Friday, 4 March 2016

A long way for a drink

This Week's Sepia Saturday picture is of  men delivering water from a well in Queretaro, Mexico.  There are many parallels with life here in Lanzarote at that time, so I thought I'd do a short piece about the importance of water here, and why those men might think themselves fortunate.  In my blog The Lanzarote they Left Behind, I wrote here about the crucial role of the lack of water in driving the waves of migration from Lanzarote to south and central America in previous centuries. Essentially, it is incredibly dry here.  In the last year I have measured about 4 inches of rain at our home in Playa Blanca - about what we normally expect, and a third of that experienced even in the driest states in the USA - and most of that came in 3 days last month, which means that our normally arid landscape has taken on a bright green hue and the fields are full of wild flowers. In Queretaro, Google tells me they get about 20 inches a year, much less than most of UK, but probably an incredible amount for someone used to our parched conditions.  A few people from there probably did make their way to Queretaro but most Lanzarotenos settled in South America and Texas - they fought at the Alamo, and the first mayor and most of the corporation of San Antonio came from here.

Teguise, the old Capital of Lanzarote, still looks like Queretaro did, all those years ago, although it is now in colour, rather than sepia! 

In Teguise, they had a Mareta - literally, a little sea - which was a basin about 60 feet across, full of water, which was sold at a shocking price to the needy, making the owner very rich.

In out long, hot summers, the Mareta would have evaporated quickly and I'm sure many men made a similar journey, with pots on wheelbarrows or, in our case, camels, to fill up their own storage tanks - aljibes - before it all went.  I notice that in Queretaro, the women were filling the jars for the water.  In Lanzarote, they often walked for many miles balancing the jars on their heads - I couldn't find a picture of that, but here is one of them carrying baskets, which gives you an idea of the harsh conditions, that probably made the Americas very appealing.

Most houses had their own rainwater catchment and storage aljibes, but I estimate, that the Lanzarote farmers would run a family, a couple of labourers, a few animals and an acre of so of crops for a year on less water than my wife and I use in a month!  If nothing else living here has made me appreciate the benefits of modern living.  We have a virtually unlimited supply of water now, produced by reverse osmosis desalination of seawater at a big facility just along the coast.  That has enabled the permanent population of the island to rise from about 15,000 a century ago to about ten times that now, and has allowed tourism to bring in 2.5 million visitors each year, providing a much better income for the Lanzarotenos than scratching a living in the dust.


  1. What a tough living that was.

  2. And we Californians think having to cut back a little on our water use is hard! I'm curious about the 2.5 visitors, though?

  3. I wonder whether desalination would help California's water supply. It is lucky that you are near a sea.

    1. Lanzarote is a small island, about 30 miles by 10, so we are never far from the sea. I watched a good documentary recently.
      about LA's water supply, and the life of Mulholland, it was fascinating.

  4. We went through a drought a few years ago in Queensland and water restrictions were very severe and the dam got very low. I still turn the water off when brushing teeth and try to get out of the shower reasonably swiftly.

  5. It is very hard without water; On our grazing property we have experienced severe droughts. we had water from a nearby river for the house and the cattle, but no rain at all for crops and food for the cattle, they were on the minimum food until the rain arrived, I think it was in a year of EL Nino, in the seventies.

  6. Never take our water for granted!

  7. Such a tiny amount of rainfall! It's hard to imagine walking miles with a jug filled on one's head filled with several gallons of water, especially over the terrain in the photograph above. What a precious resource -- necessity! -- water is.