Sunday, 18 March 2018

The pleasures found off the beaten path, Alhama de Granada

I think that what I like most about this means of travel (ie, travel by RV) is being able to visit small places. Places that aren’t easy to get to when you are reliant on public transport and a tight budget become available when you have a motorhome, even with the tight budget still!

Most the top attractions of the world seem to be in cities, but I don’t think it’s because they are any better than some far off places, it’s just that they are more accessible to more people: there’s a big population right there, airplanes fly in, buses and trains stop, and hotels and restaurants are available. But with an RV you don’t need these conveniences. You just need a road to bring you within some proximity of the site. 

We mostly avoid cities. They’re not fun to navigate in a big vehicle and although Blac (our European motorhome) is roughly half the size of Blu (our Australian one) it’s still a big vehicle for Europe. But occasionally we will visit a city. Last month we did Amsterdam and yesterday we visited Granada. We enjoyed attractions in both. But between those two cities their isn’t a major city that we visited, but plenty that we could have. 

This place we are in now is particularly nice. It’s called ‘Alhama de Granada’. The town is high up above the river, which is carved into a gorge, and the edges of the old town are built right to the edges of that gorge. It’s spectacular.  

Within the gorge are the old flours mills, one in ruins, the other restored. From a distance, you see the old town of white buildings clustered around a tall grand church (at the highest point), all this sitting about the gorge. 

Alhama de Granada

In town the locals are friendly and we’ve observed an old man leading an old donkey with big panniers (empty) into town from the fields and also watched a flock of sheep be brought from the town area out to the fields. 

We had coffee this morning in a bar where they played loud flemenco music, gave us a map and told us what we should visit whilst giving us a taster of their homemade ‘nutella’ with fresh strawberries. Then we stopped later for tapas and were given a plate of lovely roast pork to try (as well as the selection of cured meats and cheese we’d ordered). 

This is the stuff I really like. The friendly locals and the locals doing their thing. 

Not so many tourists make it to Alhama de Granada but those who do, I believe, mostly come for the thermal pools. They’re free! Okay, normally there’d be some more that aren’t free (at the site of the old Roman Thermal baths that, I also believe, have been restored) but that establishment is currently closed and work is being done. 

Right beside the river, a couple of kilometres from town, are the thermal pools (both the free and not-free-but-closed). They’re nice. The middle pool is a nice temperature (the top pool is the warmest but also the smallest and almost always full so I didn’t try it). 

Aside from soaking in the warm waters (and it’s been cold and rainy here) I also liked the local aspect here too. The locals simply wear their underwear in the pools. And sometimes a local will go down to the bottom pool (there’s just 3) to wash with soap. Some people might find that idea horrid and some will not like it environmentally but I just found it interesting to observe that this is how things were done, and I’d read that these people may not have washing facilities in their house. 

Thermal pools, Alhama de Granada

Thermal pools, Alhama de Granada

So, we really did like Alhama de Granada. It’s one of many places that proves why travel like this is so good. 

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Ali’s brilliant method for getting a mouse out of the motorhome

It happens, we camp in various parts of world, we have food on board, and our land-yacht isn’t mouse proof. So eventually a mouse will get into almost an RV. 

Horror stories are around of mice or rats chewing wiring, especially in the motor compartment. It’s not so bad if they get into your food, it’s easier to replace, but it’s still horrid. 

So, one night while I (Ali, the Aussie) struggled with some insomnia I heard a mouse in a kitchen cupboard of Blu. ‘Bugger!’ I thought. ‘What will I do?’ I had no traps and no poison (not they I would have used poison... I’d rather not have a dead rodent stuck somewhere I couldn’t get to.). 

I got up. I rattled things in the cupboard. The little bugger was hiding, of course I wouldn’t see it. I went back to bed. I heard it again. I couldn’t sleep with this! (I already had insomnia!) I got up, I rattled things, I went back to bed, again. Again!

Then I thought of something. Amongst my amoury of tools against insomnia I had downloaded various podcasts. One of which was the sound of a cat purring. 

