Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Septic Tank - more than you wanted to know

When I bought my house 9 years ago, I was told I had a septic tank and a cistern. The cistern was at the back of the house, and was landmarked by a raised concrete lid. The septic tank was at the front of the house and was landmarked by a little piece of metal to serve as a handle.

Not knowing much about either, I ignored them and just let the house do its thing. When I did the addition, the cisterna was opened up, found to be full of water (not sure how), and so was drained and then closed over since I had no intention of using it as a water supply. I still have pictures showing the exact location of the hole though, just in case we ever have to open it up again.

The septic tank top was completely covered up when I tiled the front terrace - I just hoped we'd never have to gain access. A couple of times I brought down some packages of some kind of granular stuff that said to flush down the toilet to help the septic tank. But mostly I did nothing. Before it was tiled over Miguel peeked in there and said it was empty - not sure how that could be, but it sounded good to me. I waited for some kind of sign that it was time to get the septic tank cleaned out; from what I'd read on the internet, the sign would not be a pleasant thing - it would be smelly stuff backing up into the house. But still I waited...

And I never got a sign - the septic tank never gave us any problems, it never got cleaned out, and several years ago they installed sewers and we connected to that and closed off the septic tank (when I say "we", I really mean Miguel because as mentioned, I know nothing about those things).

Now that Miguel is doing property management he encounters homes with little surprises - things the owners weren't aware of, or forgot to mention. Recently one home started draining water out the back wall into the area behind the property. The neighbor said it was the septic tank. Hmmmm...with the entire back yard a patio, it was not obvious that there was a septic tank, or even where it was located. The owners didn't know they had a septic tank, they assumed they were on the sewer system. Time for a cleanout.

We drove through La Gloria taking all the little side streets - I thought it was just a sight-seeing tour. Turns out we were looking for the Aguakan truck. But not just any Aguakan truck - not the blue ones that you see everywhere, it had to be the one with the brown paint (I just figured out that the brown paint means dirty water and the blue paint means potable water - after 9 years!). Anyway...finally we came upon the truck, Miguel talked to the driver, and found out that the only way to get the septic tank cleaned out was to go to the office and pre-pay for the service. We had just come from town but Miguel is still of the old mindset where if you want something, or someone, you drive around looking for them rather than go to the office or use the phone. The island is getting ahead of Miguel, he needs to start changing his ways.

So back into town we went to visit the Aguakan office and pre-pay 400 pesos for the service. They couldn't say when it would be done, but they would call Miguel's cell and let him know. This was Wednesday - we hoped it would be done by Friday at the latest.

The call came on Monday, so Miguel went over to the house to meet the Aguakan truck. Somehow they all figured out where the access point would be, but when they opened it up the Aguakan men said the access was too far from the tank and the hole was too small. They would not do anything until the issue was addressed. albanil was sent over to break an opening closer to the tank. Working in tight quarters, with tools meant to break concrete, the albanil also struck liquid gold - the water pipe that took the street water up to the tanks on the roof.

I don't know all that went on in that little passage, I just saw piles of chunks of broken concrete, and a sad-looking albanil. But after a few words he got to work and dug the new hole while Miguel went in search of something - turns out the something he needed was right in the jungle across from our house. Miguel went down behind the pile of rocks and emerged with a piece of busted up water tank. Seems he wanted to use the hole as the new top for the new opening for the septic tank, and he happened to have that hanging around just for such an occasion (wonder what else he has stashed down in his little jungle bodega?!).

Yesterday Aguakan came back and with the new access, quickly and noisily did their thing. Now it was Miguel's turn to fix the water pipe. I took a peek and saw Miguel in the side passage standing in a hole up to his waist. When he finally emerged his fingers were full of dried silicone, the water pipe was fixed, and the albanil was left to finish off the new hole.

All we need now is a new lid for the hole and the homeowners will have a very modern septic tank top. A trip to Boxito will take care of that.

I was left with the impression that Miguel can handle about 95% of the problems he encounters - he just knows what to do, who to get to help, and how to get the job done. When he's stuck, he has no problem asking for help - an opinion, another pair of hands, some expertise. During all this drama that went on over two days, our own water pump broke, leaving guests with a trickle of water in their bathrooms. Miguel disconnected the pump, found the piece with the problem, and fixed it.

Miguel and I have worked together for 9 years now. He was the first worker I had at my house, he knows all the electrical and plumbing - he did most of it and redid some of what had already been done. Of course now he is more than my 'handyman', and sometimes I take him for granted - it was good to have this reminder of how he calmly just takes care of things for me (most of the time). During Hurricane Wilma, he was my guardian angel - he kept me safe. He is not always an angel, but he is always my hero.


Anonymous said...

Awwww - the ending of your blog is so sweet - Miguel is a good guy for sure. I check every day to see if you have anything posted. It helps to keep me connected to the island. Thanks.


drgeo said...

Had to google the word "albanil" because my only guess was it meant someone without alba. Turns out it is Spanish for mason, stonemason, bricklayer...

KfromMichigan said...

HooRay for Miguel .. what a great guy! Wish I could borrow him for a couple of days. Great to meet both of you and Loco too. Yeah, I'm back home. I sure miss the hot weather. Give Loco a hug from me.

Jonna said...

another "awwww" from over here, what a sweet ending to the post.

Mexican plumbing is actually pretty interesting to me, perhaps because it is so different. I'm always amazed at what they can do in such small spaces, and what they can build from concrete and pvc.

The centro in Merida is all on septic, pretty amazing. I hope ours never needs pumping and if I understand the workings correctly, it probably never will. I just dump regular baking yeast down the toilet every once in a while, I try not to think too much about the bread I'm baking down there.

Jackie said...

Well my comment was already used twice. BUt I will say it too. Ah, how sweet. Lucky you for having Miguel beyond just being the handyman.

Jane said...

Thank you -- I've often wondered about the underground workings on Isla. We all need heroes like Miguel, and those of us who are married to them are fortunate, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Glad everything worked out good!

Ali is my hero too! He's my Superman!!! Only recently I have sadly realized that even Superman is not invincible, and he cannot do everything forever like he used to as the body ages. :-(


Islagringo said...