Learning to cope without running water

Throughout my travels, I have occasionally had to cope without running water. While I knew intellectually that this was a daily reality for billions of people on the planet, it was never part of my reality growing up in the suburbs of one of Canada’s largest cities.

The first time I experienced a lack of running water was on a trip to Guatemala in November 2013. I was staying for a few weeks in Antigua, a popular town about an hour from Guatemala City. I was staying with a local family in a relatively nice house in the centre of the town. One day, I woke up to find that we couldn’t take a shower that morning and all the public toilets had been closed.

I learned throughout the day that the city’s running water would periodically shut off. In fact, one restaurant with a private water tank took advantage of the business opportunity and began charging nearly $2 U.S. to use their bathroom. At the time I found the experience extremely frustrating — mostly because I have the tendency to use the bathroom multiple times throughout the day, but by the evening running water had returned and I promptly forgot about.

My next experience living without running water was on a trip to Colombia in December 2015 and January 2016. I had the chance to travel to Colombia’s La Guajira desert to film a video project. The desert’s barren landscape runs along Colombia’s northern tip — even running alongside the Caribbean Sea in places, including backpacker hotspot Cabo de la Vela.

For my trip, I spent four days going through the desert in a jeep. I was travelling with three Colombians and a Spaniard. One of the Colombians, a member of the Wayuu people, acted as our guide – directing us through desert roads, and translating from the local language to Spanish as we came across indigenous settlements.

I will discuss the trip in another post, but for this post the thing I will say stood out to me the most, was the day our guide took us to the top of a sand dune near her childhood village of Puerto Estrella. There she pointed at a large section of dried mud and explained that until recently the area had been a freshwater lake: the main source of water for the community. Now, the area hadn’t seen rain in more than two years, so it had dried up.

Later that night, as we stayed at her cousin’s house, I went into their bathroom to find all the regular fixtures in place, but all the pipes disconnected. Instead, the family collected water from a well and stored it in a large plastic drum. That moment made me realize the devastating effect that climate change was having on the area. Up until recently the family had enjoyed all the conveniences of modern life – a flushing toilet, washing machine, regular running water for showers. Now, their lives had returned back to the way their grandparents had lived: pumping water and using a bucket of water for daily needs.

I have read about similar situations happening in many places around the world. I hope one day to document it. Unfortunately, my Spanish was not good enough at the time to engage in a thorough discussion with my host family about the realities of their life. But one day I hope to return.

My most recent experience was during a visit to an Ameridian village in Guyana. Within the village, each home has its own water pump to access a well. Every morning, they go out and pump water into a bucket for showers, washing dishes or cooking. Drinking water comes from a tank of collected rain water passed through a carbon filter.

As I pumped water every morning for my bucket cold shower, I got through by thinking about how great it would feel when I returned to the city with my hot shower in my apartment.

I’m sharing these experiences because they stuck with me and remind me how precious water is. Unfortunately, I used to have the bad habit of wasting water with half-hour long hot showers. Nowadays, I try to limit my consumption. I’m hoping these experiences help you do the same.


Starting fresh for the new year

I might be a little late this year as it is already January 9 (or 10th I think, as it’s already after midnight, yikes!), but I thought I’d take some time to reflect on the past year and make some new year’s resolutions.

This time last year, I was probably sitting on my couch watching a TV show on my computer or maybe pulling an all-nighter at The Star. In the back of my head was the idea that I wanted to move to London. I returned from my first two-month adventure on Dec. 18, and I think by this time I had already booked tickets to go back again for Reading Week in February. It was still very much a pipe-dream, though.

Now, I’m sitting on my bed, in a somewhat dingy, mould and mice-infested house in Mile End, (east London). This weekend, I’m going to Berlin and in three weekends I’ll be off to Brussels… Definitely a different life.

After raiding the Tumblr that I stopped using in about May, I found the following list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2011:

  • Invest $5000 in my RRSP
  • Maintain $3000 in my chequing account
  • Keep $5000 in my emergency fund.
  • Use coupons as much as possible.
  • Volunteer at least 40 hours this year
  • Donate 30 items of clothing
  • Move to London
  • Get a full-time job in broadcast
  • Read two books per month
  • Exercise at least five times per week
  • Finish all my assignments three days they’re due, so that I have time to edit them.
  • Travel to at least one country I haven’t been to yet.
  • Learn to cook 10 meals without a recipe
  • Run a 10K
  • Write a short story.

