Five Lands, One Dumbo Drop

[Originally posted May 27, 2012. Sorry, it still makes me laugh at how gross and ridiculous it is.]

This is a travelogue concerning poop.  Consider yourself warned.

Back in 2006, I was on an uber-fitness kick.  I not only ran 30 miles a week, I was on a strict diet – every gram of fat, protein and fiber was calculated and accounted for.  A result of this – and forgive me for the TMI – is you could synchronize a shuttle launch to my bowel movements. Enter my first trip overseas.

Chris and I went to Italy for the first time, and knew we would have to postpone the diet while we were out there.  When in the land of pasta, pizza and gelato, it seemed we’d be missing out on a key experience if we didn’t enjoy the food.  Enjoy it, we did – every hotel where we stayed included a free continental breakfast.  We expected this to be a couple of muffins, coffee and juice.  Oh, no; every hotel had a feast awaiting its guests in the morning: fresh pulled mozzarella, thin slices of prosciutto and pancetta, eggs, bacon, sausage, fresh tomatoes and basil, many kinds of bread, jams, butter, Nutella, juice and of course, cappuccino.  Lunches were made of delicious paninis, small pasta dishes and pizza, with an occasional snack of gelato.  Dinners? We generally went for places that had a prix-fixe menu, so we could try as many different types of food as possible.  One of our favorite spots in Florence was a coffee and pastry shop along the Arno – we’d get a little pastry treat, I’d get cappuccino served in a china cup, and Chris enjoyed drinking chocolate. One thing missing in all of this? Fiber.

This food was all delicious and delightful, but after a few days in Italy I felt a disturbance in the force; this radical change in diet left my digestive system in disarray.  After months of knowing exactly when I’d be in a bathroom each day, my lack of bathroom time began to scare me.  Oh, I didn’t think I’d need hospitalization or anything; I was fearful of what exactly would come out of me and when it would happen.  See, bad things always happen when you’re far from a bathroom.  This is the Poop Provision of Murphy’s Law.  Every day on our trip was well-planned and I wasn’t about to make an adjustment to our tight schedule to ensure I was within 50 feet of a public restroom.  I simply crossed my fingers and hoped.

While we were in Florence, there was one day trip I designated as a must-do – hiking the famed Cinque Terre.  Cinque Terre, literally translated, means five lands.  The region consists of five oceanside towns along the Italian Riviera – the outer two towns, Monterosso el Mare and Riomaggiore  are reasonably accessible, however the inner three towns, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola, can only be accessed by train, foot, or by boat*.  Because of the remote nature of these five towns,  they are old, beautiful, and almost undisturbed (I say “almost” because this is a hot spot for tourism).  While you can take a train ride from town to town, you have the option of hiking the entire thing, which is 11 km long, and a total elevation change of 3200 feet.  Needless to say, you need to have an intimate relationship with an incline treadmill or a Stairmaster to be able to do this hike.

We took the train to La Spezia, and grabbed the connecting train to drop us off at Monterosso el Mare.  I read that the stretch between Monterosso and Vernazza was the longest and most intense, so we decided it would be best to start on that end and get the hardest part out of the way first.  We bought our passes to hike, ate lunch, grabbed a couple of water bottles and went on our way.

Before long, we were climbing, climbing, climbing up stone stairs on the trail, ascending the mountainside and leaving Monterosso behind.  When we looked ahead at vista points, we saw vineyards meticulously carved into the mountainside.  When we looked to our right, we had the constant companionship of the Mediterranean alongside us, its waves crashing peacefully far below.

And then it started.

I felt something in my lower abdomen that told me this long leg was going to be even longer.  Oh no.  Curse you, delicious, fiberless pasta!  Because Chris and I have been together forever and were long past that point of reserve in our relationship, I looked at him and said simply, “it’s time.”

His eyes widened with concern, and he shook his head.  The Poop Provision of Murphy’s Law – we were too far along and too high up to turn around, and still had a ways to go before Vernazza.  “Can you make it?”

I looked around.  Definitely no bathrooms nearby, and I’m a strict believer in the “pack it in, pack it out” rule of hiking.  I had nothing on me to pack it out other than the plastic bag we needed to carry our waters, so clearly that wasn’t an option.  I sighed.  “I hope so.”

Chris took in a deep breath of air and looked out to the ocean with a sarcastic smile on his face, as if he were cursing the piece of the universe that controls Murphy’s Law. “Yup; this isn’t going to end well.”

Thanks.

We continued on, and I became briefly distracted from my discomfort.  A flute? I heard a beautiful melody carrying over the breeze to us.  As we hiked, the melody got louder and louder until we turned a corner and came to its source.

