We’ve been away for almost three months now and have just settled on to our pitch at Turiscampo near Praia da Luz in the Algarve. We’re here for a month and have the benefit of a hire car, mains electricity, luxurious bathrooms and all the facilities we could possibly need to make ourselves comfortable. This is our Christmas gift to ourselves and it feels like we are living in luxury!
When we stop touring we tend to turn a bit reflective, thinking about our travels and some of the experiences we’ve had. Lots of people contact us to say that we are “living the dream” and that we are doing what they’ve always wanted to do. I remember before we had a motorhome, sighing wistfully when one drove past us. I used to think, “How amazing must that be? Just driving off and finding adventure with everything you need on board.” And it is amazing but like everything else, it has its frustrations and its drawbacks.
Resetting your happiness monitor
Living in a motorhome means having to adjust to all kinds of limitations compared to living in a house: lack of space, limited storage options, losing things, trying to keep the floor clean so that you don’t step on bits of grit when you get up for a wee in the night, emptying the chemical loo every other day, – I could go on and on. You have to be a certain kind of person to live with the inconveniences in order to benefit from the sheer adventure and joy of life on the road. For us, it’s a no-brainer. We love the life and all the opportunities it gives us to explore out of the way places. We love meeting people we would never have met in our ordinary lives in Scotland. We love the simplicity of the lifestyle and being aware of the amount of water, power and food we use. It brings everything down to its most basic elements, especially when touring. Where can we get water? Where can we dump wastewater and empty the loo? Do we have enough LPG? Where can we do the laundry? When we have a positive answer to all these questions we feel euphoric. Compare that to living in a house and it sounds silly – since when do we feel euphoric from turning on a tap, or the heating, or putting the washing in the machine? Your priorities change the minute you drive off in the motorhome and it resets your happiness monitor.
The secret language of motorhomers
Meeting other motorhomers, especially those who travel for long periods, involves speaking a language with a subtly different meaning to ordinary English. “I’m going to have a shower” isn’t something we normally say to strangers but to fellow motorhomers, it carries a meaning all of its own.
Translation of “I’m going to have a shower”:
- I am in a state of high excitement because we have easy access to water and waste so I can actually have more than a bird bath
- I’m really looking forward to this because a good shower makes me feel like a million dollars
- Please don’t disturb
The Practicalities of having a shower may include some or all of the following:
- Make sure the hot water has been turned on for long enough to get it really hot. It needs to be very hot because the hot water cylinder only holds 15 litres so you have to mix it with cold water to get all the soap off before it runs cold.
- Remove all the stuff stored in the shower cubicle in order to actually get in and use it
- Spray yourself all over with water
- Turn off the spray
- Soap up all over
- Turn on the water spray and rinsing everything off
- Struggle to get the water to empty out of the shower tray, especially if the van is not perfectly level
- Bend over, possibly when naked, to mop out the shower tray so that it is dry enough to put all the stuff back that normally lives in there.
- The latter is not a good look and you should, therefore, be absolutely certain that the bathroom door is closed
- Having the bathroom door closed may create certain challenges unless you are pin thin
- Convince yourself that daily showers are neither necessary nor healthy
On the subject of personal hygiene, there is also the thorny issue of doing the laundry. In the limited storage space of a motorhome, you have to make wise decisions about what clothes to bring and how many of them. Last year we made the mistake of not bringing enough, especially of underwear and t shirts so we had to do our washing very frequently and buy some more stuff. This began to feel like a chore so this year we’ve brought more. Although this has helped, we still need to do laundry every ten days or so. As the ten-day deadline approaches, we start to investigate likely local laundry facilities, making that important decision about whether we’ll go and stay on a campsite for a day or two to use their machines or find an Intermarché supermarket with their outdoor laundry facilities. On this trip we’ve found more and more of these wonderful outdoor washers and dryers so we like to do the washing whilst shopping, eating breakfast or sweeping out the van. The other day we parked up at Intermarché on the road to Sagres, famous for its beer and also for being the most south-westerly point in Western Europe. We like it for both these things and for the fact that it has not one but two Intermarchés within its vicinity. The washing was going round in the dryer and Shirley was on her way to check its progress when she met a Swiss motorhomer who was parked up beside us. He immediately struck up a conversation with her that began with, “Have you heard that the police are fining people 200€ for parking up at Salema?” Being fluent in the secret language of motorhomers, Shirley was not in the least concerned about this random comment coming from a complete stranger. After discussing the likelihood that these rumours have probably no basis in fact, they strolled together towards the shop. “Did you know,” enquired Mr Swiss motorhomer, “that Intermarché supermarkets have wonderful outdoor laundries?” “Indeed I do,” replied Shirley, “in fact, our washing is in the dryer right now.” “Oh good,” he chirped, “you will sleep in clean pyjamas tonight!” and then he disappeared into the shop giving her a cheery wave.
