I think it is widely accepted that travel will open your eyes and your mind to the world, allowing you to learn about people whose circumstances are different from yours and generally yanking you out out of cramped, parochial views about just how the world should be. Of course, while you’re doing all that, you generally learn a lot about yourself as well, if you’re prone to reflection (and if you’re not, you might be a vampire).
Scott and I recently spent 6 days in Cozumel, Mexico with my family of origin, and I learned the following about myself:
I cannot be truly content in life without fully functioning indoor toilets. The kind with a real seat. The kind that flushes all the usual things a reasonable person would attempt to flush down a toilet. The kind that are the whole point of indoor toilets in the first place.
Cozumel is an island that doesn’t have a sewer system, as far as I can tell. Houses have some kind of septic system that regularly belches its aroma rudely amongst the tropical breezes of your vacation, and that is, I assume, sucked out regularly by someone who clearly has a really unfortunate job. And because of this, nowhere on the island is one allowed to throw toilet paper into the actual toilet. Everywhere you go, from private homes to public restaurants, there are signs in at least two languages asking you to throw TP in the wastebasket, regardless of what it was used for.
I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Gross, no?
At our cabin at the Brule, we have a one-holer outhouse. It’s nothing terribly lavish, and I admit it doesn’t flush, but you know what? You can drop all the TP down it you want and not give it another thought. When you’re sitting on ostensibly modern plumbing, contemplating the extremely near future, and musing dreamily on the luxury of a wooden plank with a hole in it suspended over a pit, you know there’s something wrong with that picture.
Returning to the childhood game of “What’s grosser than gross?” you have to consider that while traveling in Mexico, your chances are better than average that you are going to earn the enmity, and therefore the morally imperative revenge, of an Aztec emperor who should’ve killed Cortés while he had the chance. In light of the fact that every meal you eat, every glass of supposedly bottled water you drink, is accompanied by the quiet clicking of the cylinder that holds the bullet that will rip through your gastrointestinal system with a violence that will make you pray for the death denied ol’ Hernán, the whole bathroom issue becomes a more pressing and potentially disgusting one.
This, to me, is insufferable. I want to sit, flush, and forget. I don’t want to be more intimately involved in the process than that. I don’t groove on living that close to my animal self; it would seem like I didn’t appreciate a million years of evolution that allows my kind to ruminate and eliminate while enthroned upon porcelain.
Growing up, and even in recent years, I imagined myself far more adventurous than this, I have to say; I’m a little disappointed in myself. I imagined world travels with just a backpack, to remote corners where no one had ever heard of Coca-Cola (if such a place existed); Scott and I interviewed with the Peace Corps rep back in college in all seriousness, believe it or not. But we have to learn to live with who were are, and who I am is an admittedly spoiled American who expects to potty in extremely sanitary peace. And I can totally live with that.
If you’d like to see my vacation photos (none of which include pictures of the bathroom, which actually looked lovely appearance-wise, but many of which include my exhaustive efforts to photograph every iguana on the island), click here. You can click on the “Show info” link in the upper right-hand corner for captions and such.