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Does anybody know …?

I’m going to be traveling soon (more about that in the coming weeks) and will be spending time in places where you Don’t Drink the Water. Or else.

I already know about some common pitfalls and mistakes. I know, for instance, that you also Don’t Use the Ice Cubes. And Don’t Eat Fruit unless you’ve peeled it yourself. Ditto on not eating raw veggies, which may have been washed in the Dreaded Water. (Which pretty much blows my whole nutritional plan. Ah well.) I’ll brush my teeth only with bottled stuff.

But I can’t figure this: Can you wash dishes in the native water without inadvertently doing horrible things to your guts? Unless I have better info, I’m planning to take iodine tablets and wash dishes only in treated water. But if you’ve spent time in those Don’t Drink the Water places and have better info, I’d sure appreciate you dropping your advice and suggestions in the comments section. Thanks!


  1. MS Jordan
    MS Jordan February 7, 2010 1:40 pm

    In mid-2009 I spent 4 months in the Congo with a group building a hospital – here are some things that I was either told or learned.

    1st – If you boil the water, no need to do any of this – bring your own “large” water containers.
    2nd – For drinking or teeth – and you want to be absolutely sure – buy “con gas” bubbly water – harder to make your own and put a cap back on – not uncommon in south american restaurants to have the tap water put in a bottle and a cap put back on. If “you” buy it in a store or street vendor – MAKE sure the CAP is properly secured – if not pick another one
    3rd – Make sure you have purification tablets and iodine.
    4th – look at a “HIGH” quality water filter – try this site not cheap $170.00 or look for a Katadyn product not cheap but worth every penny – I’ve had a “Hiker” for years – also parts are relatively easy to find as they have been around along time
    5th – Really important – make sure all your vaccinations are current – Hepatitis A & B, Diphtheria, etc etc – Talk to your Dr 4-6 weeks ahead of time – some of these are hard to get a hold of and you will need every bit of that time. If your Dr hasn’t a clue – check this site – “travel clinic’s” that specialize in this stuff. I can’t emphasize this enough we lost 4 people in africa to various stuff that would have been prevented if their vaccinations were current.
    6th – wash your hands when you can, bring multiple containers of hand sanitizers.
    That’s what comes to mind immediately – I’m sure I’ll have further thoughts and others will chime in.

  2. Claire
    Claire February 7, 2010 2:47 pm

    MS Jordan — THANK YOU for the excellent voice of experience.

    Some of those things would never have occurred to me — restaurants and street vendors selling the local bug-laden water in re-capped bottles? OMG.

    Right now, this is my best travel water filter (a filter straw):

    Although it’s “advanced” and I thought it was high quality, it doesn’t look it compared to the one you pointed to.

    Vaccines … got ’em. Fortunately, the area I’m going to requires only Hep A, typhoid, and a malaria preventative — which is a good thing, because when I thought I needed more, I checked with a travel clinic and discovered that it would require an all-day trip and cost more than my airline tix!

    Four months in the Congo helping to build a hospital? Man, now that’s a story. If you’re willing, I’d like to hear more. In fact, I wonder whether Dave might like to see an article on that. (Can’t speak for him, of course.)

    I should note that I’m not going to be traveling that long, and will be in the most “iffy” area for only a week or so. But I’m glad to have advice from somebody who really put his advice to the acid test.

  3. Claire
    Claire February 7, 2010 6:18 pm

    Thanks, Karen!

    I’ve never seen a tiny UV purifier like that. Interesting.

    I see that the site MS Jordan pointed to has those — in several varieties — and even a solar charger.

    And yes, definitely, on the unpleasant subject of Imodium. The friend I’m traveling with got a prescription anti-diarrheal from her doctor, but I’m just going over-the-counter … and trusting to a good water filter.

    One thing I’ve looked for and so far not been able to find is a good “Consumer Reports” type test comparing various water filters. Every filter maker displays various claims, and some give summary reports of government tests, etc. But I’m really, really missing a site where the methodology is spelled out and the results given in detail for a variety of different filters. If anybody knows of one …

    ADDED: SteriPEN does seem to have a good collection of test results. I haven’t explored them all yet, but here they are:

  4. Bob
    Bob February 7, 2010 10:39 pm


    Don’t go!