“Well that exchange would simply never happen outside Tesco in Bathgate,” remarked Shirley when she came back with stacks of clean washing… and we did sleep in clean nighties that night. What a treat!
If you are the kind of person that is interested in random facts or launderette machines you can watch this video that tells you about Intermarché laundries. It’s in Portuguese … fortunately the machines have English translations on them.
Going out for tea with a difference
We eat at strange times. Years ago we stopped trying to fit around normal mealtimes when we’re travelling and now we eat when we’re hungry. Last Saturday we had our breakfast at 11.30 after going to the Farmer’s Market at the bus station in Lagos.
By 4.00 p.m. we were hungry so we thought we would go out for a proper meal if we could find somewhere that would serve us at that unusual hour. Off we trotted into town, passing a few eateries that served things like burgers and pizza. We wanted real food, preferably locally caught fish because it’s so wonderful around these parts. Most traditional restaurants were closed until, just as we were about to give up, we came across a small restaurant with four people inside and a sign to say it was open. In we went and were met with open arms, literally, by a very cheerful older man who asked us what we would like. “We would like to eat,” Shirley said, “are you serving food.” “Yes!” he announced with a bit more force than was strictly necessary, “You can also have me if you like.” I gave him a look and said, “No thanks. We’ll just stick to the food.” He sat us down near to the table of three men and it dawned on us then that the four we had seen through the window had included him. Did he really work here? We weren’t at all sure. Maybe he was a customer on his final warning. Along he came a few minutes later with a couple of menus and leaned over us conspiratorially, “This is a Christmas lunch for my friends and I. We may be a little noisy so if you want you can sit at the other end of the restaurant.” We declined his offer, worried that if we sat a long way away he might forget we were there. He sauntered over with the couvert, the bread and butter and other small savouries that come before a starter in Portugal. We often choose to have this instead of a starter so we ordered a fish dish each and a bottle of light wine and settled down to wait. In between every bit of service the waiter, who we began to suspect was the owner, sat back down with his mates and downed another bucket of wine. Their laughter got louder along with their conversation and we waited… and waited. Eventually, he roused himself from his revelry and lurched into the kitchen, emerging with two plates of food. To our immense relief, the chef was obviously sober and the food was beautiful. Fabulous fresh fish served with delicious sauces and fresh vegetables. The wine was lovely and the combined effect of the two had us relaxed and happy with the raucous sounds of the four men fading into the background as we enjoyed our meal. Not wishing to wait another 45 minutes for a dessert, we declined his offer of anything else and asked for the bill. As he brought it to the table he said, “Next time I invite you as my guests to talk about the good life.” We weren’t sure if this was a euphemism or whether it was just the wine talking but we paid up and left at twice the speed we’d come in. So, a drunken, elderly waiter with rubbish chat-up lines. That’s another new experience.