An old man with a long, salt-and-pepper beard sat atop a boulder on the edge of the trail, playing a carved wooden flute.  He seemed in his own world, if not for the table of unlabeled bottled wines beside him. The golden nectar of the wine shimmered against the sunlight as we approached him.  The romantic and the realist argued in my mind:

The Romantic: What a story it would be if I bought a bottle of wine from this man!
The Realist: It’s insanely expensive and a tourist trap.
The Romantic: But how often do you get to purchase wine in the middle of a hike – on the side of a mountain?
The Realist: Never, because it’s probably illegal.
The Romantic:  It may be, but it has a story! I need to put aside your reservations and purchase this mysterious bottle of wine!
The Realist: …And carry it how, exactly? You only have a plastic bag.  You’re going to carry a bottle of wine along with your bottles of water in a plastic bag for 9 km?  Seriously?
The Romantic: Come on.  Have a little sense of adventure! There’s no label on the bottle – how mysterious! How unique and pure!
The Realist: How do you even know it’s wine, let alone a good wine? He could have peed in the bottle for all you know.
The Romantic: It does look a little like pee…I…oh…{{shakes fist}} It’s you, Asshole Brain! I should have known! You ruin everything.
Asshole Brain: Ha, ha! Oh, and… snotty mustache!
The Romantic:  I hate you.
Asshole Brain: I love me.  And you need to take a shit right now.  Badly. Hahhahahahhahaa {{skips off to a hidden part of my imagination to contemplate destroying other pieces of whimsy and joy}}

“Well? Are you going to buy it?”

I looked at Chris, whose slightly exasperated at yet another example of my inability to make a simple decision.  My stomache ached.  I sighed.  “No.  Let’s keep going.”

Damn you, Asshole Brain.

We finally saw a view of our next town – the town with a public restroom! Vernazza.  It was a stunning little town filled with wonder, old things and fat, stray cats, but ohmigodIneedtofindabathroom.  I was smart enough to read about where the bathrooms were located ahead of time, and we rushed towards the train tracks.  There was a sign for the bathroom.  Yes! There was one stall door, a white, wooden door with a single latch.  Wow, no privacy.  IdontcareIneedtogo.  I opened the door and Chris and I looked inside.  My heart fell a little.  Chris nodded his head.  Murphy’s Law.  “It’s a squatter.”

The little bathroom stall contained a white fiberglass square on the ground, like the base to a shower.  There was a chain pull for the flushing mechanism.  No sink, no toilet paper.  Was this even meant for people to take a poop?  “Do you want to find something else?”

I shook my head, slightly dejected.  “This is it.  This is all they’ve got.” I looked at him like we may never see each other again.  “I’m going in.”

He nodded sympathetically.  “I’m sorry.”

“I know.”

I closed the door behind me and latched it shut.  Logistics.  How am I going to do this?  I thanked my co-workers who told me I had to have a Charmin-To-Go roll on me at all times along with a bottle of Purel.  I opened my Charmin-To-Go and laid out squares where my hands needed to be.  Due to the size of the base, I realized I’d have to remove my pants off of one leg to properly straddle the base.  As I was preparing, I heard a few people begin to approach outside.

“Is this the bathroom?” A British female voice asked.

As I carefully hopped on one foot trying to remove a pant leg over my hiking boot, I heard the newly self-appointed Cinque Terre Tourism Bureau chief and Stall Guard – my husband, respond.  “Yup…my wife is in there.  It’s a squatter.”

Dude.

They carried on a conversation as I carefully placed my palms on my Charmin squares.  They were sliding and crumpling under my hands, and my feet began to slip.  Shit! I tried squirming to steady myself.  More people came up to the stall, different languages chatting and asking questions.  I heard someone shake the door.  Oh please, Jesus, let that latch hold.  I don’t want to experience the international embarrassment of people seeing me reinact the pose from the Exorcist where Linda Blair became a reversed spider and crawled the stairs.  Behind my fear and panic, I heard one reassuring voice inform people over and over.

“It’s a squatter.”

Really, Chris?!? If only one could facepalm in the spider position…

The pressure of hearing all these people gather outside the stall made me nervous and further complicated my expulsion process.  Focus. Focus.  Come on!

My thoughts were broken by an angry German man who stormed up to the door and started knocking furiously on it.  “BEEIL DICH! Ich muss scheissen!”

Chris calmly told the man that I was in there, and I’d be out as soon as possible.  I’m pretty sure he ended the conversation by informing the man that it’s a squatter.

GAHHHHH!!! Stop telling everyone I’m taking a shit!

Finally, relief came to me, and I swear to God it was like the heavens parted and I experienced perfection, mercy and all that was beautiful in the universe for one brief moment.

Now for the dismount.

I slid my hands towards my feet to get up.  I slipped for a brief moment, almost sending my back into the base. Luckily, I caught myself in time, grateful for the little things.  I took care of business, put my pants back on and grabbed the chain.  Please, please flush.  I pulled it, and heard a satisfactory disposal mechanism.  It didn’t sound like a traditional toilet flush, but it got the job done.  I Pureled like there was no tomorrow and unlatched the door.  The entire freaking G8 summit was waiting outside, legs crossed, doubled over and angry.  I didn’t make eye contact with anyone, and simply found Chris in the crowd.  The look on his face was about 20% sympathy and 80% amusement.  “Feel better?”

I furrowed my brow.  “Let’s go.”

He bid adieu to his new friends, giving up his post to the next husband willing to accept the job of Stall Guard.  As we walked away, I could have sworn I heard a pleasant male British voice inform a newcomer, “It’s a squattah…”

We leave our mark everywhere, he and I…

 

Thanks to Sandra for the translation skills!

*This is what I read at the time, however when reading for this story, I discovered that there was a small road that went into Vernazza at the time we hiked it.  There were pretty nasty mudslides in the region in 2011, which closed off this road.