Friday, May 30, 2008

Toilets on the River in the 50's and 60's

If you remember your air travel with MAS nowadays - when you flush, the blue and refreshing liquid comes out. You feel good in Malaysia because MAS air travel can be so pleasant. You won't feel as if you were cattle being herded from one point to another. But the popular no frills air travel is beginning to make one feel that they are perhaps just animals. Hopefully the toilets will remember clean and pleasant.

This is a very modern toilet in a new train. Exceellent and comfortable for a traveller who is tired from a very long long journey. Respect for other users also contribute to pleasantness of travelling and hospitality in this country.

India is beginning to train the local people against indiscriminating defacating in open grounds. This is a toilet built especially for the country side.

About fifty years ago, I travelled in these boats up and down theRejang River, very often to accompany my grandmother for a town visit, or go alone to visit my relatives about two hours slow journey away from Sibu. A very remarkable feature of these motor launches which could seat at least 80 people and some more on the roof, was the hanging toilet at the back. These were roofless, box like rooms which just stick out precariously at the back of the launch. A hole is made in the middle of the floor for your convenience. It could be a very unnerving experience for the uninitiated because of the churning water below and the moving clouds above. And accompanied by the din of the engines,your screams remember, could not be heard by anyone. This was a great stuff for 007.

We were not aware then of the possibilities of our polluting the river water with our human waste. We were not even aware that the water we used for washing our vegetables could be contaminated. Life was simple and no hazards had come into our lives.

Each journey would demand at least one toilet break. And the churning river water below the toilet would frighten me to say the least. If I was travelling with grandmother, she would be waiting for me just outside the hanging toilet. I would always be thinking that the toilet would break away and I would be floating down the Rejang, with my underwear half way up my thighs!! Such a childlike thought!! But it got stuck in my head.

I often wonder how these hanging toilets would stay so well fitted to the back of the motor launch. Huge Foochow men would go in and be seemingly comfortable in side answering nature's call. Sometimes when they stand up, their heads could be seen above the low walls. And we would all know who went to the toilet!!

Just outside the toilet was the open area. This was where the boat men who dip their bucket, attached to a long rope, into the river and then pull up the bucket full of water to bathe. They would wear their little red cotton sarong around their waist when they bathe. It was just so natural for them to bathe in this way. then they would soap themselves from head to toe and then wash themselves with three or four buckets of water again. They felt no danger at all, dropping their pail into the churning water, as the boat moves up and down the river.

Actually if the engine was running, and if one of them dropped into the river, no one could hear them. They would only be missed when their slippers or wooden clogs were seen standing there at the back of the boat, so lonely and so unclaimed for sometime. But these drowning cases were fortunately very rare. the risks were however there.

Cooking was also done in the same way. A little stove was at the side of the boat. And simple cooking was done at a suitable time. Again, a bucket would be thrown into the river and water pulled up and the food washed, chopped and ready for stir frying or boiling. The cook was so good that he could even steam a good fish just as they were travelling from one village to another!!

A meal could easily be cooked an served at the back of the motor launch.

At one time, before the motor launches disappeared into the pages of our economic development I was wondering how nice it would be to organise a river motor launch trip for tourists, with a or even two meals served and cooked right on the boat. This would show how skillful our boat people were. But it was just another famous day dream of mine.

A point has come to my mind at this moment. With white water rafting becoming very popular as another progressive tourist activity for Sarawak, I have taken a good article on clean camping practices are we going to dispose of the human wastes? Here, read on.........

