Here’s a list of things I’d prefer to be doing at 2 a.m. – #1 Sleeping. That’s it, end of list. Sorry to disappoint you party people, but I’m old. So on a night not so long ago when it was two o clock in the morning and we were on our hands and knees mopping up water that smelled like poop, I was seriously reconsidering this fabulous life of house sitting that seemed to have gone so wrong.
The idea of house sitting sounds great, right? We stay in other people’s homes – homes that are fantastic and that we could never, ever afford on our own – and get to take care of their awesome pets and plants and whatever else they feel comfortable leaving in our care (FYI – to date no one has left us their babies. I would say that’s a good call). And over the past several years we agree that it is a pretty great way to live 99% of the time. For example? Just now I stepped away from my computer, walked out our back door and took this picture.
But I think that one thing many people forget about house sitting is that it’s not a vacation, it’s a job. When we take on a house sit we also take on all the responsibilities of a home owner (thankfully minus the mortgage). We have to maintain the house and keep it clean, try not to break anything (always a challenge on Mexican tile floors) and if you see a problem? Fix it. We are pretty handy so typically that is no problem. Well, at least one of is handy. Whatever is the fixer upper version of the backseat driver? Yeah, I’m that. But thankfully I’m married to someone who loves to figure out how things work, and sometimes why they don’t. On house sits “we” have fixed loose tiles, toilet handles, clogged toilets, light switches, blinds, fans, solar panels, roofs, the internet connection and so much more.
But sometimes, as happened to us recently, an emergency plumbing problem happens and then the poop hits the fan or, in our case, the floor and things get bad, real quick.
The problem started out innocently enough, a little water on the floor that we weren’t sure where it had come from. We wiped it up and thought, gross, that smells kind of like poop and didn’t think much more about it. Until more water started coming. And then even more. And the more water, the more intense the poop smell got and the more frantic we got in trying to figure out where this foul smelling water was coming from.
While house sitting we try to troubleshoot and solve things on our own before contacting the homeowner about it. But sometimes? Sometimes you’re in over your head and you have to get the homeowner involved. And when you’re in over your head in poop water, that is definitely one of those times. I have to say, what a helpless feeling for a homeowner to be thousands of miles away from their home not knowing what is happening, how severe the damage might be, not to mention how much it’s all going to cost. It really is a stressful situation for everyone involved. The one benefit to our homeowners being thousands of miles away from the problem? The horrible smell couldn’t quite reach them. I don’t think, but it was pretty strong so they may have gotten a whiff. Luckily we have great homeowners and as soon as we got in touch they got right to work trying to find someone to come help.
We live in an off-the-grid property, 14 kilometers from a town of 1,000 people and hours away from the nearest large city. There is no 24-hour Roto-Rooter service available here in Mahahual (or most parts of Mexico, for that matter) so we were trying to figure out ‘who ya gonna call?’ I mean here in Mahahual the answer is actually nobody. We don’t have cell phone coverage at our house so we depend on Wifi calling or apps which can be infuriatingly slow at times. So the correct question isn’t ‘who ya gonna call’ but rather ‘who ya gonna whatsapp?’ After a couple of false starts (and many days of cleaning up poop water) the homeowners were eventually able to send Guillermo our way (henceforth known as our hero) and he and his team got to work trying to figure out what was happening.
By this point, we had stopped using the water in the house because we had been smart enough to figure out that when we used showers or toilets or sinks or anything else, the smelly water flowed. And we were really, really tired of cleaning and smelling the water. But when someone arrives to fix a problem, they need to know where the problem is coming from. So we flushed and ran sinks and waited for the water to arrive, which it did. And then it didn’t stop. For hours it didn’t stop. Which led us to be up at 2 a.m. mopping and wringing out towels and trying not to gag since the water was all over our hands and arms and clothes and the smell just wouldn’t go away. Pro-tip: When hanging up a couple of dozen poop water soaked towels, hang them down wind. Hours later, as we were repeating this same process over and over and over again we were ready to abandon all future house sits. And then things got worse. So, so much worse.
You don’t believe me that it smelled that bad? Well, maybe you’d like a closer look at what the water covering the floor looked like.
To make a long, dirty, drawn out poop story shorter I’ll sum up the problem. Water had been backing up in the walls of the house for months and months because of a blocked drain and a hole in a pipe, so when our hero Guillermo opened up the wall to get to the pipe, well all that months old water had to go somewhere. That somewhere just happened to be the living room, and the bedroom and the bathroom and the kitchen and everywhere else on the first floor of the house.
And so Guillermo fixed the hole in the pipe and the blocked drain and the cause of the problem was fixed but the water continued to come. Guillermo explained that an unknown amount of water was trapped in the wall and would continue to pour out for “a long time” and bid us adios. So, the problem was solved, poop water continued to flow (but not collect in the wall) and we began to clean. And clean and clean.
Eventually, the poop water did stop coming (I fear I’d be in a mental institution if it hadn’t stopped when it did). And by the end of our weeks-long poop saga our sleep had suffered, our work had suffered, our relationship had suffered (it’s amazing how snippy you get with your significant other when you’re standing ankle deep in poop water) and our towels had definitely suffered. Our reputation may have even suffered a bit since the people at the laundromat in town came to know us by name solely based on the smell of those towels. Also? Never in my life did I think I would talk or think about poop this much. I now have a folder labeled “poop” on my laptop and we have spent time debating whether a better description is poopapacalypse or poopapalooza. So there is that. Worst of all -our opinion of house sitting had suffered and we began to rethink our position on house sitting as a lifestyle for us.
Initially, we thought poop floods were way more than we signed up for and perhaps the house sitting trade-off wasn’t worth it for us. But then we realized, these types of situations are exactly what we signed up for. As house sitters we become, by extension, de facto homeowners, and must take on the good, bad and everything else in between that comes with home ownership. There is no way the homeowners could have anticipated that something like this would happen on our watch. It could have just as easily happened while they were staying at the house, it just didn’t (lucky us). House sitting is not a job that you can do halfway. When house sitting goes wrong, you must be prepared to deal with the consequences and act quickly to solve, resolve and fix issues because that is what you would do as a homeowner and what the actual homeowners who hire us are entrusting us to do. Like I said earlier, we’re not on vacation, we’re here for a reason and that reason is to ensure that the house (and pets and plants – but no babies) are being taken care of.
In hindsight, we survived the Great Poop Flood of 2016 relatively unscathed with nothing lost or permanently damaged (other than a few towels, RIP our faithful friends) and with our belief in house sitting intact. Sure, being covered in poop water and having to smell gross towels for a couple weeks sucked, it sucked a lot.
But most of our days are pretty fantastic. Every job comes with bad days and ours is no different, it just comes with a better view and more upside than most. So come hell or poop water, we’re house sitters and it’s our job to take care of it. Is it worth it? You tell us.