Sunday, May 10, 2015

Let's Talk Bathrooms

Our bathroom. We're spoiled in that we have a nice American style washroom.
There's the little garbage bin for your toilet paper.
When learning a new language, one of the first phrases taught is invariably, "Where is the bathroom?" In Spanish, this is, "¿Dónde está el baño?"

El baño is where I have spent the majority of the last two days! Unfortunately, I got food poisoning. I was prepared for it to happen eventually, but I had forgotten how awful it can be. As my family knows, I have poisoned myself at home in Canada too. (Turkey soup, pineapple in Jello, and leftover wings are the three times I remember most vividly.)

I'm feeling a bit better today, so I thought I would write an informative post about bathrooms in Guatemala.

When I first started learning about Guatemala and Panajachel, one of the weird things that was hinted at on blogs was that you can't flush toilet paper down the toilet. There didn't seem to be much solid information on this though, so I went to an expat forum and asked if this was true, or if this information was outdated.

Well, I got a bit of a backlash from my innocent question. Three people basically chastised me for being "abnormal" and unworldly. Pfft. Jerks.

I gave them a talking to and told them that, yes, I was kinda a backwoods girl, but only in the most charming way. Outhouses were my bathrooms every summer for my whole life, and I'd traveled around Europe in my 20s and used their "strange" facilities.

Anyhoo, I'm here to write honest answers to the questions that people seem too shy to ask.

1. Can you flush toilet paper in Guatemala? No, you can't flush soiled paper down most of the toilets in Guatemala, especially in more rural areas. I have heard that some hotels and upper scale houses do have proper sewer systems, but this is the exception, not the rule.
2. Why can't you flush toilet paper? Because their sewer pipes are a much smaller diameter than "back home", and their sewer systems are much less efficient. I read somewhere that it also has to do with the type of filters used underground. The toilet paper -- and any other insoluble items tossed in -- will clog the filters and cause your toilet to back up. It's an expensive procedure to have it unclogged.
3. Where do you put the soiled paper then? In a garbage bin. At our apartment, the bin provided had a spinning lid on it -- you can see it in the picture above. That let too much smell out, so we replaced it with a bin that has a foot pedal. That way, we don't have to touch the lid and it keeps the smell in a bit better.
3. So do the bathrooms stink? Um, yeah, sometimes they do, especially certain public ones. But most toilet paper has scented rolls. Yeah, the scent is in the inner cardboard roll, not on the paper. It doesn't do all that much, so I've invested in some nice spray as well. Having a bin with a lid is helpful too.
4. What about public toilets? You can't flush toilet paper in public toilets either, except in the fancy hotels (so I've heard). Most places will have a sign in English for tourists to remind them... and to avoid the expensive fix if their system gets clogged. Another important fact: most public toilets (sanitarios) charge you money for their use, plus they will only give you a tiny bit of paper to use. So bring your own paper with you wherever you go!

Bonus tip! If you're a dog owner, you'll know what these are.
Doggie poop bags! I brought these from Canada, and they actually
were invaluable for bathroom use. Put your soiled paper inside, tie them up,
then toss them in the trash. Cuts down on smell and mess.
So there is your first-hand information about bathrooms in Guatemala. I have to admit, it is the one thing I really, REALLY dislike about living here. But I'm willing to deal with it for the multitude of awesome things this country has to offer... beautiful scenery, friendly folks, wonderful weather, cheap living, and great food. Oh, except for the carnitas that led to my bathroom misery. :(

Here is a great blog post from 2backpackers about bathrooms in Guatemala and other weird things. I personally have noticed all the items on his list!

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