I grabbed my smart phone, hit play on the purring cat podcast and left it on the kitchen bench. 

In the morning I found the ‘calling card’ left by the mouse. ‘Calling card’ used in this way means mouse poo. I cleaned up. I never saw that mouse or heard it or saw another calling card again. I believe it left. 

So, I think it’s brilliant but maybe it’s not. But, I do recommend that if you’ve got any type of RV, caravan, motorhome, or land-yacht, then download a purring mouse podcast or sound recording. 

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Back in Blac, our European Motorhome

It’s been a while since I wrote a blogpost. In truth I didn’t feel much like writing about our travels in Australia. It was as if it was too personal, or, as they say, ‘too close to home’.  

Now we are back in Europe, and I don’t know if I’ll be much better at the writing. Blac has been ‘resurrected’, and we are a few days into some European travels, heading South to find warmer weather. 

I say ‘resurrected’ regarding Blac and by this I mean that batteries (that were removed and left on a charger while we were gone) have been reinstalled, the water tanks refilled, mechanical things checked, general cleaning done (we had to scrub mould off the side!). 

A few days into the trip and a few things have given us trouble: The heating in a cab died, leaving us with just the diesel heater in the back. A ducting hose of the diesel heater became disconnected, blew hot air on a water hose, and burst that hose. And we have a persistent problem of nothing happening when the ignition key is turned on multiple attempts and then it going as if there’s never been any problem. For this we’ve had the solenoid in the starter motor replaced and the battery checked and H’s tried many other things but still no resolution!  

That is a problem with leaving a motorhome for an extended amount of time, things deteriorate and you’re not there to notice or do maintenance. Not just motorhomes but almost anything, shoes left behind in a cupboard have looked fine when I’ve returned a few years later but in one wear they’ve been known to fall apart. 

There are a number of ‘good-housekeeping’ things one should do before leaving a motorhome sit for an extended period. My recommendation is that anybody needing to do this do some research to get things as best as possible for their setup before they go. 

Some things we do: with Blac we take the batteries out and leave them on an ac charger. (Blu has lithium so different allowances on what you can do). If we are leaving our vehicle in a place that might get below zero temperatures we empty all the water out, otherwise we add a little bleach to the water tank, I believe other people use peroxide, the reason is to not have mould, algae or anything living in your water system. Of course, this must be released and flushed out on your return! When we parked Blu my instinct was to pull all the roller blinds closed (stop prying eyes) but H opened them up and informed me that because the mechanism is spring operated we wouldn’t want the spring getting overstretched by leaving the blinds in the pulled out position. Good thinking! And, just like leaving a house fridge, once it’s emptied and cleaned out it needed to be propped open or it might become a stinky fungal mess. Ventilation, if possible, is a good thing. When we left Blac in Brazil we asked our ‘caretaker’ to open it up in dry weather. 

I’m sure there’s lots more tips that could be added to this. As I said, things will deteriorate regardless, you just need to minimise the problems you’ll get on your return. 

And finally, I just have to add a photo to the post. We have been travelling south to find warmer places and, as such, we decided not to bother too much about sightseeing along the route. Otherwise it would take too long to get anywhere! But on Sunday we stopped for a break and decided that our rest stop, in a place called Remoulins was nice so we’d stay the night. As always I decided to find out what was in the area (we had no idea) and soon discovered that just a little way up the road (2.7km by bicycle) was this! The highest Roman aqueduct ever built, still very much intact, beautiful, about 2000years old. It’s called Pont du Gard. It was a truly serendipitous moment!

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Remaking our motorhome, if we did it again

It's been a year since we bought an old school bus and finished converting it into a motorhome. And it's been a whole year that we've been living, and travelling, in this bus RV that we call Blu. 

So, if we were to do the conversion again, but with hindsight, what would we change? It's a good question. 

We wouldn't change much. We love our layout, it's a spacious design, and something that other motorhome and caravan owners always comment on: "wow, this is roomy!"  

