Reader warning – This post contains MANY mentions of toilets and toilet-related topics. If you’re offended by ones, twos or threes, please stop reading and I promise to write something less offensive next time. Seriously, stop reading now.
I spent New Years Eve this year on a houseboat. My first houseboat as a grown up and definitely one of the best new years eves that I’ve had in recent times. I spent close to three days cruising around, napping, swimming, eating and drinking. It was great. However, as always one thing loomed in the back of my mind the whole time… ten people, one toilet.
I’ve always had something of an issue with travelling toilets, whether they be bus toilets, train toilets, portable toilets, plane toilets, boat toilets, or even just public toilets. I’m a nervous pee-er at the best of times and just the thought of using a tiny toilet that had been given a thorough workout by ten people at once was enough to strike fear into the heart of me (that, and the prawns that were due to spend two days sitting in the esky before they made the menu).
Alas, I was pleasantly surprised that despite my concerns, there was some unspoken agreement to keep the toilet pristine and, besides one early incident where I found my self ankle deep in toilet water before I’d even used the thing (don’t ask, I still have no idea what happened!), it stayed as fresh as a daisy until the last day, when above-mentioned unspoken agreement went out the window. No judgment there – if we’d all held on as long as I had, I envied anyone brave enough.
When I got home several days later and rinsed my feet for the umpteenth time since nearly losing them to the toilet caper, I started thinking about my apparent fear of public toilets, porta-pottys and just travel toilet use in general.
On reflection, I think it started at school camp in year 9 when we had a complete toilet set up at our campsite in the middle of the wilderness…
Although it was nerve-racking peeing while risking being eaten by some kind of wild animal (most likely a wombat or koala given the location) or ending up with a flashlight on you in your least dignified moment, it was great! You were out in the wilderness, roughing it like never before, exposed to the elements and living the dream. On a giant toilet. In the middle of the bush. What more can you want in life?
Well… one thing you can NOT want is to three days later have to carry that damn toilet out of the campsite, contents and all…
Ten or so years later and I was facing the ultimate challenge – travelling. Well, not just travelling, but travelling through South America, where you can’t flush the toilet paper in the best of places. Cue many awkward TP related moments, several episodes of charades with hotel staff and many, many moments of pure horror and dry retching… and that was before I’d even experienced the Inca Trail.
By then, I’d master the dodgy toilet, I was even confident going with no toilet (always with paper, sanitizer and some foliage) when it was warranted, but nothing prepared me for drop loos. Foot markings or no foot markings, I took one look at it and proceeded to pop down as many gastro stop tablets as I had on me! Despite my best efforts to just not pee for three days, I eventually braved the drop toilets, torch in mouth, praying for my life… and you know what, with a bit of concentration I had it down pat!
Three days later, as we brushed our teeth, I was recounting the story of how I’d overcome my fear of drop toilets to my tent mate, with all the details… the near misses, the misses, the nerves, the successes, the failures… I was blabbering on for no less than five minutes until “Cough, cough… erm… Tennizzlle… the whole camp site can hear everything you’re saying”… Eek!
When I think of bad toilet experiences, however, there’s no doubt that the first thing that jumps to mind is travelling through Romania on one of those Europe tours with fifty young drunk people. Note to self – when on a month long bus trip, do not take the seat next to the toilet. I mean, sure, it might remain locked unless in case of emergency… But it’s all fun and games until someone washes the lettuce in the tap water… and let me tell you, that theory about lighting a match – IT DOESN’T WORK!
We were about 20 days into the trip when we got to Romania and three days into an outbreak of gastro. Stops were few and far between. I was barely breathing and had a permanent flow of hand sanitiser for fear of catching something. The bus toilet was not an option, even in an emergency.
We’d been on the road for several hours before we stopped outside a service station. Thrilled to have the opportunity to escape the smell of the bus and find a working toilet, I bolted for the closest convenience store and ran for the restrooms. Caught up in my desperation, it took me a moment to realise I was heading into ankle deep water which had all sorts of unpleasantries floating in it… dry retching, I turned around, ran out the door and straight around the back of the service station.
Although peeing in the open two metres from a service station in the middle of outback Romania sounds horrific, it was then and there that I realized how far I’d come. I may still have a completely unreasonable fear of porta-loos and public toilets, but give me wide open spaces, some paper and hand sanitizer and I will be just fine!