Holly the motorhome has been the subject of a lot of discussion recently. She has a number of irritating little problems and we’ve been seriously considering downsizing our house in order to buy a more up to date model. After a lot of discussion we think we’ve made a decision. We’re going to try to fix all her problems and nurse her back to full health.
So far on this trip we have had the 240v hook up input socket replaced, the scrapes on the roof repaired, the leak from the fresh water tanks fixed and now we’re looking at upgrading the solar system to make her fit for long term off grid touring. In the process of the latter we’ve discovered something a bit surprising. The control unit that manages all the power in the van doesn’t actually charge the leisure batteries to full capacity. For some reason it was designed not to. I won’t bore you with the details, especially as I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but we have failing leisure batteries for the second time in 18 months because they’ve never been fully charged. Apart from the annoying fact that replacing them is expensive, I feel a bit outraged that the maker and supplier of the control unit didn’t put a better battery charger in it. I’ve emailed them in a slightly haughty tone. Hopefully they’ll answer in words that I can understand.
We spent five nights on the motorhome parking at Manta Rota on the Eastern Algarve. We chose the place for two reasons. It had electric hook up, so we could stop worrying about our failing batteries for a bit and it was in an area we hadn’t properly explored. Reviews are funny things – if you take them too seriously you probably wouldn’t go anywhere. Some of the reviews for Manta Rota motorhome park make it sound like the people who run it are tyrants who insult and abuse customers just for fun. They also describe somewhere reminiscent of a refugee camp that is full to brimming with people in old vans who live there for months on end. None of this was our experience. What we found was an enormous area of carefully levelled ground with space for about a hundred motorhomes right beside the dunes and wooden walkways onto the beach. Parking is nose to tail rather than side by side which gives quite a lot of privacy as no-one is looking right into your widows. For €4.50 you get 24 hours parking and unlimited use of water and waste services. Electric hook up costs an additional €2.50 per 12 hours.
The place fascinated us. Every morning vans appear, blowing little bike horns to announce their presence. Bakery, fruit and vegetables and a laundry van all drive round and people hop out of their vans to buy their wares, or hand over bags of washing. In the mornings folk would begin the daily tasks associated with motorhoming. Toilet cassettes were emptied, fresh water carried in watering cans, waste grey water emptied via buckets and some people did their washing at a beachside foot shower. There was something simple and basic about the whole thing. Certainly some people drove their vans to the service point to empty and refill but most chose the gentle stroll backwards and forwards, greeting people as they passed by and enjoying the sunshine. The vans on the site range from high end luxury models costing over £150k to strange home converted elderly vans painted with more enthusiasm than skill and often carrying surf boards. People from all over Europe were there and conversations between people often involved a lot of sign language. A strange feeling of peace and relaxation came over us at Manta Rota – we walked on the beach a lot, explored the little town, met several new and interesting people and just relaxed. We ate simply, drank some good local wine and chatted a lot to our neighbours, Gill and George from Dundee. We compared motorhome layouts with Glennis, Karen and Elsie and learned a lot from everyone we met about their travels. The chill factor there was so good that we felt we could have stayed for much longer – and indeed some people do. One or two of the staff were a bit brusque but given that they were Portuguese, speaking to us in English, I felt it would be a bit much to expect social niceties along with the information we needed.
Caution! It’s the season for processionary caterpillars
Processionary caterpillars appear in the south of Europe in January and February. They have developed in white fluffy nests in pine trees and at this time of year they fall to the ground and set off in a long line, nose to tail, heading for soft earth where they will complete the life cycle and emerge as moths. The moths themselves are harmless but the caterpillars can potentially make your dog very ill or indeed be fatal. The hair on these caterpillars is highly irritant and as dogs are inclined to explore unusual things with their noses, the hair can get into their mouths, noses and cause a massive and dangerous allergic reaction. If you think your dog has sniffed them, or if they show signs of an allergic reaction around the face, get them to a vet immediately. The best course of action is to be vigilant and make sure you go nowhere near them. Incidentally, humans can also have a massive reaction to them so vigilance all round is a good idea.
Walking along the board walk to the beach at Monta Rota we saw evidence of the caterpillars hanging right beside the path. The walk is raised so the chances of encountering them as you walk along is small but the temptation to poke at the white fluffy nest might result in a serious problem. We didn’t let our dogs off the lead until we were well away from any evidence of pine tree.
It was while we were at Manta Rota that we made the decision to contact Iain from SolAlgarve, his company that fits solar systems. We arranged to meet him in Lagos and discuss our 12v power problem and so it was that we set off back west along the A22 motorway through the Algarve.
I mentioned in an earlier post that working out the use and payment for the electronic toll system in Portugal can be frustrating. Our one month Easytoll registration had run out and one option was to buy a pay in advance ticket and hope we got the amount right. Another option was to drive the length of the Algarve on the N125 but it takes a long time and we had an appointment to keep. We liked the Easytoll idea that clocks you going through the tolls and takes it out of your credit card at the end of the month so, being only 5 miles from the Spanish border, we decided to hop out of Portugal, turn around and hop back in again, buying another Easytoll ticket as we re-entered. It worked! We were soon on our way on back to Lagos and the Western Algarve, which if truth be told is our favourite bit.
The motorhome parking at Lagos is basically a big car park with a motorhome service point. It isn’t pretty but the town of Lagos makes up for everything. It is a charming, interesting town that we have grown to love. What these big motorhome parking places lack in beauty is more than made up for in people watching potential, so we put the kettle on and settled down to observe the comings and goings of our many and varied neighbours. It wasn’t long before our nosiness was rewarded – although I don’t think that’s the right word – when two big blokes sitting outside a van got out their guitars and starting to sing some of the old folk classics from the 70s. What they lacked in professionalism they made up for in volume and enthusiasm. The resulting ear worm for the rest of the day was ‘Streets of London’ and try as I might I couldn’t rid myself of it. Even writing about it has insinuated it back into my head. Help!
Iain the solar man got to us the next day in a massive rainstorm. We’ve had very little rain and we know that the locals have been waiting for it to water the crops, fill up the reservoirs and keep the Algarve in all its green beauty. We tried very hard to be glad for them but we’re inclined to shallowness, coming from a country that rains incessantly, so we secretly hoped it would stop soon.
We liked Iain a lot. He isn’t your average businessman type at all but he knows stuff and holds his knowledge lightly. No sucking of air through teeth going on here, just a gentle set of questions and some very mobile eyebrows. He looked at the batteries, the regulator and got out his electronic gadgetry to test everything. He didn’t climb onto the roof because it was raining but he had a good look through the big roof light and did a lot of thinking. As I said earlier, it seems our not very old leisure batteries that were bought to replace another set of not very old leisure batteries have not been charged to their full capacity and have begun to fail. The previously installed solar set up has the cheapest possible regulator and it looks like it has failed to do its job of topping them up to capacity and the on board device isn’t set to do so. We’ve decided to have Iain put more solar power on the roof, upgrade the regulator, add a device that gives us information about the state of the set up and then we can wait and see whether the batteries will come back to life. I’ve been talking lovingly to them, encouraging them to hang on in there. Batteries in the UK are much, much cheaper than here so we’d like to avoid replacing them here if we can. On the other hand we need to get home with enough battery power to keep us warm as we travel north – credit card at the ready.
The only conclusion we can draw after these weeks of discovering faults, or creating them and then getting them fixed is that motorhoming is an expensive hobby but we love it so much we don’t plan to give it up any time soon. In a few days we will have been away from home for five months on this trip. What an adventure it’s been – and it’s not over yet!