Weird Water In Panama

Water is weird here in Panama. Right now it’s coming out of the sky but not out of the faucet.

There are often times when there is no tap water. Don Ray, who writes the Chiriqui Chatter blog lives in the City of David (Panama’s third largest metropolis which is strange if you think of a place with only four stop lights as a metropolis) often writes that he has no water from his taps. Sometimes it’s for days at a time.

After the recent devastating river flooding that took out one of the bridges on the Interamerican highway there was no water here in Boquerón for several days though, fortunately I was still in Potrerillos Arriba then and never had a moment without water. Often after a heavy downpour water service is cut off because the turbidity in the rivers where IDAAN, the water company, draws its supply from, clogs the filters.

In Panama City, referred to simply as Panamá, where almost half of the entire country’s population reside they’re building a subway system and a couple of weeks ago it was necessary to shut off the city’s entire water supply for a whole weekend to reroute the water around the tunnel. Can you imagine what the outcry would be like in the States if everyone’s water was shut off for a couple of days in a city of a million and a half residents? Heads would roll.

But here people just shrug their shoulders and get on with their lives. If they were French they’d shrug their shoulders, make a “poof” sound through their lips and say “c’est la vie, hein?” (If you think English is a strange language because of its non-phonetic spelling, try French. Hein is pronounced “eh?” Go figure.) I don’t think there’s a Spanish phrase that expresses the same feeling as that one does.

Since water outages are a common, though thankfully not a daily, occurrence there is a good market for large plastic water tanks here. And I mean LARGE. In some cases several hundred gallon tanks. Most of them are black or bright blue and just sitting here I can think of at least four stores in an around David that stock the things along with pumps to feed the water into houses. We don’t have one of those here at this house though there has been talk of getting one. Instead I have three five-gallon pails that I keep filled with water for those times when there is no tap water. Most of the time I just keep them under the roof line and collect rain water in them. I don’t drink it, but use it for other things like flushing the toilet or washing dishes and clothes. I’ll be doing a post about laundry sometime soon.

For drinking water I have a five-gallon cooler thingy that I keep topped off with filtered water that I collect from the faucet when there is tap water, and I have a two-gallon jug of filtered water in the fridge.

When I was over visiting in Bocas del Toro I noticed that many of the houses not only had a big water tank but they had fitted out their roofs with large-diameter PVC pipes where rain gutters would normally be so they could collect and store rain water. Made a lot of sense to me.

Here in my neighborhood where the water supply through the tap is often just a trickle, for some unknown reason, most daytime hours there is one constant water supply. The river. Almost every day I’ll see people coming down the street with towels over their shoulders and a bag in one hand with soap, shampoo and razors and they go down to the river and bathe in the cool water. Quite often I see women bringing down their dirty clothes to do their laundry in the river. Nobody thinks anything of it. Nobody moans and groans about it as far as I know. It’s just how life is here. People cope and get along with living.


1 Comment

Filed under Boqueron Panama, Living Abroad, panama, Retirement Abroad

One response to “Weird Water In Panama

  1. The one place where I’ve seen water cut off from time to time is Galveston. Theirs is piped from the mainland, and it can be a real pain when there’s something like a major break. Now that they have the largest cruise ship in the world docking there, the demands on the water supply are going to be even greater.

    But – my point was that on the Island, people mosly don’t gripe when it happens. Or, if they do, they still understand what the deal is and just get on with life. Anywhere else? Oh, my.

    Of course, in your situation you’re better prepared than anyone here would be. When hurricane season rolls around some folks stock up on things like water, but for the most part I doubt if 5% of the population has any water reserves.

    I had to laugh – I was in the hill country last weekend, and my friends had just stocked up for the days when they’re “wintered in”. If it drops below freezing for an extended time or they get a bad ice storm and can’t get off their hill for days, having that water supply is critical.