Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The Discomforts ... or: Intimate Crevices and the Maintenance of ... or: Where Moisture Shouldn’t be, Discomfort Follows.

During the long drive through the mountains of Santander and across the high plains of Northern Spain there was little time to stop or pay attention to hygiene other that basic face splashing and teeth brushing. This has two negative effects:

1. Intimate crevices get sweaty.
2. Armpits get smelly.

This means that after around 48 hours one gets irritation of aforementioned parts. Deodorant is overwhelmed by a mixture of sweat, and food smells passed out of pores. Skin that is usually dry and fresh gets saturated and dead skin cells congeal with sweat and the body’s own bacteria to form a smelly paste that then irritates the still living skin below, causing what all parents of newborns know as `nappy rash’. The longer you remain grotty the worse things get until the van smells like a teenagers bedroom, and itching becomes so fierce one could draw blood from scratching. I wonder if after a while the body adjusts to these vicissitudes (homeless people must suffer the same effects at first)? I once had to spend a fortnight between back surgeries being turned every two hours manually by nurses. I was too embarrassed as a teenager to let them know I was sore between my legs, until things became unbearable and I had to tell them that there was something wrong. Bed sores and a scab of some sort that effectively covered both my inner thighs and a large area of my scrotum, this had to be soaked off with warm saline and then had to be attended to for several days afterwards. We have been nowhere near this in terms of discomfort, but it reminds me that keeping clean is essential.

In the overall scheme of things one should be able to use the onboard facilities to shower and clean. However as we are fairly new to the entire process and we were pushed for time we decided that we would push on and suffer the indignities, in the hope of a brighter tomorrow and a shower (this we have done in the UK as well though, rather through cold than distance to be travelled).  It does all end well, and hygiene is restored, but it is a sobering lesson in how much we rely on the comforts of home and a base.

Having a shower in the van is a process, especially in camper stops, where we have to chain our waste water tank (for security) to our step and then hump it to the grey water disposal point. The balance you strike is between preserving your gas for cooking or using it to heat water to wash. Until we find a gas supply in our host country we are stuck (if that’s the right word) with a British Butane setup (Calor Gas). Camping Gaz is the default last reserve, 4kilos of, and we can carry two bottles. At some point we will need to purchase a new gas adaptor for the Spanish bottles and then connect it to our Gaslow system (which is universal). The actual bottle heads are not, and Paul Studley who did the conversion said he thinks there are fifteen different types all across Europe (all except Camping Gaz which is universally available but limited in size). The learning curve continues as we travel.

It’s not just us that get moisture that can’t be allowed to accumulate. There are (despite my attempts to insulate the van to the max), condensation issues in the van. Mostly the windscreen that by design can’t be double glazed. There are also small cold bridges (places where the van allows heat out and the metal cools to the external ambient temperature) allowing condensation to form on the inside of the van (mainly around door and window seals and rubbers). This was always going to be an issue regardless of efforts to mitigate the effects (purpose built motor home have less issues within the habitation area).

So these are the routines, where once we got up brushed teeth showered etc and went to work; now we get up, wipe moisture, wring cloths, turn cushions to allow any damp to evaporate before mildew or the worse Black Mould forms on the material and timber of the carcass, and then we look after ourselves.

In some ways it’s a bit primitive, and I’m glad I learned a long time ago from Ray Mears and John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman books, that these things we do are work, for all calories spent we achieve something. In the world of convenience shops, grocery deliveries, hot water on tap all the time, electricity without the need for batteries and driving motion we are totally inured to how hard life must be for those stuck between the modern world and the world of bushmen. I’m thinking specifically of refugees, from war zones and poverty, and with a little pondering it is very easy to understand the mechanics of both longer life expectancy through evolutions in hygeine and medicine  in the first world and mortality among the dispossessed and occupants of the third world, who have no choice as we have in our fully fitted mobile habitat.

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