The trick is not to panic.
Not that the trick always works, but it helps to have a mantra.
I ripped the last square of toilet paper off the roll, dried my hands, and tried the lock one more time. Nothing happened. Fucking Athens. The day had been so lovely. Delicious food, delicious men, and ruins. Add one perfectly placed couple embracing on a couch, and the day was pretty much the cover of a romance novel. But then I had to pee. Bit of a mood killer. I had only been stuck in the bathroom for 5 minutes, but it was long enough to sweat through my pajamas, and to decide I was going to die. Not the way I hoped I’d go. Death by hostel toilet in polka dot pants, and hand-made paper towel bathroom shoes. There are classier options.
I considered crawling up the wall, out the window that barely qualified as such and onto the roof, but a couple of very important things kept me on the damp paper towels: 1) a suspicious brown stain on the wall by the toilet, and 2) I’m not exactly James Bond – my efforts would end in blood and tears, not incredible sex and gunfire.
So I did the next best thing. I panicked. And after 10 minutes of pounding, screaming, and failed attempts to MacGyver the lock, nobody had come to rescue me. Then, something amazing happened. In a state of borderline hysteria, I sat on the sink, leaned back, and kicked as hard as I could. I learned a valuable lesson. I can kick a door down. Also, I might be part hulk.
I learn a lot of lessons in bathrooms. Most people just read.
There was the bathroom I peed my pants in. I dig Japan, I really do. You can find little Godzilla statues on the street, and there are costumed dance battles in the street. Awesome. But bathrooms shaped like human mouths…I can’t quite get behind that. Yes, for about two seconds I immaturely giggled about sitting on some guy’s face – but then I stood up and the automatic flush made the lid open and close in some sort of chewing motion, and a disturbingly deep male voice said, “mmm-mm-mm.” I didn’t take that too well. There may or may not have been screaming. And a bit of unscheduled peeing.
Expect the unexpected. Lesson learned.
I’ve also face my fears in bathrooms. Like my public pooping phobia (it’s a thing, Google it) in an open-air squat toilet outside Mamallapuram, India. The old woman next to me looked delicate with her sari folded gently over her shoulder. Her toenails were painted pink, and even crouched over dirt she was poised. I, however, shoved my purse under my shirt, pulled my pants down, gripped my ankles, and tried not to mess on myself. I must have looked as rough as I felt because a few seconds later a small warm hand start rubbing calming circles on my back. It was strangely sweet, and relaxing. Until I looked up to thank her, and the natural thing that happens in those situations, happened. There are moments in life not meant to be shared; essentially destroying a squat hole in India is one of them.
So basically, the most important things I learned while traveling, I learned with my pants down. Sounds about right.
But that is the beauty of it. And in a way, part of the adventure. Learning things in all the best, and awkward ways.
Waking up to a naked drunk magician in Dublin who mistook my bunk for his. Yes, I lost a few hours of sleep, but now I know where some magicians hide their cards. Or getting escorted semi-politely from the Vatican. Note: the phrase ‘fucking pope’ never really appropriate. Particularly not in front of the Papal Swiss Guard. Don’t let the Shakespearian pageboy-esque uniforms fool you, those men are basically ninja’s in tights with poofy sleeves and trousers. Even accidentally sharing a meal with what could have been a section of China’s famous Mafia, the Triad. I mean, those men may have had perfectly legitimate reasons they were carrying out their business in the back of small restaurant in downtown Beijing. With bodyguards. And guns. They were very polite though. All these moments taught me something – admittedly, some lessons more valuable than others.
That is what makes traveling worthwhile. The moments where you learn things about yourself that alter who you are. We may go out so we can see the world – but if we are doing it right, we are really just looking for ourselves. And enjoying the steps, or mis-steps along they way. Because you don’t know what you are capable of until you are tested. So don’t be afraid to go out there and see the world. Knock down a few doors, get kicked out of a few museums, make a few friends in hostels, and eat questionable food in questionable company.
Just remember: don’t panic, always wear shoes, make new friends, travel with old ones (even if they don’t hear your pleas for help behind bathroom doors), and when all else fails – take comfort in the fact you will have some great stories to take back home. Oh, and test the locks on bathroom doors. Just in case.
Also, as promised – the photos. Minimal back story – while in Greece, you will notice most tourist tend to aim for what I will democratically call the ‘glamour shot’. Lots of booties in air, pouty lips, and some innappropro love of statues. I think there is something in the water. Anyway, my travel mate and I decided to join the cause. I think I might have a career in modeling, right?