Water Safety Another Lesson
Water while traveling can be a real pain in the butt. It can be a safety issue, it can be a forgotten preparation. When improperly treated or forgotten, it can even cause hospitalization. So, as someone who has had parasites twice and typhoid, I think that you should heed my advice and warnings.
First of all, know the drill where you are going. Not everyone is as blessed as the developed nations. Not everyone can afford to behave as if they have an endless supply of free, clean drinking water. If you are going somewhere that isn’t as fortunate, you need to prepare yourself for the adjustment and take some serious precautions. Your body is not accustomed to many of the bacteria that locals have been exposed to on a daily basis since they day they were born. That being the case, you really can’t afford to get cocky. After touching down in any developing country, I don’t even recommend brushing your teeth with the water. Keep a little cup or glass near the sink that you use for drinking water to brush your teeth.
If you are going somewhere where drinking water isn’t readily available via faucet, I recommend keeping a full bottle on you at all times. I find that staying hydrated is something that I have to think about more consciously when I am traveling in general, much less somewhere where simply ordering a glass of tap water isn’t an option. Furthermore, water that you purchase in restaurants can cost you a pretty penny-often three to four times the local supermarkets going price.
Penny pinchers, know the protocol for boiling your own water. Many people make the common mistake of assuming that the second that water boils, it’s safe for human consumption. That isn’t the case at all. Now pay close attention, because this is how I got typhoid. For sea level and altitude up to 2000 meters, water must boil for at least one minute. For altitude higher than 2000 meters, water must be boiled for at least three minutes. Take it from me, that extra two minutes is important. The higher the altitude, the longer it takes to bring water to a boil and the longer it’s necessary to boil the water. If boiling isn’t possible, you can also treat water with bleach or other disinfectant chemicals. I don’t recommend this because I doesn’t feel comfortable putting chemicals into my body for starters. Second of all, I feel that chem
icals such as bleach seriously affect the taste, making it even harder to stay hydrated. Furthermore, boiling you water is considered the absolute safest way to avoid the consumption of viruses that cause bacteria, parasites, and other pesky diseases. Water in certain areas is sometimes murky. If that’s the case where you are, drain water through a clean cloth prior to boiling it to remove sedimentary matter.
I keep a big thermos next to my stovetop. Every time that I boil water, I boil as much as possible, fill my water bottle, and put the excess in the thermos. I then use the excess over the course of a couple of days for drinking, making coffee and tea, washing my fruits and vegetables, and brushing my teeth. Healthcare professionals recommend having a minimum of one gallon of water per traveler on hand at all times. In particularly hot climates, I always start my day with boiling water and continuously remind myself to drink it regularly throughout the day.
For those of you who would prefer to buy the water, be sure that the top has not been tampered with. Flip the bottles upside down and give them a squeeze to make sure that there are no holes in the lid, also check the security seal to ensure that it has n
ot been tampered with.
Another thing that you may need to keep in mind is the inevitability of water conservation in certain areas. In many hot areas of developing nations, especially those with a desert climate, water sometimes has to be conserved. Naturally, the most effective way to accomplish this by cutting off the populations supply. This is not unheard of and is never a fun thing to have to deal with. In Arequipa, Peru, cutting off the water is sometimes necessary. The city is located high up in the Andes and the water supply is far from endless. While the government is taking measures to conserve rain water in the raining season, the population continues to grow exponentially and it is sometimes necessary to cut off the water. Water shortages can happen anywhere from
once a month to twice in one week. They last anywhere from a few hours to an entire day. While the water shortages can be for several districts, they are sometimes confined to just a few or only the largest most populated area, the city center. I, of course, live in the city center.
When I first got to Peru, there were a couple of days where I woke up in dire need of a shower pre-work, and realized that it wasn’t an option. With no water, I was unable to boil water for the day or clean myself prior to starting my day. I had to resort to spending seven soles, more than half of one hour’s teaching wages, on a jug of water and use it for drinking and washing. I have since started my own water conservation practices. For starters, my shower takes a few minutes to warm up. While the temperature becomes tolerable, I let the cold water fill a large bucket. I use this water to wash my clothes. I also use the water for bathing in the event of a water outage.
People are creatures of habit. The more that you practice good, safe water preparation and conservation, the more natural it will feel. With time, it will feel illogical to leave your house without your water bottle. Checking for tampering will become standard, and putting that tea pot on the stove in the mornings will become as routine as a first cup of coffee.
I like to take this time to thank Tina Stelling for helping me with this amazing article. Check out her works at www.tinastelling.com
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