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Feb 17, 2014 No Water

Posted 2/17/2014

This morning we ran out of water. How does that happen? In Panama it just does. We got up early to go meet with the group to teach the bible to the local residents. Melinda filled the coffee pot with bottled water and we ambled around fixing breakfast and getting things together when all of a sudden, while washing up the dishes, before anyone had even washed their face much less hop in the shower, the water stopped running

I went out to check the pump caged in the driveway.  The pump pressurizes the water from our storage tank out in the front yard. Let me explain how this works before I get into the story. The water system in Boquete is a amalgamation of different administrations that supply the water to all the residents. The water is pumped thru 4” PVC tubing to an area where it steps down into a 1” PVC tube. I know this because most of it runs along the ground or hung across the deep gullies that run along every road that gets rain. Meaning every road. Then at the houses the water is piped, I mean tubed inside. Because of all the houses get their water from a 1” tube the pressure is very low. To fix this many homes have a large 500 to 1500 gallon tank that slowly fills up, when there is water, then the water is pumped into a small pressure tank supplying the home with a steady stream of water.

Our tank is a 500 gallon black behemoth in the front yard. When we are using the water and the level in this tank drops there is float switch inside that allows water from the street to trickle in which can be heard splashing inside. It works like your toilet tank but not as sanitary as it does not seem to be airtight and can collect bugs, debris, and road dust.

So sometime before the 17th the water stopped being supplied to the street and as we merrily did laundry, dishes and watered the plants the water in our tank slowly descended until sometime on the morning of Feb. 17 there was no more water.

After the shock wore off I decided I was going to the river and collect as much water as I could. I planned bringing with me empty jugs of drinking water and several large plastic bins we had laying around and some 5 gallon pails. On the way we ran into the problem. There was a water tube break in the middle of the road with a sinkhole, and everything, surround by a battalion of excavators, backhoes, supply trucks, pickups and men. Further up from there was a fire hydrant full open to keep the gushing sinkhole from blasting away any more of the street than it already had. I pulled over at the hydrant.

The water from this hydrant was firing out the side in a huge spray for a full 20 feet. I sent Jim over with a five gallon pail and a few jugs while I got things organized. After a minute I walked over with a fresh supply of containers and there was Jim hanging on to a jug with two hands nearly soaked to the skin. He was sending up a huge spray of water as it battered the jug he was holding onto. He was far too close to the hydrant and the water pressure, even at the edge of the jetting stream, could have knocked me over. I wondered how he was doing.

I send him back to the car with what he had collected and tried my hand at the water cannon. I took a five gallon pail, walked down stream for another five feet and set the pail on the ground digging in the forward edge into the dirt. Then I tipped the pail into the outside edge of the spray and caught the water on the inside lip of the pail sending water into it at 60 miles an hour. After a bit I put my cupped hand into the spray while holding the pail with considerable force and redirected more water into the pail. When Jim returned I had him take the pail back to the car and fill the rest of the jugs by sinking them in the full pail of water replenishing it as I collected more water at the source. Eventually we had about 60 gallons of water and returned home. The entire way I could hear the water sloshing around in the back of the SUV and imagined the soaking it was getting.

When we got home there was water pouring out the back of the car but there was still enough saved that I was sure would last for the duration of the water outage or so I thought. Everyone but me took a sponge bath. I was not having it. I grabbed two jugs, about six liters, threw a large bin in my shower and stood in it while I poured the water over my head to soap and rinse. It was very cold. The collected water I used to flush the toilets.

On the 18th we still had no water. Same plan for showers as the day before but this time I took a glass of water from each jug and heated it in the microwave, poured it back into the jug and carried them into the shower. It was still cold.

On the 19th we had to go get more water. This time they were working at a sinkhole on another part of the road and the hydrant was closed. So we drove thru Boquete past the climbing wall following the river until we got to a 60 foot waterfall where people like to stop to have their picture taken. I didn’t bring my camera but I had five gallon pails, plastic bins and many water jugs. Same system for filling jugs as before. I filled and Jim carried. The water was cold.

 I welcomed the people who stopped by to take pictures as it gave me a reason to get out from under the falls while they posed and giggled about the crazy gringos stealing water from the falls. I don’t really know if that was what they giggled about but it is what I would giggle about if I saw what they saw.

The way back home still soaked the car but not as badly because Jim brought along plastic garbage bags and electrical tape to keep the water from sloshing out of the pails and bins. By this time we were all very good at water conservation and I even manage to shower with only 4 liters of water. The water lasted for three more days.

On the morning of the 22nd we had water back, end of crises. I have another story to tell but It is time to eat. See you later.