HOW TO USE A LATIN AMERICAN CONCRETE SINK?

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.20170424_093555

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op45rv2cOZ8

Happy travels and stay wet!

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Kiki

THE VISITOR UNDER MY BED

I realize, dear reader, that I am due for a cute little story – the kind I used to write when I started my journey and everything was so new that even a pee-pot made the news. After that novelty period, everything became more business-like. Describe my travels, my adventures may be, from a neutral point of view (verily, how can a single white female, first time traveler in the Americas, driving an old RV along the Pan American highway be neutral?).  I’ve been wondering of late: where did that woman go – the one that saw humor in everything? And may be, part of sharing is also about my everyday life in a camper along bumpy, dusty roads that might be lined with “bandidos” lying in wait.

So, if not for my own story telling pleasure here is the tale of the visitor under my bed. And since I do not have related pictures to post, I will relish you instead with photos of my stay at the Santa Lucia garage – I know you can’t wait!

I first noticed it Chez Pierre on Lake Atitlan. Every morning I would wake up with huge welts on my toes. They didn’t hurt, but when I scratched the itch, they would atypically swell and puce. On cool night I had put on mini socks to keep me warm and in the morning I found the bite just above the sock line! I knew then that I was being eaten by something hiding in or under my bed. From the bite marks we could see the outline of little fangs – definitively a spider!

My bed is a story in and of itself. It originally had a custom-made mattress to fit the cubicle, with a cut corner to allow room for the corridor to the bathroom. I am pretty sure it was the original mattress and so was 34 years old. It was quite comfortable despite its age, until I started to sleep on it nightly. The support caved in and the coils jutted out! As I was reorganizing the camper for my long trip, I decided to convert the cabin above the driver’s seat, which was set up as a sleeping cabin with a thick foamy, into a storage compartment where I would store all my heavy bins full of shoes  and purses (hey I’m French!– some had to make the trip with me! Believe me the cut was brutal), a pharmacy, extra bits and pieces for my engine should I need to repair it en route… you get the idea! I put the foamy on top of the mattress and that was comfortable for a few months until it became agony. Finally, in Belize, when I was decluttering the van one more time to make room for my daughter’s visit (I had already purged twice) – I gave my mattress away to the campsite owner, who was delighted to take it, despite my warning him of its bad condition. I guess when you sleep on the floor a bad mattress is definitively an upgrade!

The foamy was heaven for about…1 month until the center line where I sleep mostly, lost its bounce and I was basically lying on plywood. I put all my blankets and sleeping bags as underlay with a special focus on the middle line and so far so good. I however have no doubt that down the road I will have to purchase a proper mattress for it.

My sleeping platform sits on top of my external storage bins where I keep all my hoses and engine fluids. I also have a bit of storage for personal items. For the most part it is open to the dust of the road and unwelcomed visitors could easily climb in.

Upon realizing that I was feeding a spider every night, I searched, aired out, and vacuumed my bed and platform, knowing full well that it was futile. Short of fumigating the van, which is out of the question since I live there and because of the health hazards to my pets, I haven’t done anything else about it. I don’t know if I chose to ignore the signs or if I was in denial, but I swear that the bite marks disappeared for a while. I thought may be my rummaging about scared my blood sucker away.

And so, weeks later, here I am in this dusty, dirty, mosquito and fire ant infested garage yard (and I swear a huge rat which scared Patouffi so much he hasn’t ventured out from under the sofa!) to get my RV fixed and I am covered with bites. There were a few big ones on my legs that looked different than your usual mosquito or ant welt, but still I didn’t clue in that my visitor was back!

One morning I decide to add my wonderful wool blanket to my underlay and air out my bed in the process and what do I see? A h.u.g.e black spider! I am not afraid of spiders but this one was big. It was not moving, just chilling there, digesting its feast of the night. This gave me time to look around for a weapon to finally get rid of the beast. I wanted a rod-like object with a rounded end to poke it dead from a distance and settled on the fishing rod. Of course I missed and Dracula was on the run, until it fell near my feet and I dropped everything and screamed like a girl! It made its way back to the compartment under the bed. I looked and searched but the sucker was well hidden.

Soooo, plan numero uno: Go to the store and enquire about my options short of fumigating. Numero dos, which I will have to do anyway when my new undercarriage compartment is installed, take everything out from under the bed and vacuum the hell out of it… it might still hide in a crevice. I definitively will feel better if I see the culprit die. I do hope it doesn’t have a family waiting to take up the baton!

What eats spiders I wonder?

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I do not know if it’s because of the heat or the noise, but Marley has taken up residence in the cat’s litter box!

Until next time my new road amigos!

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Au plaisir de la route!

