Mud & Sparks

We’ve had a couple of thoroughly unwelcome household-malfunctions lately.
First I discovered a little puddle right in front of the kitchen sink. Upon opening the cabinet doors under the sink, we found a lot more water. Running water to find the leak, the plumbing beneath the sink just squirted freely out of every conceivable seam. Not good. Mop up everything, while contemplating potential leak reasons. Ok, we had recently installed a new dishwasher. Could that be the problem, a faulty installation?  Meanwhile, the washing machine in our little utility room next to the kitchen was happily running a load of towels. Oops, more water in the kitchen. This time right in front of the dishwasher under suspicion. Aha!
But, but, no-one had run any water in the kitchen. Not the sink, not the machine. What gives? Report to husband, who had retreated to the safety of his desk. He is very much of the ‘let’s not rush into things here’ school of action. If you give it a chance, it might just fix itself, you never know! Ok, so while we were waiting for the Big Fix, I had to use the bathroom. Something was very wrong there. Very, very wrong. Mud was splashed all over my shower. Dirty old stinky mud.
At this point, two things became quite clear. First, this wasn’t likely to be related to the installation of any large appliance, and secondly, we have to do something, anything, right now. Fortunately, thankfully, we have this neighbor, a lovely man named Scott, who not only knows everything there is to know about the workings of household stuff from an engineering point of view, he also takes a hands-on lead in solving problems. After identifying the cause of our excess fluids as a plugged up grey water pipe, the guys worked together for several hours, in a driving rainstorm, to unplug the darn pipe. It wasn’t easy, but they ultimately prevailed. Yeah!!
The rest of the evening was much less dramatic, if slightly annoying because the power was fluctuating wildly, sometimes cutting out altogether, as one thunderstorm after another passed by. We watched several movies, but never made it much further than the opening credits, before the power fizzled out again. Another small irritation of brown-outs: how many times can you re-set the stupid blinking clock on your stove, without screaming??!
As is typical for our region, we awoke the next morning to beautiful sunshine and a peaceful sky – only to discover that we had no hot water. For a while, we followed the self-healing routine again, since, despite the on-off electrical flow during the night, all other functions seemed restored. None of our neighbors had any outages, however, nor did they have many problems during the night. Suspicion reared its ugly head. It’s us, only us. To test this disturbing theory – I am, after-all a retired scientist, hypotheses exist to be tested – I went to our casita to check on the water heater there. When no-one stays there, we flip off the breaker to the water heater, which makes it a perfect test case. Unfortunately, we found one more water heater as dead as a doornail.
Another friend, a Canadian Master Electrician, Alan, was able to come by in the afternoon. He discovered the electrical conduits from the city power supply leading to our main junction box at our gate were seriously corroded. Water had penetrated the box, shortening out the line to the ‘instant-hot-water’ heaters, or Durchlauferhitzer, as I like to call them, and leaving all other connections barely in a so-so state of sometimes working, sometimes not so much. Dangerous! There was major work to be done. Friday, late afternoon. Sure. Alan was still recuperating from surgery and not allowed to work, so we called the boss of the original work crew, to get his commitment to do the repair under Alan’s supervision. Meanwhile, he put a temporary fix in, and we were under orders to use as little electricity as possible. No major appliances, dim lighting and no more than one electrical ‘action’ at a time. We eat out a lot, lately …
Having survived the weekend, Monday saw me marching down to the ICE office, Costa Rica’s Power Monopoly, to request an official order for a power interruption to get the repair work done. But first, you have to get a little paper, called a cédula juridica, from your lawyer, which confirms that you’re actually legally entitled to mess with the power at your address.
A very large guard grants entry to the ICE offices in downtown Atenas. He hands you a numbered ticket and you take a seat to wait your turn. Provided there are seats available. Sometimes the wait is very, very, very long. As I entered the crowded room, I noticed that a young woman, whom I knew to be an English speaker (very few are, at ICE Atenas) was working. So I told Señor Cerberus that I needed to speak with Cindy specifically. Fortunately, he allowed this irregularity! All in all, it took less than an hour for our paperwork to be completed. The order was written for Thursday morning, so we had three more days of tip-toeing around the sparks, but getting several parties synchronized for a job this fast, was pretty darn slick work 🙂
Returning home, I stopped near our gate to shoot the breeze with a neighbor. While talking, an ICE truck pulled up and showed considerable interest in our electrical set-up. Hmm, what’s going on now? It turned out, this repair crew had been dispatched, unrelated to our request, to check on an apparent problem. After we explained briefly and offered a copy of our freshly obtained work order for three days hence, they simply decided to fix the offending wiring right there, right then, even though the problem was on ‘our’ side, not on ICE’s. Absolutely amazing. Maybe there is magical healing after all! A couple of hours later they had completed the job beautifully and joined us for a soda on the patio, where we admired and enjoyed the sparkling lights of the town of Puriscal across the Valle Central together. After all, Luís and Martín are electrical guys, they appreciate a nice twinkle.
Doesn’t that sound like a terrific happy ending to my story?
Well, I ain’t done yet!
This morning the electricity cut out at 06:24 h precisely. Completely. Totally. No more juice. I just couldn’t believe it – what had they done wrong? Were Luís and Martín shoddy workers? Had they bamboozled us? Impossible. Besides, before jumping to any more unsubstantiated conclusions and condemning two perfectly upstanding Ticos to a torturous death in the acidic Laguna Caliente of Volcán Poás, one should check out the general situation:
ALL of the City of Atenas was without power!
Hallelujah! What a relieve. For once it wasn’t us! Sorry about everyone’s inconvenience, of course, but it wasn’t our problem!!

Now I’m done.

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