On the road …again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Not All Modern Hotels Have Modern Architecture And Amenities
One of the minor issues that travelers encounter when they move from city to city and hotel room to hotel room is that blissful period when they step into the bathtub or shower at the end of the day. We may not be thinking at all about taking a bath until just before we actually do it, but few people pass up the opportunity when it is there for the taking.
A refreshing shower at the end of a hot, sticky day is perhaps a more compelling item on the agenda when a summertime workday or travel day is ended, especially when one contemplates the payoff. As the refreshing water splashes onto those overheated surfaces and into those sweaty crevices, the stickiness begins to disappear and our spirits begin to rise. Within a very few minutes, we find ourselves being refreshed in mind, as well as in body. Nobody should take the transformation for granted. Virtually everyone feels better afterward, if they take the time to think about it.
The same can be said for taking a hot bath when we come in from the wind and cold of a winter’s day. Hot water helps to raise our body temperature and puts us into a comfort zone that is usually a bit more pleasant than when we entered the bathtub or shower. Again, the bathwater refreshes our bodies and our minds, even if we didn’t contemplate those aspects as part of the rationale, or the payoff.
All well and good…..hot baths in a bathtub during the cold of winter; and cool, refreshing showers in the heat of summer…. are among the small pleasures in life. Nice work if you can get it. But what about those aspects of bathing that are not quite as refreshing as we might assume? The hot bath in winter may not meet our expectations, and the cool shower in the heat of summer may not cool you off for more than a few minutes, or cool you off at all. Little wonder that the Footloose Forester never takes bathing for granted.
Lest anyone accuse the Footloose Forester of being a haughty purveyor of only the most sublime amenities in life, or of being overly critical of pedestrian tastes in society, please note that he approaches the topic of bathing from a very personal viewpoint. His sensitive appreciation for the highs and lows in his past episodes in personal hygiene form the basis of this reflective chronicle.
The Highland Hotel in Kabale, Uganda is one example of a place where travelers may wind up at the end of the day. If you arrive in winter weather, perhaps in July or August, at this small town just south of the Equator and near the border with Rwanda; you may be gratified to know that you will have a pillow where you can rest your head. But having a bath is a different proposition. At the Highland Hotel, there are no shower stalls in the rooms; and although there is a bathtub in your modest accommodation, there is no hot water coming out of the faucet. So, when you check-in and pay the $14 room rent in advance, they ask you if you want to have a bath. If the answer is yes, the hotel management obliges you with a bucket of hot water, delivered to your room at the approximate time you ask for it. What you do with it is then up to you.
As you stand naked and shivering in the bathtub waiting for the scalding water to cool down to the point that it won’t burn your skin, you contemplate how best to speed up the process of getting cleansed. Efficiently ladling the hot water with a small dipper from a single bucket and mixing it with cold water from the tap; you first splash water on those places with the most dust and griminess. Next, you lather up with soap to loosen up any stubborn areas, taking care to have enough hot water to first rinse off the grime, then to rinse off the soap with any water leftover. You have to be careful to plan each step with the proper amount of water from the bucket; the pleasantly hot water quickly begins to cool and cannot be replaced on short notice. And using cold water from the spigot never seems to be quite as pleasant.
As another example, taking a bath in the rushing water of Silver Creek in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California was never as refreshing as one might imagine. The water was cold--summer or winter. The options were to bathe in cold water while standing near the water’s edge, or to draw enough water from the creek, transport the container a half-mile on your back; then heat it in a washbasin inside your trailer house—a dwelling that didn’t have any running water. The trailer house might have been of modern design, but the plumbing fixtures were not operable.
Giving examples of the unexpected travails of taking a bath in rural parts of Africa; or in the high Sierras of California might not seem unusual or unexpected for hunters and other outdoorsmen, but what about in the midst of modern cities and resort areas in Europe? Let’s start with a quaint old hotel in the stylish resort town of Garmisch, Germany.
