A Travellerspoint blog


Surviving toilets abroad - a female perspective

Toilets abroad, depending upon where one travels can be a trauma – especially if you have a stomach bug and can’t wait. Hygiene is not a priority, floors are often flooded, toilets double up as showers, there is no toilet paper - douches in the form of hose pipes are provided, squat toilets are a logistical nightmare if you are wearing trousers and have luggage (especially if the floor is wet). Locks often don’t work and peepholes are common in mixed gender toilets. I was on a ferry once travelling from Lombok Island to Flores Island in Indonesia. There were two toilets on the deck at the back of the ship for the passengers. As usual there was a queue that turned into a scrum when one of the toilets became vacant. Shoving back the mass of people behind me I dashed for a door as it opened and secured a toilet. There was no lock, plenty of peep holes, no loo roll, I was wearing trousers, the floor was disgusting and it was a squat toilet. Using one hand to pull the door closed and the other to cover the peep holes I balanced precariously. Obviously frustrated by not being able to watch the men hanging around outside toilet wrenched the door open and had a good look before I managed to pull it shut again. It was obvious at this point I needed to develop a new strategy to deal with toileting needs abroad. Here is my guide:-

1. Wear a skirt. It won’t get wet as you lift it away from water and dirt on the floor. It stays up of its own accord leaving both hands free. If travelling in remote places where there are no toilets squat like the local ladies and let your skirt fan out around you in order to preserve your modesty.

2. The first words you should learn in any country you visit is “where is the toilet please”.

3. Don’t wait till the last minute to go – often you will be in a place where there are no facilities. Take advantage of every toilet and toilet stop going.

4. If you are on a bus when it stops for a break race out ahead of everyone else - they are all heading for the loo as well. Quell your desire to be polite and let people pass – they will not return the compliment. Even old ladies will knock you aside in a desperate attempt to avoid queuing.

5. If you are like me and need to use toilet paper carry your own supply to the loo as well as a plastic bag for rubbish as there is often no waste disposal bin.

6. Check for peepholes and use the toilet paper to bung them up.

7. Wear waterproof shoes.

8. Take a vial of nice smelling oil to smear under your nose in case of gut retching odours.

9. Get a friend to mind your bag or wear a rucksack – again leaving both hands free.

10. Carry hand sanitizer around with you as often there are no wash basins.

11. Ask the most fearsome looking fellow traveller on your tour/bus/train to guard the toilet while you use it.

12. Learn to pee like a man – it is possible I hear.

The answer to the old question "what do women do in toilets?" can in some part be found in the first part of this blog. At home different reasons include, queueing (this takes up a substantial amount of time), talking to each other across cubicles or if one can’t bear to be parted from friends 3 – 4 in a cubicle having a communal wee, taking a phone call whilst on the loo, changing clothes, trying to toilet ones offspring, writing shopping lists, meditating or reading a magazine. All the later are reasons why there is a queue in the first place. The latest addition to my list is being so drunk that you can't work out how to get the door open (it took her 15 minutes). As a person who is not keen on public toilets I tend to hang on for as long as possible, rush to a toilet only to find a queue and end up using the men’s facilities in desperation (unlike women they don’t get territorial about toilets and even sympathise). The only time I tend to hog toilets is when I get stuck in them due to a faulty lock and then generally I have the luck to be in an isolated loo with no one around.

So no matter how pissed off you are waiting in that interminable queue for the loo at home just bear in mind how much worse it could be if you were travelling.

I hope this helps ladies.

Posted by travelhappiness 18:36 Archived in Indonesia Tagged people travel humour female toilets harrassement Comments (0)

Stupid Tourists

Gili Meno island in Indonesia is so small that you can walk around it in half a day. It is part of the Gillis, a group of three islands located just off Lombok. Gili Air is quieter than Meno (well it was until I picked up my pack back and came face to pincers with a scorpion!). Whilst, Gili Trawangan is the party on down island. The beaches are stunning, the snorkelling amazing and the locals very accommodating and friendly. It is an ideal place to chill out.

There were very few tourists on the island and at the time of our visit the resident population (about 1,000 people) outnumbered the tourists by a ratio of approximately 20 – 1. Unfortunately, the hawkers, who caught the ferry from Lombok on a daily basis, also outnumbered the tourists. Pearls “very good quality” (not), trinkets and beads (cheap and nasty), sarongs and clothes (loud floral designs and badly made) were waved under our noses throughout the day. One particularly persistent man told me that unless he sold something his children would go hungry. He huffed off when I told him that I didn’t respond to emotional blackmail and that maybe he should spend the ferry fare from Lombok and back on food for his kids. It may seem harsh but believe me once you start making interested noises the rest of the beach sellers will home in like heat seeking missiles.

