Logistics for new students - part V: Water
Forget rumors and gossip you may have read about the water. Here's the real story.
Tap water comes from a desalinization operation and is stored in huge tanks, one of which was just recently completed. It is fed by gravity to residents. It is heavily chlorinated, and locals complain of its smell while showering. Chlorine evaporates, however, during cooking, and leaves no taste.
Chlorine is a bacteriocide (kills bacteria) but does not kill intestinal parasites which cause diarrheal illnesses commonly known as "the runs" or "Montezuma's Revenge". Put bluntly, you can't drink the tap water in ordinary residences, including the school. Disregard the statement in a school brochure that says the water is potable (drinkable).
An exception is water served at restaurants. All restaurant water is purified (more on this below), including ice cubes, so you can safely drink water they serve you in a restaurant. Any beverage that comes in a can or bottle is also safe.
The locals do not drink the tap water, but they bathe in it, cook with it, wash their dishes, and brush their teeth with it.
Bathing does not seem to have adverse effects.
Theoretically, cooking will destroy parasites, but it's easy to do this wrong and pay the consequences. For example, many of us merely bring a pot of soup to simmering, but not actually boiling. Unfortunately, some parasites can survive this temperature. Therefore, my advice is to avoid tap water even for cooking.
Washing dishes is safe, but be sure to thoroughly air dry or wipe with a towel; the intestinal parasites dangerous to humans cannot live more than a few minutes out of the water.
Brushing your teeth is much more risky because you almost always swallow some water while brushing, and if you're a creature of habit, in a moment of forgetfullness you will take a big gulp of tap water after brushing, and spend the next few weeks on the pot. The locals don't have this habit, and they may also have developed a limited resistance to parasites. My advice: don't use tap water for brushing.
In town is a company called Crystal Water, and another called Beliken Beer. I believe they have the same owner. There are two warehouses close to each other. One deals exclusively with the purification and delivery of water, the other with delivery of bottled beer and fruit beverages.
In the water warehouse there is a purification apparatus, a "reverse osmosis" machine, in plain view. It looks like a giant espresso machine, and you can watch it if you like. Its output is put into five-gallon plastic jugs the same as you've seen on office water coolers in the states. You go into the office and ask to set up delivery service. It costs $4.75BZ (about $2.38US) per jug, plus a small deposit for the jug itself, which carries over to the next jug when you replace an empty with a new one. One option is to order one jug, pay for it right there, and when the jug is empty you put it out on your porch at any time of the day or night and a Crystal Water truck will see it eventually and replace it. You leave the money for the new water on or under the empty jug. The Crystal Water trucks drive by every customer's house several times a day; if they see an empty jug on the porch, they'll replace it. You should keep a container of water in the refrigerator to cover the period you're waiting for a replacement.
Another option is to initially order two jugs; then you don't have to store any water while waiting for a replacement. You'll have to pay a deposit for two jugs instead of one, but it's very cheap.
If you think you've missed a water delivery or want to make sure you get one on time, you can call Crystal Water and they'll tell the driver to stop by your place. You can also pay for the water in advance at the office rather than leaving the money under the jug.
The caps on the water jugs are replaceable; you pour out what you need and put the cap back on. The water will not spoil by sitting around for a few days.
If you want to get fancy, you can order a water cooler. It's similar to a traditional office cooler. The one I have has two spigots -- one for room temperature water and the other for cold water. The cooler is plugged into a wall socket because it has a cooling compressor that works like a refrigerator. The reason you would want room tempature water is that some uses, like cooking or brushing your teeth, really don't need cold (i.e., refrigerated) water, and using cold water causes the compressor to run more often. This cooler costs $7.50US ($15.00BZ) per month and does not require a deposit. If you get this cooler with an initial two-jug delivery, you should never run out of water.
There is a fancier water cooler which is really a cooler/heater. You've seen them in offices; one spigot is labeled "cold", the other "hot". So if you're a tea drinker and think it's a burden to boil a cup of water, get this model. I don't know how much it costs, but if I remember to ask the next time I'm at Crystal Water, I'll amend this post accordingly.
The other warehouse delivers beer and fruit drinks. I don't know these details, but I'll post them eventually. I ordered a case of cherry drink from the water warehouse, i.e., you don't have to make a separate trip to place a delivery order, but you will if you want to pick it up yourself.
The fruit drinks are not 100% juice. In the U.S. they must be called "cocktail" or "drink" because they're diluted. Pure fruit juice is available only in supermarkets and grocery stores (which are called "tiendas", not "bodegas").
If you don't want to splurge for a water cooler and you also want to avoid lifting the intially heavy water jug, you might be able to find a hand pump specially designed for these jugs. Crystal Water used to sell them, but no longer carries them. If I see them around town, I'll update this post.
Occasionally there is no water at all for most of the day. There are two reasons for this. First, during the Christmas and Thanksgiving tourist seasons, the water system is overwhelmed and simply collapses. Second, during preannounced periods the water company replaces filters at the tanks, which requires shutting the whole thing down.
The local solution to this is to keep at least fifty gallons of tap water in jugs, of the type you will accumulate as you buy milk and juices. You should refresh those jugs on a rotating schedule so the water doesn't accumulate bacteria.
Next post: Cell phones
Last edited by fossildoc; 01-02-2006 at 05:45 PM.
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