No matter where one is traveling, to the local mall or a foreign country, an essential question to know how to phrase politely is “Where are the bathrooms?” In Puerto Vallarta we usually use the following Spanish phrase; “Dónde está el baño, por favor.” In some places in Mexico, the word sanitarios is common. Then again, baño also can mean bath or shower, so it can be perplexing. A polite solution for this request is also “Dónde están los servicios,” which covers just about everything. Canadians seem to wash, while tourists from the US prefer to rest, which adds to the confusion.
We never, ever travel without an ample supply of toilet paper; papel higiénico or papel de baño. Gents or ladies. It is not at all unusual to find not only the toilet seat missing but a serious lack of toilet paper or a convenient roller/holder. Although we don’t observe this problem so much anymore in Puerto Vallarta, there was a time that finding a bathroom, with toilet paper, with a toilet seat and with a door, was an achievement of the highest order.
Decades ago at a stopping place on the open road, our traveling companion, in need of facility, happened upon a diminutive lady, sitting outside her destined bathroom door and found herself face-to-face with the toilet-paper-gestapo. In one hand, the trusty lavatory guard held a small pile of folded toilet paper, perhaps six or eight squares in each offering. In her other hand, she held a well worn paper cup with a few pesos nestled on the bottom. It cost our friend three pesos for some of that treasured paper and included the price of admission. She happily handed over a twenty peso note, refused change and gladly accepted a handful of the flimsy stuff.
There are few places left in Puerto Vallarta that require ladies to always be armed with a pocketful of change to pay for toilet paper but… venture close to or outside the city limits and it’s not changed all that much. One place that definitely lets you know you have officially entered Mexico are the immigration stations at the border; if there is no one to take your money, they leave a receptacle on a chair with a note asking for propinas (tips). It’s a nice little welcoming committee.
We’ve always made sure la doña who collects the propinas gets paid; we have no back-off whatsoever informing ladies who try to pass through the potty portal: all need to pay their due share. The bathroom monitors don’t simply hand out paper. They supply that valuable commodity and also keep the premises clean. It’s correct to assume they would be making a living doing something else if they could.
Que es cómo es.
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