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 Water Customs in Mexico

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Peter
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Location : Morelia
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PostSubject: Water Customs in Mexico   Wed 16 Mar 2011, 12:07

I have had questions coming to me by e-mail off the list that I take time to answer. Sometimes I find myself using a full page or more to answer a simple question because customs are so different here they need further explanation. the folks thank me for taking time to answer them so thoroughly but I tell them I just may use some of these responses on my blog, to which they are often delighted they are getting the original preview to what is going to be published. One common type of question people have about coming to Mexico has to do with the water. Generally the water is quite safe but the water distribution practices are quite different here than those used NOB. If you are going to get sick here it might more likely come from some source as handling money, which is always quite dirty, but people are more likely to blame the water just the same. I answered one inquiry thus:

By custom the people in Mexico drink bottled water. Every home will have the usual 5 gallon (20 liter) bottles on a dispenser or tilt mechanism. All the little tiendas or corner markets along with all our convenience stores like Oxxo, which you are likely to view as a step up from the 7-11 markets in the states, they all carry small hand-carry water bottles. You would get the impression we invented the now common practice of carrying water bottles with you everywhere.

Morelia at around 6300ft. elevation has very good tap water with clean, sweet taste like mountain spring water but for customs and practices we drink bottled water. Still, for showering, cooking, and brushing your teeth the tap water is excellent. Not every city in Mexico is so fortunate though.

Water distribution practices in Mexico is very different than those typically found in the US. For many, perhaps most places municipal water is not coming 24/7 at high pressure. Even where I live outside the Centro of Morelia we only receive water about two days a week but we still have indoor tap water everyday around the clock just as you are accustomed to having because of the methods we use to furnish the water. You would notice no difference except for somewhat lower water pressure perhaps. Still, that can be remedied as well but most of us find we have plenty of pressure for showers as we like them without using a boost pump. I will explain more.

As you look out over the city you will see almost every home has a big, black tinaco on its roof. A tinaco is a water tank with an anti-bacterial inner coating that keeps your water generally safe and clean and also provides the pressure in your home. Some people may use a boost pump to increase pressure but most of us find the standard pressure the elevated tank provides to be quite adequate. Not all use this kind of system and I'll explain about the alternatives further down the page.

Many homes, though I would be sticking my neck out if I claimed most, also have an aljibe which is an underground cistern with a pump to fill the overhead tinaco. I use an automatic float mechanism which triggers the pump but most people use a manual switch and have a regular practice of running the pump 5 or 10 minutes each morning for their daily consumption needs. When the municipal water is coming in it goes into my aljibe where we have a manual float valve that shuts the water off when the aljibe is full. This sounds like a lot of rigamarole but in practice all of it typically operates without being noticeable - unless like most that manually operate the pump switch each day.

There is one problem that can develop in your aljibe-bomba (pump)-tinaco system every few years that is not too difficult to fix when it happens. When the bomba starts constantly needing to be primed it is likely because your "pichancha" has gone bad. The pichancha is a one-way water valve that goes on the end of the pipe that goes down into your aljibe from the bomba. Normally water stays in that tube and in the bomba, but if it goes bad the water leaks back out due to gravity and the bomba will need to be primed again and again.

In many of the ranchos nearby and towns in the tierra caliente and coast perhaps the majority do not use a tinaco and prefer the older system of having a "pila" for their water. Think of a pila as a storage device. Many also refer to batteries as pilas as well. For water it is a big open pool which in some there may be parts of the pila that extend a section into the kitchen and bathroom areas of the home. Water for cooking, washing dishes, and bathing is taken from the pila with a cubeta (bucket) then poured in where needed. The people have developed habits about handling the water so as not to sour the pila - one never reaches their bare hand into the pila, for instance. Nevertheless, the pila is periodically emptied, scrubbed-down, and refilled when necessary.

Many homes in tierra caliente and places have their kitchens typically in a covered section of an open patio. Bathrooms as well may have on an outside entrance, though still be attached to the home and have typical sewage systems. In many of these baños the toilet is not likely to have the customary water tank in back and flushing is done by pouring a cubeta of water down the bowl. Not to worry, Morelia is a very modern city and you may never encounter these more old-fashioned practices. Hot running water is the norm in the cities.

