The toilet, commode, W.C., throne room, head, latrine, loo. We’ve got a million names for the bathroom, but it isn’t exactly dinner conversation (unless you happen to be with a bunch of travelers or backcountry enthusiasts). Let’s face it though, when nature calls, it’s nice to know what to expect at the facilities. When you are sneak attacked by a bout of traveler’s diarrhea in a foreign country and are suddenly faced with a hole in the ground and a bucket of water, your uncomfortable experience can become suddenly much more uncomfortable, but we’ll start at the beginning.
It happens to the best of us; newbies and seasoned travelers alike. It’s inevitable. Traveler’s diarrhea (TD) is the most common illness affecting travelers. Usually travelers incur TD within the first week of arrival, but it can occur at any time while traveling or even after returning home. TD is caused by consumption of contaminated water or food. It generally takes care of itself in a day or two, but it can be a highly uncomfortable time of not wanting to be more than two feet from a bathroom.
No one wants to miss part of their trip because they are sick, but if you travel, it will happen at some point. You never know when TD may strike, but there are some precautions you can take to hedge your bets. Some people may get TD even if taking every precaution, and others may not, even if they drink tap water and eat street food immediately upon arrival (darn them!). Here are some precautions to help save yourself some hours of quality time on the porcelain throne:
- Avoid drinking tap water or water from an unknown source. Don’t use ice unless you know the water is safe. Safe beverages include: bottled water or boiled water treated with iodine or chlorine, hot coffee or tea, beer and wine.
- Avoid raw or undercooked meat and seafood.
- Avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables unless you can peel them yourself (oranges, bananas, pineapples, avacados etc…)
- Avoid consuming food or beverages from street vendors where unhygienic conditions are present. I love street food, and follow the above guidelines and have never gotten sick from it. Some of my best food memories are street vendors, and I never miss out. Sometimes I think it’s better to eat street food where I can see how the food is cooked rather than in a kitchen I can’t see.
- Wash those hands and use hand sanitizer folks! You learned this back in kindergarten, remember! It’s always a safe practice.
Styles of Toilets
- Western – what you are used to at home. The good ‘ol flushing porcelain palace. These will be available in Kathmandu and occasionally in the trailside guesthouses, but they aren’t always guaranteed along the trail. Western toilets are the norm in Chile.
- The Squat – Very common in Nepal. It’s a hole in the floor and looks like this:
Ok, that’s a classy one. This is more likely what you’ll see:
3. Facilitrees – Then sometimes, when along the trail, you have no choice. You won’t be able to visit the facilities, so you’ll visit the facilitrees!
Photo courtesy: Sergio Nuñez
Make sure your garments are adjusted accordingly when lining up to your target!
The how to:
If you aren’t thrilled about the prospect of a bucket of water in place of toilet paper, make sure you have some in your pack. Toilet paper will generally be available along the trail in Nepal. Don’t flush your toilet paper as systems are not equipped to handle it. There will be a bucket provided for used paper.
Yes, it is a common sitting position for conversations too!
Here are some signs that will help clear up any confusion:
If you become confused when you come upon a Western style toilet and have forgotten the old way:
If you’ve never used a squat toilet, I say try it out! At least once. It’s an experience that you won’t have at home and only makes your trip that much more authentic as you participating in local practice. Once you’ve done it once, they really aren’t that scary anymore, and then you can tell your friends what an accomplished world traveler you are. You’ve used a hole in the floor!
For more information on TD, see the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/travelersdiarrhea_g.htm