Friday, September 27, 2013

Frequently Asked Friday: Best and Worst Bathrooms

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We’ve got a new feature that we thought we’d try out, to replace our Bad Photo Fridays.  There are still plenty of bad photos, but most of them are just bad, not so much bad and funny. Instead of BPF, we’re instituting FAQ Friday, where we answer a frequently asked question each week.  If you have a question you’d like us to answer, send us an email or leave us a comment and we’ll do our best to address it.

Our first question was “What were the best and worst bathrooms on your trip?” 
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This, by far, was the best toilet of our whole trip. Nothing like having a surprise chuckle when you enter the bathroom.  This was in our hotel room in the Plitvice Lakes area of Croatia, at Apartments Poljanak, what is known there as a “sobe.”  We loved this B&B, not only for their sense of humor, but for their lovely little Jack Russell terrier welcoming committee Jackie, and one of the best breakfasts we had on our entire trip—definitely the best breakfast in Croatia (that we didn’t make ourselves).
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The “fanciest” bathroom we saw was at The Jewel Box, on top of Mount Faber, in Singapore.  We ended up taking the subway out to the suburbs and walking back toward town through a series of elevated walkways and trails. The trails lead essentially uphill to this gondola station, and from there you can either take the gondola down or continue on the trails, which led through a botanic garden and an area that terrifyingly warned of surprise monkey attacks. But before the monkeys, we availed ourselves of one of the swankest places to go we saw anywhere. The toilets were just toilet stalls, but the rest of it had a stunning view and some pretty fabulous fixtures. Above is the ladies’ room version, but the men’s room version is below. No fainting couch in the men’s room.
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Now on to the worst…thankfully we don’t actually have a picture of it. The absolute worst bathroom of the whole trip was, unsurprisingly, on the Inca Trail.  It wasn’t so much that it was a squat toilet (which it was), or the fact that it had been raining (which it had) so everyone tracked mud in, but that by the end of three days on the trail some people reverted to a cave-man state in the toilet.  Let’s just say you’re supposed to pack your toilet paper out. By the third day many people were just leaving it in a corner, and all four corners were running out of space.  Enough said.
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This is a photo of Lana rinsing with the water from a natural spring. The water here was purported to make you live forever/cure your ails/make you pretty. No word yet on whether it’s worked.

Next up are worst showers. There were far more of these than bad toilets, which is a good thing, we guess?  We’re not even including the run-of-the-mill bad shower, which was a wet room, with no shower curtain (even though it would have been trivial to include one), and everything in the bathroom got wet when you showered.  We learned quickly to take the toilet paper out of the bathroom before turning on the water.
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One of the runner-ups was at one of the sketchiest hotels we stayed at, in Chau Doc, Vietnam.  It had hot and cold running water—with one shower head for each.  Rather than buy a mixer valve, they just bought two shower heads, and mounted them side-by-side.  You might imagine this could work, that the scalding and cold water would somehow average out, but it really doesn’t.  It’s like taking a scalding and cold shower at the same time.  It does save on both water and coffee.
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Speaking of saving water, another runner-up used a kitchen sink hand sprayer as the shower head.  You had to hold down the lever for the water to flow.  We don’t think this was for lack of a shower head, but to conserve water (this was in Madagascar, where water can be scarce, away from rivers).  However, it took a while to figure out how to rinse the soap out of your armpits, when that arm is holding the sprayer. But least we understood why the shower was designed that way.
Photos of Tonito Hotel, Uyuni
This photo of Tonito Hotel is courtesy of TripAdvisor
The worst shower was the scariest.  Unfortunately, David was too sick to think about taking pictures of anything, let alone the hotel room, so the picture above is from Tripadvisor, but it is very similar to the room we had.  The two wires you see, coming out of the conduit, and running into the showerhead itself?  Those are 240 Volt wires, and they run (through the conduit) to a 40 amp circuit breaker on the other side of that wall.  Somewhere inside the showerhead is an electric heater which warms the water as it passes, and hopefully, the lethal current is insulated.  Our shower head was broken and it didn’t heat the water at all, which we found out after Lana had turned it on, got naked, and waited for the water to warm up. And waited. And waited.  There may have been some naked crying in the shower.  Eventually we gave up, got dressed, and went downstairs to eat dinner. Once we told the hotel there was a problem, the guy behind the front desk came up to fix it (apparently this happens a lot). He stood on a chair,  took it apart, replaced a small part, and then it worked—if we dared.  Lana did not, but eventually David gave it a shot, and even lived to tell the tale.
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The more we think about bathrooms, the more we realize how many odd (both good and bad) ones there were. There was the shower in the monastery in Montagne D’Ambre in Northern Madagascar, which was was unlit, and when we took one of our headlamps in there, decided it was better just to leave it an unlit mystery than to actually know how filthy (and ant infested) it was.  It was also a tiny shower—those tiles are around 4”, for scale—about 18” on a side, and the water was unheated.  Awesome. The toilet was down the hall from our room.  Also awesome.
There was the fancy bathroom at Orchid Garden Homestay in Hoi An, Vietnam, which was indoor/outdoor with a wonderful rain showerhead. One morning it poured during Lana’s shower, and there was something delicious about hot water and cool rain hitting you at the same time (pretty much opposite the hot/cold dual-head shower experience in Chau Doc).
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There was also the self-defogging mirror in London, which had a heating element behind it, that was turned on by the light switch.  A square at generic head height remained clear—very handy!
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On the opposite side of the useful mirror spectrum, was this ‘wide-screen’ mirror over the bathroom sink in Memphis, Tennessee, where you couldn’t ever see your face.

This isn’t even touching on all the public restrooms we had to pay for (although they were better than some of the free, public bathrooms). Most of the pay-for-use restrooms were in Egypt and Jordan, and there were some in Southeast Asia and Central Europe. You were more likely to see squat toilets in Asia, but we would say 98% of the restrooms had a western toilet option alongside the squats.  Squats aren’t bad once you get the hang of them. Before we hiked the Inca Trail we got a great tip from someone who had just hiked it. She warned Lana to roll her pantlegs up before going into the squat toilet. A great piece of advice that she used all the way through the squat toilet portion of the trip.

So there it is, the good, the bad, and the downright disgusting.  If you’re looking for further reading on the subject, you can buy this book, and get yourself fully ready to “go” when you go!

Hey this was fun!  Again, let us know if you have a “Q” for Frequently Asked Friday.