Friday, September 24, 2010

The sewer divers of Mexico City

Via Edible Geography, stills from a National Geographic video.  Carlos Barrios is lowered into the murky depths

Mexico City has the extraordinary history of being built, essentially, on top of a lake.  The water feeding into it was drained away by the Conquistadors (the better to invade Tenochtitlan) and the modern city gradually grew in its place.  But the city is gradually sinking and as a result some of the city’s 650 kilometres of sewers no longer drain as effectively as they should.  They are terribly prone to clogging and with seasonal thunderstorms that means flooding.

Keeping these floods under control means keeping the sewer pumps free of blockages, and to do that they have a team of divers.  Their job is to go into the sewers while the pumps are still running, find the material that’s causing the problem, and remove it.  Generally that’s just rubbish that’s been swept up off the streets, but as a Washington Post article mentioned it could also be something much worse:

At least there were no human bodies today, like the two he found floating by recently.

He never found out who they were, because they were carried off in the flowing waters. The police were not called. The divers, who periodically encounter bodies because sewers are popular spots for dumping murder victims, only call police when they bring a body to the surface.

The cage lowers into the filth.

I imagine that it takes a special kind of person to do this work; apart from the filthy conditions, apart from the occasional encounter with dead bodies, the water is so dark and polluted that they can’t even see.  They inch their way through the sewers feeling ahead of them until they reach the blockage that will typically be up against the blades of a pump that’s still running and start reaching around to try to dislodge it.

We’d love to be able to see down there, but the water is so dirty and it’s got so many particles in it that the light reflects off everything and bounces on your eyes and you still can’t see. Eight hundred watts—one thousand watts even—and I can’t even see my own hand in front of my face. Apart from something that could help me see down there, I can’t think of anything. Fancy things like a robot or a submarine wouldn’t really help with the kinds of things I do. And we’d still be in the same situation: we can’t see anything down there, so we have to feel it

(From Edible Geography)

It is a fabulous scenario for a horror game – who knows what could be hiding down there? – but it’s got me thinking about a fantasy version.  Underground locations are commonplace; underwater locations are much less common but there are some; I can’t think of much at all by the way of games that have combined the two.

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