|Our 4 Gallon water container|
One of the first questions I normally have when I arrive in a new place is: “Can I drink the tap water?”
My bible, The Lonely Planet, normally answers this question for me. And in Manila, the answer is ‘No’. But in restaurants it’s very common to be served glasses of water with your meal. These glasses of water will have ice in them, as will most other drinks you order. Being a skeptical foreigner, I am usually wary of having ice in drinks, drinking water which isn’t in a bottle and so on. But I’d read that ‘Service water’ (the water served in restaurants and bars) with ice was perfectly safe to drink.
Where does this water come from, if not from taps?
The answer is that there are numerous water filling stations dotted around the city, where they purify water making it safe to drink. At these stations, they fill up 4 Gallon (roughly 18L) water containers and deliver them to residences, restaurants, bars, retail outlets, office blocks etc. around the city.
When we first arrived, I wasn’t aware of this system. We would go to 7-eleven or Rustans and buy 6 litre containers of water for about 90 pesos a pop, which would last us 2-3 days.
I started noticing a small man pushing a trolley loaded with 4 Gallon containers of water up and down the street outside of our first apartment block. I had also noticed a big blue container under the sink in our apartment. I put 2 and 2 together and asked the concierge in our block whether we could get water delivered. It turned out we could, if we had a container for the water (which we did). And it would cost us 40 pesos. That’s less than half the price we’d been paying, for 3 times the amount of water! And it meant that I didn’t have to lug these 6 litre water bottles around in the midday sun.
So that’s what we’ve been doing since. It’s great – you take the empty container to the lobby on the day you need water, and by that evening you’ve had a refill. It’s great value. And we’re not having to throw away as much plastic as we were when using the 6 litre bottles.
Ice, by the way – I’m not sure where it comes from, but I’m sure it’s a similar system. I often see trucks driving ‘tube ice’ around the city, and then men pushing / carrying loads of big bags of ice to their destination.