How to Build a Sensible Shower in Your Camper

how to build shower in a camper

This article is about how to build a shower in a camper-van or converted truck or bus. I believe my plan is the cheapest, most environmental, simplest option for anyone who has some serious space limitations on board their home on wheels, for anyone who doesn’t spend much time at RV parks or hotel parking lots, for anyone who wants the ability to look and feel fresh at a time of their choosing, after a long, hot dusty drive parked up by the roadside.

Basically the key to this is to use a typical metal, flat-bottomed sink as the base and a cheap, submersible water pump to provide the shower power. The total floor space of the shower itself will take up little more than the sink (i.e. the sink with most of its corrugated drainer cut off) at its minimum – the advantage of the submersible pump is its flexibility in use, in a variety of situations, locations, temperatures, etc. – it can feed from a container that you have filled with solar-heated water, wood fire heated water, propane stove heated water filtered river water or just plain cold water.

DIY motorhome shower kitchen sink base

  1. Cut the draining board part off the metal sink. Not too much – leave around 20cm to act as a step into the shower.
  2. Make a hole in the floor of the van to take the plug hole of the sink. Depending on the thickness of your floor you might have to attach a drain hose as you install the sink. Remember to check under the van to see where the water is coming out. You have to decide whether you want the water to drain into a grey-water tank or just out into the nature. As we only use environmentally sound cleaning products, we just let the water out onto the ground. The outlet is just behind the rear wheel which means we can back up onto a piece of grass or even over a city rain-water sewer. Ultimately we could just put a container under the outlet to catch the water – we don’t have space in or under our truck for grey-water tanks and, in any case, they wouldn’t make much sense in most of the countries we travel.
  3. Build a box under the lip of the sink so that the whole thing sits level on floor and won’t distort or bend if you stand in it.
  4. Build the rest of the shower, with the size of the sink as your minimum limiting size and the size of you and your truck as the maximum. My average physical build finds the 45cm x 60cm sink sufficient. The cheapest shower build would be plywood with a good coat of waterproof varnish and paint. I noticed that in North America, showers in houses were always a one-piece plastic surround which must be pretty easy to find, recycle and adapt. You can even tile the shower if you don’t have any issues with weighing your truck down. Surprisingly, well done tiling will survive thousands of miles of bumpy roads although you can use vibration-proof glues, grouting and polymers to be super safe.
  5. Seal the entire structure, paying extra attention, of course, to where the walls meet the metal sink. Also the draining board segment that you have left is corrugated so seal that up well too.
  6. Make sure the doors are as snug and tightly fitting as you can get them – and put a shower curtain in that’s long enough to hang inside the sink itself.
  7. Whale 12V submersible pumpFor the shower itself,  use a 12V submersible pump that can be dropped into any tank or container (with an opening big enough). These pumps are notorious for not lasting all that long – remember never to use it out of the water and always let it dry off after use. We had problems finding such a pump in USA, where they prefer these massive RV in-line pumps that cost $100 and are too powerful. Too much power means you’re going to be using a lot of water – they’re designed for a mammoth American RV where the tank might be 7m away from the actual shower and the owner is after, essentially, a real-house-experience. With a submersible pump, you can put the water container right outside the shower. A good quality pump (which will still only cost $30 in Europe) will lift water 3m and still give a good pressure at the business end. This means you can lead the shower hose out of a window to a container that’s been heated by the sun or by wood and is too heavy to bring inside. The point is that if you don’t fix the pump to anything, and leave it free to move, you have endless options in terms of your water source. Remember, however, to take a spare along with you…
  8. 12V submersible pumps have a waterproof cable attached to them. You need to add an extension to this, as lengthy as your hose will ever be. At some point close to the shower, take the positive wire to bring into the shower to feed into a switch and then back out towards your batteries. It doesn’t have to be a fancy waterproof switch. As long as you don’t direct the shower directly at it, putting the switch higher up the shower wall then you won’t be having any problems here. Remember, it’s only 12V.
  9. You can also put a light with its own switch onto this positive feed – unless you’ve got a skylight in the roof and you only take showers during the day.

That’s it basically. It’s not a fancy shower but it’s very practical. Your dedicated water container can be kept inside the shower itself when you’re not using it. Aan advantage of using a metal sink is that it’s a single piece of strong metal that will with stand you or a 30l barrel bouncing around on a rough road.

It’s surprising how small a space you need to have an adequate shower – even the smallest of vans will have room for this as long as you can you just about stand up in it. If you don’t have the headroom, leave more of the draining board attached and you can have a sit-down shower using the same design.

