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« A Year In The Life Of A Boy | Main | Video Blog: Lake Titicaca and the Uros »

Daily Life in a Developing Country - The Down Side

Our apartment in Cusco is a nice one, in a good area. We have 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a big living room, and a spectacular view of the valley of Cusco. It's one of the nicer places we've stayed this year. We also have no heat, no hot water heater, and no oven. It's winter here, and it gets to around 30F at night, though it's up to the mid-60s in the day. Our place is FREEZING!!! The heavy pile of alpaca blankets on our beds are warm... so warm that I find excuses to crawl under them earlier and earlier every night.

We were all miserable in the mornings especially, so we finally broke down and got a heater. Well - the kind of heater that one uses around here. We went to the Saturday market a week ago and bought a big clay pot with a hole in the side. It's sort of a Chimera. Then we spent a week looking for the alcohol we needed to burn inside it. After asking everywhere, Bob and I finally got a lead today from a guy selling sunglasses on the street, and took a taxi to the Wanchuk market. After we bought a pineapple and some tiny bananas, the ladies there pointed us down an alley, and off we went. Just about the time I was going to give up, and spend yet another icicle-nosed morning tomorrow, we found the place: a tiny store-front the size of a garage, with no sign. The ladies there poured our alcohol from a giant drum into an old plastic water bottle. The drum next to it held drinking alcohol. What kind? Does it matter?

When we got home Bob hacked a tin can in half, filled it with alcohol, put it inside the pot - and voila!

This raging fire hazard is sitting in our living room. Hurray!!Tonight I have a fire burning in my pot, and I am a happy camper! No - really - it does feel a little like camping in here. Especially in the mornings, when I have a very big decision to make: Am I so smelly that I have to shower? Not only is our bathroom Really Frickin Cold, but we take our lives in our hands every time we shower. We don't have a water heater, as I mentioned.  We have what people around here use, which is a water-heating electrical shower head. When you turn the water on, the device gets 'hot', and the water runs through it, ever-so-briefly, on it's way out onto your goose-pimpled body. The result is luke-cool water, and the almost certainty of electrical shock while shampooing - due to exposed 220 voltage wiring with water splashing on it. Eleanor is the only one of us who hasn't been shocked yet, and that's because we turn th shower on and off for her. Around here the Gringos call these devices Widow Makers.

I gave up on the shower Electricity + Water = Every day is an adventure!head entirely for a while. I would take an enormous pot of boiling water from the kitchen, and use that to bathe. I had a special cup for pouring that I kept in the bathroom, along with a plastic bucket.  Then one day I broke down, and took a taxi down to the plumbing district, and bought a brand new Widow Maker. Maybe a new one would actually heat! I brought it home and handed it over to my landlord with a pleading look, and now we have hot water in the morning, as long as we turn the water on Really Low, so that only a few drops come out at a time. Although the bathroom is so cold that by the time the water gets down to your knees, it's freezing. I haven't shaved my legs since I got here. Not once. Bob did the math yesterday. If we only bath every other day - we have 15 more frigid showers until we leave.

These are our sidewalks up in San BlasNow - I sound like I'm complaining. I probably was for the first week or so. Now it's just life. It's fun conquering the little challenges in a new place - like the narrow streets here, with the narrower walking paths. We're getting really used to honking cars whizzing past us, inches away, as we play chicken with the people coming in the opposite direction. We're no longer surprised to round a corner and run into a lady  in a tall derby hat herding her llama up the main street, and carrying her lamb in a blanket on her back.

There are so many really awesome things about living here. My next post will be all about all of that.

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Reader Comments (7)

Th-th-that's it. I'm only t-t-t-t-taking c-c-c-cold sh-sh-showers unt-t-til you g-get b-b-back. In solid-d-darity.

K-K-Kirk out

Jul 19, 2010 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Lama says, "Screw THAT!" Time for a new place!


Jul 19, 2010 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterYo Lama

I absolutely LOVE reading about all of your adventures!!! It almost feels like I am right there with you all!!! I will be so sad when you return home and the blogging stops!!!

Enjoy the rest of your time in "uncertainty"......I know I will.

Jul 19, 2010 at 7:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterpamela

I remember when we first got to Africa, the culture shock associated with the showers! We were in Kenya the first week and the bathroom was a hole in the floor where you squatted and a bucket where you sort of rinsed off-all in the same tiny room! Togo was a little better as the bucket for the 'shower' was at least in a shower stall. Surprisingly, though, Ethiopia was actually a hand held shower! Although it was a little trickle coming out of the shower head, at least I wasn't trying to clean myself and my son with all the water that had washed off our dirty bodies! Glad to back in the states though-we were only gone a little over 5 months and it's amazing the things you miss!

Jul 20, 2010 at 9:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnita B

What an incredible story Brenna! You are being so resourceful. You ARE camping... no explanations or apologies needed. You have a huge fan base supporting you every step of the way, complaining or not! I am in utter awe of the Redpaths! xxx

Jul 20, 2010 at 1:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJillypoo

Hi Brenna!
Oh gosh... You are my heroes.. bathing every other day under such conditions. When we have been there in the freezer, I mean, Cuzco, did not have facilities for boiling water but to make a cup of tea, so we bathed just twice a week with freakincold water.. brrrr! Oh.. I have just confessed that, to how many people? We know that electric shock machines so well... we do not use them. Hubby can not understand why people in the sierra have no fireplaces at home, not even the wealthy ones.
I have written to you inviting you four to our place in Peru, in a warmer location :-) Hope to hear from you soon.
Meanwhile, good luck with the morning hours and baths.
That picture of your fire pot is so cute!


Jul 21, 2010 at 5:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterCarola

Look on the bright are helping save water, all that fuzz on your legs is helping to
conserve body heat, and finding the alcohol introduced you to a new neighborhood.
When all of you return to LA I bet you take 2 or 3 showers a day just for the joy of warm water!

Do you remember when we would go to the BVI, be on a sailboat for a week with small showers and never really warm water? We would go to a hotel and spend the night, not for the food or the beds.....for the showers. Glorious warm water as long as we wanted it. We all looked like prunes, we stayed in the shower so long. At least you had some what of a no hot water experience before Cusco.

Jul 22, 2010 at 9:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterMom

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