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29 August 2011 / leggypeggy

Jogging and red faces

I saw a jogger the other morning—he ran past our campground and up a mountain in the Ile Alatau National Park on the outskirts of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest and most cosmopolitan city.

Australia is overrun with joggers, but until today I hadn’t seen any on this trip except for a few in Germany and Belgium.

I noticed two joggers during our travels in Africa in 2009. We passed one going uphill in Cameroon. He looked as if he was in training for a much longer run. Soon we stopped to take touristic photos—at the Tropic of Capricorn, I think—and he overtook us. And not much later we passed him again and we all waved encouragement.

The other one was in the public gardens in Luanda, the capital of Angola. I should be permanently scarred by that encounter, but I’m not. The night before, we tried to camp at the local Yacht Club—the normal stop for overlanders—but that option was no longer available, and we were redirected to the gardens. From the moment we entered, it was obvious that this once lovely place had become the local rubbish dump. Litter was everywhere and the grounds were certainly not being cared for. We pitched our tents and made do. There were no public toilets so everyone grabbed their shovels and trowels and retreated to bushes and trees.

The next morning—extremely early on purpose—I found a nice grove of overhanging trees and squatted to do my business. Imagine my surprise to get a hearty morning greeting from a passing jogger. I waved meekly—it might even have been a royal wave—and wished the earth would swallow me. But the fellow ran on and suddenly it no longer mattered that I had been caught, literally, with my pants down. He was a stranger. There’s virtually no chance we’ll ever meet again, and it gave him something to talk about at the office.

I wish more of the women on this trip could throw their modesty out the window. Makes life so much easier. Everyday, we are confronted with all sorts of unpleasant toilets. Banks of toilet stalls with no doors, toilets with doors that don’t shut, crap holes in the floor covered by a couple of planks, flies in their thousands swirling around your bum, smells that curl your hair, tall grass and thorns. Sometimes some of my companions find they just CAN’T go.

We’re two months into this trip and I wonder if the ‘queasy’ ones will mellow. About three months into the African trip, I remember asking a fellow traveller how the toilet was. ‘Not too bad’, she replied. After I went for a pee, I asked her how she would have described it three months earlier. She blanched and admitted that she wouldn’t have even gone in.

I bring this up tonight because there are about 35 of us camping at a homestay place in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. There’s one toilet and one shower. They’ve remain surprisingly clean and there have been no overflows. I think we’ll all look back and say the accommodation and facilities were cramped but just fine.

P.S. Lin should get the All-Time Heroic and Bravery Award for Nerves of Steel in the Face of Adversity. She was in a public toilet in Turkmenistan. There were eight or 10 stalls, all with no doors. As she squatted to do her bit, a towering and stern Turkmen woman strode along in front of all the cubicles. She stopped dead in front of Lin, folded her arms and watched the proceedings. Lin stared her down in return.


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  1. Louise M Oliver / Sep 2 2011 10:43 am

    Hi Peggy,
    I would be permanently scarred by these experiences and that’s why I am never, never, ever going on any sort of trip that involves camping out. Before I leave for the airport I will want to know exactly what to expect in the way of facilities and, as a general principle, to have my own, exclusive facilities. But you already know that I’m not the most adaptable person you ever met. I’m still incredibly pleased though that I know someone as resourceful and adventurous as you. Be good and take care.



  2. Derrick / Nov 5 2011 10:08 pm

    Hah, When I was serving, and on an surveillance job, we had to take everything out that we bought in, that included any ‘waste, so ‘stuff’ had to be wrapped in cling film, then into a plastic bag, any fluids into a bottle (don’t mix them, it sets up a chemical reaction) then into the bergen, it did make us check plastic bags to see what was actually in them and our rations were in a simular bag, same as our water

    (it was cold food and water for the duration of the ‘op, immodium was worth its weight in gold on things like this)

    Your remarks about ‘squatting’ to do your bit, made me laugh and reminded me when we were in Norway, a guy went out into the snow to do his bit, dropped his kit and started, we heard a scream and a yell, along with curses and swearing, apparrently while he was doing his ‘stuff’ he had some how filled the hood of his parka, he stood up, pulled his pants up, flipped the hood of his parka up and literally got his own back, over his head, he never really lived that down and was reminded about it for years after the event

    When I was in Northern Thailand (again while sweving) we were working with the Royal Thai army, we stayed in a village, they gave us the ‘long house’ it was the usual raised thing, there were pigs rooting around beneath us, and in a corner there was a hole where all the food and stuff was fed to them (the pigs)

    I was woken up one morning, there was a little Thai bloke squatting over the hole, the pigs were going mad, sqealing and grunting, after I asked the translator about it, the hole is where everyone does their bit, and human waste is a treat for the pigs, hence the squeals and grunting

    As a treat for the Thai army, they slaughtered a pig and spit roasted it, I did eat some, but the sight of pigs fighting over a turd is rather off putting, but has never turned me off bacon and when ever I see a spit roast, I’m reminded of the long house, the hole and that little Thai bloke squatting over it


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