There are a few cardinal rules of travel. Number One on the list, in my opinion, is: never pass up an opportunity to use the restroom, especially a clean one, because you never know when your next chance will be. Number Two: always keep a packet of emergency tissue in your pocket, for obvious, related reasons. So, in my book, Rules Number One and Number Two are all about Number One and Number Two. Sorry, I know it’s not sexy, but, ask any seasoned traveler if they disagree with me. I don’t think they will.
Rather than put this next thing as Rule Number Three, I’m going to add it as a subpart to Rule Number Two, to emphasize its importance: make sure to keep some single denomination coins or bills handy, because, in a lot of places around the world, the potty stop comes at a price. I learned this lesson the hard way.
I was in central Turkey, in Konya to be exact, to visit the tomb of the Sufi mystic, Rumi, and to see a “Sema,” the meditative ceremony of the Mevlevi, or “whirling dervishes” of the Sufi order. Once Rumi and I had run out of things to talk about, I decided to take the bus to Cappadocia to see the early Christian cave dwellings among the peculiar “fairy chimney” rock formations.
I had read that Cappadocia is difficult to explore on one’s own, as everything is kind of far apart and difficult to find, public transportation doesn’t adequately cover the interesting parts, and rental car GPS units don’t have very accurate information for the area. So, I hired a local driver. Problem solved.
Before I left Konya, I sent a message to the driver to tell him which bus I would be on, so he could pick me up in the town of Göreme (part of Cappadocia) later that afternoon. It was about a 4-hour bus ride, with some stops along the way.
The long distance buses in Turkey have “flight attendants” that push a cart up and down the aisle and serve drinks and snacks, including yummy Turkish tea. So, by our second stop, I had to pee pretty urgently. The driver pantomimed to me when I got off the bus that I only had five minutes. I had already seen them leave one guy at the previous stop because he dawdled at the snack bar, so I scampered off, quick as a bunny, to find the restroom. It was waaaay off behind the bus station, down a long path. But, thankfully, I got there in time. It was one of those squat-over-a-hole-in-the-ground deals, with no tissue, and pretty filthy, but I’m used to all of those things by now. When nature calls, you do what you gotta do.
When I came out, there was an old man standing at the exit, holding a dish with a couple coins in it. He wanted me to pay. Excuse me? Since when has one had to pay to use the bathroom at a bus station? Transit depots are normally the one place you can be sure there will be no charge to use the toilet. Furthermore, it wasn’t like it was a super luxe “comfort station” with Japanese robotic toilets that have white noise recordings and automatic bum-washers with scented blow driers, for which I would have been more than happy to pay. It was a third-world latrine, buzzing with flies. Nevertheless, had I had my purse with me, I would have paid him anyway. But, I didn’t. I realized I had left it on the bus, which should tell you just how badly I had to go! I usually know better than to leave my bag unattended. That should be Rule Number 1(a).
As I didn’t have time to go get some money and come back to him, I just brushed past the old guy, and made a run for it back to the bus. The old man hobbled and yelled after me in Turkish, I imagine some very unflattering things. I jumped on the bus, the driver closed the door behind me, and we drove off before I even got to my seat. I felt kind of bad about stiffing the old guy, but what could I do?
At the next stop, an hour later (and still two stops before Göreme, where I was supposed to get off), two men–one in a dark blue uniform-approached the bus and signaled the attendant. He stepped outside, and some kind of discussion ensued, wherein the uniformed guy showed the bus attendant a paper. Then, the attendant got back on the bus, pointed at me, and motioned for me to get off the bus. I shook my head “no,” it wasn’t my stop. He knew this, because he repeated “Göreme” to me every time he did the passenger head count after a stop, while he was taking the tickets of the people who just got on. And we weren’t in Göreme yet, I could see from the sign on the bus depot entrance.
He nodded kind of vigorously and waved at me to get up and follow him anyway. But, I was sure it wasn’t the right stop, so I shook my head “no,” again. I wasn’t budging, no way, no how. Then, the man in the blue uniform got on, and the attendant pointed me out to him. Mr. Uniform pointed right at me, said something loud and authoritative in Turkish, and made the universal “get the Hell off the bus, NOW” hand signal.
Gulp! I got up and started gathering my stuff, heart pounding. CrapCrapCrap! That old dude at the bathroom called the cops on me, told them what bus I had gotten on, and they were there to take me to prison, where I could pee for free for the rest of my life! A thousand horrors flew through my head. I’ve seen “Midnight Express,” and “Locked Up Abroad”–this was not good. If I hadn’t have recently used the facilities, I would have done it in my pants right then and there.
But, when I got off the bus, there was a big, jolly, grandfatherly guy there with my name on a sign. It was the driver, Mehmet. The paper I had seen Mr. Uniform–the station agent, as it turned out–show the bus attendant was Mehmet’s sign with my name. After they defibrillated me, and I came to and got back up off the ground, Mehmet explained that this stop was closer than Göreme to where he was that afternoon. He had tried to call me to to tell me to get off the bus there instead, but had only gotten automated messages saying I was unavailable. So, since he knew which bus I was on, he called the bus company and got them to give him the bus driver’s mobile number, so he could find out what time we’d be pulling in to that stop, and he just came and met me early. I was not, it seems, going to jail after all.
So, the moral to this story, gentle friends, is: just pay the Potty Man. If you don’t, your guilty conscience is gonna getcha!