9 Hours Without Electricity (P.S. you won't have water either)

The kid's school received the following notice from the electricity company two weeks ago:

El Inde informa que el próximo Jueves 12 de Febrero no habrá servicio de Energía Eléctrica de 08:00 a 17:00Hrs por mantenimiento en las lineas, esto en varios municipios de Sololá.

To paraphrase...

You and no one even close to you, will have electricity from 8AM to 5PM on Thursday, February 12th. Oh yeah, you probably won’t have water either. We hope we can get the power back on when planned.

  

  National Electrification Institute

In Guatemala power distribution is under the authority of the "Instituto Nacional de Electrificacion"...in English, National Electrification Institute (think national power company).

 Department of Solola represented in dark green.

Department of Solola represented in dark green.

We confirmed the above message on Facebook, but a notice was never delivered to our house. Had we not heard through the school we would have had no advance notice.

Guatemala is broken into 22 Departments.  Departments are most akin to States within the country. The above notice was stating that most if not all of Solola, the Department we live in, would be without power for an estimated 9 hours. This outage would impact roughly 450,000 people.

We found out about the planned outage on February 9 which meant we had 3 days to prep at home (and Mick at school). Yes, schools were still open. All things considered, 3 days notice in Guatemala is generally a lifetime. We're frequently told about something the day before it happens. For instance, notices about field trips at school are sent the day before. Ditto for birthday invitations.

So what's involved in planning for a 9 hour electrical outage?

Panajachel has a temperate climate year round and no one has heat or AC. We get plenty of natural light all day long. Our stove and range are gas, so we could cook food. We had 20 gallons of purified water so we could eat and drink all day with no issues. Our basic needs were met. But there are some inconveniences....

  • No power = no wifi. Unless you had and were willing to use a cell phone data plan there was no Internet anywhere in a 30-60 minute driving range. This did not bode well for the updated Maslow's Hierarchy (see below). But unplugging sometimes is a good thing. We downloaded everything we need in advance of the outage.
 The hierarchy now includes Wi-Fi as the foundation.

The hierarchy now includes Wi-Fi as the foundation.

  • The bigger inconvenience, no power = water pumps will not work. Which means few people would have water flowing from their sinks OR water to flush their toilets. This took some prep and forethought.

For background, many towns in Guatemala don't have gravity fed water pressure. Water is stored at houses in cisterns (a large tank for storing water). There are two primary types of cisterns.

1) A large elevated tank on a stand or roof - Most houses don't have an elevated cistern but those that do would have water flowing out of taps (until they used all of the water in their tank). Tanks are refilled via electric motors. With no electricity, no refills.

 Two versions of elevated cisterns.

Two versions of elevated cisterns.

2) A large tank that is buried in the ground - This is the most common type and the type we have. An electrical pump pushes water from the cistern into our house, thus creating water pressure. With no power, you instantly lose water pressure and your tap and toilet go dry.

 The outside and inside housing of the water pump that feeds our house. Our cistern is under the patch of grass right next to our pump.

The outside and inside housing of the water pump that feeds our house. Our cistern is under the patch of grass right next to our pump.

Due to the advanced notice, many people filled their pilas the night before. 

 A pila is a sink that is typically outdoors and used for cleaning.

A pila is a sink that is typically outdoors and used for cleaning.

The problem with filling up your pila is that you have to transfer the water inside, which can be a pain. This is exactly what happened in Mick's classroom. Kids had to retrieve a bucket of water every time they used the bathroom! Fortunately we had a few options, and we exercised them.

  We have a bathtub, and most people don't. We filled it up and used our bucket to refill the toilet when needed. No issue.

We have a bathtub, and most people don't. We filled it up and used our bucket to refill the toilet when needed. No issue.

 The night before, I filled up two empty 5 gallon water bottles with tap water just in case. We were set (minus the Internet

The night before, I filled up two empty 5 gallon water bottles with tap water just in case. We were set (minus the Internet).

Surprising, like clockwork the electricity at our house was cut off at 8AM. I took this as a good sign since everything else in the country seems to run 30 minutes to hours late. 

Feeling pretty good about our prep work, I ran errands. The weather was fantastic and about 80% of the stores and restaurants were open. They get plenty of sunlight so they don't need overhead lighting. Since their grills are gas, they were good to go (minus the cold stuff). 

I stopped by the market, a hardware store and a few tiendas. None of them had power but they were all open, which was convenient. I needed to pay my electric bill so I stopped by their office....yep, they had power!?! They had some kind of generator (or backdoor into the power supply). Their computers were up, and they were accepting payments even though almost half a million people could get no benefit from their utility. Ironic?

The only wild card remaining was whether or not the power would return at 5PM as promised.

5PM came and went...nothing.

5:30PM...still nothing.

Do we need to pull out the candles? Nope, at 5:38PM the lights came on and stayed on. YES! 

In retrospect, our planning worked. We had no issues and the biggest inconvenience was...

  None of the coffee shops in town were open! No power, no water, no open! Somehow we survived.

None of the coffee shops in town were open! No power, no water, no open! Somehow we survived.