The Frankenstein Shower

After 10 months of camping we’ve come to appreciate the quality and variety of campground bathrooms and showers.

We’ve experienced everything from bushcamps where the toilet is a spot that you choose behind some trees a little ways away from the van to $30 RV parks, where, disappointingly, the quality can still vary. Bathroom quality is definitely a factor in deciding whether to stay somewhere longer or head on down the road.

When you show up at a campground, the bathroom is one of the first things you check out. Is it clean? How many hooks are there near the shower for hanging my clothes and towel? Do I need to worry about that spider in the corner? How many mosquito bites am I likely to get while I’m naked or partially dressed? Is there a place to sit down? Can I get my clean pants on without dragging them through the dirty water on the floor?

These questions and more go through your mind when assessing a shower in a new place. Next comes the water itself. Unless you’re in a hot climate where a cool or even cold shower feels good, hot water is very nice. The guy in reception said with a smile, “Sí, hay agua caliente!” (yes, there’s hot water). But what does that really mean?

Is there enough water pressure? How long will the hot water last? Until entering Guatemala, most of our hot water has been heated either by solar or gas or a combination of the two. These usually yield pretty good results.

Here in Guatemala, we’ve entered the land of what I like to call the Frankenstein hot water heater. This is a shower head that has a heating element in it and two electrical wires running to it from a dodgy outlet high on the wall. Connections are secured with liberal amounts of electrical tape, which makes everything very safe when you’re naked and wet underneath this contraption.

Confidence inspiring!

Confidence inspiring!

Once you decide to brave the 110V hanging above your head and go in, actually getting hot water from these things is an art. They’re either on or off, controlled by an automatic switch. Too little water running through it and it shuts itself off to prevent overheating. Too much, and the heating element can’t heat the water fast enough.

It really helps if there’s an incandescent light bulb in the room. Then you will know by the bulb dimming or becoming brighter, when the heating element turns on and off. Turn on the water slowly, just until the bulb dims. The heater is working. Wait for the hot (or warm) water. Get in the shower. Uh oh, the light got brighter! That means the heater turned off and the water is going to quickly turn cold. Turn up the water pressure a bit to get it to come on again. But not too much!

We’ve just rented an apartment near Lake Atitlán with a nice, high pressure, hot shower. It’s immaculately clean and there are no bugs. Ah, the luxury!

Our bathroom in Panajachel

Our bathroom in Panajachel

10 Responses to 'The Frankenstein Shower'

  1. Kathy says:

    In our numerous, but shorter RV and camping trips, we have experienced what you have so accurately and well defined. Showering quality ranging from a 0 (not good) to 10 (the best you can expect). Most are about a 5 and half are uncomfortable. Therefore that is why we like our own facilities in our units. This is “Spot on” in describing campground bathroom facilities. This ought to be read by all campground owners.

  2. Bobbie staggs says:

    So true, Kathy! Witt, you wanted adventure…you’re getting it! But, along with the good stuff too! Let’s you know how others out there live!

  3. Travis says:

    Sounds like these work just about as well as the faucets in the RSF! You should be a pro at getting the right temp balance!!!

  4. Trish Cozart says:

    Wow! You are in Panajahcel! That is one of the three cities I taught at for Starfish One-by-One. They have an office there. Are you going to cross the lake and climb the volcano?

    • Witt says:

      What’s Starfish one-by-one? Ok, never mind, I just googled it. 🙂 Very cool! We’re working with an organization called Mayan Families to install an offline version of Khan Academy in their computer labs.

      We’re going to stay here for a month or so, so yes, I’d love to go climb the volcano. There are also some bike shops here and I’m hoping to do some mountain biking too!

      Anything else we shouldn’t miss out on?

      • Trish Cozart says:

        If you get over across the lake to Santigo you may run into some really nice people, Amanda and Martin. Amanda is from he US but live there now. They have two daughters Chloe and Emma that are Quinn’s age. They ride the boat across the lake to go to school each day. Maybe you have met them. She stayed a preschool and traveling library in Santiago Atilan. Martin owns a gas station by the hotel La Posada and owns a restaurant and a bar in town called Quila’s. Amanda used to work with Starfish. They may or may not remember me, but they would remember my friend Janie who I traveled with last year. Hope you get to meet them!

        • Witt says:

          We’re always on the lookout for kids for Q to play with. We’re planning to go check out Santiago at some point; we’ll look out for them!

  5. Rupert Kaye says:

    Haha! You will get used to these hi-tech shower devices but be warned, many give electric shocks to the user! Only adjust the tap whilst standing clear of the water to be sure you minimise the chance. I have had far too many shocks and most end up as a small tingle but also the odd jolt!

  6. Josh Beck says:

    Wait till you get to Bolivia to experience a TRUE Frankenshower – if you try to adjust the water flow while standing in the water, your hand, the running water, and the water valve complete a circuit and you electrocute yourself, every time, until you learn to step out of the shower to adjust the water flow!

    Hope you guys continue your travels. We are close to buying a van and will be home in July/Aug to work on it and then ship it to Cartegena to continue.

    Greetings from Cahuita, Costa Rica. Camping Maria here is one of our favorite campsites yet, and it’s a beautiful area to pass a week or more!