Just a few words, then, about, why you should have a shower installed at all. The mission we’re on is through many different countries: Some developed, some not so developed; some tropically hot, some sub-zero; some which tolerate public outdoor nudity, some which will quickly have 50 people gathered around watching how a foreigner washes themselves. You can use this shower after a hot, sticky ride into a crowded city where you don’t want to pay $5 for the privilege of refreshing yourself in a smelly, cockroached concrete room. Or in a cold, cloudy landscape where your out-door, black-bag, solar shower isn’t going to cut it.

Coming from a nation of, ahem, notorious soap-dodgers, this is the first truck I have ever had with a dedicated body-cleaning space. In the past, I’ve managed to get away with jumping (screaming) into cold rivers – I’ve flooded the van a few times in the process of a bucket-and-sponge-bath – I’ve talked endless crap with people for hours in the hope they might invite me in to use their bathroom… Do yourself a favor; unless you have a real posh, factory-built RV, do it the way I’ve described.  And if you don’t ever end up using it, you got yourself a nice big cupboard.

 

Lago de Yojoa

Se Alquilan Lanchas sign

Lake Yojoa

It’s not often that we write so specifically about what we are doing – I really wouldn’t want to bore you with our day-to-day. And it’s not often that we’ll go on about a particular restaurant, hotel or bar – basically because we don’t go to any of them that much. But as it was my birthday, we thought we’d splash out on a few days at D&D Brewery at Lake Yojoa, in the mountains of central Honduras. For nearly a week we pretended to be more like real tourists and for now, I’m going to pretend to be a real travel blogger.

Pulhapanzak Falls We first arrived at Pulhapanzak Falls, a short drive up from the plains along the Caribbean coast. Arriving just as it was getting dark we pulled into the privately-owned park next to the cascades. In the twilight, the place looked a little industrial with a couple of big trucks lined up amidst heaps of wood. A guy with a gun came over and wanted 180 Lempiras for us staying there plus 60 Lempiras for entrance to the grounds. Now so far in Honduras we had been sticking to the Costa Garifuna, which differed in two ways from the present situation, here in Honduras proper. Firstly, we’d only been paying 100 Lempiras for a night of parking, when we paid at all, and that was all they had asked for; and secondly, this was the first gun we’d seen for a while that wasn’t attached to an actual cop or soldier. Hmm. Anyway, the instinct to negotiate kicked in – the guy settled for 150 for both parking and entrance – told us not to tell the other campers about our deal – told us to definitely tell his boss the next day otherwise the boss would think he was cheating on him – and we were in, choosing our spot in the vast, lightly forested parking area and trying to predict where there’d be shade in the morning. I think it was a Beretta P x 4 Storm Compact but I’m no expert.

So, yes, the Falls are pretty spectacular. You can swim in the river at the top, if you don’t fancy clambering over rocks to get past the white water and into a beautiful, fresh pool at the bottom of the 43m waterfall. Make sure you’re camera’s waterproof if you do go that far down, that’s all I’m saying. There’s a zip-line course that takes you out right over the precipice a couple of times. Not so much like a canopy tour than a really short hang glide into space. All in all, a nice place to spend a hot day.

As the big day approached (my 40th birthday slash yet another attempt to give up smoking), we motored back to Pena Blanca, got lost for a bit then found D&D Brewery at Los Naranjos close to the Lake Yojoa itself. Do yourself a favor and click on their link now if you want to go but don’t want to do the getting lost bit. I used to enjoy getting lost. Taking half a day to get out of Chelyabinsk, Siberia, (which has a friggin’ ring road, for chrissakes – you only need to go in a straight line) or laughing at our hopeless transliteration to Latin from the Hangeul scripted signage in South Korea was always great fun. These days it’s just too hot to bother getting lost.

