In Praise of the Termo

While living with the Chavez family I was often awoken by the early-morning sound of the teakettle singing as water was being boiled. Tap water is not drinkable in Peru so you must either buy drinking water in plastic bottles (and deal with how to recycle them) or boil it yourself. Once the water is boiled, it is poured into one of the ubiquitous 2-liter insulating termos that every household, school and business seems to have. Termo, like its English-language counterpart, the thermos, is a brand name that has become generic and until recently for me was just another thing cluttering the household. I now look at the lowly termo in an exalted light.

In Peru there is nowhere near the energy and environmental hyper-consciousness that exists in California. Part of this is economic: consumers and companies can’t afford strict environmental safeguards or expensive, clean fuels. Part of this is government policy – as in the case of China: “let us become wealthy before we’re forced to become green.” Part of this is also timing: it takes a while for habits in developing countries to catch up with modern products. For example the Peruvian who throws the Snickers wrapper or Coke bottle out the bus window – as they might a banana peel or corn cob -- is slow catching on to the idea that these modern products won’t decompose or be eaten by pigs or goats within a week.

Despite all this, there is something to be learned from Peru and the termo.

Has there ever been a better low-tech solution to the twin problems of health and energy conservation? Boil a kettle of water in the morning and pour it into the termo and count your blessings all day long. Pour the boiled water into glass pitchers to let them cool and you have purified drinking water. Keep the boiled water in the termo and you have an all-day source of hot water for tea and coffee, as well as (in the case of our home) hot water for washing the dishes. Each time you pour from the termo, you are not firing up an energy source. Better yet, this fantastic low-tech, health and energy conservation system is portable; we took our termo with us on a recent excursion to Tres Cruces (12,000 ft) for a freezing-cold sunrise and had hot tea to keep us warm all morning long.

As we have settled into our Cusco apartment and continue to appreciate the benefits of the termo, the early morning singing of the teakettle has become a daily ritual.

This post is part of Erin's Blogsherpa Carnival at La Tortuga Viajera entitled Unique Customs from around the world.

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