It seems like a strange subject...Ecuador bathrooms. But this is a page that's just been screaming to be written. Why? Well there are so many things that are different in the bathrooms in Ecuador and...we all use them.
One of the biggest taboos in Ecuador is putting toilet paper in the toilet. Most blame poor sewage systems saying the piping cannot handle the toilet paper. So every toilet in Ecuador has a trash can next to it full of used paper. Gross!
Note: If you are living in Ecuador and hope to train the locals to flush their toilet paper it most likely won't work. If you don't provide a bin for the paper it will just end up in the corner on the floor.
The big question is: Is it really true that you will destroy the plumbing if you flush your paper in Ecuador bathrooms? Personally I don't think so. For one thing toilet paper breaks down in water, making it even less likely to plug and damage than any other regularly flushed item. If we were flushing "old Sears catalog pages" or even the toilet paper that used to be sold here in Ecuador that was like paper streamers you would use to decorate a party...sure there could be a problem. As long as the paper breaks down in water you should be fine.
For more on whether to flush or not in South America see http://www.inside-peru.com/flush-toilet-paper-in-peru.html
To Flush or Not to Flush? I personally flush toilet paper at home and in town. Whose there to say you did or didn't? I've lived in my house now for over four years and have never had a plumbing issue. Of course if there is a sign asking you not to flush I don't. Something interesting...the new Quito airport has signs asking that you DO flush the paper.
Older construction, especially in historic sectors has more problematic plumbing, so be careful and respect the wishes of building owners.
You arrive from your long flight to Ecuador tired and feeling a bit scummy. So the first thing you do is double check that you have hot water in your hotel room. But when you enter the bathroom you turn on the water...it's cold!
I've had some terrible shower experiences in Ecuador bathrooms...from ice cold to scalding hot. But most were due to one thing: I didn't know how to work the shower properly.
You will run across three possible shower situations in Ecuador:
1) Gas Heated Showers.
This has become the most popular shower option in hotels due to the low cost of gas. You may hear this system referred to as Calaphon, which is what they call the machine that heats the water. The thing with the Calaphon system is that there is no stored hot water. It heats as you go. So here's what you do....
First, turn on the hot water only. The hot water is usually on the left, but not always. If there are letters on the knobs, "C" is for hot (caliente) and "H" is for cold (helada). Turn the knob all the way on.
Let the water run for at least 5 to 10 minutes. By this time the water should be hot. If it is still ice cold you may want to speak to someone about it. I've been at hotels where they have few guests and don't turn the hot water on until someone checks in. So this can mean extra time to heat the water. Also the gas can run out without the managers realizing it.
While showering the water temp will fluctuate. It is the thing I hate most about gas heated showers. One minute you have it at the perfect temperature, the next it's freezing cold or super hot. So you have to constantly adjust the water. I always leave the hot water all the way on and just add cold as needed. If it's going cold and doesn't seem to be getting warmer in the middle of you shower, you may have no other choice than to hurry and get done.
These are shower heads that heat water as it comes out and aren't too common in hotels anymore. The advantages I see to them is that the water temp seems to be more consistent. But electricity is more expensive than gas and sometimes they aren't installed properly and can be dangerous. So their popularity is waning.
Electric showers tend to have only one water knob, since the piped water is cold.
There is often a small breaker next to the shower. For hot water make sure the switch is flipped on. (Up may not always mean on, since breakers are sometimes installed upside down.)
The heat of the water depends on the water pressure. A certain amount of water needs to be coming through for the shower head to turn on. Once it does, more water means colder water and less means hotter water.
Most electric shower heads also have a switch on them to either turn the electricity off for a cold shower or to make the hot water warm or hot.
A note from my dad: Don't grab onto the metal bar connected to the electric shower head while bathing!
3)No hot water at all.
Though not too common anymore you may run into a situation where you have no hot water at all. When we first moved to Ecuador we lived in an area where we had running water a few hours a day. So we had water stored to use when needed. So even though we had electric showers we couldn't use them because there was no water.
Solution: Bucket Baths.We would heat water with an electric kettle or on the stove to boiling. Mix in a bucket with cold water to make it the temp we wanted and then bathe. It worked, but definitely doesn't compare to a nice hot shower!
We are very spoiled in other countries. We can go just about anywhere and find a clean, well stocked bathroom. This is not always true of Ecuador bathrooms. In nicer stores and restaurants you can usually find a decent restroom. But when travelling it can be a little hard. Buses will often stop at gas stations or little hole-in-the-wall restaurants with horrible, dirty bathrooms.
In places like these you will probably find a toilet with no seat. A sink that may or may not have water. And nothing more. So it's good to be prepared. I carry toilet paper, and soap or hand sanitizer with me. If I find a nice bathroom, wonderful! But if not at least I can survive the experience.
Some public Ecuador bathrooms with a have a lady sitting outside charging for the use and cleaning of it. This is especially so in bus terminals throughout Ecuador. You will be able to buy toilet paper from her for 10-15 cents. Men just using the urinal usually pay 5-10 cents. She will also have a variety of bathroom products and often candy.
In some self service restrooms you will not find toilet paper in the stalls, but as you walk into the bathroom it's on the wall. So you take what you need before entering the toilet area. Some have dispensers like the photo above, which charge 10 cents for a length of paper. Look around for it!
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