I could never get well-accustomed to bathing by pouring water on, soaping and scrubbing, and rinsing it off with the cubeta. It's too cold for me like that. I asked a friend that lives on a ranch outside Tepalcatepec in the tierra caliente if he considered having a tinaco. He replied that having a black tinaco on the roof outside in the sun would only give them hot water whereas the pila provided them cool, clean, and refreshing water. I made some bathing motions and told him the hot water is what I had in mind with the question. He reacted as if that made no sense to him, having been raised on washing by dousing himself with cool (cold) water all his life. It was what he was accustomed to doing and to do otherwise would be an inconvenience. I have seen some of the older rancho-raised folks that stay in modern homes remove the shower head so it is easier to fill their cubeta and bathe in their customary manner.

People continue practices that are customary for them and are sometimes slow to adopt any new or more modern practices. In a home water is only used in kitchens and bathrooms so having a pila, a standing pool of water, is all that is necessary and adding plumbing pipes and such just complicates matters unnecessarily. When I read US articles that claim some foreigner, like the Michoacán astronaut that flew a mission a year or two ago, "was from such a poor family they didn't even have running water in their home" I just shake my head. They are not living on water taken from gutters and mudholes. Why make life more complicated when you are used to living a simple life?

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Peter
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PostSubject: Re: Water Customs in Mexico   Mon 21 Mar 2011, 23:31

There is one problem that can develop in your aljibe-bomba (pump)-tinaco system every few years that is not too difficult to fix when it happens. When the bomba starts constantly needing to be primed it is likely because your "pichancha" has gone bad. The pichancha is a one-way water valve fastened to the end of the pipe that goes down into your aljibe from the bomba. Normally water stays in that tube and in the bomba, but if it goes bad the water leaks back out due to gravity and the bomba will need to be primed again and again.

(This info was also added into the main text above.)

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Don Cuevas
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PostSubject: Re: Water Customs in Mexico   Tue 22 Mar 2011, 06:39

Care to describe the hand washing of ropa outside, on a lavadero next to the pila? Until recently, our amiga Americana washed her clothes in this manner. I never saw her do it, but I have seen some of our amigas Mexicanas washing their clothing in this manner.

I've also seen groups of women washing clothes in the creek north of Tzurumutaro or at the springs of ex-hacienda Chapultepec.
Some of these scenes may seem quaint to some visitors, but I'd bet that the women doing the work would gladly trade it for a washing mashine. The downside might be a diminishing of social contact. I'm just speculating here.
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Peter
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PostSubject: Re: Water Customs in Mexico   Tue 22 Mar 2011, 08:41

Perhaps I would be remiss in my discussion of agua practices to not mention the lavadero. Even with an automatic lavadora many still use that lavadero for many things. All my homes here have had one including the home I built myself. We've always been city-folks so stream-washing has not been part of my observed practices. The social aspect I would imagine is a large one.

Those stone washboards are indeed a ubiquitous part of the home landscape here. They have their own pila built-in. I should devote some time to such a discussion but at the moment not sure what more to say. very much an integral part of life here even if one has all the modern conveniences. Some have lavaderos and nothing more for laundry, nothing more needed.

I should add that even those with washers still do a lot of work manually. Many washers here are not automatic. There is a washing side and another chamber alongside for spin-drying the clothes that they move their ropa from one side to the other. When purchasing a new washer of our own Tere did not have a moment hesitation deciding we should buy a fully automatic one.

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PostSubject: Re: Water Customs in Mexico   Tue 22 Mar 2011, 18:45

Peter wrote:
There is one problem that can develop in your aljibe-bomba (pump)-tinaco system every few years that is not too difficult to fix when it happens. When the bomba starts constantly needing to be primed it is likely because your "pichancha" has gone bad. The pichancha is a one-way water valve fastened to the end of the pipe that goes down into your aljibe from the bomba. Normally water stays in that tube and in the bomba, but if it goes bad the water leaks back out due to gravity and the bomba will need to be primed again and again.

(This info was also added into the main text above.)

Were you a bladder surgeon in a previous life? (Should I have posted this in the jokes secton?)
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PostSubject: World Water Day - 22 March   Wed 23 Mar 2011, 00:34

Phil Micheal wrote:

Were you a bladder surgeon in a previous life? (Should I have posted this in the jokes secton?)

No. (I guess that all depends on how you want your post to come across - as a joke or a serious comment to a thread labelled Important.)


[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
"World Water Day has been observed on March 22 since 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared March 22 as World Day for Water."

