How To Travel Authentically

Authenticity in tourism is a dubious concept, fraught with contradictions and false summits. In backpacker hostels, perceived authenticity equates to currency, redeemable for sex and free drinks with other travellers. Basically, every conversation you’ve ever had about travel has been layered with implications about the degree of authenticity within your/their experiences.

How long have you been travelling? – the longer, the more authentic.

Are there any locals there, or is it just for tourists? – other tourists make it less authentic.

I was hitch-hiking/couchsurfing/fucking a local – wow, that is authentic.

Recently, in India, I came across the authenticity coal mine: a sure-fire, extra dirty method of obtaining guaranteed, legitimised authenticity every single day: wiping my arse with my left hand. For the uninitiated, here’s how you take a shit in a squat toilet (toilet paper is totally, utterly out of the question).

The toilet will probably be a hole in the ground with little porcelain stands for your feet. If you’ve got shorts or trousers on (or, God forbid, those ‘fisherman’s pants’ that tourists often wear in India), the best method is to take them completely off, along with your underwear (if you wear underwear) and hang them up on the hook or nail at the back of the door. If there is no hook then you’re best bet is to take your right leg out of your pant-leg and bunch the pants up around your left ankle. You want to keep your clothing off the floor because it’s probably covered with blackened water and urine. Try to breathe through your mouth because the stench, if you’re getting really authentic, should be almost unbearably acrid. Now squat.

With any luck, you’ve probably got the runs and things will come out pretty easy. If you haven’t got the runs then you’re eating too much Western food and you must be chastised for your inauthenticity. Get off the bread and French-fries and eat some street food. Eat the kind of stuff that comes wrapped in newspaper and is made by a shirtless guy who’s smoking a bidi while preparing it. That’s authentic. Now: keep your feet flat, hold that squat and push it all out.

Now for the ‘wiping’. Before attempting this, you need to peel the rear lower hem of your shirt up with your right hand and hold it there so as not to get shit on it. I like to fold the hem over a couple of times, lift it up into my armpit and hold the lower half of the shirt between my right bicep and rib cage.

Now look for the bum-gun. It should be mounted on the wall near the toilet: a little hose with a small showerhead-like nozzle attached. If you find a bum-gun you shouldn’t have too much trouble, just be sure to test the pressure against the floor—nobody wants a prolapsed anus caused by a too-highly-pressured bum gun, that’s not authentic anyway. Now point it at your sphincter. Be precise with the bum-gun, be a bum-sniper. You don’t want to spray shit on your genitals (the ones that don’t discharge poo are more susceptible to infection and therefore shouldn’t be exposed to poo). Now spray your shitty anus with the water until it’s nice and clean. For extra authenticity you may like to wipe some of the shit off with your left hand and then rinse your hand with the bum gun but this shouldn’t be necessary if your bum-gun has sufficient pressure.

If there is no bum-gun things are going to be a little trickier. There will be a tap or a large basin filled with water in the proximity of the toilet/hole in the ground. To accompany, there should be a small vessel, perhaps a small bucket with a handle (similar to the ones you drink cheap booze from in Thailand) or rather an empty water bottle (like one of the many you consume and discard each day while taking photos of temples). Either way, fill it up with water and hold it firmly in your right hand. Place your left hand a few millimetres from your anus. Now that you’re in position, use your right hand to pour the water down over your arsehole and simultaneously scrub the shit off it with your left. The first couple of times you’ll probably pour water all down your back, miss your bumhole and end up with a supremely shitty left hand. You’ll have to rinse it off and start again. This process will have to be repeated until your arse is cleared of faeces. Eventually, you’ll gain the necessary coordination to undertake this process effectively, hygienically even, but it won’t happen overnight—authenticity doesn’t come easy.

Now, still squatting, wash your hands with water (no soap—that’s unauthentic—and hand-sanitizer is obviously out of the question). Pull up your dacks and let them soak up the moisture that has collected around your bum. Don’t worry about the marks of moisture on the back of your pants, they will eventually coalesce with your sweat. Now refill your vessel with water and cascade it over the shit. The higher you pour from, the less water you will need to wash it away (think of the environment). Soon the shit will be gone and it will be high time to exit the toilet, unburdened.

Similarly, but invariably more quickly, you’ll learn to eat rice with your right hand without making a mess. You’ll learn pretty quickly not to eat with your left because people will stare, shocked and appalled that a person would wipe and eat with the same one. If you’re a left-hander, you’ll simply have to unlearn in order to integrate and thereby authenticate.

Compromising your hygiene in such a way is assured authenticity, but compromising your morals equates to even more authenticity. For example: if you go to Vietnam, you’ve got to eat dog, even if you fundamentally disagree with killing animals. In Thailand, ping-pong shows are simply part of the culture and any truly intrepid traveller will experience one, especially feminists. In the U.S of A: shoot a fucking gun, regardless of how you feel about bearing arms. Tee-totaller? Fuck it, in England you embrace alcoholism (and throw in some hooliganism and pessimism for extra authenticity). Don’t like doing drugs or supporting drug related violence? But man, in Columbia you have to do some cocaine, it’s so fucking cheap! And in India, wipe your arse with your bare left-hand.

Every real traveller knows that fair-dinkum, bona fide authenticity doesn’t come easy. But then sometimes I wonder…

Maybe authenticity is just a crock of shit?

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