    In addition to all the potential perils that you mention, you’ll also be subjected to the indignities of flying, which will put you at the mercy of all those “bastards” you write about.

    Hope this isn’t one of those off-shore medical trips so many of us take because we can’t afford treatment in the U.S.

    For what it’s worth, the SteriPen works, but you gotta have faith in it because all you do is stick it in the water and swish it around until the light comes on. The first time I used it I wished I’d had some proof that all those unseen critters swimming around in my water were really dead.

    Anyway, good luck on your trip.

    A reformed (old) bastard.

  5. A.G.
    A.G. February 7, 2010 11:30 pm

    +1 on Katadyn. Steripen works as well, but is not really rugged and doesn’t strain any gunk from water while in the wilds, so the old joke is to use your teeth to stop the bigger chunks from going down.
    Tony Nester is a well respected wilderness survival instructor (and all around good guy) in Az. He will respond to emailed questions of this nature assuming he isn’t out wandering around somewhere.
    He also has a small, private forum that I can forward questions to if you like.

  6. Claire
    Claire February 8, 2010 7:08 am

    Thank you, A.G. and Bob.

    A.G. Interesting site there. Mr. Nestor is probably overkill for my little adventure, but that’s a site to bookmark.

    Bob: “Don’t go!” LOL. Point well taken. I am definitely not looking forward to the TSA treatment, especially if it should turn out to include body scanners. (FWIW, I would submit to a pat-down before entering the security-porn machine.)

    OTOH, part of the purpose of my trip is to see how differently things (including airport security) are done outside the U.S. — and yes, that does include looking into “medical tourism” options, though not (knock wood) because I have personal need of them.

    Always nice to have some good cheer from an old bastard. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Claire
    Claire February 8, 2010 7:18 am

    Oh yeah … Forgot to add … It’s good to hear from so many people with personal experience of the SteriPEN or any other sort of water filter. (The Amazon link Karen provided also has a lot of reviews from people who’ve actually used the device in places with bad water.)

    I really, truly, don’t trust the claims made by most filter makers. And I’m surprised at the number of threads on ancap and “doomer” (LOL) discussion forums that contain dozens of links to “great filters” or “best filters” — in which not a single person mentions ever putting a filter to a hard, real-world test.

    I’m interested in lab-test results only if I can see the methodology & details. But I’m more interested in hearing a dozen people say, “I used it in Tibet [or Nepal or Mexico or the latest flood] and didn’t get sick once!”

  8. Winston
    Winston February 8, 2010 10:16 am

    I’m afraid I don’t have any “used it in mexico” anecdotes, but FWIW I do a lot of backcountry camping trips relying on my ability to get clean water. Though the water around here is generally pretty safe, it still has girardia, and there’s always the pretty good chance that you’ll keep walking upstream and find a lovely pile of excretment (maybe even human if you’re near a public camping area…) or a rotting animal carcass in the water. Oh, and there’s agricultural runoff.

    Anyway, I use a little Aquamira Frontier Pro filter most of the time. It’s only good up to 50 gallons, but it only costed $16. In all honesty though, if I was going to rely on something for all my water in a 3rd world country I’d probably spend the money on a really good filter, or just use tabs. (BTW the tabs from Katadyn or Aquamira are a lot better than the regular iodine ones. They don’t have that foul taste nearly as bad and they are packed in little blisters like you get pills in)

    Anyway the best filter out there that’s portable seems to be the Katadyn Pocket. It’s pretty expensive though, but it’s good for 13,000 gallons without changing the filter, whereas most similar ones that are only $90 or so are only good for 200-500 and don’t clean the water quite as well. Sawyer seems to also make a really nice line of filters, and theirs are rated for 1 million gallons, though unfortunatly I haven’t been able to find much on these.
    And don’t forget pool shock (calcium hypochlorite). Think of it as an improved version of the old trick of using drops of bleach. Cheap, too.

    Though my experience is admittedly limited to the NC and Virginia backcountry, I hope this helps some. Good luck on your adventure, Claire!

    (P.S. you better write about it when you get back!)

  9. MS Jordan
    MS Jordan February 8, 2010 10:26 am

    Thinking about Bob’s comment about “not going”.
    As horribly degrading it is to fly – going to another country for more than a 7 day “vacation” is something that I strongly urge everyone todo at least once in their life and while your at it take a left or right wing wack job with you.
    Living in other countries drives home what is good and bad about living in the US and it forces people who don’t think to do the thing they hate doing the mose “think rationally”.

