy with their own career, they left the whole place to him to do as he pleased.
At age 53 and after having had enough of long hours at airports and aeroplanes, staying in hotels and rushing from one city to another lugging his heavy photography equipment, Eddie decided to call it quits where photography is concerned.
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As Sony’s brand ambassador, he still does the occasional public appearances, and still builds miniature dioramas for his regular clients from all over the world, a hobby he picked up in 2015.
Diorama is a model representing a scene with three-dimensional figures, either in miniature or as a large-scale museum exhibit. Eddie’s dioramas are miniature in scale and are built with plaster of Paris, cardboards, clay, etc.
Back at his orchard, Eddie found himself bored during the Movement Control Order (MCO) when he had to restrict himself to his orchard. After running for exercise many times within the perimeters of his orchard, he would set up a hammock to rest by the riverside. It was so relaxing that he decided to share his experience with others.
That was how Hammocks by the River campsite was started – in August 2020, right in the midst of the MCO (whichever iteration it was at the time).

Excerpt of our chat:

APR: Share with us how you run your campsite.
Eddie: It’s like a mom-and-pop business where you have to do it yourself. I am the chief executive officer, general manager, customer relations officer, security, and sales and marketing manager, all in one! I only employ a part-time cleaner who cleans the tents and common areas, as well as a gardener. The rest I do myself because that’s the only way to ensure good customer relationship. When there’s already a good relationship, it makes it so much easier when problems occur, and they do, such as burst pipes. The customer is cool with it because we know each other already. If you employ someone else to run it, the interaction might be different.
APR: With camping being the rage now (even Decathlon has displayed all their camping gear in front of their outlet due to overwhelming demand), would you advise small landowners with idle land to convert it into a campsite?
Eddie: It depends. It’s popular but you can’t charge a lot of money for it. For example, anything above RM30 per pax (with your own tent) or RM60 per pax (renting tent) is considered on the high side. So, you have to keep your costs down. Campers are okay even if there are two or three toilets/bathrooms for a group of 20 people. Of course, if you can splash on 10 toilets/bathrooms, go ahead! But you can’t charge much above the market rate due to the intense competition. If you control the costs, you can make a profit. But it also has its own set of challenges, for example, the recent flooding in November. The last time the water reached waist lengath in parts of Hulu Langat was in 1993 when we had to take a boat.
APR: Do you offer additional activities?
Eddie: Yes, I organise a survival course. The instructor is a former army guy. In the near future, I plan to organise camping + photography (the instructor will be a photography expert), and camping + cycling. I am also mulling the idea of car or camper van camping.
APR: With the MCO becoming a regular fixture in our lives now, how do you plan to overcome this issue?
Eddie: I plan to have my orchard/campsite totally self-sufficient. For example, digging wells or harvesting rain for water, and not relying on the electricity grid. But the latter would take another 3 – 4 years as the electricity storage equipment is still very expensive now. Also, instead of just fruit trees, I would plant vegetables. Fishing can also be done currently at the river. Who knows – what if during the fourth wave (pandemic), we might not even have electricity or our food supply might be hard to come by!
The MCO is in fact a blessing in disguise – people now have time to cook themselves healthy food, can save money, and learn new skills. People used to get all worked up about past regrets and the future; now, they have no choice but to live in the moment because the future is so unpredictable.
APR: Any expansion plans?
Eddie: Not at the moment but who knows. I am a very spontaneous person; I don’t plan my life two days ahead!
APR: Do you go camping nowadays?
Eddie: If I am not staying in my brick house within the premises of my orchard, I would be hanging at my permanent hammock by the river. Whenever I feel like it, I would go solo camping but not more than 500m from the road for safety purpose.
APR: Your life philosophy?
Eddie: Live in the moment. I don’t believe in misfortunes, they’re like a blessing in disguise. It’s how you react to them; it could be a reset for something better.

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