We spent the New Year at the beachside parking in Alvor. This beautiful former fishing village is a delight. Boardwalks run along beside the beach, wonderful rock formations at the east end of the beach offer lots of possibilities for clambering around finding caves and rock pools whilst listening to the boom of the Atlantic hitting the rocks. We were parked near to friends. Mary and Jacqui, Melanie and Biz were parked amongst the many motorhomes and friends Tim, Liz and Alice had a holiday apartment in the town.
New Year’s Eve found us all on the harbour alongside hundreds of other people, dancing to loud music, singing at the top of our lungs and shouting out the countdown to the New Year. The sound of all the different languages around us thundering out the numbers almost had me in tears. There were people of numerous nationalities and all ages from babies to the positively ancient, smiling and laughing as the fireworks exploded into life. From our vantage point we watched not only the Alvor fireworks but also the Lagos display just around the huge bay.
There was not a hint of trouble, no conflict or upset anywhere. This was a multicultural display of sheer happiness, unity and hope for the future. People were hugging and singing as they made their way peacefully home and we bopped our way back to the vans full of joy. Just before we got back to the vans, two young women approached us, wished us Happy New Year and hugged us before going on their way, slightly tipsy but relaxed and happy. There was a sense of safety that can seem elusive in a world where the news is filled with stories of violence and hatred.
There is something special about the way motorhoming friends get together. We are independent in our little travelling homes and we can have the luxury of both space and nearness. If anyone needs to borrow something, get help or just want a bit of company the friends are nearby but we don’t live in each other’s pockets. Sometimes we cook for one another but more often we do our own thing in the vans. In Alvor there are numerous beachside coffee shops, restaurants and bars. Spying our pals Jacqui and Mary having breakfast there one morning we joined them for coffee, another day Biz, Melanie, Tim, Liz and Alice invited us to join them for a beer. It feels perfectly grand to share friendship like this and to know that familiar faces are not too far away. On the other hand there are times when it feels good to just go off and explore for a while, just the two of us and then get the pleasure of seeing a familiar van parked up days or even weeks later. Forging friendships is one of the biggest blessings of long term motorhoming.
The truth about life in a motorhome
The other day we were discussing the mechanics of writing a blog with our pals Melanie and Biz. I was explaining why I chose not to report everything that happens, firstly to avoid upsetting any of our readers and, if I’m honest, also for self preservation. Biz chose this moment to throw down the gauntlet. “I think you should write a blog telling it exactly like it is.” Challenge accepted Mr Biz!
If you are dreaming of buying a motorhome and drifting about Southern Europe while the UK is being battered by wind, rain and snow, I suggest you take note of the following.
You lose stuff all the time
Motorhomes are cleverly designed bits of kit with cubby holes all over them to put things in. Unless you have a brain like a world class chess master or very little stuff you will lose things every day, sometimes several times. “A place for everything and everything in its place” is a fine thing to aspire to but in reality things will move around as though in the grip of some evil magic. I haven’t tried solo motorhoming and perhaps this would help but when there are two of you in a small space with lots of small items you will inevitably have different ideas about where things go. Or, like us, you might simply be forgetful or rushing to do the next thing and put things in all the wrong places. My advice is, if you have a relationship that is slightly wobbly, don’t put it to the test on a long motorhome trip. In such a situation there can only be one outcome. Mayhem.
You will get to know everything about your travelling companion …
…even stuff you would rather not. The walls inside a motorhome are not walls at all. They are thin boards designed only to prevent you being visible when sitting on the loo or having a shower. These walls have absolutely no soundproofing. Every bodily function is audible throughout the entire vehicle and, for that matter, outside it if you are standing close enough. I implore you – do not go on a motorhome trip with someone that might not be comfortable hearing you fart.