    So – Claire – go, live among them – I spent the bulk of my early life till I was 26 overseas and creates a fundamental shift in how you view your life, how you live that life and where you live.

    Claire – sorry to hijack this, but I just could resiste

  10. Claire
    Claire February 8, 2010 11:46 am

    MS Jordan — you nailed it. And no worries about hijacking. Anything to do with travel to places unlike the U.S. fits right into this thread; keep those comments coming.

    In this case, I think it’s my (non-political and devoutly Christian) friend who’s “taking the … wack job” with her. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I’m going for the very reasons you state, among others.

    I traveled a lot in my 20s, but it was mostly on business, with a client who was treated like a grandee. So the travel was a weird combo of the stress of being part of the entourage of an insanely demanding businessman, but also the perks of being part of an entourage (e.g. traveling one time without a passport, being escorted past all those “mere” travelers waiting in long lines at customs, meeting dignitaries, etc.) In other words, it’s time to see some non-U.S. reality, some of it very definitely third-world.

  11. Claire
    Claire February 8, 2010 11:52 am

    Winston — Oh, thank you so very, very much for those lovely upstream images. You can now be sure I’ll be thinking about them every time I contemplate a fresh mountain stream. Ah well, reality checks are always good — as is further real-world info about water filters.

    And as to writing about the trip … you betcha. In fact, I plan to take my computer (or at least a couple of memory sticks, depending on how much else I have to carry) and send “dispatches” as I go. I won’t have a ‘Net connection most of the time. But this blog has a very cool feature — the ability to upload entries and schedule them for future posting. So when I do have access, I hope to ready several of those dispatches at once and keep ’em coming.

  12. Keith
    Keith February 8, 2010 12:47 pm

    Have traveled to many 3rd world countries.

    I’m not offering medical advise. Just sharing what I do. Check with your doctor.

    When I travel I take a big bottle of Lactobacillus acidophilus. I like the chewable tabs. I pay attention to where I buy them and how they are stored. Refrigerated is good. I chew one every couple of hours during the day (no water needed) and have noticed I don’t get TD (traveler’s diarrhea) as often as my traveling companions. Also, if I do get TD it doesn’t seem to be as severe, nor last as long as other Americans with whom I’ve traveled. I start loading up on L. Acidophilus the day before I travel. Here’s some info:

    I also have gelled alcohol on my person at all times so I can disinfect hands before I eat. Soap and water is better, but the gelled alcohol is better than nothing.

    +1 on the locals pour tap water into bottles and sell it to tourists.
    +1 on filtering my own water to drink.

    Then I hope for the best and plan for the worst.

    In this context that means planning to effectively deal with a personal case of TD. I travel with a small roll of toilet paper (without the cardboard core) on my person. I also travel with premeasured packages of salt, potassium chloride, sugar and citric acid so I can make my own re-hydration solution. Here’s a wiki link:

    When I get TD, I believe it’s best for me to stay hydrated and let things run their course, but that’s not always compatible with sitting in a bus or airplane for which I might personally consider the need for OTC Loperamide Hydrochloride which I carry in my travels as well.

  13. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal February 8, 2010 3:32 pm

    Or, you could train your body to tolerate bad water beforehand. OK, maybe not. Well, it works for me, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone I like. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  14. Karen
    Karen February 8, 2010 3:36 pm

    For a firsthand account about the SteriPen, here’s the link to the doomer forum where I first heard about the SteriPen and how it’s being used. I have no connection to it, just find it fascinating and way cool.,61017.0.html

    ” So far, through very short emails, the Steri Pen has been a lifesaver. It was originally just chucked in as a last minute item, but I kept saying that WATER may be available but not drinkable…that the SteriPen could render water drinkable…that they perhaps wouldn’t be dependant on others to continue to supply water to them…that they could use the precious bottled water for patient care…etc. So, they took it. I had it put coffee filters in the ZipLok bag that contains the SteriPen. I had planned to use the coffee filters to prefilter the water before putting it through the Pen. So the feedback is that the coffee filters,(100 count for 1 buck at the dollar store..grin), are worth about a month’s salary, that they are using the SteriPen non-stop to make drinkable water for themselves and their patients.”

