We’ve discovered in our travels that there are few true necessities; however there are preferences. High on our list of things we desire are a clean living area, a private bath, internet access and a reasonable walking distance to stores, restaurants, transportation and the city center. Lower tier desires include a comfortable bed, a good shower and access to a refrigerator and kitchen.
Showering has been both a source of frustration and a familiar comfort. In Mexico the water trickled out at a maddeningly slow rate and, finally, turned warm. While travelling through Villahermosa in the Mexican state of Tabasco, we were first introduced to the electric water heater wired directly to the shower head, [a.k.a. the “suicide shower”]. We’ve encountered these elsewhere in our travels as well. Evidently common throughout Central and South America, this device operates on water pressure: the slower the water pressure the hotter the water. Even this rudimentary gadget is not a standard feature in many homes due to the high cost of consumer electricity. We’ve not seen a dishwasher or vacuum cleaner since we left the US but washing machines, a staple in most American homes, are a rarity even in middle class homes both because of the initial cost and the operating cost. Hand washing is a daily reality in many homes. Pilas, large, double-sink wash basins with a ridged bottom for scrubbing clothing, are found in many homes including several where we have stayed. Many cities and towns have common outdoor laundry wash basins called tanques which serve dual purposes: the local women do the laundry and socialize, too. During our travels we’ve hauled our dirty clothing to nearby lavenderias [cost: about $5.50 a week] while hand washing the “fine dainties” in the sink at home.
Stoves are usually powered by propane tanks and it is not uncommon to see only the countertop stoves which we had in our Mexico apartment and no oven. The oven at our homestay in Guatemala was filled with pots and pans and never used during our two month stay. South of the border purified water is available in large 5 gallon botellas which are delivered upon request for a very reasonable price, about $1.35 each here in Antiqua. However, even this may be out of reach for many of the local people who drink water from the city supply which is said to be “potable”: safe drinking water is a critical problem here in Guatemala especially in rural areas. Getting around by shank’s mare introduced the concept of humans [namely us] as beasts of burden. A lot of times our purchases every day or two are decided by the amount that can be carried back to our home [canned goods, vegetables and fruits, 6 packs of toilet paper, cleaning supplies, 2 liter bottles of coke lite, etc.]. Often on heavy shopping days we’ve relented and taken a tuc-tuc back home. But for many of the local citizens, that is not a viable option.
By Anita and Richard, June, 2013