Sticking to the light: A Bolivian Experience

We’ve all been there. Nature calls at the most inopportune moment and we’re forced to ‘settle’ on whatever bathroom we can find.

Flash back to a trip to Bolivia.

We had already spent at least an hour looking for a washroom when we came across ‘the long hut’. Myself and one other travel companion were in desperate need of a bathroom. I’d had to much coffee at breakfast and his stomach wasn’t agreeing with last nights dinner. There was a local woman sitting in front of the hut, with her two children, holding a roll of toilet paper. Spotting her was like seeing an oasis in the desert. I walked up to her and she handed me a few sheets of the toilet paper and pointed to the way to the women’s side.

I walked down the narrow, dirt-floored hallway noticing immediately that the wall on my right was really a partition separating the woman’s side of the hut from the men’s. The partition ran the length of the hut but reached neither the ceiling nor the floor. Not good. On my left, the wall was divided into stalls with shallow dividers. There were no doors. Every stall was wide open to anyone who passed along the hall. I quickly surmised that the only guarantee of privacy was to go to the very last stall; however, there were no windows and the only light shining in was coming from the door I had just entered from. The end of the hallway was in complete darkness so I went to the last stall that still had some light.

As you can probably now imagine, there was no toilet. Just a hole to squat over. There was nothing to hold onto and the hole was just the right depth of ‘shallowness’ to guarantee a splash. The dim lighting was a blessing really. I held on tightly to the toilet paper in my hand, stared straight ahead and tried to focus on the task at hand. A minute later a pair of runners appeared in front of me on the other side of the partition. My travel companion had just entered the men’s side and chosen to go to the far end of the light also. He was now directly in front of me. Not good.

While my friend was experiencing his own horror show on the other side of the partition I tried to look elsewhere. “Take care of business and get out of here as quickly as possible” I told myself. Mid business another pair of shoes presented themselves. This time they were directly in front of me. The woman who had handed me the toilet paper at the door had decided that NOW was a good time to ask for payment. I made a feeble attempt to get some change out of my pocket but fearing I’d loose my balance I quickly blurted out “en un minuto por favor!”. Mercifully, she walked back to the front. I was sweating now and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Things were not going well for my friend on the other side of the partition. I could see the woman’s shoes circling around to the men’s side now, toward him. I started to run.

Exiting that door was like resurfacing from a long dive without oxygen. I wiped my hands obsessively with a baby wipe for 20 minutes waiting with friends for our companion to return to the light with us. He finally exited. He was as white as a ghost. I couldn’t even look at him and we never spoke of the experience. I don’t have a picture of the hut but perhaps that’s a good thing. I CAN tell you that the amount of toilet paper we were given would NOT have been sufficient for my friends ‘needs’ at the time. I’m not sure what type of McGyver’ing went on in there but I think he earned a travellers star that day.

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