can’t tell you how many times in Mexico I’ve seen people refuse ice in their drinks, or hurriedly scoop it out with their hands, due to the MISCONCEPTION that it might make them sick.
Did you know that, BY LAW, ice cubes which are served to the public in Mexican bars and dining establishments are required to be made out of purified water? Well, that’s a fact. You can recognize commercially made purified ice cubes by the hole in the center of them, and they are totally safe to consume. Ice cubes you purchase by the bag at supermarkets or local stores are always made of purified water. Look for that hole in the middle, and don’t worry about it. (Note that this law applies only to cubes, not block ice which is used to keep food cold. If you are not sure, ask “Es purificado?”)
The word for ice, BTW, is “hielo”. Pronounced “ee-eh-lo”, it sounds a lot like “yellow”. If you want to order a drink with ice, it’s “con hielo”; without ice, it’s “sin hielo”.
Most people, including locals, prefer to get their drinking water from one of the local water purification companies. Purified water is sold in every supermercado, tienda, gas station, etc. in just about every village with more than 10 inhabitants. It generally comes in five-gallon plastic jugs, which are refillable, usually for a dollar or less. You can get purified ice cubes from the same sources, very cheaply.Nevertheless, restaurants, bars and even hotels and your favorite timeshare resort are perfectly willing to accommodate your fears by selling you bottled water for a handsome profit if you’re so inclined.
Now, here are some facts about the perception that “turista”, aka “Montezuma’s Revenge”, is caused by drinking the water…
First, you should understand that most of the digestive upheaval you might encounter in Mexico is a result of too much sun, too much booze, too much partying, too much unfamiliar food and not enough water. Another reason people get Montezuma’s Revenge is not because the water or salad, etc. that you consume, are contaminated, it’s because the microbes in the water are different from the microbes in the water you drink at home, and your system doesn’t recognize them. The same thing happens to Méxicans who travel to the USA or Canada, and often to citizens of the USA who simply travel from one side of the USA to the other. If your system is at all sensitive or if you’re feeling insecure, stick to bottled water and don’t eat any vegetables that aren’t cooked. But DO drink plenty of that purified water as you go about your day.
But a different kind of water still often plays a part in “turista”. For instance: there you are at a gorgeous beach on your vacation, so naturally you’ll probably want to get into the ocean. You’ll splash around, swim, get tumbled around by the waves– and chances are you’re going to get some water in your mouth and swallow a little bit of it. Sea water, under the best of circumstances, is not good for you, and the ocean around many Méxican resort areas can be especially polluted.
Very often the drinking water, the ice and/or eating the food in México is blamed for a bad case of the Travelers’ Trots when in reality it was that bit of ocean you swallowed!
Nevertheless, keeping in mind other possible sources for gastrointestinal unhappiness, there are many anti-diarrheal products available on the market; play it safe and take some with you. After all, you probably don’t get that many opportunities for a great vacation, so why take chances?
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