Because the island was so small we became a friendly with many of the locals we met on our walks. Often we were the only customers at the various establishments away from the beach and we usually ended up chatting to the owner, staff and any other local with time on their hands. We also got to know the guys who ran a small beach bar that we often collapsed in after our ‘treks’. The staff entertained us with funny stories and wisecracks before settling down to the serious business of chess. As most of the beach boys I’ve encountered are into physically challenging water sports, the sight of the local Jack the Lads in straw hats, sunnies, teeshirts and shorts hunched over a chess board was unusual and therefore fascinating.

One day whilst we were chillin at the bar having a bite to eat, there was a flurry of activity from the staff that caused tourists heads to rise from books, drinks and food. A speed boat had landed on the beach and a couple were being ushered up to the bar’s cafe where the owner made a real production of greeting them. The woman lapped up it up whilst her husband sat timidly by her side. Looking at the menu she announced in a voice as loud and deep as a fog horn that they wanted tuna sandwiches and beers. She then complained to the tour guide and restaurant in general about the exorbitant cost (their menu evidently quoted American big bucks). My companion and I exchanged alarmed looks as we had ordered and were currently tucking into tuna sandwiches ourselves. However, our menu had had the prices in the local currency and it was nowhere near as expensive. Other diners were obviously thinking the same thing as there was a sudden need by a large section of the cafe’s occupants to study the menu again (the tuna must have been a popular choice). It was as we remembered and we concluded that the new arrivals had been given the wrong menu. Before we could say anything the owner started to race around the tables, check menus and talk quietly in people’ ears. By the time he reached our table he had started to giggle and proceeded to explain that there were two menus in circulation. One for regulars who stayed on the island and one for visitors from the very expensive resorts in Lombok. The visitors it seemed paid top American dollar for everything and had no idea they were being fleeced. I began to feel sorry for them.
A hawker, having been alerted that there were rich pickings to be made, appeared from nowhere and made a bee line for the visitors table. We knew this particular man as he was fascinated by my travelling partner’s antiquated long wave radio and had tried to blag it off him on several occasions without success. In fact many beach sellers in all parts of the world are fascinated by this radio. I think it has something to do with the swathes of duct tape holding the body together and the piece of bent wire acting as an ariel that appeals to them. After discussing the radio the conversation invariably turns to football and the male bonding process begins. Thereafter they don’t try to sell us anything but just squat down, bum a cigarette and have chat whilst eyeing up this veritable DIY wonder.
The man waved strings of pearls in front of the woman, who on examining a few necklaces announced to everyone in hearing that she was a fashion expert, in the trade and had a shop in Austria.

“I'll give you fifty dollars for the black pearls and that’s my final offer. Don't try and barter with me, I know what I am talking about and that’s all they are worth” she said.

Any sympathy I felt began to fade as she obviously had more money than sense.

The seller’s eyes bulged with shock but he recovered his wits quickly and replied “eighty”.

“Fifty dollars and no more, I’m a fashion buyer, and I know what I’m talking about” she reiterated. He agreed readily.

Suddenly she was beset by hawkers. Bad taste sarongs, shapeless clothes, hippie unsophisticated jewellery – she bought it all. Refusing to barter she'd named a price and knowing that it was way over what they'd normally make the offer was meekly accepted. Now most switched on people would have realised that this behaviour was well out of character for sellers, surmised that they had offered too much money and moderate their bartering techique. But this women continued to proclaim how wonderful she was, that she knew what she was doing and that she could sell for so much more money in her country.

Eventually the money ran out and the hawkers backed off. Paying an outrageous amount of money for the meal they departed loaded down with goods, none the wiser that they had been thoroughly ripped off and that we all had found it highly entertaining. Our friend the pearl hawker came up to me and showed me a necklace.

"I'll give you 50 dollars and no more” I said laughing.

He cast his eyes up to the sky then looked backwards to the departing speed boat. “Ssssstuuuupid tourists” he said, gave me a massive grin and left.

Posted by travelhappiness 18:34 Archived in Indonesia Tagged people travel humour buying bartering Comments (0)

Help. My boyfriend's been kidnapped by an orangutan

One of the main reasons I chose to travel to Borneo and Sumatra was to see the orangutans – the only two places in the world where they live in the wild. It has been predicted that if something is not done soon these wonderful creatures will no longer exist in 60 years time. The sad fact is that mankind’s actions are pushing these animals towards extinction by the destruction of their habit or by poaching. Every day an area of forest, equivalent to six football fields, disappears and is turned into human settlements or used for agriculture.
In Sumatra we travelled to Bukit Lawang where we stayed for a few days. At the time the locals were still recovering from a freak tidal wave that killed many people. The residents thought it was a sign from god that they had become greedy and exploitive of both tourists and the orangutans. We arrived at a time when they were still repenting but the hard sell was beginning to ramp up again so I guess by now it will be business as usual.

