An Experiment in Mobile Space Deprivation

“That’s disgusting,” opined Thing #1 as the contents of what is affectionately known as a black water container sluiced into the drainage system at the RV park.

“Yes, yes it is,” I agreed, fighting to breathe solely through my mouth while I used a hose to rinse the all-too-small container and tried to dislodge contents reluctant to depart.

I was in this smelly fix because we spent the first few days with our RV engaged in what is called “freedom” camping in the parks of New Zealand. The scenery was gorgeous, and it beat the heck out of listening to the sliding doors of fellow campers slam shut all night in formal RV parks (though we did plenty of that too). Freedom, however, had a price—and that price was the regular emptying of the small black water container.

My personal struggles with the septic system aside, all of us had to adjust to the realities of spending sixteen days and nearly 3,000 kilometers in an RV. Things #1 and #2 were deeply saddened to learn that they would be forced to wear seat belts. They had envisioned roaming throughout the vehicle at will, perhaps even riding on top when the mood struck (to my knowledge they have not seen Teen Wolf so perhaps this is a genetic predilection). Instead, they were strapped in to a bench about two-thirds the size of sedan’s back seat. There was to be no escape, no personal space and, and, oddly enough, no view as the right side of the RV had no window. 

The view for our hostages/passengers. Apparently the hanging pouch was a much cheaper option versus a window.

To be fair to the recreational vehicle community, our trip was timed to coincide with summer vacation for Things #1 and #2. We knew that New Zealand was situated such that we would instead experience winter, but we took comfort from that fact that Kiwi winters, especially on the north island, were generally mild. Even if it was chilly, we reasoned, all we would miss back home in our adopted land of Costa Rica was the daily dose of rain that would not end until December.

We were not, however, emotionally or wardrobe-prepared for what this particular winter would entail (there were actually two major storms during our stay peppered with descriptions from local meteorologists heavy with adjectives like “worst” and “epic.”) 

Many mornings we awoke to find our world at 0 degrees — or colder

Did you remember to put the plastic bags on your hands? Good!

I taught the boys essential skills, such as building snowmen and avoiding yellow snow.

Trips outside to the mud and ice were followed by immediate demands for a shower to warm up. Yes, we theoretically had a shower. It was located outside the bathroom, next to the bed. Putting aside the reality that any shower would quickly exhaust the fresh water supply, overfill the grey water tank and flood the bed, the biggest challenge was the fact that, when unfolded, it offered roughly two feet of room. I did not want to recreate a President Taft so we ended up using the shower as the dirty clothes hamper and used the warm air from the heater vent to dry our socks and shoes (further adding to the smells).

Probably the biggest hurdle we had to overcome was a complete lack of privacy. Traditionally speaking we are a barrier-breaking bunch with little regard for closed doors or personal space. I thought this would be a good foundation for the RV trip, but had not realized that our shared bathroom would be a third the size of a bathroom found on a plane. In my case in particular it was impossible to enter the bathroom and actually close the door, which meant that anyone in the bedroom got to share that experience with me. There was to be no joining of the meter-high club.

A lack of showering, constant close proximity and a constantly full black water tank left us all feeling less than fresh. The solution to this problem, which has many applications in life, was simple: lower your standards. Yes, I smell, but then again so do you — or is that also me?

After a while we all began feeling like the poor sheep we saw on the ferry fighting for a bit of space and a breath of fresh air. I took this picture to heart and began referring to our collective smell as second hand sheep.

Our kindred, smelly spirit

Thing #2 took to sticking his head behind the curtain to gain a measure of privacy.

My bride and I spent a lot of this smelly expanse of a holiday telling the boys to leave each other alone, but since the unwanted interactions were taking place over 9,000 miles from home it had a certain exotic aspect to it.

We are very lucky, and it was all pretty cool. We shall perhaps one day try it again provided that time does indeed heal all wounds, and smells.

A manual (six speed) front wheel drive diesel with the steering wheel on the right side of the car and the shifter to the left. To the knowledge of the RV rental company we left it with very little visible damage.