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Got Water?: The ecofiltro

Imagine having to hike miles for your water every day, several times of day...



Last week was an awful one for me. As I’ve written before, my apartment here in Guatemala is not always the height of luxury. Though the setting is beautiful, my shrewd-ish budget and lackadaisical real estate hunting techniques basically led to living in an old hotel room without a hot plate kitchen, mini-fridge, and a bathroom that serves both as a place to shit and a place to wash my dishes. It’s this bathroom that has caused the fits of late.

For some reason, in the whole of Antigua, the running water in my apartment complex basically disappeared. Well, if I turned the hot water spout, a trickle of cold water would come out, but the toilet tank no longer filled (causing me to stand at the sink for about fifteen minutes after each bowel movement and hope this next slow gallon of water would get it down), cleansing showers became a memory, and filling up my ecofiltro water cleaning system turned into a real pain.

As I sat down this morning to write this blog, I knew it was NGO week, and beyond that, I hadn’t really thought about what I was going to present to you. The internet at the café was down, which meant classic Wiki-research methods were out of the question. I sat scratching my unkempt and crusty beard (It’s actually to a point where I may go up to Earth Lodge to take a decent shower.). Then, I got up and grabbed the latest Que Pasa, thinking they’ve always got a nice write-up. First page I opened to, I saw an ad for ecofiltro: Hike for Water.


First of all, let me explain what an ecofiltro is. More or less, it’s a five gallon bucket with an insert that sanitizes this infamously stomach-churning Central American water into something perfectly acceptable to drink. Without further polluting the environment with plastic water bottles and little plastic water bags, folks can acquire a little clean drinking water. Earth Lodge has them, Oxford Language Center has them, I have one, El Guato Tattoo shop—let’s just say anybody who’s anyone in Antigua these days has an ecofiltro.

Recently, the folks at ecofiltro have kicked off a pretty cool campaign. Thinking of the villagers in Guatemala who sometimes have to hike over a mile just get water, a task done multiple times a day, EcoFiltro has started an empathizing (at least symbolically) fundraiser: This year there are five hikes, climbing three volcanoes in Guatemala, and one mountain in Seattle, in which each participant essentially donates one ecofiltro to communities who could probably do with a sip or two of something cool and clean after carrying five gallons of soiled water over a mile.


I actually saw a few pictures of the first hike last week on Facebook. It looked like there was more than just do-gooding happening. People seemed to be having fun as well, and that’s always a combination that feels right to me. So, one hike is down and there a four more to go: 22 June is Volcan Pacaya (actively spewing hot lava), 27 July is Volcan Fuego (also a lava spitter), 7 September is Mt. Si (the Seattle sidestep), and 16 November is Volcan Acatenango (Fuego’s dormant neighbor). I’m hoping to make at least a couple of these. If you’re interested in hiking as well, visit ecofiltro’s Hike for Water page, or if you just want to support the project, that’s possible, too.

Eco-filters have been around since 1981, when first invented by Fernando Mazariegos, scientist at the Central American Research Institute. The following year, the design garnered the AIDIS prize for innovation in Latin America. Unfortunately, the filters didn’t really start making a massive breakthrough until the 2000s, when current CEO Philip Wilson began networking with NGOs and World Vision stepped up to help instigate widespread distribution. These days, with over 50,000 families benefited, ecofiltro is a for-profit operation that supports ecofiltro:one, its charitable partner creating sustainable solutions for communities in need of clean water.

As for me, I guess I’m thankful, if push comes to shove, walking a mile for water is not really in my likely future, and when I finally cave and decide a real shower just must happen, I can do so with relative ease. And, I’m thankful for my ecofiltro. In my first month down in Antigua, unwilling to part with the start up money (like $50) to get a filter system, I was rationing one plastic gallon of water a week, getting a little more dehydrated by the day. Then, after a run one weekend, I discovered my gallon jug empty. I’d had enough. Best $50 spent this year.


Posted by jonathonengels 12:19 Archived in Guatemala Tagged mountains profile ngo expat

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