The starter battery goes phut
We have given our vehicle battery some cruel and unusual punishment and on Monday it retaliated by curling up its toes and dying. Part of the problem is that a new 12v socket that we had fitted back in Scotland was accidentally wired into the vehicle battery instead of the leisure batteries. Being a bit gung-ho with these things, I had been merrily using the socket whilst standing still for several days on a motorhome park. I knew that it was wired into the wrong battery but what I didn’t know was that the vehicle battery doesn’t get any power from our bank of solar panels. Jings, there is so much to learn in this motorhoming lark. Added to the drain from the various rechargeable batteries, we have also been listening to audiobooks on the radio. Okay, we had it coming to us but we still got a shock when we tried to start the engine and got nothing except a shuddering wheeze and then silence. I wandered around looking for an English speaker with some jump leads but had no luck so we had to call our breakdown service. After pointing out that this was the second call out we have needed on one trip they sent a man out to rescue us. I wonder why we get no credit for having breakdown cover for the motorhome for five years and never calling them out before. I made a mental note not to have any more breakdowns, either vehicular or personal and waited for the rescue vehicle to arrive. It wasn’t long before a small yellow van came screaming to a halt beside us and a very pleasant young man shook my hand, opened the bonnet and pronounced the battery deceased. He then jump started the van and drove in front of us to the nearest Norauto garage where he explained the situation to the man behind the counter, shook my hand again and said, “My work here is done.” Yes, he really did use that expression and it sounded extra funny in a strong Portuguese accent. I stifled my giggles and thanked him very kindly for his help. Several hours later Norauto furnished us with an expensive new battery and we limped back to the motorhome parking two hundred Euros worse off. I will now write 100 times, “I must not use that 12v socket until someone rewires it for us.”
Where to next?
The next morning, after meeting the Swiss man and discussing our clean pyjamas we thought we would investigate a camper park just up the road that had a lot of good reviews and also electricity. Our toothbrushes were chugging, our electronics needed charging and we wanted to settle down with something other than 12v power for company. Stopping off at a little place called Figuera, after taking a wrong turning and ending up in the tiny seaside village of Salema, we tried to find the camper park. Eventually, Shirley got out and walked about until she found it and then returned to the van with an incredulous expression on her face. “We’re not going there!” she announced with some force, so we didn’t. Apparently, the vans were parked cheek to cheek with varieties of heaps of strange rusty vehicles, there were dozens of little children and dogs and absolutely nowhere to relax and read a book. This is not our kind of place. Others might like it … just saying. So we got back on the road and made a big decision. We would go to Turiscampo, our site booked for Christmas and New Year and plead for an extra week. To our amazement, not only did they welcome us, even though the place is pretty much at capacity, but they only charged us 51€ for the whole week as they added it to our existing booking turning our stay into the long stay category with a big reduction in price. This turn of events made us very happy and we celebrated by putting up our Christmas light projector and filling our pitch with twinkling, flashing green and red stars. Shirley the Christmas Fairy gave her seal of approval and we settled down to get used to the idea of not touring for a month. We think we can cope.
The Dog’s Tale
I invited Boo to write this bit but he declined, with his nose in the air as usual, and Poppy woke up for a few seconds and said “Naw, you’re all right” and went back to sleep.
Travelling with dogs is like holidays with children. You get to know them in a different way and discover things you didn’t know before. We have discovered that Poppy is generally incredibly laid back. When she does react it’s usually because Boo has reacted first and she just joins in, sometimes with no real interest in what’s going on. Left to her own devices she is quiet and biddable. Boo. on the other hand, tries to be in charge and keeps an eye on everyone and gets very grumpy if we don’t do what he wants. He might be a little thing but he is determined to be top dog around here. Well Boo, we’re on to you, we can’t be allowing 8kg of poodle to be in charge. On a more endearing note, Boo is nicknamed ‘family guy’ because he is most happy when we’re all together. If one of us walks away from the pack when we’re out for a walk, he becomes quite distressed – presumably because he can’t be in charge if he can’t see us all.
Poppy has learned a number of ways of communicating with us. Her latest trick is to pick up her empty bowl and flick it in the air when she’s hungry. If that doesn’t work she scratches the mat with her paws. If that doesn’t work she walks up to one of us and stares meaningfully into our eyes. I’ve said it before but I fear we are being controlled by two small dogs.
If you’re a dog owner and wondering how they cope with travelling in a motorhome – our two are happiest when we’re away. They love the variety of walks and being around us a lot of the time. We can leave them in the van for three or four hours without any problem so we do get some dog downtime.