Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Footprints on my Toilet Seat

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E
Next Destination: Turkey Coast (between Finike & Marmaris)

I guess I learned at an early age that there are various ways to do the “doo” thing. We lived in a very old house (1700’s) heated by a system my dad referred to as cold dust, when my parents decided it was time for an addition. We went to visit the architect at his house and almost immediately after arriving I had to go. I was directed to this palatial room, longer than any room in our house, which had all sorts of fancy gizmos. Multiple sinks, a bathtub, Jacuzzi, stall shower, toilet and a drinking fountain. “Wow this is pretty cool”, I thought. Ok I was like eight or something and easily impressed. As I was finishing my business, I realized I was thirsty so I moseyed on over to get a drink from the “fountain”. Well luckily for me I was never trained to shut the door when I was in the bathroom (or most likely, ignored my training). Just as I was about to take a drink I heard the architects kids gasp in horror and run screaming in French to their parents. Do you get it yet? French porcelain thing that squirts water straight up... it was actually a bidet. It took a little explaining, some very confused looks on my part but I finally understood the near horror of my actions (yet I still wanted to know why they wanted to sit on a drinking fountain). Ever since that moment, I’ve looked at bathrooms just a tad bit differently.

I always joke with KT that we are not tourists but rather world travelers. When you are a tourist, the places you visit typically cater to your needs and set up surroundings that make you feel comfortable and at home. That is not the same in most remote villages or way off the beaten track. Most islanders don’t have running water; they shower/wash in a communal pool in the stream and electricity runs for an hour or two at night if the village can afford to run the generator. We hadn’t experienced anything too odd until we were headed North from Fiji to the Marshall Islands. In Kiribati, they have very cool houses built from natural materials tied together with hand made coconut fiber rope. Each room is a separate building and it takes a while until you realize the bathroom just isn’t part of the plan. During the dry season they get most of their drinking water from holes in the atolls so they can’t just go dropping their droppings near their water source. Instead they head out to the beach right near the waters edge. I was on a stroll one day, when I stumbled upon two sets of footprints. You could tell the couple was close, skipping and playing around with each other as they meandered down the beach. I followed the track around the corner until I came to a spot with two sets of footprints side by side, facing out towards the sea. Behind each set was, how do I put this, “a present” and in between the two sets of footprints was a heart drawn in the sand. Ah the joys of young love.

We had read Sex lives of Cannibals, which describes life in Tarawa, pretty much the armpit of Kiribati if not the world. We knew there was a section of Tarawa where everyone went to the bathroom on this certain point. Crap peninsula, dump point; I don’t remember the name. We stumbled upon it by mistake while we were checking out the World War II relics. There is a HUGE public restroom that now sits on the entrance to the beach at the point. In fact, you have to work hard to get around it. But when Mother Nature calls, the locals do what feels natural and head straight for the ocean. The restroom was vacant, the beach was: em-BARE-ASS-ingly packed with poopers. We struggled through the maze of rocks and people not knowing where to look.

We spent the better part of two years in remote places before we arrived on the shores of Australia. The Gold Coast was amazing and we swallowed the hook in a bay (aptly named Bums Bay); across from a HUGE mall where you could buy almost everything. We arrived around Christmas and almost immediately stumbled upon a vendor (you know those ones they put in the middle of the walkways around the holidays) selling add-on bidet toilet seats. It had all the bells and whistles; an automatic raising/lowering seat and lid, a heated seat (in Australia?), heated water, and a warm air dryer. It even had a remote control with a multitude of options; bottom wash (or posterior; the documentation was confusing), enema wash, feminine wash, warm air dry along with all sorts of water and nozzle controls. The icons for the buttons were good, and umm, very visual. Can you imagine the design review process for those? The seat even had adjustment settings like those automatic car seats, you know for driver 1 and driver 2. Next thing you know they’ll have voice activation. “Um yeah Hi it’s Chris.. um and.. ah..Crap”. Anyway I have no idea why it was so intriguing. Maybe because I hadn’t seen a real toilet seat in a while, but much to KT’s shear and utter embarrassment, I had to take a closer look!! Well this poor vendor must have thought he had a hot one because he was all over me, sharing the very important health and hygiene benefits I would receive if I only spent $1490 (I would love to have enough money where I could justify spending that kind of money on something like that). I listened to his spiel with my hand in my pocket pinching myself pretty hard so that I wouldn’t laugh in his face. I took a brochure AND a $100 off coupon but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I finally told him we live on a boat, with a vacuum-sealed seat that is required to flush the toilet. Needless to say he was confused and he tried whole-heartedly to find a way to get me into an automatic healthy seat. Anyway I still have the brochure if anyone’s interested.

