by Carol Dunn
I’ve traveled outside the US. I’ve seen firsthand that rules about safety and hygiene sometimes are ignored or just don’t exist. But we took a ride on a catamaran boat once that left such an impression on me, I will NEVER forget it. If you haven’t been on a snorkeling excursion, I can sum it up pretty quickly. You get on a split-hull catamaran crammed with a bunch of people who eye you suspiciously – the staff because they’re trying to figure out if you’ll leave them a tip, and the paying passengers because they’re wondering if you’ll steal their wallet and flip-flops while they’re in the water. The catamaran takes an hour slamming across the waves to get to a coral reef, you jump in the water and snorkel for about 10 minutes, then a guy blows a whistle telling you to load up NOW for the return to the dock. If you don’t load up when they tell you to, they will leave you behind – or at least they SAY they will. And with your wallet and flip-flops at risk, no one dares to test them on it.
The catamaran had three levels: upstairs where mostly older passengers clung passionately to their belongings, downstairs where the younger passengers hung out because that’s where booze was served, and belowdecks inside the hull of the catamaran. Passengers don’t go belowdecks because it’s wet and smelly, and all the dirty water from the upper decks eventually finds its way down there.
If you’re from the US, when you get on a tour boat you assume there will be restrooms. This is just silly, because people in foreign countries only seem to go to the bathroom once a day. So why, for goodness sake, would you need one on a boat? Unfortunately, I did, and I sought out the universal sign for restroom, which apparently isn’t as universal as I thought. Eventually someone pointed me in the right direction, and it was BELOWDECKS. My first thought was, nah, I can hold it for three more hours. But, then I had to admit that I’m a spoiled American. So I decided to quit being a baby, and I climbed down the steep set of steel stairs. A woman emerged from behind a steel door and looked at me with pity in her eyes. She said not a word (probably because she spoke French) and squeezed by me in the waiting area – a three-foot-by-three-foot space where dirty water sloshed, and I tried desperately not to touch any surface as the boat continued slamming across the waves. Behind me was another door on which someone had hand scrawled in white nail polish “staff,” maybe to keep out spoiled Americans, which worked. In front of me I had the choice of two steel doors. I opened one and looked in, and figured the revolting closet was used by the janitor. There was a hose hanging on the wall, what looked like an oblong metal bucket of dirty water, and a HOLE in the floor which I just prayed was adequately plugged so the ocean wouldn’t come rushing in when the catamaran came to a stop. Behind the second door was ANOTHER JANITOR CLOSET?? But… NO. Turns out those bucket-looking things were the TOILETS. Both full. And when I say full, I mean within a half-inch of sloshing over. There were no seats, no toilet paper, no flusher, no sink to wash hands, and – the icing on the cake of that experience – no lock on either door.
At this point, you have to ask yourself, “How bad do I really have to go to the bathroom?” Folks, NOT THAT BAD.