Although the building itself dates from the 1700s, much like many structures in a Europe that cherishes its historical edifices while retrofitting them with modern conveniences, the Atlas Hotel came up a little short in the plumbing department. Despite the apparent choice of water temperatures as indicated on the shower fixtures, a stranger to the system has to learn quickly that the human body does not relate well to numbers, as the indicator of what is pleasant and what is unpleasant. Perhaps it is better to ignore the choices of 30 ºC, 35 ºC, 45 ºC; etc.; and accept what your skin tells you is a comfortable setting. Relying on a set of numbers ignores the fact that the human body does not relate to those stated numbers. On the one hand, dialing up the higher temperature immediately brings on gushing water that may be too hot for comfort; but, on the other hand; a poor guess at the lower indicated temperature may be equally discomforting. Thus, learning the true comfort zone of showerhead settings in hotels across Europe can be a learning experience, one hotel at a time. Stayovers is six hotels in France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland were early chapters in that learning experience.
But the prize for misguided modernity perhaps belongs to Motel One in Salzburg, Austria. Unlike the hundreds of old hotels with justifiable historical pedigrees, Motel One boasts its place in modern times by advertising its green technology campaign of environmental awareness. For example, when it comes to bathroom design and commodities, it prides itself on its functional, space-saving, and minimalist architecture while conserving resources such as manufactured soap. The hotel provides a single container of liquid soap that purportedly serves as bath soap, shampoo, and hand soap; all in the same container that is firmly attached in an immovable bracket above the sink. Perhaps the hotel owners want to cut down on the cost of bathroom supplies by offering shampoo and hand soap in one container. Perhaps they want to demonstrate and advertise how resources can be saved by eliminating the packaging and the supply chains of various personal products vendors; whose wares are normally found in hotel bathrooms. Or perhaps they want to eliminate the drain of resources by hotel guests who walk off with the tiny bars of individually wrapped soap and small bottles of shampoo. But they went too far when they installed their single, plastic shower soap/shampoo/hand soap squeeze bottles into immovable brackets above the sink but outside of the shower stall.
Washing your hands while standing at the sink is not a problem; just reach out and squeeze the bottle to drip some soap into your hands. The problem arises when you enter the shower stall; slide one or both of the glass panels closed, and proceed to wet yourself down. Since there is no soap dispenser in the shower stall, you immediately recognize a problem. So—you exit, dripping wet, from the shower stall; squeeze the soap/shampoo container with one hand, while catching a bit of soap in the other hand; return to the confines of the shower stall and lather up to loosen the grime and dried sweat of the day. The temperate gauge-controlled water does its job at flushing away the soapy water after it has accomplished its intended initial purpose when, you discover, that your hand did not contain enough soap to complete the lathering-up job. So—turn off the water to conserve it as good environmentalists should do; open one or both glass panels of the shower stall and squeeze out to retrieve more soap; obtain another handful of soap while dripping wet, and return to the shower stall to continue with the cleansing ritual. Now, turn on the water again and resume where you left off.
If you are anything like the Footloose Forester, you would also like to shampoo your hair, but do it only after you more or less rid yourself of the more noxious enemies and offenders of personal hygiene that have been clinging to you all day. Guess what? The shampoo is outside in that same container above the sink. Although the bathrooms in Motel One are small in response to cost-cutting and space-saving initiatives inspired by the green revolution, they are not so small that you can just reach out from the shower stall and grab some shampoo from the container. Remember, it takes two hands to squeeze the sturdy plastic bottle and to drip the liquid soap into your free hand; and you can’t accomplish that by reaching out from your shower stall.
Needless to say, a woman may not be able to carry enough soap/shampoo in her hand to completely lather up a full head of hair. At least two extra trips are in the offing. And no, one just does not remove the plastic bottle of soap/shampoo from the bracket and take it with you into the shower stall. It is locked into the bracket, all the better to discourage hotel guests from walking away with hotel sundries.
It is merely speculation that all 119 guest rooms in Motel One in Salzburg have their soap/shampoo dispensers mounted only on the outside of the shower stalls, but the Footloose Forester could hardly overlook the possibility that over a hundred bathrooms there were designed by an architect who did not consider post-construction additions; or that the dispensers were installed by a private contractor according to an installation plan that was ill-conceived. Whatever the case, the experience there is a reminder to the Footloose Forester that “modern” does not always mean better or more enlightened.