We did the rally from Darwin through Indonesia to Singapore, with cruisers who ran the gambit of backgrounds from the very experienced cruisers of Europe, all the way through to newbie cruisers of Australia who were experiencing their first foreign landfall. Now the rally has been going on quite some time and is a HUGE thing for the Indonesians, who don’t get a lot of tourism in their remote villages. I didn’t really notice it at first, but after a while I realized that the first thing each village did was show us their brand spanking new bathrooms, in some cases the wet paint sign was still hanging. The entire village was very proud, smiling and nodding their heads. You could tell a HUGE amount of effort was spent building these facilities for us. They were more modern than any building in the village and even had concrete floors (which must have actually cost them money). KT and I were embarrassed to think that someone must have complained enough that they were told to take the time and effort to build the facilities (which will most likely only get used on one day a year). I really hope they got more feedback about previous visits than the cruisers want toilets. Can you imagine what the local must have thought about our values if that was the case? Anyway it was kind of funny because the next shock came when people actually went to use them and realized they were pit toilets. They had incredibly nice brand new porcelain footpads, with cast in non-skid (hey it helps), which again cost them money. You ask for a toilet, that’s what you are going to get in Indonesia; because that’s how they do toilets. Anyway KT and I found the problem wasn’t toilets vs. no toilets in the villages, it was the six hour bus ride (with one stop) after eating very greasy native food of unknown origin, kicking up the southern hemisphere version of Montezuma’s Revenge.

In Oman we visited a maritime museum, which showed older ship construction techniques and even had a ¼ scale replica of a ship deck complete with the head. The head was basically a box that rested precariously over the ships rail with a hole in the floor and a bucket on a string. Well I thought it was older ship construction until we arrived in Eritrea and I watched a man feverishly dipping a bucket in the water before he passed the four sailboats at anchor. I was trying to take photos of a working fishing boat with my telephoto lens and I didn’t understand the urgency of his situation; until I saw he was sitting in a box, over the rail. Well in Sudan, they get rid of the side of the box all-together. Each day in Suakin we passed these small fishing boats, which had two planks, attached to the back of the boat. They were parallel to the water, connected in the front by a cross beam, and supported by sturdy ropes to the upper rail. I told KT what I thought they were but it wasn’t until weeks later that we saw them but to the test. It was blowing 30-35 knots and we were in a dodgy Marsa anchorage when a small fishing boat entered the bay with 10 people on board. They anchored upwind and to the side of us. One by one each person went to the stern, adjusted their robes and did their business. Some of them even waved!!

Ok, Finally the footprints on the toilet seat; hey this IS a chronological journey. When we arrived in Hurghada Egypt the marina was complete but the surrounding buildings were just shells. There were only two or three bathrooms; each with a shower, one sitter and one stander. Well the first thing you realize is toilet paper is optional and not provided. Luckily being the world travelers we are, 9 times out of 10 we do the paper check FIRST! Ok mad dash to the boat, grab a roll, run back to the toilet, wait for the person who stole your spot.. ok fine. Business done. Oh did I mention that most toilets have trash bins for the USED paper. It’s pretty much been the norm, with the exception of NZ and Australia, and I’m not sure if it’s the plumbing systems or just habit. Anyway, I happened to notice that there is a sink in the stall with the toilet, and there is this funky fitting on the back aimed at a 45 degree angle directly towards the direct center of the seat, hmm what’s that (..more later). Since there was lots of construction, the bathrooms were shared with the workers and there was lot’s of mud and sand tracked in on the floor, and THE SEAT. I guess if you are used to squat pit toilets, that’s the way you do it; even if you have to balance precariously on a raised wobbly platform. As time went on, it got wobblier and wobblier as the seat attachments worked loose. Well this must have caused more and more balance issues, with the appropriate radical corrections, until finally the entire toilet worked it way loose from floor and whatever held the thing down.