We signed up for a trip, got up early the next day and headed off with our group and guide. First we visited the rehabilitation centre before heading into the jungle. It was a tough gig, steaming heat, scrabbling up and down hills, climbing root systems and trekking with no apparent path. A couple of hours into the walk we broke for a drink. The guide talked about the rehabilitation programme and the animals that had been released. Many of the baby orangutans had been rescued from poachers who had shot their mothers and sold them as pets. Because these animals were so used to being with humans it was difficult to rehabilitate them completely. Jackie was a case in instance. We were warned that she had been known to come down from the trees when she heard human voices and attach herself to someone because she wanted a cuddle.

“ In the unlikely event that she’s in this area and she makes a move for you don’t runaway and don’t resist, she won’t hurt you but orangutans have nasty bite if they get pissed off” the guide said.

About an hour later we got lucky and saw two female juveniles checking us out from the trees above. Wandering a short distance away from the rest of the crowd I looked up and saw a large orangutan laying along a tree branch looking down at me thoughtfully. My partner came up to see what I was staring at and started to dig around in his backpack for a camera. Without taking her eyes off us she quickly climbed down the tree. I had bad feeling and in the tradition of all good cowards hid behind my strong, brave partner who I could rely on to protect me (yeah right). The guide spotting what was about to happen started to call out instructions as he ran through the trees towards us. But Jackie beat him to it, grabbed my partner by the hand and started to pull him off into the undergrowth. He was told to throw his bag to one of the guides who thought that this was what she was after. It wasn’t and giving the guide a look of disgust she continued to walk away dragging her captive behind her.

“Oh look you’ve lost your boyfriend to another women” the guide said as we pursued the couple through the dense jungle.

“Must be the hairy arms that she’s attracted to” I called back trying to video record and run at the same time .

Finally Jackie stopped and sat down on a fallen log then wrapped her arm around her new friend’s neck. He tried to tentatively pulled away but to no avail - this babe was a strong and was not taking no for an answer.

“Talk to her” the guide encouraged “don’t try to pull away it might upset her”.

“You know I can’t climb the tree after you” said my partner as Jackie looked upwards. With a chat up line like that I’d of taken off like a shot but she stayed put.

Ten minutes later having tried all sorts of distractions, bar food, to encourage Jackie to let go we were all hot, sweaty, and bored, whilst my partner was looking a bit squashed. Suddenly Jackie decided she’d had enough of us all gawking at her, needed some down time alone with her new playmate and walked off with him in tow. Once again we played follow my leader through the jungle until one idiot, oops sorry a fellow traveller, decided that he wanted to play and held out his hand for Jackie to take. She accepted letting go of my partner at the same time.

Hunkering down with her new man another ten minutes passed. The guide, resigned to the fact tha the only way to get her to relinquish her hold was to bribe her with our lunch, started fishing around in his rucksack for banana. At that point a male orangutan turned up to see what all the fuss was about. Jackie took fright and headed up the nearest tree – problem solved.

Before we left for the trek we had been told not to touch the animals and rightly so because they are susceptible to human germs and have no resistance. But let’s face it if you were confronted by a 6 foot high female orangutan, weighing more than 20 stone with the strength of an elephant who wanted a cuddle and was determined to get it, would you say no?

In Malaysian Borneo it is possible to see orangutans in Semeggoh rehabilitation centre. This used to be a main tourist attraction and although the animals still come to feed the rehabilitation of the orangutans has now switched to Matang wild life centre in Kubah National Park. We actually went to Semeggoh and saw a huge male and a couple of females but the best was when the tourist buses and cars departed and we walked through the conservation area to catch a bus back to Kuching. As we passed some workmen having their lunch there was a rustling in the trees and a mother orangutan and her baby appeared. She fancied a snack too and although the workmen retreated to a safe distance she hung around for ages and played with her baby – it was amazing. A friend says the Sepilok rehabilitation centre is also excellent or taking a trip down the river and staying in the mangroves/jungle is another good way to spot wild orangutans. In Sumatra, orangutans can be found in the North of the island, some in the wild and some in conservation areas such as Bukit Lawang and Gung Leuser National Park. Without getting too officious it is important to remember that if you are going on a trip to look for orangutans make sure that you go with trained, approved guides – less scrupulous ones will encourage the animals down from the trees with food. First this does nothing to help them become independent and second they become trusting and therefore easy prey for poachers.

Posted by travelhappiness 16:57 Archived in Indonesia Tagged travel treks humour sumatra orangtan Comments (0)

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