Tag Archives: camping

Entering Our Van in a Kombi Fest

13 Oct

One morning a few months back Matt slid open the van door to grab some juice out of the fridge just as a middle-aged man was walking by. He saw our set-up and excitedly chatted our ears off about all things Volkswagen and reminisced about his days of living in a van. Matt proceeded to give him a tour as I lay in bed trying to hide that fact that I was only wearing a skimpy tee and some panties. He oo’ed and awed over our queen mattress, the solar panel on the roof and our pull out fridge.

“Have you ever entered in a Kombi fest?,” the man asked and then told us about the annual festivals in NSW where Volkswagen Kombi or Transporter owners get together to do a ‘van’ show and compete for titles like “Best Presented” and “Furthest Traveled.” He was convinced that if we entered we’d win something and told us it was a great place to get ideas and meet other van owners. Since the festivals weren’t coming up for another few months we put it in the back of our minds and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago when we were driving down New South Wales’ coast that we remembered to look it up.

We happened to be housesitting in Coffs Harbour, just a few hours north of the annual Old Bar Kombi Fest, which tries to break the record of getting the most Volkswagen vans in one spot, and though we really shouldn’t have, for practical money-related reasons, we made the drive down.

We registered at the very last-minute, drove onto the giant field that early Sunday morning and parked in our assigned spot. Disappointed with how plain our van looked next to the retro brightly colored ones, we knew ours had its beauty on the inside. Admittedly, we weren’t prepared at all – halfway through our drive down we decided to give the van a quick wash and the morning of the event we scrambled to organize all our things so the van looked somewhat presentable. I was so sad that Matt left our ‘love child’, Twiggy, a Bonzi tree that we kept on the dash, in Mackay at his parents’ house. I knew he would have garnered some attention.

We left the van doors open and strolled through the lines of Kombis and Transporters, noting how ours could improve but generally feeling very proud of how functional ours was. People had trailers with beds, pop-tops tents in the roof, tents that attached to the outside and some had sleeping pads in the back, but no one had a queen mattress and they certainly weren’t living in their vans full-time.

When we’d had our fill we walked through the markets, had a beer and some festival food, and listened to the live music. Later that day when they announced the winners we accepted that the van didn’t win because we knew we’d be better prepared next year. And next year, you better believe Twiggy will be on the dash where he belongs.

Water and Bathing On the Road

17 Sep

 

No matter what kind of hygienic ritual we’ve become accustomed to most of us can forego hot showers, proper toilets, sinks and washer machines for a week or so when we’re “roughing” it outdoors or backpacking on a budget. But when it becomes a way of life, as it has for my boyfriend and I, you start looking at things a little differently.

When you’re camping, it’s easy to take cold showers for a week and let your leg hair grow out longer than usual because you know it’s only temporary and you’ve got that hot shower waiting for you back home. But when the road is your home, any shower or clean bathroom you come across feels like a trip to the spa and running water is viewed as an invaluable resource for washing dishes and clothes, brushing your teeth, bathing, and even drinking – if you’re so daring.

I come from a world of designer water bottles and giant wholesale markets where people can buy their fancy water in bulk. Now, I drink from whichever faucet is available as long as it passes the clarity and taste test. (And I’m basically living off tea because once the water boils I no longer worry about it.) Blame it on the three months I spent backpacking Asia or my trips to Mexico but now I look at water differently. If I’m in a first world country and there’s no sign that tells me not to drink it, it’s fair game.

The same goes for bathing water. If we stumble across a lake or find an outdoor shower by the beach and haven’t had a proper shower in days, we thank the heavens and muster up the courage to face the cold water. It’s not so bad in the summer months but in the winter it’s a whole different animal. That’s when we heat some water in a pot over our portable stove, squeeze in our minty shower gel and use a tea cloth to give ourselves a sponge bath. If it’s cold outside or if we’ve got neighbors, we’ll bring the pot inside the van, shut all the doors, lay a towel down and be careful to drip as little water as possible as we take turns wiping each other down. We’ll even drape a blanket over the two front seats to block the windows and give us some semblance of privacy.

Other times, like mostly recently when we camped by the Clarence River in Grafton, NSW (which you can read about here), we’ll own the fact that we’re dirty hippies in need of a scrub. One early morning, after my leg hairs had gone particularly feral, I set up our bathing station on the public picnic table under the gazebo we’d camped next to and shaved my legs. When I was mid-shin boaters towing water skiers drove past and I shamelessly waved right back with a giant smile on my face.

