Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Posted from New Delhi, India

Over the course of the past two months, we've developed something of a love-hate relationship with our guidebooks. Right up front, the book tells you that it is a) not all-inclusive and b) things may have changed. We get that, and honestly, we would expect no less. The guidebook even proved exceptionally helpful in navigating our first scoop flush toilets, although I have to tell you that the mechanics of going No. 2 on a squat toilet are still way beyond me.

However, one critical daily task that the guidebook conveniently overlooks is bathing. Just as there are myriad permutations of toilets (sit-down flush, sit-down scoop, sit-down flush but no paper, squat, etc...), there are just as many variations of bathing arrangements. In Thailand and Laos, hot showers meant a tiny external water heater bolted behind the showerhead. Although the heater appears to work in an intuitive manner, actually getting hot water to come out is something of a black art. Before running to the management, dripping wet and wrapped in a towel (I kid you not, we saw it happen), here's the trick: don't turn the water on full blast. If you do open the faucet all the way, the water won't circulate through the heater enough to actually heat up, resulting in a measly change in water temperature from polar to the "luke"-side of lukewarm.

Another variation of the hot shower is the bucket hot shower, which we encountered in India. Bucket hot showers can be readily identified by the presence of a large bucket with a smaller pail and a pair of water faucets: one hot and one cold. So far, we've found them in conjunction with a showerhead connected to a single knob. Don't use this knob! You will be drenched in icy water. A bucket shower is a lot like drawing a bath. Except without the place to sit and actually bathe. Instead, you stand and bathe. Simply place the large bucket under the twin faucets and open them both to fill the bucket. Use the small bucket to DOUSE yourself. Figure out that you cannot, actually, hold the soap and pour the small bucket over yourself. Watch for the water you'll get in your ears. Marvel at the fact that you actually prefer a bucket shower to a "French" shower. Then lather, rinse, repeat.

One other important tidbit about showering is that you're probably not going to find hot water showers everywhere in southern India, especially along the coast. So here's the final variation: the bucket cold shower. Don't freak to the management and demand a hot shower -- it's not worth it. This type of shower works the same as the bucket hot shower, but there's only one water temperature. The best thing to do is wait until the end of the day when you're all hot and sweaty, then fill the bucket and rinse the day away. After a steamy day of sight-seeing, you'll be surprised how refreshing a cold bucket shower can be. And since the cold bucket showers often occur in the hottest cities, you'll find that the steam from your body heats up the bathroom quite nicely.

Whatever you do, where bucket showers are concerned, do NOT let the small bucket actually touch your skin. It's likely that it has touched the skin of others who have bathed before you. Do not think about this as you grab for the handle, otherwise, you'll find yourself trying to bathe in Purell.


Julie said...

I don't think I could travel anywhere that requires buckets for showering. Props to you guys, for sure.

Cris said...

I'm so glad I stayed home.

mbbutler said...

Once on a week long service trip in college, we stayed in a place that had another version of outdoor bucket showers. The big bucket hung on a hook above you and had multiple holes punched through the bottom of the bucket. You used the smaller bucket to fill the bigger bucket. To this day, I hate "rain" shower heads!

Matt said...

I once spent a week bathing out of a canteen cup, so although bucket showers cramp my style, they are a long way from the worst shower I've ever had.