Monday, May 4, 2009

Africa Self Guided Safari Series Part 2: Water Purification and Responsible Tourism

Don't Drink The Water!
This sad little one liner about traveling has become watchword to some. We get asked a lot of questions when we travel about a variety of topics. One of the questions we get asked the most is, "Do you drink the water?" The answer is "yes," but with qualifiers.

Do Drink the Water?
Some of the countries we are visiting in southern Africa have tap water purified to international health standards. Do your research before you go.

Bottled Water and Traveler Trash
Without being preachy, one of the things that is of top importance to most travelers is the ability to be able to drink water and feel that is not going to make you ill. Seems like many turn to bottled water as their primary defense. The problem for me arises when you have to buy bottled water in plastic containers, drink it and then have few options of what to do with the container! The infrastructure of many countries we have traveled in are not equipped to handle all the plastic trash that is left behind by we travelers. Rather than be part of the problem and rely on bottle water totally, Robert and I have used some type water purification system for the last 10 years of travel with good results.

We have experimented with several different types with varying results. The one we have used the past two trips to Africa, Panama, and Belize is the SteriPen. This "pen" is a pocket UV-powered water purifier. You use 4 AA batteries to power it and swish it around in the water until the light goes out--one to two minutes depending on the size of your container. We carry rechargeable batteries to power the pen and so this is also another way to cut down on adding to the various countries' landfill problems.

Katadyn Base Camp hanging filter
For this coming trip to South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, and Botswana, and for our recent trip to Belize and Guatemala, we have added another level: purify large amounts of water using a Katadyn gravity filtration system. According to the manufacturer : "The Base Camp comes with the cleanable, AntiClog Hiker Pro Microfilter Cartridge that removes bacteria, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium to EPA Standards." This is a bladder that is hung from a position high enough to allow the water to move from the bladder through the filter into a gallon container. No more pumping, though that is at least some exercise. The water seems to taste better when we use this, and we will use this water for cooking, etc. After it has gone through this container we then will probably still use the SteriPEN for our drinking water for good measure. Probably overkill, though.

Sweetwater Drops
We will be going on some very long bus rides on this trip to Africa. For this trip, we are trying out a new purification idea for our long bus rides where pulling out the rig at bus stops will be problematic. We bought Sweetwater chlorine drops at REI to refill our water bottles on the 8-12 hour bus rides we will be going on. According to the instructions, you put 3-5 drops into your water, wait five minutes and the water is ready. We will see how this goes.

One Last Word on Traveler Trash
Another hint for travelers not related to water issues. Just a suggestion: somewhere in your baggage, fold up or roll up one of your cloth grocery bags from home. These have so many uses besides just the usual one for carrying out your groceries. One of the things that impressed me in some stores In South Africa, Namibia and Botswana is the practice of charging you for the plastic bags for your groceries! I also usually fill a quart baggie with several plastic bags from home and find them very useful as we travel along.


GnTnZ said...

So glad to have found your site as we are planning our first trip to Africa (namibia, Botswana, Tanzania) later this year.

Thanks for all the useful info.

I too was looking to get a Steri-Pen filter, but was put off by reviews that indicated a high failure rate - it seems that the ones that work work well, but the ones that fail (up to 50% reported) are useless.

Evan Ravitz said...

IF you come down with parasites -especially amoebic dysentery or giardia, here's the natural -and the commercial- cure:

malonetravels2 said...

Thanks, BnTnZ, have a great trip. Please come back and share how it goes and what you learn!

SteriPEN 'failure' is possible! Did not know that there was a high failure rate. It is sold by REI and Whole Earth, so thought it was much more reliable and that only we had had problem. Still, we will take it with us since it is so light.

Should have mentioned this in the blog... Ours did fail in Panama when dropped on a tile floor! We had to use chlorine for the remainder of the trip.... Sent it back and they gave us another.
At one point its replacement indicated a problem, sent it back, it tested ok, deduced that our rechargeable batteries were old and not powerful enough...

Best to take backup systems so your trip is not ruined!

Ahhh, the beauty of blogs!

Evan, we love that picture of you and will def check that out. You have a vast experience in the back country so suggest folks follow that link. Thanks!