Clean camping practices and river rafting regulations dictate that white water rafting groups carry all solid human waste with them, and out of the river corridor at the end of the trip. That means we all use portable toilets and pack out the contents. Personally, I really enjoy a dramatic view!
River toilets are referred to by many river runners as 'groovers'. As the story goes, the name 'groover' is due to the fact that back in the day, river runners used surplus ammunition containers called 'rocket boxes' as their toilets. Users would obtain 'grooves' in their cheeks from trying to sit on the sharp edges of the box. Some still use rocket boxes, but usually have adapted them with regular toilet seats!
There are several other types of toilets and each has their advocates and detractors. I'll skip that religious war. But if you'll be handling the groover, be sure to remember to take a supply of rubber gloves. They sure help when dealing with the toilets on the river and when things get out of hand during the dump process after the trip.
It is absolutely imperative that nothing but human waste and toilet paper goes into a groover. If you have never taken a rafting trip, you need to know that this IS A HUGE DEAL! We use devices called 'scat machines' to clean river toilets. Think of them as giant dish washers for your toilet. Anything besides poop and toilet paper plugs them up. Anything. Too many times I've had to dig toilet paper tubes, feminine products, fabric, and sticks out of a full groover tank before emptying it in a scat machine. These items can clog scat machines with nasty consequences and make me liable for big repair bills. While the machine is out of service for days or weeks at a time, every other group coming off that river needs to go search for another way to dump their tanks. I'm a pretty thick-skinned guy. But this is one offense that really sets me off. I expect it does the same for others who must deal with river toilets after a trip.
Urine Goes in the River
Regulations on most rivers require that urine goes into the river itself. Deal with it. This rule does a great job of keeping campsites from becoming stinky. And don't worry about the hundreds of people peeing upstream from you. The dilution factor is so great that you shouldn't worry about swimming in contaminated water. And some biologists even think that adding urine may actually improve the subsurface river environment.
Hand Washing
Be sure to set up a hand washing station. There are several ways to rig up a means to apply water to hands without touching anything. Some are as simple as a tank of water with a spigot that sits on the edge of a table. Others use a foot pump, and there are even battery powered electric models. Make sure the soapy water from your hands drains into a container. Make the hand washing station one of the first items to set up when you make camp, and that last to pack away when you break camp.
Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer on the kitchen counter or a camp table. Also, keep a box of alcohol baby wipes handy. They're great to clean surfaces and hands, and can be used in a pinch to clean a piece of silverware or a kitchen knife.
Strain Your Dish Water
All liquids from cooking and dish washing must be strained. We do so over our infamous 'ca-ca bucket', a special bucket clearly labeled for waste water. We then discard the water according to the regulations for that river.
Waste Water Disposal
Know the local regulations for disposal of soapy or contaminated water. Use a catch-bucket and then cast the water above the high water line or into the main current of the river, depending on the regulations for the river you are floating. Spit your toothpaste into the waste water bucket. Dump all your soapy, strained dishwater and your bleached rinse water into the waste water bucket. Strain and left-over soups and liquid foods, and dump empty left over beer or soda pop in there too. Strain all liquids as necessary, and then dispose of it all properly.
We keep three garbage bags open at all times for burnable, non-burnable, and recyclable items. Also, discard cooking greases and oils in a container in the trash or burn in the fire pan.
Taking baths and showers
Sun showers are great little devices, but soap should not be used anywhere near the river or in any hot springs. Use sun showers according to the regulations for disposal of waste water, that is, either capture and cast soapy water into the current or shower above the high water line.
Handling Fresh Water Containers
Procuring fresh potable water is sometimes a challenge. But more challenging is making sure that people handling the water jugs don't contaminate your precious supply and the containers you carry it in. So be sure to wash hands before working with water jugs and handling spouts and spigots. Bad hygiene around the water jugs puts the entire trip at risk.
Water Filtration
Potable water is available at the put-in for many of the most popular western rivers. Also, with a little research you can find sources at ranches, river stores, and springs to allow you to restock your water supply midway through the trip. If you plan properly, you can make due with these sources. But be sure to carry filters. Personally, I will drink out of a spring or side stream if I can get a good read on the source of that water. If it's coming crashing down a steep hillside and there is zero chance of creatures living in it upstream, and if I need to, I'll drink it. But mostly we filter from side streams to refill our jugs. The same precautions for handling water jugs apply to handling the filtration equipment.

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