Toilet Talk

The bathrooms we’ve experienced have been so varied, it’s honestly a topic worth its own post. First, like in most of Asia, the bathroom is one room – toilet and shower and sink (if there is one). Toilets, or squatters, are often flushed by hand from the mandi – which is a large basin of water. It’s deemed impolite to wash your hands in the mandi or in any way dirty it, as the water is meant to be kept clean for the next person. The problem with showering in the same room as you do everything else is that the floor is constantly wet, and our feet our constantly dirty, which leaves the bathroom floor muddy/dirty.

One of our worst bathrooms was in Bukittinggi, in Sumatra (pictured). The toilet didn’t have a seat, there was no sink, just a showerhead that kept leaking, so our mandi was constantly overflowing. Another bad one was one night in Kuta, in Bali, where we had no shower head, but literally a trickle from the spout. There’s a picture included of the amazing water pressure. And then the best was this place in Sengiggi, in Lombok. The bathroom was part outside – I looked up at the moon as I washed my hair – there were shells decorating the mandi, art on the walls, a garden in the corner, soap at the sink and toilet paper near the toilet. It was immaculate and beautiful.

Also in Sumatra was my most public bathroom experience. Before climbing the volcano just outside of Berastagi, I had to go to the bathroom. Our guide asked if I was ok with the local toilet and naturally I said I was. I was expecting a filthy squatter, but instead I got a river with women washing clothing nearby. There was a little creek coming into the river and that was the toilet. I was a bit baffled by this, and kept laughing, as Niki and the local women looked on and pointed and laughed. Finally, I was a bit unsure of how to go about using the toilet – did I straddle the cement or just my feet in the little flow of water below. If I used the cement, I’d be mooning all the women, and putting my feet in the water afforded more privacy, but resulted in wet feet. One older Indonesian woman, walked over and gestured as she talked to me. Niki and I just kept giggling, and finally the women straddles the cement, steps down into the river, pulls her pants down and squats and motions that I’m to pee there. Finally, I follow suit – it worked marvelously, but just a bit more of a public urinating experience than I’m used to.

Most recently, on Gili Trawangan, we had a bathroom with brackish water – it’s a tiny island in the middle of the ocean, so what can you expect? The sink drain dripped directly onto the floor, so when you’d spit toothpaste, a couple of seconds later, you’d feel the splattering of it on your feet. It’s ok – I’ve gotten used to the bathrooms and can deal with some less than ideal conditions without complaining, but I just thought it was worth mentioning. It might not be as glamorous as lying on a beach all day is, but it’s equally part of travel, especially budget travel.

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