http://www.ddbrewery.com/

D&D Brewery proved to be the perfect place to celebrate our few days of the high-life. It was what is known in the trade as posh. It is very well planned out and built in a piece of almost jungle, centered on a swimming pool. It has loads of books, WI-FI, info on the surrounding attractions, university-trained staff, vaguely warm showers, a restaurant and a bar. It is also, of course a brewery of the micro kind producing various fruity and non-fruity ales. Even if you don’t like that kind of stuff, they break up the monotony of Central American lager perfectly. And they do their own root beer and cream soda, two of my favorite flavors.  The best thing about the place, though, was the people we met there. We’d been off the tourist trail for a while now, we felt, having met a few ex-pat Floridians here and there who were completely non-tourist and more like pirates sheltering from the windy season. And the problem is; I don’t talk very good Pirate. Have you ever changed your Facebook language to Pirate? No? Well as the only Pirate tuition I’ve ever attempted, I have to say that these Pirates that we had met along the Caribbean coast spoke something more like a kind of American deep beneath their beards. The Garifuna people offer little relief to the hard-of-hearing conversationalist either – their language veers from a mysterious creole to Caribbean English whenever it wasn’t simply Spanish. And so, here at the D&D, the poshest gaff I’d seen in a while, my birthday imminent, apricot ale in hand, we had the immense fortune to meet a load of British people! Not only that but they spoke wiv a proper London accent! Truly, I felt spoilt. Passports aside, it was the variety of people we met at the D&D that was D&D Brewery pool refreshing. Backpackers, foreign teachers taking a break, professional rafters organizing a competition in neighboring Costa Rica, local and distant Hondurans passing through – even journalists driving the Americas whose latest story was that their van was out of action for a month and currently on bricks 100km north. Come to think of it, the D&D Brewery doesn’t have a very large car park – two overland vehicles would have dangerously filled it up. The place is also a bargain. That is if you don’t pay to get hooked up with electricity. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that energy should cost more than space in a kind of economical-astrophysical sense but it seemed still strange to be asked to pay for 150 Lempiras to be plugged in but only 120 Lempiras for the parking along with the Wi-Fi, showers, swimming pool, etc.  The only problem, of course, was that we’d promised to give up smoking the next day.

Lake Yojoa river scene

It started out well enough – the nicotine patches were handed out and we had a nice traditional birthday fry-up. Then, we rented a couple of oars from a place round the corner and went to choose a boat on the canal that leads onto the lake. Drip, drip the patch must have been feeding that most addictive of substances into my bloodstream but it seems I still couldn’t row straight. One side always kept having more pull than the other and we zigzagged around the place, covering maybe 20m of actual canal-length in twenty minutes. Dunia had a go and we zigzagged some more, this time 20m in about fifteen minutes.

Vaga checking out the boats

Vaga, our dog, seemed uninterested in contributing – she looked like she was wandering how long this could go on for and deciding whether to make a jump for it on one of regular approaches back towards dry land. But the frustration didn’t make us want to light a cigarette up at all; the drip, drip from the patch was doing its job and for this reason they’re always my weapon of choice in the battle against nicotine addiction. However, what with all the exertion of getting out onto the lake and back again in a fashion that minimized our embarrassment before our fellow boat people (OK, some young lad actually towed us along for a bit), what with all the sweat under a hot sun, the patches slipped off and wouldn’t stick back on.  We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife out on the lake. The patch-slipping sun was at its zenith when any sensible animal was sheltering out of sight. Instead, you have to go early in the morning with Malcolm, who you will find at the D&D. A pro-bird-watcher with binoculars, a keen eye and years of experience. He doesn’t zigzag – at least not while rowing. A trip with him should have been my birthday present – as it was we’d only had those two patches and, soon after returning the oars and getting back to a D&D for a perfectly, vaguely warm shower, we started smoking again.

Los Naranjos

 

Still, it’s hard to be disappointed with your decision to spend time around the Lake Yojoa. You can take a trip out onto the lake with a pro-bird watcher, early in the morning or there’s a couple of interesting walks nearby via coffee plantations, a  partially excavated Lenca site (i.e. pre-Colombian) trails, and swimming holes known collectively as the Parque Eco-Arquelogico Los Naranjos. Further afield, trips can be arranged to some hot springs south of the lake and two National Parks in the west and eastern areas. This is where you might see the lushest and mistiest of cloud forests. Parque Nacional Cerro Azulmeamar also has caves that were  first occupied thousands of years ago while Parque Nacional Santa Barbara contains Honduras’ second highest peak which is 2.7 km high.

Getting Lost in Los Naranjos
Getting Lost in Los Naranjos

There’s something about the Lago de Yojoa area. It was peaceful. It seemed somehow like a different part of Honduras than its very central location suggests. Maybe that’s it – crossroads can be interesting places, especially one with a beautiful lake focusing the attention of the surrounding areas…well, I’m over egging the travel blogging (yeah, I know, it was pretty well-egged by paragraph two). Lago de Yojoa – highly recommended. Use nicotine gum.

 

Road-side Honey Seller
Road-side Honey Seller

Falling Apart But Still Dodge 50 Is The Best

Jigsaw at the beach.

Jigsaw at the beach.