In chemical toilets, a lot of people add some blue or green liquid to mask the smell of their contents. These liquids have a variety of aromas, from strong cleaning fluid to – and I kid you not – marzipan. Yes, it’s true. Melanie and Biz use a fluid that smells of marzipan. They gave us some to try and we decided that it was like peeing on a Christmas cake. Something very wrong with that notion made us uncomfortable but not as much as the fact that the marzipan smell didn’t last and left only the slightly sweetened smell of raw sewage. If you don’t like the idea of carrying a plastic cassette full of bodily waste to a toilet dump, watching it pour down a large hole and then rinsing out the cassette ready to start again, then motorhoming might not be for you. We always wear disposable plastic gloves when we empty the toilet cassette but not everyone does. I sincerely hope that they wash their hands afterwards. Given that there is no guarantee of this I wouldn’t shake hands with a motorhomer any time soon.
You can take nothing for granted
Life in a motorhome involves having to think about things that never cross your mind in a normal abode. Running out of water; not being sure if the water you have on board is drinkable; checking your gas levels; searching for a garage that has LPG; wondering if your leisure batteries are failing or maybe there isn’t enough sunshine to keep them going. The list goes on and on. If you can’t get the van level using the massive plastic wedges you are obliged to carry with you, then you wake up with your nose pressed against a wall or up your partner’s armpit. If you are really unlucky you wake up with no feeling in a leg or an arm and imagine, for a horrible moment in your half asleep state, that you might have had a stroke in the night.
Finding a laundrette to do your washing and having enough change to put into the machine is another of life’s challenges for the motorhomer. Facing the wrath of the people waiting for the tumble dryer when you realise that your bed linen needs another 20 minutes before it can be put back on the bed is a particular favourite of mine. The sighs and eye rolls that you are met with when you put another 2€ piece in the machine are perfect examples of passive aggression at its best.
In a motorhome you are cramped into a space smaller than many bathrooms. You will knock your elbows and your knees frequently. When one of us is using the laptop you can guarantee that it will be knocked sideways by the other one’s bum every time she tries to pass by. Shirley has a particularly clever trick when she manages to hit her head on the bathroom door handle when she gets up from the toilet. This feat astonishes me as she is only 5ft 2ins tall. The paper thin bathroom wall has prevented me from seeing how she does it but the swear words let me know every time.
When you finally make it back home or indeed into any static living accommodation you can barely contain your excitement at the novelty of running water, flushing loos and washing machines. You walk around swinging your arms in expansive gestures just because you can.
Motorhoming is an exercise in patience, self preservation and sheer grit determination with a touch of stubbornness thrown in.
So why do it?
You probably won’t believe this after all that brutal honesty but for those of us who love this lifestyle it is nothing short of addictive. At home in our lovely comfortable apartment we read old blog posts and laugh at the things we’ve done and smile at the thought of the people we’ve met. We look at the photos and remember the beautiful, the ugly and the just plain quirky places we’ve visited and we sigh. The open road keeps calling us and before long we are humping piles of gear from the apartment to the van, putting stuff in the little cubby holes knowing full well we will lose sight of them before we’ve crossed the channel. Motorhoming spells freedom. It fills your days with possibilities. Meeting new people, seeing new places, laughing until we can barely breathe, being self sufficient – what more could you want?
Sometimes people ask us if we feel safe, being two women travelling together. The thought of the relatively thin membrane between you and the outside world causes anxiety in a lot of people. On the rare occasions when we haven’t felt safe we have moved on. There is always somewhere not too far away where groups of motorhomers are gathered and you can drive right in the middle of them all, finding comfort in numbers. In nine years of motorhoming we have met kindness and help in abundance. Our experience is that there are far more good people than bad. Many more that want only to live in peace and to love their friends and families. Being in the motorhoming community, you will more often than not find people who enjoy the simple things in life, who will look out for each other and will help where they can. Our motorhoming friends have the wonderful ability to laugh at the grubby, messy side of travelling and in that shared experience we find a bizarre yet comforting connection. That’s why we love it.
Happy New year 2020!