By Vicki Barnes
Of the things we’ve done without on our trek – television, air conditioning, telephones, washing machines – there is one thing that Steve says he misses one thing more than any of those: a hot shower.
It is rare in a hostel to find hot water. A shower here is a place to wash off the grime you have collected during the day. It is not a place to luxuriate under a cascade of warmth.
It is not just hostels where hot water is difficult to find, most of the residents in Central America can not afford a water heater for their home, much less the electricity necessary to heat that cylinder of water and to maintain it at a high temperature.
Enter the “suicide shower” – a 110 volt electrical wire stuck to the end of the water pipe ahead of the shower head. As the water passes through the electrical charge, it’s heated and you have warm water for as long as your shower lasts.
The temperature of the water is controlled by the amount of water pressure. You want scalding hot? Turn it to trickle. You want tepid? Turn the tap a bit more. Full power and the element can’t heat it all and you’ll be back to the cold showers.
Of course, the nickname “suicide shower” comes from the fact that the exposed wire is right there above the shower head. Do not adjust the shower head unless you are ready for a shocking experience – or worse.
The idea behind the at-the-source water heater is a good one. It saves energy. In reality, it saves water as well since your showers are shorter since they are comfortably warm rather than hot.
Water from the tap is not hot. If you want hot water for washing dishes, for example, you can heat it on the stove.
We have washed our clothes mostly by hand. Cold water from the tap and a bit of soap gets them clean enough. Hung on the line in the sun and steady breeze, they are fresh and dry in no time.
While the “suicide shower” may seem dangerous, it keeps one conscious of the amount of water being used and aware of one’s surroundings. One does not slip into a daydream while washing under such circumstances.
Still, in these tropical climes, a cool shower is best.