I can’t say I’ve ever met that many Dodge 50s outside of Europe. But that could just be because they were only really for sale in Britain and I hardly meet any British over-landers on anything more than two wheels (this year it’s French and Belgian). But having clocked over 200 000 km in Dodge 50s I still think they’re the best vehicle to take on a long, long trip – even if, at the moment, I’m covered in oil, grease and muck, with a layer of soot from the exhaust, finely sprinkled with grit and gravel, as I wrestle with a broken shock absorber. Even if the combined Central American mileage has rattled our suspension apart, I wouldn’t regret bringing a Dodge 50. Maybe the four-wheel drive version, next time, mind.

Speed bumps are, of course, the culprit. (And muggins here behind the wheel is the accessory). Jigsaw tried its best – those big old chunks of metal propping up the rear end had spent most of their life gently bouncing their way round the gently rolling hills of North England – they valiantly survived the challenge of Russia and Cascadia, only fatally complaining after thousands more miles of abuse, shouldering and shocking a full 3 and half tonnes over millions of fucking speed bumps.

There’s definitely a story to be had with speed bumps – a history to be told, to be sure, but also an examination of their place in modern human cultures.  Certainly a topic on our minds, anyway: There aren’t too many useful signs out here on the roads – the vibrators, redactors, topes and tumulos are eagerly read and processed and mentioned in conversation and then… whoa, 50 meters later, bump, bump, slowly over the lump of concrete known, funnily enough where I come from, as sleeping policemen. That’s if you’re lucky and you get a sign at all. Between Guadalajara and Mexico City, on the free roads, they pretty much decimated our average speed with their ubiquity. But they can have their individuality, too, and a singular speed bump becomes, if not famous, then notorious; fifty-odd km into Pakistan from the Iranian border there’s a bump usually hidden beneath the wind-blown sands of the Baluchi desert where train tracks cross the road. Many remember it, speeding through the evening, hoping to reach their secure destination by nightfall, when ‘BANG!’ – it’s like the shooting started already. The Dodge survived that one too.

 

 

 

 

Garifuna

Sambo Creek Radio Comunitaria

Garifuna map and location

The Garifuna peoples live on the Caribbean coast of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras and Roatan, an island that now belongs to Honduras. There are communities in St.Vincent and in the largest of North American cities, notably New York. Theirs is an interesting, intriguing story – and an invaluable part of the American landscape after the turmoil of colonization, slavery and suffering shook everything up for a while.

History picks up the story in 1635 when Spanish ships with captured West African people were ship-wrecked close to St.Vincent. The indigenous Island Carib people took them in. St.Vincent , at that time, was not colonized – in the late eighteenth century, Britain was awarded the island by some deal or other with the French. In 1797, Garifuna surrendered to British forces, deporting 4000 Garifunans with the blackest skin first to a nearby island and then to Roatan. Half of these people died during that journey and their new home could hardly support the rest so they got permission from the Spanish authorities to settle on the Central American mainland coast.  Since then, they have managed to prosper and have always remained a free people preserving their unique way of life, traditions and language which is a blend of two Carib indigenous languages with many English and Spanish words. Their number system sounds like French.

It is a story full of questions about their time on St.Vincent. At first, it seems they were enslaved by the Caribs living there but then some inter-breeding and cultural synthesis took place. And then, the British made their cruel attempt to divide the society that had evolved…

Garifuna Semana Santa at sambo Creek, Honduras

Happily, today, the Garifuna Nation seems strong and well connected – celebrating together in April every year, their arrival on the Honduran mainland from Roatan and other important cultural events. They have a particular form of music and dance, traditional medicines, food and drink, all of which make their existence on the Caribbean coast an important component of each state’s push for tourists – while many of the people themselves are returning from life in New York, L.A. or London or, at least, have family members there.  I was surprised to see such a firm identity surviving the Spanish-speaking hegemonies of the area, not least the problems Central America has suffered – I shouldn’t have been. The Garifuna know who they are.

Sambo Creek Kids

Sambo Creek Radio Comunitaria

Guifiti: Herbal bitters from the Caribbean

It’s not every day that you come across an alcoholic beverage that’s (a) said to be beneficial for the health, (b) descends from a mysterious and secret indigenous tradition and (c) hits the spot. Guifiti is such a drink, made by the Garifuna from rum, herbs and roots – a medicinal concoction designed to promote well-being and cure all kinds of ailments as well as getting people (locals and travelers alike) relaxed and mellowed out.

Infamously, it is also laced with certain herbs and roots that aren’t quite legal – you won’t find a bottle in the shops although it is fairly ubiquitous along the Honduran Caribbean coast where the Garifuna people live. They brought the recipes from their homeland where they had co-existed with the indigenous Caribs, each family having its own particular way of making it and passing the method down the generations.

