Thursday, June 20, 2024

Answering the call: in Mexico the baño is not a place where one spends a lot of time

The various activities we engage in throughout our lives stem from either desire or necessity and are either voluntary or mandatory, period.

The grey areas could be when your partner “requires” something of you, or when your mom “made” you brush your teeth twice a day. However, most of our adult time on this planet can be described as a continual series of choices, some great, some not so great, and of course the disastrous ones we all want to forget.

But, throughout this life of mostly free choices, we all adhere to the mandatory portion of daily life.

Thus regardless of how we have meandered along the uncharted course of our lives there is a unanimity which pervades all of humanity — a single point of mind which no one can disavow. This irrevocable imperative is as compulsory as eating, drinking, breathing and sleeping, and none of us has any choice in this matter.

Of course, I am talking about “answering the call of nature.” Yes, the end process of the consumption of that excellent Italian dinner, or the more bothersome end process of bad street food; if it goes in, sooner or later it comes out.

Dual-purpose toilet and shower. The empty trash container is a bonus.
Dual-purpose toilet and shower. The empty trash container is a bonus.

I like to think of myself as a person who cares about others. Someone who might always have the back of those people I care about. At the moment I’m thinking about the backside of such people. Because here in Mexico, the facilities which accommodate this very natural process range from posh to pitiful, but can quickly deteriorate into the mortifying.

I have heard stories about primitive bathrooms in Asia and many other places, but from experience I know that it’s hard to imagine anything much worse than a men’s room in a sleazy Mexican cantina.

Many of us who live in Mexico have been in the marble and mirrored throne rooms of various resorts around the country, but fewer of us ever get to the spider infested outhouse in a primitive village. In this country just the daily function of “answering nature’s call” can be a cultural adventure all on its own, and the exercise holds many mysteries.

A clean bathroom has always been my No. 1 goal. And my No. 2 goal as well.

Historically speaking, north of the border the final stages of processing nutrients has been a brief respite from the humdrum daily existence we call life. Why else would there be magazine racks in restrooms? And of course, that’s why is it called a restroom.

Somewhere in the dark past of my squandered youth, I helped a friend excavate a 140-year-old outhouse pit in search of “pumpkin seed” whisky flasks and Acme beer cans.

Looks promising from the outside.
Looks promising from the outside.

This bit of archaeological burrowing confirmed my belief that the ubiquitous outhouse of yesteryear in North America was a type of short-term sanctuary for those ensconced within its rustic walls. A place of peace and solitude where the occupant could have a couple of beers or a few long pulls off the whisky flask, avoiding the critical looks of others.

Or just thumb through a Sears catalog before removing a couple of pages for you know what.

However, here in Mexico that semi-private room where you answer nature’s call is referred to as a lavabo or baño or even el sanitario. Which very clearly shows the Mexican culture does not consider the throne room to be a place of quiet contemplation or repose. In Mexico it is strictly the business of the body, which really clears up a bit of the mystery for me.

That all-important issue of whether the toilet seat should be left up or down is a non-issue in many Mexican bathrooms, because many Mexican bathrooms do not have a toilet seat.

When you come across a toilet without a seat, don’t fret, it is meant to be that way. The basic porcelain fixture is all that is required to take care of business. And further, the lack of a seat assures that no one gets comfortable and decides to scroll through their phone for the next 20 minutes; it is not a restroom, it’s a toilet room.

And what about the practice of never flushing the used toilet paper? Yuck, who wants to spend time in a cramped space with a bucket of soiled cellulose? Yes, it might be a necessity because of the pipes.

On the other hand, I believe this is just another ploy to keep anyone from lingering too long in the lavatory. However, there is something of a precedent for this questionable practice in that, 50 years ago, Mexican toilet paper had the consistency of kraft paper and most likely plugged more than one waste pipe.

And speaking of TP, always be sure to carry a bit with you to avoid the shock of an empty roll at that critical moment, an exciting event which still raises the stress level of the unprepared from time to time.

When traveling, or enjoying some of the more primitive settings in this colorful country, Acme Expat Immersion Therapy and Attitude Modification Program alumni not only carry their own, they also know that asking for a baño or sanitario can be an adventure in and of itself.

And at times the term sanitario can be a considerable misrepresentation of what you are about to face. The first clue is when you are handed the ubiquitous five-gallon bucket and are shown where to fill it with water prior to venturing into the “facility.”

If you are lucky, you will go to a reasonably clean, ceramic commode, minus the seat and tank, which requires the bucket for a mostly complete evacuation of the fixture. If you find the “facility” in a loathsome state of over use, exchange the bucket for a shovel.

And that’s the bottom line!

The writer describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half wild dog. He can be reached at [email protected].

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