So I took off my clothes and went to stand in the shower in my room at the Hotel San Francisco in San Pedro, Guatemala. I turn the water on, nothing happened. I stand there at attention listening for the slightest of gurgles or grumblings from down in the depths of the shower pipes. I hear nothing. After a couple of moments, I realize that I am just standing in the shower – naked.
I inspect the turn on lever, I inspect the pipes, I searched for another way to turn the water on to no avail. Then I gazed at the shower head: it was dry as the bone of a long gone deceased desert rat; age-old water deposits were encrusted over its nozzle-holes. This shower has not seen action in a very long time.
So what should I do? Shrug my shoulders, put my clothes back on and forget about cleaning myself? Be annoying and make the hotel owners fix it? I was sold a room with a shower, and even though I am not paying very much for it ($3), I was still sold a room with a shower. Perhaps I am a little naive, but I was under the impression that the spicket, pipes, and drain coming out of the wall in the back corner of my hotel room’s bathroom was a shower. If a shower does not have water running through it then it is just a collection of pipes So Mira and I went to tell the hotel owners, and get fully what we were sold.
The lady who runs the Hotel San Francisco is an old Mayan who, like most of the other old Mayan women in this town, still wears all of the colorful textiles of her old culture. She did not want to fix our shower. This was evident by the ensuring way that she muttered “ahorita” when we made out needs known.
“Ahorita” is the Spanish word for soon, but it actually has the working meaning of indicating some vague point in the future. In this case, it meant ‘later.’ How much later, I could not know. But I had the impression that ahorita simply meant that the shower would not be fixed until long after I departed from the hotel and San Pedro. Mira and I paid for a room with a shower, not just a dry spicket sticking out of a wall masquerading as such. So we held our ground. We were determined to make the hotel owner walk the plank. We wanted to take a shower. Hotel maintenance is an arm twisting endeavor in every corner of the globe.
Mayan woman and daughter fixing the water cistern above my hotel room in San Pedro, Guatemala
The old Mayan hotel owner seemed to realize that we have been in Latin America enough to know that ‘ahorita’ essentially means ‘never,’ and she rose in defeat to attend to the matter at hand. She had a boy run a rickety old ladder up to our rooftop room and set it pointing up to the water cistern that sat directly above the shower. It wobbled perilously. The hotel seemed to have already been well aware of the dysfunctional shower, and knew precisely what needed to be done. A broom, a bucket, a old Mayan woman, and a daughter soon trudged up the steps and walked over to the base of the ladder. At this point I began to feel a little sorry that I made this 60 year old woman climb three flights of narrow, perilously vertical stairs and a wobbly old ladder to combat the wails of a clogged water cistern. It did not seem to be the kind of venture that an old woman should have been engaged in.
These empathetic sentiments only grew when she climbed the narrow, wobbly ladder and somehow mounted the roof where the water cistern was in position. After a second of looking at the large tank, the old Mayan woman turned to me and asked if I really needed to take a shower. She clearly did not want to fix it, and was trying to take one last way out. I nodded my head in the affirmative, for I had come too far now to let her slip away without getting a shower. The old lady then laughed from up upon the roof and called for her daughter to put the bucket up to the cistern.
Together they unscrewed the grot infested outtake tube of the water cistern and led the brown, algae and sediments encrusted water pour out by the bucketful. I took photographs. They laughed at me. I felt useless.
Soon the old lady stuck her broom deep down into the cistern and spun it around a few times to break up the invading sludge that had clogged up the pipes. Eventually, the crud was dislodged, and the brown water drained without restraint. The old woman then dismounted the roof with agile steps. I said thank you, and disrobed for a second time to take a shower.
The shower was now fixed, it was ready to go. But I stood there, again naked, and again hesitating beneath the shower head. I have now witnessed a little too much about the inner workings of these Guatemalan water cisterns, and I knew that if I turned the lever, that I would be drenched in crusty, stagnate water. I gulped, as I considered taking my sludge shower a more ‘ahorita.’ Unsure if I had won the hotel maintenance battle, I flipped the lever and let the sediment rich cistern water fall over my long awaiting head.
The showers of the San Francisco Hotel of San Pedro, Guatemala now function a little better, but a besotted vagabond is now wondering if he is cleaner or dirtier for having won the great Latin American ‘ahorita’ battle.