By Deke Castleman
On my very first night in Ecuador in 2010, in Quito at the Casa Sol, a sign in the bathroom initiated me into toilet tissue Ecuador-style. The sign put us on notice that local plumbing has a hard time with paper, so instead of flushing the TP, Casa Sol respectfully requests guests throw it into the wastebasket.
My partner balked; she’s a bit of a germ freak. I tried to get into it. Even so, at first I wrapped it up in plastic bags we had with us. Soon enough, though, we ran out of plastic bags and I had to … make do.
A few days later, I got my ultimate lesson in Ecuadorian wiping etiquette. In a porta-potty in a Quito plaza, I looked into the trash can and saw exactly how the TP was folded neatly over itself. Thus, I got the idea of what the end product should look like.
Working it out took a little effort, but eventually, I devised a method of wrapping the paper around my middle, ring, and pinky fingers, leaving a few sheets hanging over my index finger, then folding the spare sheets around the wad and tossing. As I practiced, I not only got good at it, but I completely triumphed over any residual squeamishness. What a big boy.
Also, I came to realize the effectiveness — if not the elegance — of it. Since it goes into the trash instead of the toilet, you can use as much paper as you want without clogging up the drain pipes, sewers, or septic tanks. And since it takes about 10 minutes to disintegrate, a little bit o’ poop on paper in landfills won’t, probably, ever hurt anyone. And if it does, well, c’est la vie.
All that said, expat friends told me that there were no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to TP, and that extranjeros seemed about evenly divided on the flushing issue, some flushing, some folding. They also told me that most newer construction, say from the mid-1980s on, used wider gauge sewer pipes, making the tissue issue moot for many folks. Fine with me. But I know three things.
First, when in Maine, do like the Maniacs. Second, there’s no comparison between the initial, slightly distasteful, feeling of tossing TP in the trash and the loathsome sensation of a toilet that doesn’t flush — or worse, overflows — when it’s full of solid waste from your digestive processes, especially when you’re in a hotel room and you have to call for a maintenance guy with a plunger. And third, hotel garbage cans are emptied every day, so it’s not like it sits there and festers forever.
I should mention that the TP issue is not just an Ecuador thing. It exists in almost all of Latin America and, in fact, in most of the world except for Northern Europe and North America. For seasoned travelers, it is encountered frequently and is no big deal. It is only a big deal to those who have not seen much of the world, which seems to include a sizeable percentage of Ecuador expats.
Ecuador is pretty well-known for throwing a party where it’s BYOW: bring your own wipe. That seems to be changing as more public restrooms, especially in higher class facilities, seem to stock it. But the BYO rule is still smart.
In the lower class baños, paper may not be your only problem. Many of them are missing toilet seats.