Travel: Holiday disasters

When you've backpacked and biked your way around the world, you would think that nothing could surprise you. Yet, when Sarah Graves remembers her visit to an Egyptian washroom, it still sends a shudder through her

It was dusk, we had spent a hideous 12-hour day on our motorcycle driving through Sinai, and we wanted some good local food and a quick wash and brush-up before crossing the canal to spend the night in Suez town.

We pulled up at a truck stop. I asked if there was a toilet and was told there was a special washroom - just for ladies. I was a little surprised but quite hopeful that it might not be as wretched as many of the desert stops we had encountered on our journey. I was pointed in the direction of a tumbledown hut about 50 metres behind the cafe. I had nearly reached the door when one of the staff from the cafe came running towards me clutching a light bulb. I was beginning to have my doubts and one step into the hut confirmed my worst suspicions.

It was indeed a special washroom - so special, in fact, that it was the worst I had ever, ever, ever been in, and after years of backpacking and global motorcycle travel I have been in a fair few! Pitch black, ankle- deep in every kind of muck and swimming in every kind of human liquid.

I about-turned immediately - to get some fresh air and to find some quiet spot to relieve my bladder in the open countryside. No such luck. Four coaches and about a dozen trucks had descended on the cafe - the place was swarming with people, with most of the men relieving themselves behind and in front of the "ladies washroom". Dungarees, leather jeans, one-piece waterproofs - my standard biking gear - is not conducive to having a quick pee. It takes time to take it all down and pull it all back up again. So if I decided to just go outside I would be easily noticed - and fair hair doesn't help either. Back to the washroom-from-hell, then.

I went to the doorless cubicle nearest the hut entrance - fresher air I thought - and started about my business. Within two minutes I had had two visitors.

The first, the light-bulb-bringer, thought I had got lost and was checking to see I was all right. In my best Egyptian Arabic and a bit of sign language I assured him I was fine. Little did he know. The second was rather more alarming. As I was about to crouch over the hole in the floor, I noticed the beady eyes of a large rat sitting just there. I was so revolted I froze - in fact it gives me the shivers just thinking about it now. He stared at me for a few moments - it felt like an age - before popping down the hole.

I gritted my teeth and got on with the job in hand, convinced that he was going to leap up and bite me on the backside. I didn't like the look in his eye.

I could hear scuffling around me - either the rat was back, or some of his friends had come to check me out. I clambered frantically back into my biking gear.

I decided that, next time, I would opt for truck drivers watching me pee rather than rodents, and I was just thankful I hadn't put the light bulb in.

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