So there I was, far from home, boarding a bus for an 20 hour journey from Santa Cruz to the mountain city of La Paz. My travel companions: my brother-in-law who speaks scarcely a dozen words of English and his friend who I had only met days earlier. I had never ventured far afield in Bolivia, tending to stick closely to my sister and the comfort of her familiarity with Santa Cruz.
We left in the evening, driving through the night. I would sleep through bumpy stretches and awake when the bus shuddered to a halt, inexplicably, at times for what felt like hours. The darkness and the unknown and the mystery of it all were terribly exciting and stressful all at once.
I assumed that the tiny closet of a bathroom on the bus would be vile. It was in constant use during the journey, people of all ages, shapes and sizes shuffling along the aisle, down the steps, disappearing for varying lengths of time and then reappearing again. I made it through the night and into the morning without needing the facility. A brief stop for lunch of coca tea and soup sealed my fate. Having tried to toe the line between being dehydrated enough not to have to pee, but hydrated enough not to feel the effects of the altitude change too badly, the tank was now ominously full. Despite a pit stop before we boarded the bus again, I knew I would not make it the rest of the trip.
I enjoyed the scenery as the bus climbed further, jungle having given way to desert plains now as we climbed higher into the mountains. Somewhere in a roadside town the bus halted once more, without allowing anyone off. After we were on the road again, my brother-in-law suggested that the bathroom may have been cleaned and now was probably the best time to use it. Still reluctant, I waited longer until I could wait no more. I did my own shuffle along the aisle, down around the steps, into the closet.
The first thing I noticed was a puddle on the floor. Knowing the awful truth about its origin, I tried to straddle the liquid as best I could, telling myself maybe people had splashed water on the floor as they washed their hands. Legs thusly akimbo, I turned around and tried to lock the flimsy accordion door in place. It wouldn’t lock. Okay, I will hold it with one hand so no one can enter. The suspicious puddle on the floor sloshed one way and then another as the bus jostled. I lowered my pants the necessary margin with my free hand, squatting precariously over the toilet seat, one arm fully extended to hold the door closed, one foot on either side of the puddle. The bus rather viciously rounded a curve, and the top-heavy double-decker beast rocked from side to side. All I could picture was me, flying through the insecure door, pants about my ankles, landing in an undignified heap at the feet of the next passenger in line, bare bum sticking up for all the world to see above the pee-soaked hems of my jeans.
This nightmare thankfully unfulfilled, I plodded my way back up the stairs, around the corner, along the aisle to my seat. A trail of damp footprints followed me, and for the rest of the drive the smell of other people’s urine lingered in my nostrils.
The moral of the story? If you’re on a 20 hour bus ride through the jungle and the desert into the mountains, the bathroom WILL be as vile as you can imagine. But when you gotta go, you gotta go, and the adventure is worth it.