It appears, I only accomplished three of those goals: moving to London, travelling to at least one country I hadn’t been to yet (I went to six), and donate 30 items of clothing. (I think I must have given about 100 items from my wardrobe last year as I tried to reduce my possessions to one suitcase.) I did learn to cook several meals last year, but I don’t think being able to make five different types of pasta, with three different types of sauce really counts. I also might have read 24 books last year, but I can’t think of them all off the top of my head.

However, I did learn several things I was not expecting last year, the biggest one was that I learned how to be self-sufficient on an extremely small budget. My only debt is the £20 and change grocery bill I put on my American Express today (earning 20 Avios points, only need about 4980 more to go anywhere).

I guess I’ll have to do better in 2012, especially as the world is going to end in 11 months!

Anyway, here are my resolutions for 2012:

Blog at least three times per week. (I know it’s boring for all of you that I don’t update enough, so I’m going to finally change that this year!)

Stop spending money on purchases I won’t remember. I bought a coffee and bagel this morning, and I definitely won’t remember it in a few days. This would also include money spent drunk at the bar – Bad! I’m going to extend this to a ban on accumulating any more possessions, hopefully, this will help me become more mobile. To keep track of this, I think I’ll start listing my purchases on the website, especially any travel related ones!

Travel to at least three more countries that I have never been to before, as well as each part of the UK. I’ve been to 17 sovereign states (including Vatican City), so three more will bring me to an even 20. I also still need to travel to Wales and Northern Ireland to round out the UK. I would love suggestions on what my next country should be… I’m thinking maybe Switzerland or Poland.

Finally, by the end of this year, I want to have a full-time job in journalism (even if it’s a poorly paid one.)

What are your goals?


25 things to do before I turn 25….

Tomorrow is my 22nd birthday and I’m going out tonight to the bar with about 20 friends and getting completely hammered. It’s probably the last time I’ll see many of them as school is done and I’ll be leaving the country pretty soon. Maybe it’s because graduating is making me feel like I’m turning a new chapter, but I’ve been thinking a lot this week about where I want to be in a few years. What do I want to have done by the time I turn 25? So, I decided to make a list:

1) Visit 20 countries. COMPLETED June 15, 2012 – Canada, U.S., Chile, UK, Ireland, Sweden, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Morocco,

2) Spend Oktoberfest in Munich.

3) Travel alone through a country where I don’t speak the language.COMPLETED June 15, 2012 – 8 days travelling alone in Croatia

4) Go on a backpacking trip of at least 3 weeks long. COMPLETED July 6, 2012

5) Visit every part of the United Kingdom I’ve been to Scotland and England

6) Go to Prague. COMPLETED Aug. 31, 2011

7) Drive a car on the left side of the road.

8) Become fluent in Spanish. UPDATED November 8, 2013. I am taking Spanish lessons while travelling to Guatemala. I am comfortable now with basic conversations and can understand most of what people are saying to me. I feel confident walking around by myself.

9) Go to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh

10) Write a short story

11) Run a half marathon

12) Drive across Canada

13) Go to a Manchester United Game at Old Trafford

14) Ride in a gondola in Venice

15) Spend News Year’s Eve in Edinburgh for Hogmanay

16) Participate in either the running of the bulls in Pamplona or La Tomatina in Bunyol

17) Spend St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin

18) See Stonehenge COMPLETED Oct. 16, 2011

19) Go scuba diving (preferably in Croatia)

20) Volunteer abroad COMPLETED Nov. 8, 2013

21) Read all the books on the Observer’s list of 100 greatest novels – I’m at 14 currently.

22) Go whale watching UPDATE attempted June 22, 2013, but we didn’t see any whales.

23) Go surfing COMPLETED Nov. 20, 2013

24) Visit a music festival

25) Get a paying-job in TV. COMPLETED Aug. 1, 2012