DISCLAIMER: probably got more poor language than normal. I blame the subject matter.
Diarrhoea. The runs. The squirts. Bum wees. The trots. The s**ts. Travel sickness.
Let’s be honest; every traveller, regardless of the destination, fears getting caught in the painfully awkward grasps of travel sickness. The fact that I don’t even have to write the word diarrhoea and you’re already nodding knowingly proves that point.
I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news either, but somebody has to do the dirty work- you will find yourself searching desperately for a bathroom at some stage on your journey with the very real thought that s**tting yourself in public is more of a possibility than you ever wanted.
So let me tell you a story.
Every now and then when on the road, you wake up and know that it’s going to be your day. The sun is out, birds are singing and you have a funny feeling that things are going to be OK.
This story describes none of those feelings.
My friends and I had been travelling through Southeast Asia for a month or so and had ended up in Laos. I was under the weather after having five too many beers the night before. We found ourselves running, fully laden, in the direction of a bus stop. I was lagging behind and to make matters worse my belly was churning, making noises that sounded distinctly like a small animal trying to escape.
“Hold up guys, I could be in strife here. Do you see a loo anywhere?” I pleaded, just in sight of the bus stop.
“There is nothing but rice paddies and buffaloes around mate. You’re gunna have to hold it,” was all my friends would offer me, oblivious to the distress in my eyes and the half litre of sweat on my brow.
As if fate had conspired against me our bus, completely loaded, came rolling around the corner. When I say ‘bus’, I mean truck with a shed on the back. The machine was so full of humans and animals that people shared the roof with goats while more people sat underneath with chickens in the seats.
As my friends climbed up on the roof, I gingerly crawled onto the tray. They made comments like “You better sit in the tray, mate. You might need a quick exit” and “Look at the positives, if you s**t yourself, no-one will want to go near you! There will be plenty of room for you then!”
Very unhelpful considering I was too scared to fart.
An Australian girl who had been travelling with us, Kelly, climbed into the back with me. We had known each other for a few years and had caught up earlier in the trip. I appreciated the fact that I would be sitting with someone I knew. Or maybe I just needed a witness. Either way it was comforting.
The next hour seemed to last for days. I didn’t have any travel sickness drugs and began cursing my lack of foresight. It was like all my plans for an incident like this had completely deserted me. In between bouts of cramps I would curse to Kelly as twenty Laotians and half a dozen chickens looked on. They seemed confused why a young Australian was so agitated while he clutched his stomach as if he were stopping it bursting from his body. I was more thankful that they couldn’t understand what I was saying.
“F**k it, f**k it, f**k it,” I muttered to myself.
“What’s the problem now?” Kelly said.
“I’m not going to s**t myself,” giving out too much information about the current state of my bowels and the fairly predictable future of their contents.
“I refuse to s**t myself,” I continued.
“How far have we come?”
“I don’t know, but-”
“Well if I don’t know how far we’ve come then-“
“What time is it?”
“Here. Have some water.”
I think the offer of water was purely to shut me up. Let’s be honest, trying to have an intelligent conversation with me was as easy as getting a two year old to sit still for more than thirty seconds. At least two year olds have diapers.
I went through periods where Kelly would rub my back and the pain would disappear. I could stop staring at the floor and look up for long enough to take in some of the passing landscape. But then, as if a switch had been flicked, I would growl at her to stop touching me as the pain returned so fast it could have knocked me over.
Back to the safety of staring at the floor.
The poor girl couldn’t put a foot right. She must have wondered what she had done to deserve the burden of looking after a bespectacled, possibly possessed man who swore a lot whilst on the verge of s**tting his pants. It must have been like babysitting a time bomb. The worst part was waiting for it to go off.
Oh, the waiting.
“If I survive this Kelly, I swear, I’ll buy you at least five beers and a packet of chips. You’ve earned it.” I don’t know what she thought of the offer but I immediately felt better.
At one stage I felt the distinct sensation of something warm on the back of my legs. In a panic I started vigorously checking myself, ensuring my bodily functions hadn’t abandoned me and started the show before I could raise the curtains. Of course nothing had happened and it was just my mind playing tricks on me, but this would lead to me asking Kelly my unproductive questions again. It was a vicious cycle.
Finally we came to a stop in a place resembling civilisation. When I say ‘civilisation’ I mean it had a shop that sold soft drink and glass bottles of petrol. That was close enough for me.
I leapt over a woman and two small children, quite possibly a record of some description, and began negotiating with the conductor as to the whereabouts of the closest toilet.
“Please stay. Need toilet. Quick. Please,” I begged.
He responded by saying something I couldn’t understand and began talking to the driver. He in turn yelled out to the lady sitting on the side of the road, who then yelled to the gentleman in the shop. I swear he then asked the old man having a smoke, who then asked the small boy walking past.
By now I was standing in the middle of the road, clinching my a** cheeks together so hard that I was sure to get delayed onset of muscle soreness as a result.
“Over there. That house,” said the conductor finally in broken English, and pointed to the house across the road. From there I was directed to the squat toilet of some poor person’s dwelling located underneath their back veranda.
“Thank you!” I yelled back.
I waddled over, as running was not an option. If I lost concentration at any stage I would end up in a puddle of excrement.
The lady who lived there simply pointed and smiled. I grimaced a smile back and dove in.
I stared at the hole in the ground, unable to stand up straight. Squat toilets confused and intimidated me but I had no choice anymore. I then looked at the three squares of toilet paper and a half bucket of water I had to help deal with the aftermath.
Even MacGyver would have struggled.
The details of the event from that point on become hazy (I blame the fumes) but needless to say the relief after such a terrifying ordeal is hard to put into words. Any person who has had to suffer the same situation will back me up. I sat there with a smile on my face, fully aware that I had a bus load of locals, three Australians, six chickens and five roof riding goats waiting for me to return.
Eventually I staggered back across the road and climbed back onto the bus, ready for the next stretch of the ride.
“Better?” the conductor asked, with a massive grin,
“Korp jai rai rai!” I exclaimed in my best Lao, hoping I had said ‘thank you very much’ and not something like ‘you have a purple nipple’.
I smiled, lathering my hands in disinfectant, relieved to be finally comfortable.
I think you get the point. When it happens, it happens at such inconvenient times and places. Like the morning of a tour or when you need to catch a long haul bus. But that’s part of the adventure of traveling isn’t it? You deal with it as best you can and hope for the best. It’s physically impossible to die from embarrassment. Or so I’ve read.
Wayward Tip: Fluids. Drink up because it’s going to be a long ride. The more fluids in your system, the quicker you can rid yourself of the devil inside and everything can go back to normal.