Ask most people who don’t travel outside of mainstream destinations what scares them about more adventurous travel and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some will mention terrorism, others a fear of foreign food and others still will be put off by the heat. But there is one thing that turns so many people away from treading lesser worn paths, and it can strike fear equally to those who travel constantly: the hole in the ground toilet.
Top of the pile in crap toilets is undoubtedly the communal walk-in shed. No more than a hole in the ground with a wooden housing lifted on top, you approach it and the smell hits you before you even open the door. The very thought of closing the door and entrapping yourself in a miasma created by an entire village’s month old poo is enough to make you wretch. On the other hand you know that others use this routinely, and you can’t show disrespect by running out of the box in tears. I must admit to avoiding these like the plague (maybe a bad choice of words) and will normally make a stop on the roadside to enjoy the fresh air.
And yes, I know us guys have it easy. It’s one time when all men are pleased to be men, and the females just wish they could pee as easily as men do.
I have stayed in several homestays and also relatives’ homes in Poland and Ukraine where the set-up is the same and the smell is only marginally better, having been the product of only one family. I think I have perfected the technique of holding my breath for the duration, but it’s not a foolproof method and you can occasionally breathe out by accident, causing your nostrils to fill with the nasty stench. Some sheds have built in ventilation, and if there’s two of you it’s possible to have one person stand guard while the other does the business with the door open. As far as preludes to romantic evenings go, it’s hard to beat.
A word of warning with these dark pits. If you’re going to be drinking heavily make sure you become familiar with the layout while you’re still sober. I almost learned the hard way when invited to a party in a gypsy neighbourhood of Bucharest some years ago. After many beers and well into the night, I made my way uncertainly across the garden to the little room. I opened the door, put one foot forward and it hit thin air. I stumbled and managed to grab the walls of the hut and hold myself up, retrieving my foot before it made contact with anything unsavoury. A very close call, and as a way of sobering up quickly it was very effective.
There are ways to minimise the trauma of a bad toilet experience, and without doubt the facilities should not prevent you from visiting some of the world’s great places. But just remember; stay sober, or getting sloshed might take on another very unpleasant meaning.
(An honourable addition goes to Mike (@Chinamike1410) who shares this picture of a Beijing toilet, inside a fresh fruit and veg market!)