Guifiti belongs to the class of drinks known as ‘bitters’ which are made by steeping the herbal ingredients in alcohol. They originate from various places around the world but became more popular in western cultures after a German physician first commercialized a Venezuelan version that was adopted and adapted by Great Britain’s Royal Navy to be a cure for stomach problems and sea sickness.

 

I have always liked the taste of bitters, my favorite being the Czech varieties such as Fernet and Becherovka. Unicum is a Hungarian version that is almost undrinkable to most people and Guifiti tastes very similar. Possibly this is why I like them – one’s enjoyment is unlikely to be diminished by having to share the stuff. Of course, you can add a spoonful of sugar or mix them up in a cocktail. This is what the good people of Wolfenbuttel, Germany did with Jagermeister and it has become one of more popular brands worldwide.

 

Jagermeister is made from 56 herbs and roots which, if you think about it, is quite a few more natural substances than you could probably name unless you had your herbalists’ hat on or the internet at hand. I always figured that, out of 56 ingredients, the chances are that there must be one or two that really synched with my synapses so I was very happy to come across Guifiti which makes a point of playing with your mind…

In Sambo Creek, then, a Garifuna community on the coast of Honduras, not far from the tourist-diving meccas of Roatan and Utila, I managed to score a bottle of Guifiti. The mama of the family wouldn’t tell me what was in it – my questions met with a big smile and a laugh. Of course, this is completely right and proper – the individual recipes are kept secret, passed down through just one member of each generation – knowledge is power, of course, and, for the Garifuna, their hard won heritage can be closely guarded. Descended from a unique mix of African and indigenous Caribbean traditions, Guifiti is fundamentally a medicine and, as with all medicines, they work better if you don’t know how they are made; think herbalism backed up with voodoo and a good dose of the placebo effect.

 

Consequently, there is not much public information out there about Guifiti. Here’s a list of the typical ingredients:

  • Garlic
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon
  • Palo de hombre
  • Coconut
  • Marijuana
  • Allspice
  • Jicaco Negro
  • Dead Man
  • Manstrength
  • Noni
  • Rum (the cheaper the better, apparently)

I can’t guarantee that some of these are just duplications in different languages or imported varieties of locally available plants, however. The only people who would talk to me about the stuff were invariably people who hadn’t received the family secret – invariably, too, they’d already had a couple of shots. The one thing that everyone agreed upon was that Guifiti was an excellent aphrodisiac (I think that’s the Manstrength one). I can certainly attest to this and the tingly feelings that arrived after I had a few glasses. However, as with all alcohol based aphrodisiacs there is a law of diminishing returns in this regard – better still to savor the general feelings of well-being, after a meal of fried chicken and plantain, take in the Caribbean sunset, the distant sounds of Reggaeton – because, unless you come here, you won’t be tasting Guifiti anytime soon.

Guatemala to Honduras: Corinto, closest border crossing to Costa Garifuna

Honduran Tourist Office freebies
Honduran Tourist Office freebies
Honduran Tourist Office freebies – you’ll need the sweat towel but only because of the heat.

Not so much on the internet about this border but it’s an easy, quiet one and if you want to stay on the Costa Garifuna, Corinto is where you want to cross between Guatemala and Honduras. The broken bridge sometimes still mentioned on old blogs and forums is just a bit of road over a ditch – it probably got replaced moments after it went down. Our only concern was whether this was going to be our first insane Central American frontier crossing. But it wasn’t – pretty much the opposite. The Guatemalan side was easy and even had the English Premier league showing on a flat screen for the queue to watch. Then it’s a 7km drive to Honduras and within seconds of parking up next to the passport control office, we were besieged by workers from the Honduran Tourist Board offering us free maps and a sweat towel. I started to help out a guy with a flat tire, chatted with a taxi driver about Stoke City Football Club, looked up and we’d all finished the passports and vehicle ingress and were ready to go.

There should be a couple of money-changers on both sides. Entrance for passports is US$3, payable in Lempiras or Quetzals – the receipt comes in dollars so I guess you can pay in that. For the vehicle you need the usual copies of passport, driving license, vehicle registration and you get a choice of paying the Lempiras as US$40. The fumigation on the way out costs something up to 100 Lempiras, depending, I think, on how large your wheels are and how many of them you have. Then there’s a little police passport check and the quickest of snoops around the bus.

Junction on CA9 leading to Corinto.
SAT Office to register/de-register your vehicle with Guatemala.
Guatemala Passport Control
Halfway down the 7km drive from Guatemala to Honduras, this is the fixed bridge.
The building on the left is Honduran Passport Control. On the right is the vehicle check-in.
Just before the cops is a fumigation unit because they have ‘bad virus in Guatemala’.