a toilet along the road in Suchitoto, El Salvador

Backpackers Beware – not all toilets are created equal

Let this be a lesson to you, my fellow backpacker, choose your toilets wisely

A tale of two bathrooms.

I like a good spicy chicken sandwich, so it is with no surprise that when I stumbled upon the chain of Chicken Restaurants in El Salvador know as Pollo Campero, I made good use of the $3 spicy chicken burgers. Another thing I like is a clean bathroom, and a toilet with a toilet seat, something Pollo Campero was also good at. Nothing like a little privacy in a clean bathroom, with sparkling white tile floors to start the day off on the right foot in a foreign land. And to top it all off, the cost, free. A beautiful, sparkling, single use bathroom, free!

What I don’t like, are not free toilets, that are not clean. Like the toilet at one of the central bus stations in San Salvador. Me and my backpacking buddy were on our way to the coast for a few days, and we had to switch buses at one of the central bus stations, where we were then told to cross the street and catch the bus to the coast. Needing to go to the bathroom, I followed a local business man (with suit and all), into the pay toilets. Two people were attending to the collection of money, 50 cents a pop to enter, but it would seem, no one was attending to the bathroom stalls themselves.

Walking into the bathroom area, there are a couple sinks to the right, and to the left a short hallway with 3 stalls on each side. Me and the business man picked a side and opened the first stall, toilets were overflowing, on to the next stall, toilets again were overflowing, this time with solid waste on top and spilling onto the floor. At this point me and the business man had looked in each others direction to see if either side was any better, and seeing as we were in the same boat with only one more stall each, we gave each other a knowing eye roll with a palms up hand gesture to signify our “are you serious we paid for this” thoughts. The third stall, as you might have imagined, was sparkling clean… yah, only in my dreams. Once again, flowing over. Gahhh.

Oh well, I picked the stall that had the least amount of overflow, and subsequently added to it. I guess I can be thankful that I could leave my backpack with my fellow traveler who was waiting outside this monstrosity of pay toilet, and that I wasn’t battling with any type of food poisoning. Something which could easily have been the case for me, as I do enjoy the occasional coconut water drink, the kind served in a sandwich bag with a (potentially recycled) straw poked through it.

Moral of the story. If you’re traveling in an unfamiliar place and you feel the urge coming on, don’t pass a perfectly good toilet with the expectation that another one will be right around the corner. Better yet, hit the bathroom in the hostel before venturing out into the city to see what adventures await.

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