When you travel, you need a strong bladder and digestive system.

Intestinal fortitude comes in handy anywhere you go, but it’s most useful when you are traveling through developing countries such as India, Nepal and Tanzania. You never know when you are going to be able to find your next bathroom, the condition it may be in, or what may be in it. Nor do you know what new bacteria your body is going to reject, causing you to constantly think twice about what you are putting into your system. You either have intestinal fortitude or you don’t; that’s where the adventure comes in.

My recent travels have landed me in Nepal. After living the comfortable Western lifestyle, based in the United States for eight months, arriving in Nepal to volunteer teaching English was a shock to my system. Nepal is like India; loud, colorful, stinky, poor, vibrant, dirty, and stunningly beautiful.

Holy men in Nepal
Another land of contrasts. With any third-world travel comes the acceptance of a screwed-up digestive system. Our western stomachs just don’t stand a chance against these countries; at least not at first, until they’ve adapted. It’s an intestinal game of Russian roulette.

As I sat down for my first meal in Nepal I thought about what I was ordering and how good my insides felt, while wondering what the outcome of dinner would be. I beat the odds and made it out of Kathmandu without any major intestinal issues; I had cleared the first hurdle.

A member from the volunteer organization took me from Kathmandu to the village of Puma. We caught a ‘bus’ to Beshesharha. The bus was, of course, a beat-up minivan commonly seen transporting three times as many passengers as can legally be carried. Then again, legality really has no purpose in third-world countries.

“Nepal is like India; loud, colorful, stinky, poor, vibrant, dirty, and stunningly beautiful”

I was seated in the very back seat by a big open window pinned in by three other men in my row and a total of 19 other people in the van. I was as far from the door as I could be. I took a Dramamine and thought about what I would do if I had to go to the bathroom. I can’t speak Nepali, I was pinned in a van and couldn’t get out unless I went out the window — which was probably the best possibility. I had just had breakfast and I prayed that this wasn’t the moment that my sissy Western stomach was going to betray me. I said a silent prayer and off we went, spewing black smoke and with a constantly beeping horn.

My vantage point

At the lunch break, I opted not to eat at the roadside stand for fear of introducing alien bacteria into my system. Instead I had a piece of gum, and a Coke. I used the bathroom at the restaurant and was reintroduced to the Asian squatty potty. I had used these many times before and in some circumstances actually prefer them as they are cleaner. However, using them in an outhouse-type situation isn’t my favorite thing to do — but I knew this was the only bathroom break I would get on this six-hour journey, so I had to take advantage of it.

“Let the game of Russian roulette begin”

When I finally arrived in Puma a day later, some of the locals offered me a slice of giant cucumber. I looked at it and thought — this looks okay, sure, I’ll try it. I said yes and they proceeded to pour water over it to wash it for me and hand it to me. My stomach dropped as I realized that I shouldn’t be eating anything washed in local water. I thought to myself, I’m living here for two weeks, it’s inevitable that I will get exposed to the local water so what the hell, let the game of Russian roulette begin; bottoms up.

The family I stayed with was wonderful. For a house with sporadic electricity, and no plumbing, they were living the high life. They actually had an outhouse. I thought to myself that I could cope with that; it was better than the woods. Then I went inside and realized there were no lights and a huge spider the size of my hand hanging out on the wall. In charade-like actions I asked the host family about the huge spider in the bathroom and they told me that it lived there until it got cold in November. Great. Granted, I’m not someone that is terrified of spiders, but spiders the size of my hand in a dark room with my pants down isn’t my idea of fun at all.

I adopted a bathroom routine. I would look for the spider every time I went into the bathroom — I wanted to know where my nemesis was before I squatted. I tried many things to cope with that spider, I tried to give it a nice pleasant name like Charlotte, but it still didn’t work. I gave up on coping with it and instead I tried to control my bladder. This isn’t an easy feat as I had to try and make sure that I went to the bathroom right before the sun went down and then hold it for the rest of the night until I awoke. Granted, I have a strong bladder — but this was asking it to work overtime.

By some miracle, I have survived my bathroom adventure travel. I was exposed to every possible type of germ; from the kids that I taught, the water, the flies. And my insides actually hung in there like a champ. I learned an important lesson after my cultural exchange — your mind and body adapts to its environment. As sad as I will be to say goodbye to the village of Puma, I will not be shedding any tears when I have to say goodbye to my spider Charlotte. In fact, the thought of a toilet with plumbing, electricity, and toilet paper is sounding pretty nice right now!

To read more about Sherry’s travel and volunteering in Nepal, or to see the many pictures, visit Sherry’s site, Ottsworld.

Your thoughts on "Bathroom adventure travel"

  • We survived our five days in Malaysia without a case of traveller's D. We weere drinking tap water and eating lots of streetfood. Linda did give me a warning glass when I had a huge glass of fruit juice, but I'm still standing. I know we've been lucky with our health, but it seems to me there's so much scare-mongering over "drinking the water". It's important to be aware of health risks but it's also important to have a life. Good call Sherry.

    on September 24, 2008 at 5:49 pm Reply
  • Drinking tap water..?!?!! No worries Craig....I'm sure you and the Giardia can peacefully coexist. :) JK, Greg

    on September 25, 2008 at 3:35 am Reply
  • I think my immune system is stronger than most - or less picky anyway. I was raised in India in the beg of my life, so I had proper training! Needless to say, nothing seems to faze my GI tract. Although, the worst water I have ever tasted is in Orlando, FL. Even I reach for bottled over tap there.

    on September 26, 2008 at 1:31 am Reply
  • I loves me the giardia! (You can drink the water in NZ rivers and streams but you must treat it for giardia first. Pain in the butt.)

    on September 26, 2008 at 7:46 pm Reply
  • […] two weeks, don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. Instead, throw it into the trash bin. Flushing paper can be a hard habit to […]

    on August 27, 2015 at 8:49 am Reply

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