Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cuenca's Hot Water Disappointment

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a thing for showers. I LOVE THEM. Long, hot showers are somewhat critical to taking me out of zombie state and into a functional state in the morning. They're relaxing. They're good for thinking. Opera is more fun in the shower. And, as an aside, showers keep me clean.

Cold showers, on the other hand, are the worst things in the world. Nothing makes me more likely to use my worst grown up words, get all grumpy, and start hating on the universe than a cold shower. Woe betide anyone who gives me any excuse at all to be angry with them after I've had a cold shower, because it's going to feel like World War III just broke out.

My Personality After A Cold Shower

Angry Grizzly

So, to the plumbers and electricians and architects of Cuenca, if you as a group don't start engineering better showers in this town, I'm going to hit you with something. Repeatedly.

At the moment, it seems as though every place I've ever taken a shower here {3 apartments + 2 guest showers} and everyone I've talked to has agreed that for the most part, there are three water temperatures available in Cuenca:
  • Arctic
  • Tepid
  • Scalding
Most water heater systems are gas powered, making the problem one of both heat source and pressure. On one hand, in theory, the hot water should never run out since it is continually heated as it is piped in. In practice, you have to get the water pressure just right to maximize the heating power of the gas flame. Too much and its arctic. Too little and its scalding. In the middle and . . . oh, let's face it. I spend 10 minutes a morning standing out of the spray, fiddling with the water, trying to get it to somewhere in the middle and scowling the entire time.

As a means of getting around the acknowledged problem with the gas heated showers, some systems use electric shower heads. Yes, all my North American readers, you read that right. Electric shower heads.

Scary Electric Shower Example #1

Scary Electric Shower 1

Scary Electric Shower Example #2

Scary Electric Shower 2

Thumbs Down Added By Actual User

Scary Electric Shower 3

Install these puppies the wrong way, and you'll get a shower experience you'll never forget. I had one in my second apartment, and let me tell you, fearing for my life cut into my shower time considerably. I also wore rubber flip flops to shower in religiously, just in case.

These death traps appear throughout Latin and South America. According to the Southern Baptist Missionary I talked to Tuesday, in Guatemala they are known as "Widowmakers" which seems about right. I'll never have one again.

The worst part of them, of course, is they still don't give consistently hot water, either. And yet there they are . . . in use . . . creating a whole legion of people with stories about "that time the shower caught on fire" or "the time I fried myself." Good times, people, good times.

It is a good way to distinguish yourself as an in-the-know type when looking for apartments here, though. Green out of towners ask about square footage and bedrooms. Second time around types and seasoned locals? We're asking about the hot water!


  1. Wow. That sounds...terrifying. I think that everyone looking at an apartment should be allowed to take a shower there. The water pressure of a shower, and the ability to get the right heat (and then also get just a little more for that extra kick some days) is absolutely CRUCIAL to happiness. In the end, whether you have a good view from a window or not won't really have a whole lot of impact on your day to day functioning. But if you're waking up to some bullshit, pressureless ice bath?! You're going to be pretty pissed.

    Very insightful stuff. From someone heading to South America for the first time in just ten days, I'm already pretty worried about the shower situation. Not being able to take one for four days while hiking should make me savor whatever the hell they throw at us in Peru. In Argentina? I'm demanding effective showering accoutrements.

  2. I agree with you on the showering in a place before getting it . . . yet how weird would it be to do apartment viewings and be like, okay, I'll be back in 20 minutes when you're done with your shower, sir.

    Showering in Argentina should be fine. The weirdest thing I saw in my friends apartment was that there was no shower door - but the whole bathroom was a tiled wonderland and you just went for it. Clothes had to go on a peg outside, though, but whatever.

    After 4 days that shower is going to feel awesome even if it is tepid.

  3. your phrases crack me up Jen. Tiled wonderland. hee! though that electric shower thing.... egads!

  4. After a long, long flight - it felt like a tiled wonderland! At least it had hot water . . . unlike my current shower!

  5. One of these scared the bejesus out of Hilarie when she saw it in Iguazu Falls last week. Apparently she is not faithfully keeping up with this blog! Anyway, the savvy I learned from you -- mainly that I might not die while using one of these -- got us through.

  6. Glad you made it through - also looking forward to hearing what you thought of the overall Iguazu Falls and Machu Pichu experience!