We seem to have adequate storage space too. Some people think it's not much but if you've come from a smaller motorhome (like we have with Blac) or the backpacking lifestyle (which I was doing before meeting H) then Blu has lots of storage space. 

We love our choice of windows with a couple of exceptions: 
1) the sliding window beside the drivers seat is too high. 
H possibly should have installed it as low as possible in that space. Lower would have made it easier to check for cyclists and easier to buy tickets at toll booths/ferry ticket booths/ entrance gates. 
2) on the passenger side we don't have an openable window up the front where the passenger normally sits. I wish we'd installed a sliding window there. Sometimes to talk to people we may have pulled up along side of, or sometimes to simply open it while we're travelling and smell the fresh mountain air or take in a sea breeze. 

This photo, showing our camp on the Robinson River a while back, shows the drivers front sliding window is rather high.

This photo, showing our camp on the Robinson River a while back, shows the drivers front sliding window is rather high. 

Our electrical system is great and we've been able to live off-grid for an entire year! We have 1300 watts of solar feeding into a big 600amp hour lithium battery. So it's great, but, in hindsight, a 400amp hour battery would have been enough. Also, if I did it again I think I'd buy the battery from an Australian company. This Chinese one has been fine but in the end I think it cost almost the same as buying Aussie and if we'd bought Aussie we'd have been dealing with people who could hopefully answer our questions better. 

Being that we have so much power I do believe that we could have installed an induction stove instead of the gas cooker that we have. This would simplify the set up a little more: we wouldn't have to obtain and store gas, wouldn't have needed gas certification, and induction stoves are quite inexpensive now. 

I'd like to have an insect screen on the door but all my suggestions for this get knocked back by H. 

And next time, I don't think we'd install a single draw in the whole motorhome. We actually only have one, for the cutlery (knives, forks, etc), but it's been a nuisance. 

I think that's all we'd change. All in all Blu has been very much a success. 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Cleaning up the outback & making money.

We recently did a little bit to help cleanup Australia's outback which also put some cash in our pockets and gave us exercise too. So, a triple Win!

I regularly go for a morning walk and as I do I pick up some rubbish and dispose of it responsibly. Fortunately, in most parts of Australia I just get to pick up a couple of items    Unfortunately in Cape York Peninsula I started walking with a bag to carry more, and this continued into Queensland Gulf Savannah region. And then, we got to the Northern Territory (NT). Read on!

We hadn't long been in the Northern Territory (near Borroloola infact) when I realised how much 'gold' was lying around. By this I mean empty cans from a popular beer: XXXX Gold (pronounced: 'Four X gold'). 

The NT has a 'container deposit scheme' where if you return (most) drink containers you get 10c each for them. Glass bottles, plastic bottles, aluminium cans, juice and flavoured milk cartons have this refund scheme. If you look at the side of the containers it should tell you if the refund applies. 

So, I went picking up rubbish, and Hendrik soon joined me (and ended up doing far more than me). We didn't just pick up the refundable items but picked up other rubbish too in a bid to clean up the countryside. Most the discarded litter was refundable, so it seemed only fair to pick up the little bit of other stuff too. 

After the first morning I learnt to carry more bags.
After the first collection I learnt to start carrying more bags. 

A website tells you where the collection points are and a few of the rules. And I want to say that although each depot has final say on what they'll accept we found the depots we went to to be very lenient. But do have your recyclables sorted: plastic bottles separate to glass (for which a milk crate is best) and aluminium separate too. The depots prefer cans uncrushed (it helps their machines) but we picked up squashed cans too (and shook the dirt off and out of them) and had them accepted. It's at the depots discretion. 

We actually returned collections to a depot 4 times and made $180 ($AU180 = $US135 = €120, all approximate). With our combined hours considered I recon we made about $15 per hour. A 'real' job might pay us more, but we still reckon this is good money. 

Sometimes we'd park Blu and I'd go one direction along the road and H in the other. After an agreed time (like 15 minutes) we'd cross the road and turn back. Some areas are particularly good. Start doing this and you too will start to see the 'Gold' everywhere!