The Guatero Incident

Best friend on a cold night...

I got up a bit earlier than planned this morning. Had to… my guatero was dribbling!
Wha…?

If you’ve been following other Chile blogs, you already know that we’re all about trying to stay warm these days…

Abby @ Abby’s Line:How to Survive a Chilean Winter

Liz @ Eat Wine: Chilly Chile

While folks up north are wilting in the heat, we are popsicling away down here in the middle of winter. (Of course you already knew that Chile was in the southern hemisphere and that our seasons are opposite… you really did… right?)

Yesterday’s high temp was 14.5ºC (58ºF). Not bad for winter… What am I whining about, you ask?
This morning’s low was -1.2ºC (30ºF)…
Yeah, and…?
Ah—an essential bit of missing information—most of us here do not have central heat. And… most homes are built to keep us nice and cool during our 8 months of hot, dry summery weather (for more about the climate, see Nerdy Stuff below). And that also means, ipso facto, that they show no mercy in the winter. They may protect you from the wind and rain, but the cold? Not so much… Without heat, there’s not a lot of difference between inside and outside temperatures.

Guatero, hot water bottle

El "guatero" (pronounced wah-TAIR-oh) comes from the Mapudungun (Mapuche) word "guata" for stomach.

We use stand-alone heating units during the day—electric, gas, kerosene—they come in all types, shapes, and sizes—but not at night. So for sleeping, it’s a matter of bundling up (a “polar” vest over warm pajamas works well) with lots of covers, a good snuggle partner, and the best thing of all, a guatero–hot water bottle– or two! Sure, some people prefer a “Scaldazono” (a type of electric mattress cover that heats the bed), but strangely the idea of sleeping on something that could potentially electrocute me doesn’t have a lot of appeal somehow.

I digress… getting back to the down-around-freezing-at-4-AM temps with no heat in the house. Now imagine getting up in the morning when it has dropped to who knows how many degrees below anyone’s possible comfort zone and we’re all building plenty of character. (Reminds me of going up to camp in the Adirondacks when I was a kid and it was so cold in the morning we didn’t want to get out from under all those heavy quilts to make that dash to the outhouse… but thankfully there is most assuredly no outhouse involved in this story!). Back to it… So now imagine waking up at 6 AM, shortly after the mercury has bottomed out for the day and is just starting to hoist itself back up the thermometer pole…and you slowly realize you’re wet, well, kind of soggy-damp from the stomach up (don’t be silly, I said UP).

Anyone who lives in Chile already knows where this is going, but I’ll spell it out for the rest of you: my once-beloved, hugged-it-to- my-chest-all-night hot water bottle stealthily, surreptitiously betrayed my soundly sleeping self as it oozed, trickled, and dribbled  its normally soothing contents ever so slowly, one squishy warm droplet at a time, all night long…

Fortunately the water was still warm enough (and there wasn’t a lot of it) that I could get up and changed quickly before the ice cycles formed… got the bed stripped, everything dried off as best I could, but alas… there was no way I was getting back into that now-freezing and damp bed!

Lesson learned: guateros have a natural life span. Sometimes they come open, but this one just got worn out and developed a little hole near the neck. The dumb thing is that I THOUGHT I felt something hot last night and checked it, but didn’t find the problem, so I ignored it (won’t make THAT mistake again).

Winter night survival tip:

For those who grew up in the States, you may remember Heloise and her handy Household Hints (Turns out she’s still around! Check her out!). Here’s one of my all-time best Heloise-worthy tips for surviving the Chilean winter:

Going out? Tuck your freshly filled hot water bottle into your bed before you go out—better yet, wrap your pajamas in it and pop the whole bundle under the covers–that way when you get home to a  freezing house late at night, you can jump into some toasty pjs and snuggle in ASAP!

What? Still not tired and you want more Guatero Talk?

Eileen at Bearshapedsphere had her say in Vieja Chica not long ago, and
the ever unabashed Annje, while talking about something else, got around to her true guatero feelings in Stoic Maxim.
And now, as promised, the Nerdy Stuff:

Nerdy Santiago Info:

Average High Winter Temp: 14.5ºC / 58ºF (July)

Average Low Winter Temp: 3.2ºC / 38ºF (July)

Average High Summer Temp: 29.4ºC / 85ºF (January)

Average Low Summer Temp: 12.4ºC / 54ºF (January)

Annual Precipitation: 312.5 mm (12.3 in)

Climate: Warm, temperate Mediterranean; rainfall concentrated in the winter months (June–August) and a prolonged dry season during the remainder of the year.

