The Exploding Toilet and Other Caravan Tales

August 15, 2010 Bloggies by Steve Martin Edit

The toilet exploded with a fair bit of ferocity. So much so it blew James fresh wee straight up onto my face. I think the air in the otherwise empty toilet had warmed up while we traveled. When I opened the waste gate to let the wee let fall into the toilet the rush of escaping hot air sprayed it back up and all over me.

So, here I am, somewhere in Germany on the side of the road, covered in my son’s fresh urine. What's more I had no water to clean myself. Thankfully there was just a bit of water left in the hot water system to rinse myself before I climbed back into the car.

 

Exploding toilets are just one of the joys of the Caravan lifestyle, and despite these unforseen dangers, mostly it's been pretty good.

We chose a caravan over a motorhome because we didn’t fancy the prospect of packing everything up every time we wanted to go anywhere. With the caravan we can set up our household at each site and then have the car to zoom off and play tourist for another day, or sometimes just duck down the street to get supplies.

English caravans are a little different from the Australian version. They are lighter because they don’t carry water or waste water and they all seem to have heaters rather than air-conditioners. The obsession with light weight comes from the cars they have to tow the vans, and most cars are small because the cost of fuel is so high. People here are simply not prepared to drive a gigantic 4WD just to tow a caravan on weekends.

Water comes from a portable tank we carry called an Aqua Roller which we fill once each day, and grey water is also carried away manually. 

Our van is an older model. A 1996 model with two bunk beds at the back for the children and the front lounge which converts [with a bit of work] to a very large double bed. We have an awning almost as big as the van, a toilet with a shower and a full kitchen, some of which still works.

I say some of it still works because we have a few issues. Our oven works, but only if we stand there and hold in the button in. We have a shower, but the shower head doubles as the outlet in the hand basin. We can’t seem to get the nozzle out of the basin to actually have a shower. [this is OK because we decided to use the caravan park showers before we realised our shower head was stuck]

Aside from occasionally exploding into my face, the toilet is a godsend for early morning calls of nature and for James toilet training. It’s worked so well that he considers it “his toilet” and he simply allows Jo and I to use it. The Toilet is also a chore because every few days I have to carry the "cassette" to the dump point and empty it. Not an appealing job in anyone's language.

Living in a van with two small children does pose some challenges. Bed time is fraught with danger because the children can hear everything and don’t always go straight to sleep. Many European caravan sites are not level which can mean the van might sit at a slight lean. That in turn can mean we might always roll to one side of the bed or that our heads are higher than your feet. This old caravan only has so much adjustment.

There is also the danger of the caravan park shower blocks. In England we stayed at Caravan Club sites. These sites all conform to a certain standard and generally only members are allowed to stay there. They are generally very well maintained and we know what to expect. In Europe we are using purely commercial caravan parks, and these range from the excellent to the ordinary.

It almost seems the more commercial the site the less we like it. Take Festy-land as an example. Festyland is in Belgium. It has its own water ski lake, beach, children’s water playground, bar, takeaway shop and a supermarket. It hosts thousands of people at peak times over the summer summer holiday and we hated almost every minute.The one concession was that it was close to Brugge which we loved. 

Festyland is our name for the park, I can’t remember its real name. We renamed it in honour of an actual French theme park we saw while driving down the Autoroute. I think perhaps only Australians would understand the implications of calling something festy.

The simplest sites we find are often the best. Clean bathrooms, perhaps a pool and a children’s playground will suffice especially if the actual campsites are a decent size. Crevecoeur-en-Brie in France, and Koningshof at Rijnsberg in the Netherlands have been favourites so far.

Travel with a car and van is not everyone's cup of tea, and some days it's not ours either, but the one big advantage is the people you meet and the friends you make. We now have friends from the Netherlands, Wales and New Zealand. Not the sort of connections you make when straying in another hotel room in another foreign city.

Mind you, in a hotel room in most foreign cities there's little chance of have your toilet explode.