Ok, I admit I’ve been traveling Central America for 6 months already and I just clued in on how to use the typical 3-sided pre-cast concrete sink that one sees all over Latin America.
It always baffled me as to why the locals would fill the middle basin up to the rim where dead bugs and leaves would accumulate. I know that I am not the only traveler to have been puzzled and frankly annoyed with this custom. For example in Antigua, at the Touristic Police where I stayed, there was only one basin to do your dishes and it was full to the rim. The water was already dirty with someone else’s soap and food scrap. The only solution would be to dip your arm to the elbow and pull the plug. Even in well-established campgrounds I noticed the workers fill up the tanks to the rim. I figured there was a reason, a way of using it that I hadn’t understood yet.
Well, the answer came to me this week and frankly I feel a bit ashamed of my ignorance.
As a person used to unlimited running water, I could not have understood the utilitarian purpose of the 3 compartment sink. It took a stay at a garage in Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa for me to learn the hard way the importance of a basin full of water!
In need of repairs and upgrades I found a garage to do the work. They allowed me to stay in the van while doing the work. Being in the sun, the heat, the dirt and the bugs – for a whole week, you need to shower and do the dishes at the very least. I had arrived with just a ¼ tank of water, never thinking that I would stay for that long.
The first day, I was able to fill my tank up to ½ using buckets as the water pressure was too low to use a hose. This is heavy work and to protect my back, I thought I would add a few bucketful every day. Understandably, to preserve my own water, I went to the basin to do my dishes. And there it was again: a full middle basin! I did my dishes in it and rinsed them with the tap on the side basin. Well! The next day my mechanic saw the dirty water in the sink and was furious! Who dirtied my water? Those guys, he said, blaming the other mechanics… (knowing full well that it had to be me). I watched, puzzled, as he emptied the main sink and proceeded to scrub it clean with a brush for this purpose. I got from this experience that the main sink is to be kept clean, but I still didn’t have a clue as to why and how to really use this. I almost wanted to ask Eduardo but that would have been admitting guilt, so I didn’t.
The answer soon came to me when both taps on the property ran dry – for 2 days. It’s only then that I noticed the buckets full of water everywhere. Eduardo had even brought me one by the door. That day, when I went to the stand-up sink to do my dishes, forced into thinking on how to preserve the integrity of this precious clean water, I found the solution.
You never contaminate the water of the middle sink! Using a small bucket you take some clean water and do your dishes, your laundry, or wash your hands, in one of the side tanks with a drain. That middle sink contains gold! You never know when you will have running water again, even in a good-sized town such as Santa Lucia.
Sure enough during my week stay here, there have been more days without running water than with. When the taps are dripping, the men fill up all the buckets and containers again.
Having now experienced a total lack of water in the blistering heat, I will take bugs and leaves infested water for my dishes and my sponge bath any time!
So please gringos, learn how to use a stand-up sink and never empty or contaminate the middle basin. Use the container (there is typically one around – it could be a cut-up jug, a plastic container, a bowl) to take some water and use it in one of the side basin where it will drain. That middle basin filled with, what to our standard we would describe as “dirty” water, is precious.
I know I am not the only one to have been puzzled by this and thought that I should pass the word around:)
And if you’re still not sure watch this:
Happy travels and stay wet!