Sunday, December 07, 2008

Everything you want to know—and maybe even don’t want to know!—about water faucets and screaming toilets

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll likely recall that we had a pump installed after many water outages and way too many showers taken in trickles of water. We now have a readily available water supply and good pressure in the showers—not the norm in most Tico housing.

You may also remember that Ticos tend to prefer warm to cold showers in the morning, and those who want hot water often resort to the eerie suicide showers.

But there’s so much I haven’t yet told you! For those who dare, read on for an enlightening look at bathroom plumbing here in Costa Rica…

Sometimes you can turn on a faucet and be unsure of what temperature water is going to come out. I’ve seen showers and faucets with hot on the left, cold on the right—and then vice versa (only where hot water is available, of course).

This should be a non-issue in my own house, I know. But—with apologies to Cookie Monster—sometimes C is for Confusing. We have a big Jacuzzi tub that we don’t use often because it takes forever to fill. The first time I went to use the tub, I didn’t pay much attention to the faucet handles labeled with C and F in fancy, flowy script that I was looking at upside-down. I saw the C—thought "cold"—and automatically turned the other handle and let the water run.

A few minutes later I returned to find a couple of inches of icy water. I turned the water off and sat there for a minute, staring at the knobs, until I realized…duh, me… that in Spanish, C stands for Caliente. Meaning hot. And I had turned the F knob. F, of course, indicating Frio. Meaning cold.

It was a silly mistake, but in all fairness, the other faucets in the house are all labeled in English. The funniest part is that about a month after this happened to me, Dan went to run water in the Jacuzzi. He approached me a few minutes later: “Are you doing laundry? Are you running the dishwasher? Did you just take a shower or what?”

“No, no, and no. What’s the problem?”

“I want to use the tub but I can’t get any hot water.”

BWAH! Off I went to give him a hard time about C and F on the faucet knobs. I could tell he felt sorta stupid about it—as I had—until I admitted that I’d made the same mistake too.

This business with hot and cold water is fascinating stuff, I know, but not nearly as intriguing as fun with toilets here in Ticolandia.

The quality of public restrooms varies, but there are no handy-dandy rest stops for travelers in CR, so gas station bathrooms are an evil necessity. Once in a while we get lucky and find a clean bathroom with an actual seat, toilet paper, and a sink with soap. That said, the girls and I have become adept at “hovering,” and we’ve learned to carry TP and Wet Ones with us when we’re on the road.

Water pressure in Costa Rica tends to be poor, and pipes are narrower than in the US—making it risky to flush toilet paper in most public restrooms and some homes. It’s normal to find signs requesting that one not throw used TP in the toilet. Instead, Ticos throw it in special wastebaskets that are generally emptied frequently, even in dirty gas station bathrooms. Though I know to do it, this still is not a pleasant habit for me, but it’s a heck of a lot better than an overflowing toilet. (Thankfully we can flush paper in our house!)

On the home front, we’ve learned that our toilets have personalities. In the master bath, I often have to push the button in (instead of holding the knob down) to get the toilet to flush properly. Thankfully the knobs are at knee level for me, so I just stand there with my knee holding the button for about six seconds.

The good news is that our master bath toilet is at least quiet, thanks to Dan rigging it with a piece of thread and a metal key. This keeps it from running 24/7. Sometimes I wonder if Dan is watching MacGyver (Mah GEEEEver, as they say here in CR) on the sly. I told you these Ticos love themselves some MacGyver!

Several toilets in our home are screamers. A couple of them emit a very brief, high-pitched wail after use, while those in Lauren’s bathroom and the powder room sound like sirens going off. The first time Lauren used the bathroom on the day we moved here, she nearly cried when the toilet began screaming at her. (Toilets in other places sometimes do this too. We were just hanging out with friends at a beach home they’d rented, and I felt right at home when I used the bathroom—had to hold the knob while listening to the toilet siren.)

We’ve tried fixing the scream and have had two plumbers fix it, too—but the sirens always return. It’s something about air in the lines. We’re used to it now, but I gotta admit that when I stayed with my parents this summer, using the bathroom was noticeably simple. A pleasure! Throw in the paper, one quick push of the handle to flush. Quiet toilet, no running, no sirens. And when I went to wash my hands, there was plenty of soap and I knew exactly which faucet knob to turn for the hot water.

¡Puros baños!


Justine said...

Okay, I have a silly request. Can you take a video camera into each of your bathrooms and flush so we can all hear what you're talking about? This just sounds too damn funny not to experience!

Justine :o )

And what is with the word verification? You ain't with the CIA ya know! LOL

Shelli said...

Hovering, screamers--even using the facilities is an adventure.