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13 November 2012 / leggypeggy

On toilets—some make your hair curl

Bush camp

Bush camping in a quarry—always piles of rock to hide behind

When you’re travelling overland in remote parts of the world, your whole day can revolve around toilets or the lack of them.

The first question has to be—is there a toilet? It goes from there. Is it a hole in the ground, porcelain squat or ‘proper’ throne? If a throne, does it have a seat? Toilet seats are rare. Has it been stolen or do they leave it off so it isn’t stolen? Maybe it just broke and was never replaced? I’ve sat on a few cracked seats that viciously grabbed my thigh as I shifted to wipe. I recommend a close inspection before sitting, and a willingness to sit side-saddle if necessary.

But the questions continue. If there’s a toilet, does it flush? If it flushes, does it flush for every person or only occasionally? Is there toilet paper? Is the hypothetical paper in the actual cubicle or in a gigantic dispenser on the wall outside? I saw huge dispenser with the brand name of Willy. But woe to the person who forgets to collect a few sheets of paper from Willy on the way in. And if there is no toilet paper, is there a bum gun (I’m sure you can figure that one out)?

Speaking of toilet paper (as I did the other day)—in most far-flung places, don’t think of disposing of those little bits of tissue in a toilet. The pipes just can’t cope with great or even little gobs of toilet paper. The rule of thumb is that if there’s a bin near the toilet, you are meant to use it for the paper. If there’s already a pile of paper in the corner on the floor—well, just add to it.

But I digress.

If it’s a bush toilet stop, do I need to take a shovel? It pays to plan ahead. Also how high or wide does a bush or pile of soil or rocks need to be to shield a view of my bum? After a while, does anyone really care?

I always liked the story of Denise, a 73-year-old woman who was on the African trip a year before us. I heard about Denise after I told Chris, our driver in Africa, that people can do this kind of travel as long as their knees hold out. Oh no, said Chris, Denise managed just fine. He went on to explain that Denise travelled with her own toilet seat on legs. Chris said it was quite a sight to see her march into the bush with a shovel over one shoulder and the collapsed toilet seat under the other arm.

Denise was a no-nonsense kind of gal. But the truth is, some people seize up when expected to relieve themselves in ‘public’. This hesitation, which is rare in men, usually passes within a few days although some ‘suffer’ for months. That said, bush toilets are scary in Ethiopia. The locals seem to have a sort of radar that draws them to your side before you even have a chance to drop your daks.

Overland travel

A sightseeing stop—sometimes combined with a pee stop!

But for the most part, bush toilets have a lot of positives. Hygiene for starters! I’ve used toilets that would make your hair curl. I wrote about one such toilet, encountered when we took a rust bucket across the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan.

I could fill a book with details of the bad toilets I’ve used in Africa, Asia and South America, as well as a few tales of luxury.

A memorable toilet in Gabon was simply a 12-inch square ‘hole’ in the middle of a circular concrete plinth. The plinth was about 12 inches thick and maybe 10 feet in diameter. It was in the middle of a much, much larger room. Unfortunately, a lot of women hadn’t bothered to get anywhere near the hole to do their business.

We hit luxury in a shopping centre in Angola. A marble-walled bathroom that was all light and mirrors. There were 10 stalls, deluxe sinks and toilets, hand dryers and copious amounts of paper towels and toilet paper. Being intrepid overlanders who never miss an opportunity, we washed our feet.


Leave a Comment
  1. afarawayhome / Jan 2 2017 9:34 pm

    Haha, I like this! I’ve never been one to freak out about toilets – as far as I’m concerned, they are just somewhere to get in and out of ASAP. However, the bus station in Chandigarh (India) is the only one so far to reduce me to vomit-suppressing mouth-breathing from the odour… there were definitely no toilet seats there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 2 2017 10:37 pm

      Oh dear, you have my sympathy. I don’t know that exact toilet, but I know many of its Indian relatives. Glad you survived.

      Liked by 1 person


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