  15. John Q
    John Q February 8, 2010 4:37 pm

    many years ago when I was planning an overseas trip my doctor prescribed doxycycline to take once a day while in one island nation (Fiji). However, I got sick from drinking water in the country that everyone said the water was safe! (New Zealand)

  16. Claire
    Claire February 8, 2010 4:57 pm

    Keith, thanks for being another voice of experience and for the info about lactobacillus acidophilus. Never would have thought of that in all my life. A few years ago, a friend gave me some oral hydration packets. Thanks for the reminder. They’re small; might just as well tuck them into a pocket in my backpack.

    Kent … uh … no. Sorry. But no. You’re the hearty mountain man, alright.

    Karen, what a fantastic link! Who would ever have thought that a Bug-out-bag would go (without its creator) to Haiti in an emergency? I might just have to put that link into a blog entry so more people will see it.

    John Q … I’m curious; did your doctor prescribe doxycycline as a treatment for gut illnesses? I’ll be taking doxycycline as a malaria preventative. It’s not the best one available, these days. But I could get a $6 prescription at Wal-Mart, which made it very appealing. It also occurred to me that since it’s an antibiotic it might have other uses on the trip.

    This is a fantastic comment thread. But you know, nobody has yet come up with an answer for my original question: Is it safe to wash dishes with “native” water in areas where you wouldn’t drink that water? Or should I stick with my original plan of treating the water (boiling, iodine, or whatever) first?

  17. Keith
    Keith February 8, 2010 7:30 pm

    I’ve used non-potable water to wash dishes before w/ a very large group of Americans. Here’s what we did.

    We had no ill effects, but we did use a final rinse of the non-potable water treated w/ bleach (12 drops per gallon). We also left the dishes to dry in the sun w/ the eating surface facing the sun, relying on the UV rays to sterilize whatever the bleach might have missed. We were careful not to use too much bleach as this in itself will give diarrhea.

    Again, just relaying my personal experience — not giving medical device. Make your own informed decision, yada, yada…

  18. Claire
    Claire February 9, 2010 5:45 am

    Thanks, Keith. That sounds like a good way to do it.

    And understood that you’re not giving medical advice. I appreciate the caveat, though it’s damn sad that we must caveatize so much, these days. Sigh.

  19. John Q
    John Q February 9, 2010 4:18 pm

    Yes Claire, it was to protect me from intestinal problems.

  20. Bennie
    Bennie February 11, 2010 2:58 am

    In Central America, (as Keith mentioned), we rinsed with dishes with a little bleach water. Had no problems.

  21. Claire
    Claire February 11, 2010 8:14 am

    This thread has now drawn more comments than any other on the blog. You guys have definitely helped me, and I’m guessing this page will be showing up on Google searches for years to come, giving useful advice to others.

    My own plan, thanks to this discussion: SteriPEN for most everyday uses (since I won’t be away for months where batteries might become a problem). My existing filter straw as a backup, particularly if I need to drink from non-tap sources. Bleach for washing dishes.

    Imodium, acidophilus, and doxycycline also going into my backpack. As noted above, I’ll already be taking the doxycycline against malaria. Good to know that it could have other uses.

  22. Pat
    Pat February 11, 2010 8:30 am

    “As noted above, Iโ€™ll already be taking the doxycycline against malaria. Good to know that it could have other uses.”

    But don’t take it for too long a period, I hope.

    And never forget that use of antibiotics can cause diarrhea (even with acidophilus), so don’t assume you have a ‘bug’ if you have the runs.

  23. Claire
    Claire February 11, 2010 9:50 am

    You know, never in all my life did I think I’d be publicly talking about “the runs.” Let alone any personal runs that I might or might not get. (As Don Lockwood proclaimed in “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Dignity … always dignity.” Ah well.

    Pat, I’ll be taking the doxycycline for about a month, ideally a bit longer. I know antibiotics can rob the body of “good bugs,” but fortunately I’ve never had a problem with any antibiotic.

    My biggest concern about this one is that it causes sun sensitivity. I haven’t checked yet to see whether that means susceptibility to sunburn, sunstroke, or what. But in any case … well, damn, if there’s sun around, I expect to take full advantage of it.

    Snowing and foggy here today. Not as bad as DC (in many senses). But oh gimme the tropics!!!

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