Camping in France in a pandemic
Half way between leaving the aire and arriving at our campsite we stopped at an Intermarche Hyper for fuel and groceries. I was pleased to see pay at pump was an option and I used a glove to use both the fuel nozzle and chip and pin pad. The supermarket wasn't so easy.
There was a short queue for the sanitising station for hands and trolley handles but after entering the shop it was heaving with customers. On the plus side everyone was wearing face coverings but on the other they do not appear to be limiting numbers in the shops and it's incredibly difficult to socially distance.
Tony and I both looked at each other with raised eyebrows, discussed an action plan and determined to get out again as soon as possible. Tony went to find ambient good while I headed to the fresh vegetables.
With food accounted for it was annoying to discover the wine and beer was back the other side of the shop and we had to navigate through the central aisle busy with customers.
At the till we got our usual telling off. We've always done something wrong such as not checked in our back packs, not weighed our own loose goods or brought a parasol without a bar code. This time we were told not to put the cases of beer on the conveyer. Instead they have a detachable bar code you peel off and hand to the cashier to scan. Another lesson learned.
A Frenchman pushed past to get a bag. The cashier caught Tony rolling his eyes and smiled in acknowledgement.
The total calculated and communicated, us having to read the display to understand, a question was asked of us which we've generally come to expect is 'do you have a loyalty card.' I didn't recognise any of the words used today but went with 'non' and we were allowed to pay. Helpfully there is hand sanitiser at the back of the till so once you've touched the pin pad you can clean your hands again, something UK shops could learn from.
Fuel and food took no longer than half an hour which was good because we wanted to arrive at our campsite before its reception closed from 12-2pm.
We arrived at 11.20am and I entered reception, handing my printed booking confirmation to the girl behind a perspex screen. Now I know check in is at 2pm but in the past we've always been allowed to arrive early. This time that wasn't to be. We'd been allocated a pitch and that pitch was being vacated by another camper that morning. I'd have bet money that by 11.20am they'd have been long departed but I guess she didn't know whether they had or hadn't and we had no choice but to come back at 2pm.
We walked through the woods to pass the time, discovering we could walk to one of the beaches we often cycle to in about an hour. Pleasingly the beach was as quiet as it's always been. We've never been happy sitting on a busy beach at the best of times so we'd zero intention of being near others during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We decided to walk along the beach all the way back to the campsite. Again everything we've experienced in previous visits was still the same. Everyone was sitting in the vicinity of the main beach access path. I've never understood, when there is miles of sandy beach, why people are happy to sit like that. When there's a global pandemic it was just inexcusable.
We were still early and chose to stand in the shade outside reception in order to be first. At that point we still didn't know if we'd have the option of choosing a pitch and wanted to get in before anyone else. However the pitch was allocated and we weren't offered the chance to change. As it was, when I told Tony the pitch number he said it was the one he wanted, making a note of the vacant pitches as we'd walked through from the beach. It was a pitch we've had on a previous visit and, as with most pitches, has its benefits and drawbacks. In this case, wanting to be around as few other people as possible it was nice to be the last camping spot before a small parking area for the safari tents behind. They were a considerable distance behind and up an overgrown bank. Therefore we had only one other pitch on an adjacent side. Clever placement of our toilet tent at that side has meant that everyone who has arrived to stay on that pitch during the two weeks we've been here so far has positioned their leisure door away from us.
We were able to park a decent distance from the road and so people walking by to and from reception and the bar were more than a safe distance away. We did have to string up and leave full a clothes line on one side and lock our bikes on the floor the other side to stop safari tenters taking a short cut across our pitch though.
All facility blocks were open fully. There were signs asking people to wash their hands before entering, though I don't know how many people were. There were also paper towels and sanitising spray to wipe toilet seats before use.
We've been using our new chemical toilet in the utility tent rather than use shared loos, but we have been using the showers. I've been careful about only touching doors and locks with one finger and not touching anything else with it until I can wash it. While it bothered me that my towel would touch the rail and cubicle side to begin with there comes a point when you just have to not worry about it.
I've been careful of always sanitising my hands after handling my toiletries bag because that's touched the cubicle sides and I've been a very bad camper by not mopping the cubicle after I've left it because of holding the mop handle. I have however taken a massive step from outside the cubicle to underneath the shower head so that if my shoes were dusty then it would all be washed away during my shower.
We've taken our dishes to the communal sinks each evening and although not two metres apart, if there was someone at a neighbouring sink I've still been comfortable about it. I've been less happy putting something washed and dried back on the draining board and so we've started a routine where I always wash the biggest things first, starting with the saucepan, and Tony just holds the ever growing pile of clean stuff like he's a balancing act until it's done and we can get back to Cleopatra.
We have our homemade awning sides up but each evening upon returning from the beach we're cleaning our table tops with antibacterial spray cleaner.
The only other thing we touch is the tap for fresh water and try to fill enough five litre containers only to need to do that once per day, hand sanitising immediately afterwards.
I think I'm as comfortable as I can be that we're staying safe. The same can't be said for everyone as we see each evening as people gather to play volley ball and table tennis. Probably the stupidest thing we've seen is a group of friends playing beer pong, standing plastic cups of beer on the ping pong table and taking it in turns to throw the ball and try to get it in a cup to drink the beer within. At the end of the day you can only account for yourself.
We've been cycling to our two favourite deserted beaches each day. On the couple of occasions we've needed to buy more groceries we've been to Lidl in the centre of the island which was a much nicer experience than the huge hyper and supermarkets. Fewer people and more respect for social distancing. I was a little put out the first time when I presented my card for contactless payment only for the terminal to say 'signature' and be handed a pen - only for the assistant not to check whether the signature matched anyway.
I guess the only thing left to worry about is the UK government adding France to it's quarantine list. We'd only been here two days when it added Spain. However things seem to be deteriorating towards a second spike at home as much as here so it would be hypercritical if they were to do so. And of course, it would be rather annoying if they were to lock down our campsite and maybe smaller sites have less chance of that happening.
Just down the west coast I believe they've said people must wear masks in the street. We have another week on the island before we're booked on a site in Landes Sud. We've paid a £110 deposit but are happy to forgo that in favour of heading somewhere else entirely. So much is changing so quickly that making decisions yet is pointless.
Anyway, despite all those things running through our heads we're having a great time and are thoroughly overjoyed to have been able to get away this summer.
Our campsite is Huttopia Oléron Chenes Verts.