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Kiki

 

 

 

TIKAL – NOT TO BE MISSED!

The reason for my daughter Tiffany to arrive in Belize City was simply so that we would go to Tikal. Tikal, the largest Mayan site in Central America, nestled in the northern jungle of Guatemala. I had been told, even before my departure for my long journey, that if I were to only visit one archeological site, it would have to be Tikal!

Crossing the border into Guatemala was a breeze other than the fact that we got completely ripped off by the money changers. It was my fault, I should have researched the exchange rates online ahead of time. Oh well ­-an expensive lesson learned!

By comparison, my friends Dub and Sheila crossed the border from Mexico in Tapachula and their experience was horrendous!  Trucks were being accosted by some 50 Guatemalans, hanging on to railings, side mirrors and climbing on the roof.  Their formalities were also very strenuous. A good thing that I didn’t experience any of this; I do not know how I would have handled a throng of people hanging on to my truck!

My concern with this itinerary was about the road conditions. There was nothing current online about the only road to and from Tikal. All I had were older accounts from books and blogs, describing the terrible dirt road. However, at various campsites I met people that had traveled to Tikal and were on their way back home reassuring me that the road was actually really good. It had been completely repaved a few years ago. Although a simple 2 lane road, it was free of danger and potholes. That’s all I wanted to hear!

We opted to stay at El Remate, the northern village on Petén Lake, the closest we could camp to Tikal since pets were not allowed in the park. We ended up finding this idyllic free spot right on the lake and every night we would swim in the deliciously warm water watching the sun set!

We were parked close to the French Hostel/Restaurant “Mon Ami” and decided to take advantage of their shuttle service to Tikal the next morning at 5:00 am in order to arrive at the park to see the wildlife at sunrise.

20170217_055808It was a wonderful drive in the wee hours of the morning, and already we could see women in little stands on the side of the road lighting the fire on their coal stoves getting ready for the morning crowd. It was misty and the vegetation got thicker and greener as we approached the gates. Once inside, we still had a good 30 minutes’ drive to get to the main visitor center.

Tiffany and I decided to hire a private guide for the tour. We figured this was a huge archeological site and after our wonderful experience with our previous guides in Belize, Russell – for our jungle walk and Luis – for the ATM caves, we knew that we would get more out of it. We also decided to do the tour in Spanish since we both needed the practice.

Our guide Kevin Reyes was a young student who had a trainee with him. The benefit of this being that while Kevin was showing us around, his apprentice was looking for wildlife. In this manner, we ended up seeing a wealth of animals that many others missed. We were rewarded right away with 2 troops of howler monkeys – one never gets enough of seeing them! Especially in the luscious jungle where ancient monuments would disappear under the thick vegetation, it was indeed magical. My favorite sighting of the day was 5 toucans on top of a tree. I hadn’t realized how big they actually are and their beaks are an absolute wonder!  We saw pretty much every animal we wanted to see and were rewarded by the extremely rare sight of the Crested Guan, a bird on the extinction list! Tiffany really wanted to see pizotes but so far nothing. After we parted ways with our guides we decided to stop for lunch and wander about.  It is then that we came across a whole herd of them, with babies in tow! They are the cutest things ever! At one point, one went to a shallow pool of water to drink and Tiffany joked that if he were to jump in for a bath she would die of cuteness overload!20170217_123332

Watch this video of our pizotes sighting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PM4joIwTwzY

What was wonderful about our visit of Tikal was that in the grand scheme of things, very few visitors come in early. Those who do end up spreading out so that the whole time we were there, it felt that we had the site to ourselves, except in the main courtyard where everyone would pool in. The throngs of tourists didn’t start to come in until may be noon, when we were just about finished our visit. The early morning light also added to the magic of the place, with the monkeys howling from the canopy. A lot of the buildings are still covered by vegetation, some are just barely excavated out of their jungle tomb and the largest and most famous ones are erect in their full glory.

We were given free time to explore the main courtyard and climb the monuments.

A highlight for me, and I’m sure for every visitor, was the steep climb to the top of the pyramid named Temple VI.  From the top we had a breathtaking view of the jungle’s canopy with various pyramids and buildings jutting out. From there one could really see the extent of this archeological site, spreading as far as the horizon.  We had only visited but a tiny portion of it, most of it still undiscovered or unexcavated!

Watch this video of Tikal on my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJNCUnTu1t0&feature=youtu.be

We got “home” just in time for a cooling dip in the lake and another breathtaking sunset – the following day we would take off again for a 2 days drive to Semuc Champey.  Another must see area of Guatemala!20170217_113207

Until next time my new road amigos!

Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments:)

And don’t forget to follow me on YouTube! Kiki’sRvAdventures

Au plaisir de la route!

Kiki