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Mexico's Drinking Water

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A glass of Mexican water

This is an entry about the condition of the drinking water in much of Mexico, the consequences of drinking it, remedies for what happens to your body if you do drink it, and tips for the prevention of some of the worst effects of drinking it. You see, Mexico is a famous example of a place where drinking the 'drinking water' may have serious, sometimes comical, sometimes embarrassing, sometimes dangerous, but always memorable consequences. It should also be noted that Mexico is by no means the only - or even the worst - place where 'drinking water' is not all that it is cracked up to be.

What is Drinking Water?

The term 'drinking water' is used very loosely. It should be used to describe large collections of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, bonded in a ratio of two to one (respectively), that are fit for human consumption. It is often not used this way. Rather, it is used to describe large collections of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, bonded in a ratio of two to one (respectively), that are being used for human consumption . There is a huge difference between those two statements that one's intestines may be quicker to appreciate than one's brain.

An example of how the term 'drinking water' is commonly (though wrongly) used, is the description of the water in Mexico as 'drinkable'.

Water in Mexico

The drinking water in Mexico is notorious worldwide for not being entirely drinkable for travellers. Yet the rural inhabitants of Mexico do drink it with no ill effects. This is mainly because they have built up a tolerance to it from drinking it all their lives. Many visitors to Mexico would consider the drinking water to be undrinkable, because so many of them become violently sick for 24-48 hours if they drink it. The reason is that the water is home to many and various single-celled organisms, which, as a group, are generally considered to be parasites. These inhabitants of the water do not mind being swallowed at all. They expect it, and love being swallowed. The parasites will use the unwary drinker as a host and, as a reward, will make the drinker violently ill for what often seems like an eternity. The notorious consequences of drinking Mexican drinking water are collectively described as 'Montezuma's Revenge' in honour of the late, great Aztec ruler whose hospitality to visitors from Spain was so rudely repaid.

Montezuma's Revenge

The consumption of tiny animal-infested water in Mexico will result in discomfort (often dire) for the person who drinks it. But what, specifically, can happen? Well, many things can... and usually do. The consequences can include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach cramping
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness
  • Fever

... and other equally discomforting things, depending on the consumer and his or her allergies and general predisposition to the collywobbles.

Remedies and Prevention

If a person finds that they are sick after consuming any Mexican water, they should immediately contact a Poison Control Centre, and follow any instructions given. Usually, the discomfort will quickly take its course and be gone within 48 hours. Here are some prevention tips:

  • Do not drink Mexico's tap water, unless it is a life or death situation.

  • If you must drink the water, boil it (if possible) for at least three minutes per litre.

  • Drink bottled water bought in sealed bottles. Remember that ice in Mexico is made from tiny creature-infested tap water (they're just cold tiny creatures); it is just as bad to drink bottled water with tap water ice as it is to drink the tap water itself.

  • Contact lens wearers should use bottled water to clean their lenses.

  • People who are in the habit of brushing their teeth and washing their faces should also use bottled water.

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