Toto to the rescue
Lonely Planet has a new guidebook devoted to toilet spotting. Regardless of the double-entendre nature of the title, it doesn’t sound like a savoury topic. I tell guests over Saturday lunch about the publication and, rather than share my disapproval, off they go with tales of their derring-do across the public conveniences of this world. Voices are raised, and so are the competitive stakes.
In fact there’s no stopping the, um, flow of conversation. One friend has memories of a makeshift lavatory perched on the edge of a glacier with exhilarating views, as he says, to kingdom come. Others reminisce about long-drop loos at safari camps with warthogs (in Africa) rootling around just beyond the hessian walls and spiders (in Australia) the size of saucers perched above and surveying proceedings. I point out that long ago, as I was relieving myself in the wildlife-filled Kenyan bushveld, behind our safari vehicle, the driver took off. My fellow travellers (all male and fleet of foot) had forgotten I was not back on board and it was a good 10 minutes, which felt like at least that many hours, before my absence was noted and the vehicle returned. By that time I was figuring out how to climb a tree, and preferably not one with a leopard already aboard.
Then a travelling companion and I recall how we developed altitude sickness and severe dehydration in China’s Yunnan province because we refused to drink during a long road trip lest we had to use the facilities enroute, which we knew to be trenches, requiring a personal supply of toilet paper (the expeditionary-sounding Golden Camel brand, as it transpired) and smelling salts.
We agree, as one, that there is nothing worse than open-plan bathrooms in hotel guestrooms. It is immodest and disconcerting. We concur, however, that the Toto toilet, with its warm seat and myriad cleansing functions, is our dear friend and the politest of companions, too, as it lifts its lid in salute on approach and does its own flushing.
But, back to the horror stories because, as with all forms of travel storytelling, what we really want to learn about are the shock-horror moments. Maybe when we hear of misadventures, we feel less envious, perhaps even smug, congratulating ourselves we’ve been safely tucked at home while friends were up the creek, as it were, without an ensuite in sight. It’s not all about loos, of course, but temperamental weather and other vagaries of holidays. Oh, it rained in Bali for two solid weeks? Well, we think with much meanness, you did book in the wet season. Flight upgrades, fabulous meals, hotels with running butlers, sightings of Leo DiCaprio in the lobby … Who cares? Tell us again, Susan, about the time the Imodium ran out and you got caught short in that Indian bazaar and asked a stallholder to direct you to the ladies’ facilities. Describe, please, the incredulous look on your face as he pointed to a pile of rubbish. “Here,” he said. “Anywhere here, good madam. Please be most welcome.”
Cue the sound of Susan whimpering. “So sorry, good madam. Please, who is Toto?”