The dirty side of backpacking

Before I begin I would just like to say how excited I am to be revealing the long awaited, marginally evil and rather misled lovechild that Claudia and I have created. I’m so happy to be sharing my dumb stories, experiences, reviews and whatnot with you all. I hope I can keep you as entertained as I often keep myself. While this has almost been entirely Claudia’s efforts so far, I can’t wait to get more involved. So anyway, enough with the sentimental crap. Time to tumble into the rabbit hole

Sometimes the simplest of everyday tasks can actually become really quite difficult. When you’re travelling you always have to cover the basics; food, shelter, beer, hygiene, ice cream, beer, sleep and most importantly, beer. Sometimes, in the quest for self discovery and natural beauty we have to abandon the various comforts we acquaint ourselves with in our protected little pre-wilderness existence. Sometimes, we have to take a shit where we don’t want to take a shit. So this is the tragic tale of the long drop, an ode to single ply toilet paper, and a tribute to those late night walks with a spade in hand and a poo-buddy to protect you from the dingoes of Fraser Island.

To quote the great Jamie T; “it’s the only place but home I feel relaxed enough to crap”. This is something I used to relate to, but after I abandoned the concept of a ‘home’ I found myself stepping into the great unknown as I crossed the threshold of an unexplored bathroom for the very first time. I will admit now, I was nervous, but I emerged from that door relieved and triumphant.

Now one of my favourite things about the humble backpacker is their ability to collect and accumulate little stories. Another great thing is the lack of boundaries. Most of us harbour at least one story, so here’s a few of mine. My first story is a result of saving myself for throne of reasonable quality. While this can seem like an elegant solution, occasionally it lands you in the shitter, no pun intended.

I had been travelling and camping down the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island with a few friends, and I figured we would be passing by a relative’s place so I called them up to ask if we could pop in so I could say hello and introduce him to my travel buddies. I think we all secretly knew this would be our best opportunity and honestly, I still feel bad for him as he followed in our footsteps and braved the bathroom after four depraved backpackers on a questionable diet had used the facility. Not such an elegant solution, at least from his perspective. I’m just happy he hasn’t brought it up since. And now he’s probably reading this and saving up ammunition.

Anywho. My last little story of the day is the tale of the worst toilet I’ve ever completed my business in. Picture this; you’ve signed out of your computer and driven home after a long day in the office. You kiss your partner on the cheek as you enter the door and place your briefcase by the door and suddenly, you feel a current shift from deep inside your body. Maybe it was the extra pint you squeezed in at lunch time, or that curry sandwich assembled from last night’s leftovers playing with the chemistry within but not to worry, because just a few steps from your location is your bathroom. You confidently stride across the boundary between carpet and tile and lock the door behind you before you assume the position. The room is gleaming in the fluorescent glow of the overhead lights and the 0.001% of bacteria that Mr Muscle couldn’t quite eradicate. You finish and reach for the well stocked triple ply toilet paper, feeling it’s soft aloe vera grace your derrière. You then drop the littered paper and gently push that metal lever down, sending the unholy object somewhere into the underworld. You stand up, close the lid, walk to the sink, turn on the tap, wash your hands with the soap, dry them on the hand towel and then leave. It’s a routine we have all done a thousand times and know all too well. Now imagine the polar opposite of this.

The reason I found myself in this compromised position is of my own doing – my overpowering need to feel like owning a moment on top of a mountain. I knew I would be sleeping rough for a few days and I knew that I would have to, at some point, find a way to function as a human, so I was semi prepared for the incident with some toilet paper on hand. What I didn’t rely on is that when you have to go, you actually have to go. It was about day three of my expedition into the wilderness, and just before midnight somewhere around the side of Lake Taupō. I was trying to relax into my diminished sleeping space when something stirred and I realised that the time was upon me. I knew the bathroom existed but I wasn’t quite sure where, and it was dark. I reached for the toilet paper, and stupidly didn’t stop for long enough to put my shoes on. It was a painful trot across the gravel and into the woods, but I found the “bathroom”. I hovered above the cracked black toilet seat and tried not to look at the entire population of the Amazon Rainforest dancing around in the dim flashlight on my mobile as I held the broken door closed with my foot and struggled to find a position to complete my task at hand. I did all I could in my mind to block out the thoughts of what could possibly be lurking just a few meters below in the mountain of accumulative human refuse. I had no way to block my nose, which is my greatest regret. I pushed as hard as I could to get it out of me as quickly as humanely possible, and with the promise of clean, cold and fresh air just a few breaths of thick, warm hell away it wasn’t difficult to rid my body of the tumour it had accumulated from my diet of pasta, apples and salad. Liquid sanitiser can only sanitise so much; it cannot sanitise the mind.

The worst part is, I’ve seen bathrooms even more awful that I’ve just flat out refused to enter. Just think of that next time you’re in the discotheque and you’re questioning the cleanliness of the graffitied stalls. But also think of what you’re missing out on.

Through all the trials and tribulations, the dire lows and the smelly bathrooms there is just one thing that keeps us all going; Adventure, with a capital ‘A’. It has many beautiful forms – for me it’s this little feeling that I get for the first ten seconds of standing on top of a mountain and feeling the world melt into a homogenous puddle beneath my feet as the cold wind batters my body and reminds me that I am indeed a human capable of incredible things, and it’s also the tiny ember of hope that I find in everybody who makes the choice to chase this lifestyle.

While we may settle down, we will never feel quite at home, and that alone is enough to take me back to the wooden shack in the woods with my toilet paper in hand. Oh, and there’s many more poo stories where those came from. I’ve heard of situations a hundred times worse than my own experiences involving tally charts, liquid projection, excitable dogs, synchronised shitting and, in their own words, “stemming the flow”. But I’ll save those for another day.

  • Written by Tom Sylva

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