We all discover when we travel that there is some luxury or convenience that we really miss. For some, it is gourmet food, fine wine, and upscale shopping; for others, it is simply a comfortable bed and a hot shower. In Tibet, we realized it was even more basic: the availability of toilets and any form of paper product.
(CLICK ON PHOTOS if you want to see them full-size)
Other than the mother of all mountains herself and the wonderful coziness of our tent in the whipping Himalayan winds, the only other big stories from Mount Everest’s north base camp revolved around basic human needs. Starting with the less graphic, I would like to expound for a moment on the extreme preciousness of all forms of paper on this trip! Toilet paper and Kleenex were totally unavailable outside of major cities and even sometimes in them; throughout the trip, we found ourselves scavenging for napkins, hoarding toilet paper from hotels, rationing our limited supply of soft, luxurious Kleenex, and laughing at the ridiculousness of our paper product obsession.
One night at base camp, we found we had used up the last bits of toilet paper I had wound up from our hotel roll in Shigatse a day earlier, and I now wanted nothing more than to blow my itchy, runny nose and have some toilet paper to use in the outhouse. I foraged in my backpack and purse, finding any little scrap to use, even going so far as to re-use a scrunched-up ball of Kleenex from my bag when I went to the “toilet” facility (more on that later). At one point, we saw our tent owner, Lobsang, pull some tissue out of his shelf area for his stove fire and we hungrily watched where he put the roll in case we could steal some later. Alas, the opportunity never arose, but I did suddenly remember an American Airlines kit with a small tissue pack we had gotten on the plane … never have I been so excited to find a paper product! We parceled out that Kleenex over the next few days, allowing ourselves mere scraps for each necessary usage.
Now, speaking of that toilet facility … well, nothing in our many world travels could compare to this (literal) sh–hole. The shanty had two holes in the floor, with about a 10-foot drop to the ground below. Of course, there was no side-to-side privacy between the two holes; one had to go right next to someone else. (Squeamish readers may want to skip the next few sentences … ) In these 10-foot-deep holes, the waste (human and paper) had gotten piled up so high that a small mountain of disgustingness had risen ABOVE the level of the hole in the floor! Avoiding the conical heap of waste was no easy feat, but I’ll leave the details out of this story for fear of losing my audience! I do have to add that on our last morning at Base Camp, my daughter and I went to this horrid building together and were waiting in line while two Chinese ladies used it. Suddenly a young Tibetan girl ran up, pounded on the door, began untying a rope belt around her rough wool pants, audibly passed wind while hopping up and down, then flew into the building once the first lady had merely cracked open the door. Needless to say, we were none too pleased to have to follow this gal into the outhouse. But we did have paper!