It wasn't until this evening that I became aware it was World Water Day but water has been on my mind all day, in fact I was ironically wise-cracking about it being World Water Day though unaware of today being that specific event. I had the most unusual day with water-related incidents, water systems malfunction incidents.

After daybreak I went downstair about my routine of turning out the two flourescent night lights in the cochera and garden patio areas when I saw water around the open doorway to the clubhouse/kitchen. Upon inspection I find the cold water hose under the bathroom sink had a pinhole leak that was sending a tiny stream of water some two-and-a-half feet straight over to the full roll of paper that was now sagging onto the floor. A little of the water had rolled into the shower and other that made a small puddle by the door that first tipped me off to the situation. Not much water had been lost, the paper roll was the biggest casualty other than the leaky manguera that was only about six-weeks in place. I shut off the valve below the sink.

That struck me as very odd the manguera being new, the entire baño being new, and the cold water hose besides. I was also surprised at the water pressure, but most of this house is from new construction and the tinaco is now located on a small fourth-floor mirador deck. But I didn't have time to repair it, merely shut off the water for now as I had to go into the Centro to mail-off my US taxes then visit the apartments we had been renting from local friends and now getting them ready for short-term rental.

I maintain a suite for myself in the Centro complex, a laptop and the printer is still there with my tax forms ready for printout however delayed until I took new ink cartridges to it today. The post office is just around the corner from there and the mission is to finish the forms then send-off my taxes. But then my next water system malfunction discovery.

"Observance began in 1993 and has grown significantly ever since; for the general public to show support, it is encouraged for the public to not use their taps throughout the whole day, the day has become a popular Facebook trend."

Tere and I arrived at the apartments in the Centro and I went in to turn on the computer and change the printer cartridges. After sitting quietly at the computer desk a few moments I heard water trickling. The kitchen in the common area is in the next room but there was no problem there, but around the corner in the laundry room I found a faulty water tap. Where a garden hose hangs and is connected to the tap there was water spraying out around the loose hose connection. It seemed odd anyone would leave a hose charged, a pistol nozzle at the other end, odd also that the spray would not be detected when the hose was used last. When I first went to turn off the tap I saw that it was closed but that its valve had an internal failure. Very odd that it was a complete failure, and a tap that I had changed out new just one year ago. I shut the water off to the entire downstairs units.

By that time I was making cracks about it being Water Day. It was a day of water incidents in my homes that I could remedy but not fix, not immediately and at this moment still not repaired. My shoes have dried out now for the most part but their sogginess kept my mind on water all day. It seems ironic that this World Water Day I had two somewhat unlikely water system failures and just after authoring this topic about our water customs here. Well, my profile Humor is listed as Ironic. If there are water-gods, or perhaps water-demons, I must have somehow stirred their ire. Is there a part to this thread I grossly misrepresented? Some aspect I overlooked or neglected? Or perhaps this is merely Eris the Goddess of Discord prompting me in her playful way to post more on this subject and to bring water to everyone's attention again. I hope tomorrow her playfulness is through and I can get this all repaired easily enough. I have to make time in the afternoon to meet with our Amigos for mariscos. How appropriate is that?

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Don Cuevas
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PostSubject: Re: Water Customs in Mexico   Wed 23 Mar 2011, 05:36

I first read years ago, in The People's Guide To Mexico, of a water festival in which the pueblo turns out to gleefully squirt, toss, and dump water on each other. Those of you who haven't read this ought to find a copy of this classic guide to Mexican customs, traditions and foods.

Fortunately, we haven't experienced this fiesta around here. I'm sure that it's not the same as the modern World Water Day.
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Peter
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PostSubject: Re: Water Customs in Mexico   Wed 23 Mar 2011, 08:10

Don Cuevas wrote:
I first read years ago, in The People's Guide To Mexico, of a water festival in which the pueblo turns out to gleefully squirt, toss, and dump water on each other. Those of you who haven't read this ought to find a copy of this classic guide to Mexican customs, traditions and foods.

Fortunately, we haven't experienced this fiesta around here. I'm sure that it's not the same as the modern World Water Day.

World Water Day seems to be some water awareness program. I was more than aware of water yesterday. Some have that "no tap water" thing going and my taps were bursting forth.

I think it is good the people here can have fun with water, squirting it and all without feeling guilt about wasting water. Water parks and balnearios are common in these parts. I'm sure there are other parts of the world where that is not so. That's another blessing we could add to the list Mich_Net is making but we take that one for granted.

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