Altitude: 567 meters (1,860 feet) above sea level (average)

Location: 33º 27’ latitude south, 70º 42’ longitude west

24 responses to “The Guatero Incident

  1. Jade loves a hot water bottle – but yes. Last winter she SAT down on a full hot (old) water bottle. And it burst – spraying ME with really hot water. She cried. I sputtered. I swore bad words. I bought her a new one a Target. It leaked as well. We replaced it (very friendly pharmacy workers at Target. Water bottles sold only behind pharmacy counter.) All was well, warm & cuddly again. Gotta love the guatero!

  2. Wow! I had no idea that anyone used hot water bottles in the States anymore! And WHY are they only sold behind the counter? Here they are sold even in the grocery stores (in season of course).
    Last year I bought something really cool in Germany for the baby… A little pillow stuff with CHERRY SEEDS that you can microwave and then put it in a cool fuzzy little bear-faced cover. We put it in with the baby in his carrier during the winter… Really cool, although I would not be able to bring one into Chile because bringing in seeds (and all other vegetable products) is verbotten!

  3. I love guateros with and without fingernails. I bought some cute ones for my kids (if you remember my post😉 Mine here in the US sprung a leak a while back and I have not been able to find one at any store. Maybe because I am in TX and there is not much need for winter warmth–but come on, they are useful for other things too (aches and pains). They can be found online though.
    I do have a microwaveable thing with flax-seeds.

  4. I had never heard the guatero con uñas (hot water bottle with finger nails) expression before until you and Eileen brought it up.. And I had forgotten about your post on guateros a while back… I’ll link it in!
    Hmmm, can’t find a hot water bottle in Texas in the summer? How weird is that? Though Diane (from Syracuse) says they are only available behind the pharmacy counter (why, I cannot imagine!)…
    I don’t recommend trying to bring your flax-seed guatero with you when you come! Could start an international incident if one of those babies sprouted!
    BTW- I just got a new guatero and the instructions clearly say “Do not fill with boiling water. Do not fill more than 2/3 full.” Oops and oops again! Guess I was just getting to guatero greedy wanting it really hot and really full!

  5. Tell me about it Margaret! I spent three weeks in Chile in May/June and had as many skins as an onion. During the day it was usually warmer outside. ( The apartment is lovely and cool in summer.) My son has a theory that Chilenos think that the climate in Chile is practically perfect so there is no need for central heating or air conditioning. Certainly people just seem to get on with it. My next visit is in October/November. Fingers crossed for a warm Spring.
    Your blog reminded me of my young days when practically no one in UK had central heating. Get out of bed, rush to the bathroom, turn on the hot water, rush back to bed. Get up again, bathroom sprint, get in hot bath. Take clothes into bathroom to minimise time undressed. Also sitting in front of a coal fire, all warm at the front with a freezing back. Happy days, not!

  6. Hi Jack-
    Yes, people here always talk about the perfect climate with “4 distinct seasons.” As someone from northern New York, where we are snowed in for 4-5 months and sweltering in the muggy summer for 2, those in-between seasons of spring and fall are VERY distinct. Here it’s more of a general transition from the hot & dry summer to the cold, wet winter…
    Fortunately Chile’s winter is relatively short, so we just bundle up and get through it.
    Loved your description of cold mornings in the UK! Feeling like I can identify right about now!

  7. Solution: get an old pillowcase, throw a few cupfulls of (uncooked) rice in it, tie a knot in it. Microwave it for about a minute, or you can put it on the estufa if you keep it shaken up so not to set anything on fire.
    Safe, cheap, SAG-friendly, reusable for ages and if you overlook the microwave, better for environment than hot water bottle.
    Then you can use it to do what I am currently doing; working from bed (not in the traditional career path, thanks)…

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  9. we do the hot rice/cherry stone sock thing at home as well. But do you think I actually have a microwave? Love the guatero, have one on my legs right now. And I actually started using one because my doctor told me to use it for an injury. And I woke up hugging it to myself. Joyous warmth!

    In other curiosities, but please don’t mention this to SAG, I just brought in a down comforter. That’s another great way to stay warm! (my bed is currently sheet-downcomforter-wool blanket-microfiber comforter (in funda). Exagerada? maybe, but I sleep like a guagua!

    Thanks for the link love!