Once finished, I put on a new pot to wash our clothes and hung the freshly laundered garments on the rack on the front of the car and on our camping chairs. Then Matt proceeded to give the van a scrub down and we both felt accomplished and grateful to have found “free” running water. It was certainly a step up from our campsite on the beach where the only water came from the ocean.

Later that day, Matt and I decided three days of salty beach hair was enough and we jumped off the jetty and into the cold, murky river water to wash our hair. When I was alone in the water I stayed as close to the surface as possible because I was terrified a croc would swim up at any moment and take me down with him. I could hardly see a foot in front of me and my mind kept playing scenes from really bad horror films where unsuspecting lovers were suddenly attacked by piranhas, sharks or some other unknown mythical creature. But then I’d see children fly past us in their inner tubes, towed behind the family boat and I’d relax and be thankful I was finally washing my hair.

When you’re on the road for a year and every penny counts, you find yourself becoming a bit of a schemer. You scope out locations based on proximity to free public amenities over beauty and you’re always thinking about your survival or how to stretch that dollar. While sometimes I wish we didn’t have to resort to drinking water from a dodgy faucet (we’re working on installing a water filtration/shower system so don’t worry too much!) living this simple life makes me appreciate the little things more and that makes every cold shower worth it.

In a Van, Down by the River

14 Sep

When I went home for a Californian summer before moving to Australia I tried to explain the concept of living out of a van with my boyfriend to my friends and family. Most people looked at me with horror and asked, “But, how do you shower?!” or “What if you have to go to the bathroom?!”

Others quoted Chris Farley’s famous Saturday Night Live skit where he plays Matt Foley, the 35-year-old motivational speaker who tries to scare kids straight by telling them they could end up like him, “living in a van, down by the river.” I had to laugh to myself when within days of arriving in Australia, that was my exact living situation.

After a day in Brisbane, we started the trip in Minnie Water, NSW, where we discovered a gorgeous beach with clear water, surrounding headlands and not a person in site. We tanned naked and felt as though we’d washed ashore to our own private island. It was pure bliss. Fortunately, time was on our side because after we climbed the wooden steps to the top of the beach access for lunch, car after car drove up and our “private” beach wasn’t so private anymore.

The next morning we had a medical emergency and left our perfect camp spot to drive an hour to the nearest town and find a doctor. We ended up in a quaint little place called Grafton and after the emergency was sorted we decided to make use of our unexpected gas consumption and explore our new surroundings.

Once  it was dark we searched for a place to camp and found a park right on the banks of the Clarence River. We parked next to the public gazebo and made dinner in the picnic area with our portable gas stove. We had free power, free running water, a kitchen, and bathrooms within walking distance, so the fact that overnight camping wasn’t allowed wasn’t much of a deterrent. 

The next morning as we watched the sunrise over the river from the open “boot”, we knew we couldn’t leave. It was the local watering hole and a town favorite picnic spot. Over the course of the next three days locals parked all around us and launched their boats or set up their lawn chairs for lunch and beers while the kids splashed around in the water. Every few hours we had new guests join us under the gazebo for tea, breakfast or lunch. When we got to know some of them we’d tell them how we’d been camping there. They’d reply with, “Is that right? Good on ya!” and we’d tell them how we’d been taking our showers in the river.

On the second night, Matt and I fell asleep early since we’d been waking up for sunrise nearly every morning. We had the trunk of the car wide open, facing the river and just as I was dozing off a security guard woke me up to let me know if we didn’t leave now they were going to lock the gates and we wouldn’t be able to get out until they opened at 5a.m. In my haze I told him that was okay, we’re sleeping here and he just nodded and left.

This is what I love about Australia. The rural small towns, the slow pace, the natural beauty, the wildlife and the lack of crowds. Everyone seems to understand what we’re doing here. They’ve either done it before or wish they could. Most want to hear what we’ve done and where we’re going and they give us inside tips about the best beaches or places to find jobs, but a few look at us like we’re the dregs of society. I feel sorry for those people. I wonder if they’ve ever made love on a beach in broad daylight or if they’ve watched the sun rise over the ocean, with sand between their toes. I wonder if they really appreciate their daily hot showers, washer machines and microwaves or if it’s all become background.

This lifestyle isn’t for everyone and at times I’m shocked that I’m so okay with it being mine. I laugh when we do come across the people who think we’re a couple of strange hippies but, to me this is living and I feel more alive than I ever did in Orange County. Every day is a challenge because we don’t know where we’re going to sleep that night or when our next proper shower will be. But the freedom that comes with this lifestyle isn’t something you can put a price on and it’s not something I can fully explain. So though I spent several days “living in a van, down by the river” it wasn’t a low point in my life as it comically was for Chris Farley’s character.  It was a high one.

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