Despite daily use, bathrooms are rarely mentioned in polite conversation. Travelers are expected to handle startling accommodations without comment. So far I’ve done a fine job of stifling exclamations such as, “Where the heck’s the toilet paper?!” and “Seriously, this is it?!” Here are a few of my more notable experiences.
It was a long drive to the Great Wall, and my bladder was not up to the trip. I communicated my need to our good-natured Chinese driver as best I could and crossed my legs. Eventually he pulled over next to a farm house and gestured towards their outhouse. I had read that “night soil” is highly prized in China and that farmers will go so far as to pimp out their toilets to attract passersby.
This was not the case here. Beyond a worn wooden door was simply a hole in the ground. No seat, no porcelain footprints to stand on like the ones at upscale restaurants. I peered into my target through a network of spider webs. I hovered and took care of business, pleased that my yoga routine includes “the chair” pose.
When the bus stopped outside the dust-blown courtyard of a remote hotel, everyone got off. I knew we were far from our destination. My quizzical look elicited a whispered, “I think it’s a potty break.” So I followed the women to a series of low wooden stalls, digging in my purse for a tissue. The walls were just high enough to conceal a crouching human.
I stepped inside onto the concrete floor to find nothing but a small hole in one corner about two inches in diameter. For the first time in my life, I wished I’d been born with a penis. Worse, as I began to “free myself” as they say in Ghana, I realized the floor was completely level. Although I did all in my power to aim towards the hole, the ensuing flood spread in a widening arc towards the middle of the room. On exit, I apologetically met the eyes of the woman next in line, painfully aware she would have to stand in my pee puddle to relieve herself.
We lived off the grid in Belize and although we had a water toilet in our house, we bucket flushed with water from the washing machine rinse cycle. I spent most of my time between the kitchen and stables where we used an outhouse. At first I was at odds with the outhouse experience, the sensation of air beneath my bum an unpleasant reminder that I was poised over a deep hole rather than a shallow pool of water.
Our outhouse was actually a luxury item, with a seat and loo roll. I didn’t appreciate this until forced by multiple beers to seek out the loo at a wedding in a remote village. Their outhouse had a seat but no paper. Instead there was a drift of corn cobs in one corner. I ran my finger over one and was surprised at how soft the dried bristles were. But I weenied out and chose to drip dry instead.
Now this one got me worse than any of the others. I should have looked away but couldn’t. After a tortuous day of travel from Denver to Beijing, and a week trying into adjust to China Standard Time fourteen hours in the future, Bob and I were in the air again. Eight hours into a nine-hour flight on Lufthansa from Bejing to Frankfurt, we were eating our third meal. We had a short layover before boarding another plane to London, so I wandered over to the lady’s wash closet.
I was mesmerized by what I saw after flushing the toilet. A disinfecting sponge had emerged and attached itself to the rim of the seat which was now revolving. As the seat turned, its shape changed, giving it a liquid appearance as if poured from a Dali painting. Against my better judgement, I continued to stare. So much of my new world was beyond my grasp; accents, language, faces, food, and time – the shape-changing toilet was the last straw. Fortunately, common sense stepped in and dragged me away from what I came to realize was a miniature nervous breakdown.
There you have it, a tour of my most confounding bathroom moments. We travel for adventure and often pay the price of comfort. And that’s the whole point, to expose ourselves to situations that push us beyond our comfort zones.