Portugal, so far, has been amazing! Although it’s definitely had its stressful moments.
First of all, we had the whole nightmare of getting wedged between the buildings of the narrowest, steepest street ever in Vouzela. Probably in the world. I mean at some point, surely we are going to get better at this whole motorhome life and stop getting ourselves into these situations?!
Anyway, we spent a lovely relaxing week at Parque de Campismo de Vouzla, where we were, on most days, the only people there. We had the whole pool to ourselves, it was super quiet and we managed to even get some much needed gadgets delivered from Amazon. The kids spent the days cuddling the campsite kittens (no one got worms or flees or any other stray cat disease, so don’t panic), riding their bikes, playing and swimming in the pool and we even managed to get a start (and get our heads round) homeschooling Flora.
We also spent a lot of the week clearing out the motorhome. I feel like an idiot even telling you all this, as most people who have camped, caravanned, motorhomed or even have the slightest clue about electrics will probably already know. But, to our surprise, normal 3 pin televisions, kettles and toasters don’t work in a motorhome unless you are plugged into a mains connection.
So, here’s where we have been going wrong and where we have been spending money we didn’t budget for. You know how we bought Winnie on the Monday and then left on the Wednesday? Aye well, that two days was spent fitting £1100 worth of solar panels and leisure batteries. We truly believed that with this kit we had fitted, we would be able to wild camp to our hearts content. Totally off grid. Totally independent.
Here’s what we didn’t realise. First of all, your plug sockets WILL NOT WORK, at all, with anything, unless you are connected to a mains supply. Second, in order to power ANYTHING off these bloody expensive solar panels and leisure batteries, you need an inverter. (The inventor will convert your 12V power, so fag lighter, into 240V power, to power phone chargers, tv, laptops etc). The ONLY thing that will work without either of these things, is your fag lighter.
So, while we were at the campsite, we decided to research and order what we could off good old Amazon that would make us independent and solar efficient like we believed we already were when we set off.
This is the point in the conversation where I need to tell you that we are Amazon affiliates. From time to time we may post some affiliate links. These will be links to products that we personally use and love. It doesn’t cost you anything to click on them or even shop via them, but it will earn us a small commission if you do decide to go on a shopping spree via our affiliate link. So by all means, TREAT YO SELF!
So here’s what we bought :
1. We have a fag lighter (cigarette lighter for all the posh people) in the front dash. The kids however sleep in the back and always watch a film before bedtime (to chill them out). We obviously needed a 12V connection in the back of the van so the easiest way to achieve this was by buying one of these which we connected directly to our leisure battery in the back. No drilling, no rewiring, super simple. And it easily clips off so we can take it with us if we ever decide to upgrade from Winnie. (NEVER!!).
2. Now that we have two 12V supplies (fag lighters), one in the back and one in the front we needed inverters so that we could plug in and use our 240V appliances. We bought two of these ones and honestly, they have been a god send! We are now completely solar efficient and since getting them we have been free parking/wild camping every night. Budget win!
3. We also bought this. Not necessary, but for the price I’d say it’s worth having. It gives you extra 12V ports, plus 4 USB ports to charge your phone/iPad. It has a fag lighter end so it plugs straight into your 12V connection and because it doesn’t need to convert the power into 240V it doesn’t drain your battery any where as much as the inverters. It also gives you a handy little battery read-out so you know how much energy you are using from your leisure battery/solar panels. (As I’m writing this, jason is leaning over my shoulder ranting that this is, infact, VERY necessary. Oops. I don’t know, I suppose it’s handy to have. Just buy it).
I know some people will cringe at the advertising, but we do actually have these, we love them and they have made such a huge difference already to the way we can travel and to our budget so if our experience and purchases can be helpful to even one person, then job done.
Right, back to what I was saying.
So this week we set about throwing away all the things that I’ve brought with us that either we actually cannot use in our set up, or do not need. I mean, I’m here with a four slice toaster. Even connected to mains hookup I can only ever get two slice to work. I also brought my slow cooker. I’m not even joking. Oh and hello, for some reason I thought it was a good idea to bring a loaf tin and muffin tins with me. I mean I’ve never once used them in 4 years at home, but for some reason I thought I was going to become Mother Earth and bake muffins every morning for breakfast. In a motorhome. And even if I was going to, the oven is half the size of a normal oven so it was never going to happen.
Anyway, those are all gone. Although I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the nutribullet (aye I actually brought that aswell) so that’s now tucked away under the couch, never to see the light of day again. Along with my hairdryer and GHD’s.
All in all, a week well spent.
Second last day there, we thought we would head out to the local supermarket, 20 minutes away. Literally 3 minutes into the drive and one wrong turn later we found ourselves, and Winnie, wedged between 2 houses lining the road. Of course, the road was crazy steep so as well as not being able to go forward, we also couldn’t reverse ourselves out the situation. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before how Winnie really doesn’t like an incline. Cheers Winnie.
Thanks to a lovely local family, 2 hours later, we were hauled back up the road to safety thanks to the husbands small, yet mighty, tractor. (You can hear the full story here.)
What we didn’t know at this point was that on top of our oil leak and the engine cooling fan not working, our escapades had resulted in us burning the clutch out. Completely done.
Thankfully we had breakdown insurance and the lovely manager at the campsite restaurant hooked us up with her husband who just happened to be a mechanic.
Long story short, three nights in an apartment (courtesy of our insurance), €1227,60, a split head, an a&e visit and 4 stitches later we were reunited with Winnie and back on the road!
Ok, ok. The split head. I’ll tell you all.
First morning in the apartment, Archie casually swings on his seat at breakfast, the chair obviously slips and down he falls, head cracking off the tiled step up to the bathroom.
At this point, I’m still lying in bed. Jason had got up with the weans and let me have a lie in.
So I heard the crying, then the room door opens and I think it’s Archie coming in to tell me he’s fell. There’s Jason, face as white as a sheet and Archie with a one inch split to the back of his head. Pouring with blood.
Thankfully the apartment we were in was right across from a pharmacy so Jason ran over there with him while I quickly shoved clothes on, dressed the girls and grabbed money and passports.
One thing I do want to say is, that the people of Portugal are some of the loveliest, kindest people we have ever met. We don’t speak the language and where we were, a small non-touristy town, hardly anyone spoke any English at all. Even so, we were shown the upmost kindness and, twice when we really needed help, the Portuguese people really went out of their way to help us.
The lady in the pharmacy cleaned Archie’s head up, calmed Jason down, and had phoned a taxi all before I had got downstairs. The taxi driver couldn’t have been any nicer either. He drove us straight to the hospital, then personally took us in to explain to the receptionist, and try to translate to us, what was happening.
Archie was as good as gold. He got four stitches and didn’t cry once. Within half an hour he was his usual maniac self and we have now spent the last 4 days on edge, while he flings his head about everywhere and continues to be boisterous and oblivious all at the same time.
The doctor who attended him told us to come back the following day to have his dressing changed then again 8 days later to have the stitches removed.
The next day, the doctor , who pushed and pulled at his wound, told me in very broken English ‘very good’ and proceeded to take the stitches out. I’ve no idea if we were just lost in translation or what but the stitches are out, the scar is holding and he’s neither up nor down.
Week 6, we are all still in one piece, still happy and loving life and Winnie is like a new van. In one fell swoop we have scratched 3 major issues off ‘the list’ and she now sounds and drives like she’s just out the showroom. Minus the power steering of course. But we are delighted.
Time to finally explore Portugal!