Terry Durham’s first month in Aguascalientes, Mexico

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Terry Durham is a retired geophysicist, who went to Aguascalientes, Mexico to conduct research with his wife Christine Durham for Water Ecuador. For more info about Terry and Christine and their Water Ecuador project, read their volunteer profiles here. Read on to learn about their experience during the Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos, their research and more! 

Terry Durham WE Volunteer
Terry testing water samples.

Día de los Muertos, the Mexican national holiday to remember and celebrate deceased family and friends, was November 2, 2015.  Many shops, offices and homes built private altars to honor the deceased.  Below is one beautiful display of marigolds and sugar skulls for a teacher.

An altar of marigolds and sugar skulls for a teacher
An altar of marigolds and sugar skulls for a teacher.
Day of the Dead parade
Downtown Day of the Dead parade.

Sunday evening, November 1, a festive Day of the Dead parade flowed through downtown Aguascalientes.  Many local schools had marching bands and floats.  They danced and sang.

After the hour long parade, the spectators quickly walked to the central plaza for a fireworks display. With the streets now empty the Aguascalientes street crew quickly moved in and cleaned the parade route.  First, a group on both sides manually swept debris into the street, then mechanical cleaners swept and washed the pavement.  It was very impressive to see such a rapid cleaning; Aguascalientes is a clean city.


Mexican customs cleared all Water Ecuador shipments of water testing equipment.  We arranged for delivery to the apartment along with a table and chair.  An initial positive and negative bacteria test was conducted and indicated that the equipment and procedures were correct.  We now had a fully functioning lab to start testing.  The below photo is the lab with appropriate holiday season décor.  In the photo blue Ciel (Coke) and Santorini (Pepsi) jugs are on the left with the orange Bonafont (Danon) against the wall.  Although these are all 20 liter jugs, each brand has a different shape with different cap threading and color.

Because of their market dominance, testing began with the Big Three brand companies mentioned above.  For the other three water brands to be tested I selected two independently owned companies which had weekly sales of 400-600 jugs and a smaller franchise company with 150 jug sales per week.  We soon developed a work routine of morning travel to various neighborhoods to conduct water use surveys followed by late afternoon bacteria testing of the water brands collected.  The next afternoon test results were counted and recorded and a new batch of tests started for the 24-hour culture cycle.  This routine worked very well.

Three brands of water jugs sold in Aguascalientes.
Three brands of water jugs sold in Aguascalientes.

Since we traveled and conducted interviews midday, our lunchtime in the apartment was always pushed to a late 2-4 pm prior to starting the daily bacteria tests.  My favorite take-out place was on our block at Tu Super Cocina.

Tu Super Cocina

This restaurant offered a daily choice of 6-8 prepared dishes for carryout.  Each day became a culinary adventure with a different dish.  We noted that restaurants in Aguascalientes served many delicious inexpensive meals which were not “greasy” like Mexican restaurants in the US.  In Aguascalientes a very lean white cheese is used in many meals – it is very good.  For apartment cooking we purchased fruits and vegetables at either the nearby Mercado Purisimo or Mercado Teran.

Both markets offered good choices in competitive settings.  In any direction within one block of our apartment there were 2-3 very small but well stocked grocery shops.  They were really convenient for urgent needs.  We were amazed how these could remain in business in such a close competitive area.

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These local restaurants and markets offered most of the staples.  Although, for my daily peanut butter sandwich one of the few stores that sells peanut butter is the Soriana Hyper, a megastore two miles to the east.  During one trip I noted this ad “We, Soriana, listen to the wind.  By 2016, 526 of our stores will be supplied with renewable energy, which represents supply of electricity to 231,050 households a year.”  Mexico is going green.

During a water-use interview trip to Jesús María in northwest Aguascalientes, Mexico, we noticed many people with brown stained teeth, aka fluorosis – later, I asked a local friend.  Some areas in the state of Aguascalientes (AGS) have a natural high level of fluoride in the well and tap water.  He said many people in AGS had fluorosis until the 1980s when the city went to bottled water use in a big way.  Now, few people drink the tap water in AGS.  Tap water for many is used solely for washing.

For the health safety of Water Ecuador lab personnel, we tested our tap water and our drinking water dispenser.  To our surprise, the chlorinated city tap water was clean but our drinking water had bacteria and E. coli.  Although our drinking water source, a 20-liter garrafón (jug), was previously tested as clean, it seemed improper handling of the equipment may have contaminated the dispenser.  After this discovery we added five drops of Clorox bleach to each 20-liter garrafón.  A bacteria test showed this procedure ensured bacteria free drinking water.  Later we tested a contaminated 20-liter garrafón and found that a mere two drops of Clorox bleach also killed bacteria and E. coli.

The most interesting place to buy a 20-liter jug of water was the automated Ciel building located a mile north of our apartment.  It is actually a giant automated garrafón dispensing machine.  Insert 22 pesos, place your empty garrafón on the belt, push the button and it takes your empty jug and belts out a different but full garrafón.  If you have no empty jug just enter 44 pesos for a new garrafón full of water.  In this case the term “Auto Ciel” has a dual meaning.  It is an automatic dispenser and one needs an automobile to access the remote location.

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Barrio de Asunción in northeast edge of AGS.

Above is a photo of a new five-year-old housing development with only one small convenient “chain” store. When we conducted water-use surveys here we noted that many residents converted their front living space into a shop, salon, eatery etc. as a small business for income.  All apartments are cinder block construction with water and electric meters, roof solar water heater and TV satellite dish.  Some have an extra water tank storage on the roof.   The residents in this barrio are friendly – kids play in the quiet streets, women hang clothes on the small front yards, men meet and talk on corners.

We interviewed one man who had a makeshift barbershop in his front yard. As the barber worked, there were five other young men smoking and drinking from two liter bottles of Corona.  I wondered that since they were already drinking at 1 pm, what happened here at night (we did not return to answer that question).  In general, it was a friendly place with interaction between neighbors, something not seen on a daily basis in the US where people are sequestered in their personal castles away from neighbors.

To read about Terry’s second month of research in Aguascalientes, head here.



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