Once again someone must have complained because we were all issued a golden key to one set of facilities. They actually started putting toilet paper at the toilet AND the urinal, I don’t think they really understand what we do with it. Plus it’s bloody expensive, we went to “stock up” and KT grabbed a brand she knew, imported for a measly $3 a roll!! Not!! They use their hands, and in most Arab culture’s it very offensive to touch someone or eat with your left hand (“the wiper”). Due to the lack of early morning use by the construction workers, I must have been first to arrive on the scene one morning. I’m relaxing, enjoying the peace and quiet, when I hear this muted buzzing sound; kind of like 20-30 mosquitoes flying in a covered porcelain bowl. I’m racking my brain trying to figure out where the noise was coming from, when I stand up and a cloud of mosquitoes flies out of the gapping hole that was just recently occupied by my behind. Luckily they were too traumatized by their experience to think of biting their way out. Try and explain those welts!!

We were on our inland travel trip, when I realized what that thing was sticking out of the back of the toilet. You remember; 45 degree angle, aimed center of the seat. Well our $18 hotel room had a nice puddle of water on the bathroom floor that was obviously from the leaky toilet. Being a self-proclaimed handy man and a water Nazi, I decided I’d take a gander behind the base of the toilet. Just as my head reached the side of the bowl, I touched a valve and water shot straight over my shoulder into the shower behind me. “Holy crap what was that?” Well I just discovered the Egyptian version of the Bidet. Luckily this was the modern version, developed after they perfected computer simulation to get the angle and pressure just right. I had seen a couple of older models with a small piece of metal tubing coming straight out the back to the rough center before it took a 90 degree bend straight up. It looked more like a torture device, and if you didn’t realize what they used it for, there was no way your were going to get anything close to it.

The worst was on the trains. We took the basic train from Luxor to Aswan and realized just exactly how bad a toilet can get. There was no seat, the rim was covered by someone’s attempt at making a seat out of 100’s layers of toilet paper, and someone left a present without flushing which just went straight to the tracks below. Luckily I was just standing, but I thought of the poor people who might come after me, plus I would have been horrified if I opened the door and someone was waiting to go in. I mean, do you explain that it was like that when you got there; what is the etiquette on that? What if they don’t speak English? Anyway I tried to find a flush button, and finally found a foot lever like on those trashcans where it lifts the lid. Now you really have to picture this and understand my noble intentions.” Imagine, hmm.. yeah that must be it”, followed by a quick foot press. Well in this case it shot a massive stream of water straight out of the magic hole in the back of the bowl right into the center of my chest. “Awe come on!!” or something similar to that effect. Now I know some of you guys have leaned up against a wet counter and gotten that wet strip across your crotch, kind of embarrassing eh? Well imagine trying to explain water dripping from your chest all the way down your front. That’s it; I was done. No more worrying about the people behind me. I didn’t even care if the Egyptians thought all Americans were disgusting. All I wanted was a normal bathroom. I was dreaming, no, I was praying for modern facilities!!

When we first arrived in Finike Turkey, we couldn’t believe our luck. Nice Marina, cool town within walking distance, Saturday markets, and the biggest heads we’ve seen since Singapore. Nice and clean, with marbled floors, no waiting. KT and I both commented to each other when we got back on the boat. You know you’re in trouble when you get giddy over a bathroom… but we both did!! These facilities are so modern they have motion sensors on the paper towel dispensers and motion detecting light switches for each unit (shower or toilet). Now I don’t know if the Turks get jiggy with it on the toilet and in the shower, but Flash Gordon couldn’t finish in the time they give you. Now at 41, I know where my bits are, so showering in the dark isn’t really a problem, but you feel kind of like a complete lunatic sitting on the toilet or bare naked in the shower jumping up and down and waving at some sensor just to make the light go on. Maybe it’s all just a ploy by “Candid Camera”. If so, you’ll soon see me waving like a fool on the crapper in a couple of months. Please don’t let this be my fifteen minutes of fame.

1 comment:

  1. we had a great visit to the maritime museum in Salalah http://blog.omanholiday.co.uk/blog/_archives/2007/12/22/3424569.html – the archaeological park needs a bit more time and avoid the hotter months