  10. Same here in Japan. We don’t have central heating in our new western style house. We have kerosene heaters that we lug around from room to room. I’ve gotten used to that and I kind of like it. The heaters here in Japan are state of the art; not a whiff of kerosene when its lit or when it goes off. My survival gear is Smart Wool long Johns. They’re thin, soft and because they’re made of wool they preserve heat whether they’re wet or dry and they don’t carry b.o.! Hot water bottles are still widely used here, but they’re not for me. They’re called bladders in Japan. I’d rather go to bed with an empty bladder! Some people put stones (softball size) on the kerosene heaters while they’re in use during the day and put them in the bed after dinner to warm up the bed. Nothing like being between a rock and a hot place.
    John

  11. Hi John- love the humor!
    Chile now has those fancy kerosene heaters too–“Toyotomi” all the rage and there were long waiting lists to get them last year because they sold out so quickly. People seem to love them, but I haven’t caved yet because I don’t want to have to cart kerosene (“parafina” in Chilean) around.
    Haven’t seen the wooly long johns here though… I know they have cotton ones, and there are all sorts of nylon undergarments for women too.

  12. Annje and Margaret: I think that “guatero con uñas” is “hot water bottle with toenails”, not fingernails. I asked my wife and she is with me.

  13. Hi Pedro! It’s been a while! We’ve missed you por aquí! Interesting comment about what kind of nails… because of course in English we make a clearer distinction between fingernails and toenails… and to just say “nails” could refer to “clavos” instead of body parts…
    I have no opinion of my own on this matter, because either way it seems strange to me… in any case, I would rather have a guatero with ARMS than uñas!!!
    I wonder where this expression (guatero con uñas) comes from… does anyone have any insight on this?

  14. Haha, well, the term “uñas” in Spanish is pretty ambiguous. As Margaret says, we make a distinction in English. If it is up to my imagination, I am going to go with fingernails–since feet are usually cold and I don’t like the feel of toenails on me in bed–personal preferences, I guess. 😉

    Margaret, I used to put almost-boiling water in mine too, even though it says not to, which might have explained the hole my late guatero sprang too.

  15. Margaret, about ”guatero con unas” is when you sleep with your partner and s/he has ”los pies calientitos”.
    I grow up in country area close to Santiago, so that is what people use to say .

  16. Hi Lily- yes, I just learned this expression, but I wonder how it got started… why “uñas” and not something more pleasant, like “brazos” (arms) which would certainly keep you warmer than toenails!

  17. @Terri- sorry I didn’t respond earlier- it got away from me! Love the rice idea!
    @Eileen- would a down comforter REALLY be a SAG no-no? Does that mean they confiscate jackets too? What a lovely introduction to a country that would be! You come to ski and they heist your parka on the way in!
    Does anyone know for sure about the feather thing?

  18. Pingback: Santiago pic of the day « Red hot Chile peppers

  19. Son Kevin and wife Maria in Providencia have just bought a Toyotomi. Maria’s post on Facebook was

    ” Yo nos toyotomisamos! estamos las bahamas !”

    You can probably translate better than me but I get the drift!

  20. Peg,
    You said “Without heat, there’s not a lot of difference between inside and outside temperatures.” WRONG! It’s often warmer outside.
    On sunny but cold winter days in Santiago, lots of us go sit in the sunshine to find a little warmth, midday relief during school days, lunch breaks, etc.
    Down south, where the sun can disappear for weeks or months, they use firewood: “it warms you twice, first chopping it then burning it.”

  21. Oh Helen! You are SOOOO right! Today is a perfect example of that! I have my heater on and still need a sweater inside, but I had to take my coat off when I went outside!
    Maybe I should start chopping some wood… too bad we can’t burn it in Santiago!

  22. Maybe the “guatero con unas” becuse nails aren’t warm and cuddley like the rest of the sleeping companion? Michael makes for a great little guatero in the winter time, but I want nothing to do with his unas!!
    Random semi-related memory of Chile ~ any time I smell diesel fuel I think of getting ready for school in the cold Chile mornings!

  23. Hi there Paramedinurse (kid-o-mine!)
    I’m still not so sure about the whole uñas thing… but interesting that diesel fuel reminds you of school days here in Chile… back when we (and all our neighbors) still used kerosene heaters!
    And remember how you used fingerless gloves in the classroom too?

  24. Hey! I know this is an old post, but I had to reply: guatero con uñas is the expresion to refer to a cat. They are so warm, the best pet to warm your feet during winter. So, when you can’t afford an Scaldazono or Guatero, you sleep with your cat: warmth and love!
    PS: I think this expresion comes from Condorito, our comic!

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