Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

Monday, April 13, 2009

Myths & Tips: OMG DON'T DRINK THE WATER!


-by La Huerita

Welcome to the first post in a new category I'm calling Myths and Tips. Not necessarily news, this is a place for tips and tricks as well as debunking some myths, misconceptions and misinformation about stuff related to Puerto Penasco and Mexico in general.

To kick it off, I'm talking about one of the subjects I'm most asked about by friends who are, ahem, ignorant about Mexico and Rocky Point. This is one of the most frequent misconceptions:

Misconception #1: OMG DON'T DRINK THE WATER!

I can't tell you how many times in Mexico I've seen people refuse ice in their drinks, or hurriedly scoop it out with their hands, due to the MISCONCEPTION that it might make them sick. Did you know that, by law, ice cubes which are served to the public in Mexican bars and dining establishments are required to be made out of purified water? Well, that's a fact. You can recognize commercially made purified ice cubes by the hole in the center of them, and they are totally safe to consume. Ice cubes you purchase by the bag at supermarkets or local stores are always made of purified water. Look for that hole in the middle, and don't worry about it. Note that this law applies only to cubes, not block ice which is used to keep food cold. If you are not sure, ask "Es purificado?"

The word for ice, BTW, is "hielo". Pronounced "ee-eh-lo", it sounds a lot like "yaylow". If you want to order a drink with ice, it's "con hielo"; without ice, it's "sin hielo".

As far as the water itself goes, well that's a different story but there are still many misconceptions about it. Specific to Puerto Penasco/Rocky Point, the city's water is safe to drink. It comes from wells and various aquifers and is treated/purified just as it would be in the USA or Canada to make it safe for consumption. Only thing is, due to the high mineral content it doesn't taste all that good. So it's fine to use for showering and brushing your teeth, etc., but most people prefer to get their drinking water from one of the local water purification companies. Purified water is sold in every supermercado, tienda, gas station, etc. in just about every village of more than 10 habitants. It generally comes in five-gallon plastic jugs, which can be refilled at local water plants, usually for a dollar or less. Also keep in mind that most resorts/condominium projects have their own water purification systems. The last thing they want is for a guest to get sick and carry the news home with them. Even so, most people-- whether locals or visitors-- still purchase bottled water and there's nothing wrong with that. Besides, it helps support the local economy!

Now, about the water in Mexico generally, and the perception that "turista" or "Montezuma's Revenge" is caused by drinking that water...

First, you should understand that the reason people get Montezuma's Revenge (also known as "turista") is not usually because the water or salad, etc., are contaminated, it's because the microbes in the water are different from the microbes in the water you drink at home, and your system doesn't recognize them. The same thing happens to Méxicans who travel to the USA or Canada, and often to citizens of the USA who simply travel from one side of the USA to the other. If your system is at all sensitive or if you're feeling insecure, stick to bottled water and don't eat any vegetables that aren't cooked. There are many anti-diarrheal products available on the market; play it safe and take some with you.

But "turista" is not always caused by drinking the water. For instance: there you are at a gorgeous beach on your vacation, so naturally you'll probably want to get into the ocean. You'll splash around, swim, get tumbled around by the waves-- and chances are real good that even if you think about it and are real careful, you're going to get some water in your mouth and swallow a little bit of it. Sea water, under the best of circumstances, is not good for you, and the ocean around many Méxican resort areas can be especially polluted. Very often the drinking water, the ice and/or the food in México is blamed for a bad case of the Travelers' Trots when in reality it was that bit of ocean you swallowed. Just be aware and a little careful in the ocean!

Here are a few COMMON SENSE rules that will help you avoid "turista".
  • Take it easy the first few days. Trying to do, see, eat, drink everything on the first day gets a lot of tourists in trouble.
  • Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids and do not become dehydrated!
  • Drink bottled water (but don't worry about those ice cubes with holes in the middle!).
  • Take Pepto Bismol, yogurt or papaya enzyme tablets throughout your stay to help ward off "turista".
  • Take a "siesta" (nap) each afternoon. There's a reason that residents of Latin American and Mediterranean countries do this; follow their example. And remember the axiom that only "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun".
  • Always wash your hands before eating.
  • When eating from open-air food stands, use discretion. If you see "gringos" eating at a taco stand, they may well be local residents who are acclimated to México's foods, etc., and it is not a sign that it is safe for you to eat there, too. Don't be afraid to experiment, but USE COMMON SENSE!
  • Ease into local eating and drinking habits. Take it easy!
Stay tuned for more, and as always your own comments are welcome, either via email or in the comments section!

Contact me at lahuerita2@gmail.com