Travel teaches you things. About yourself, the world, other people.
Having had a lot of time during this crisis to reflect fondly on previous travel adventures, I’ve been thinking a lot about what travelling to a specific place has taught me or how it’s changed me or my views on things.
So this will be a new series that looks at what travel has taught me, I’m starting with Antigua, where I recently spent 3 months during quarantine.
I’ve visited Antigua several times, first for a family reunion back in 2000, where we met and fell in love with our Caribbean family and returned every year until we scattered my mum’s ashes in Antigua in 2004. It took me 14 years to get back there, in 2018 we enjoyed a lush family holiday with a couple of my siblings and my nieces.
Antigua has taught me a lot about love, family, heritage and connection. But during my most recent trip I also learnt how to fish in the sea, how to cook stewed chicken and Pelau and how to eat a mango like a local using just your teeth to peel it – thanks Ash – this is definitely the skill I value the most.
All life skills for sure, but one thing I’ll credit this trip to Antigua with is that it has really opened my eyes to the realities of water shortages and the need to save water, and how to actually conserve water effectively.
On a two week holiday you don’t really notice this, you’ll check in with enough water to see you through to the end of your stay. But being over there for 3 months you sure do, especially the first time you can’t put a pot of coffee on in the morning as there is no water coming from the taps to fill it.
It is kind of counter intuitive, at least for me, for an island surrounded by water to experience drought. Surely if there’s water all around you should never be short of it, right?!? But it’s rainwater not seawater that is the source of most islands’ fresh water supply and there has been a severe lack of rain this Spring/Summer in Antigua. Between April-June a meagre 3.5 inches of rain was recorded, that makes it the 6th driest period since records began in 1928, and is only a third of the normal total of 10.81 inches. Antigua is experiencing a severe drought and the situation isn’t looking likely to be eased any time soon.
I know rationally saving water is a good thing, but while in the UK and even here in Spain we talk of saving water it always flows from the taps so it doesn’t really hit home in the same way.
I was staying in a gorgeous self-contained cottage with sea views but reliant on a water tank, not mains supply, to take a shower, fill up the coffee pot in the morning, flush the toilet, wash my clothes.
The first time I noticed the taps weren’t flowing, I didn’t want to be a pest – I was a guest after all, and not exactly a paying one. So I didn’t say anything and thought the water would be back on soon. I hadn’t heard or clocked the continuous grind of the water pump trying to pump an empty tank for hours and that day I blew out the motor that needed to be replaced at a cost. Eeeek!
Water, like a lot of things on the island is expensive. It costs around $300USD to fill up the tank for the family home and little cottage attached. Compare that to my water bills in the UK/Spain circa £25/€26 a month and the difference is huge.
Suddenly, when you know the cost of water you start taking the save water thing a bit more seriously. Yes, I know I should have been doing it anyway but I’m a flawed human.
I love a shower, I could happily take 3 a day and long ones too. I’d run the tap to brush my teeth & wash my face, flush the toilet after just throwing a tissue down. Chuck a wash on after wearing something only once (to be fair I had only packed for a long weekend in London so recycling my clothes by washing frequently was necessary, but man how much water does a washing cycle take, wow).
I started to ask myself if I really needed that shower, or could I cool down/wake up some other way? How long was I even taking daydreaming in the shower? Did I really need to flush?
I started to view rain differently too, instead of my UK perspective of oh god not rain, I’d start to celebrate the sound of rain hitting the roof and really breathe in that smell as rain hits scorched earth that desperately needs it. I’d listen to the rain and think about how much water was trickling into the water tank. Enough to put a wash on tomorrow or take a long shower? It turns out I frequently over-estimated how much rain was falling…
After maybe the second or third time of refilling the tank, when water was getting low just before the weekend, I was gently taught how to ACTUALLY conserve water (my attempts at improving on this score although admirable, were coming from a pretty low base). My shorter showers weren’t going to get us through the weekend until the water could be delivered on Monday.
So how to shower if you are actually concerned about conserving water. You step in the shower, get yourself wet, turn shower off. Put on your shampoo, massage through. Turn shower back on and rinse. Turn shower off. Lather yourself with soap or shower gel, shave or do what you need to do. Then turn shower back on and rinse. Showering this way used a fraction of the water I was usually going through even for my short showers. Sorry this may be standard stuff to all of you reading who are better humans than me, but it was genuinely a revelation I’d not considered before.
And little things like not rinsing all plates and filling a sink for small amounts of washing up. I’d later leave a soapy bowl to soak plates in and wait until things stacked up a bit before washing with one hot soapy bowl.
I remember telling my Spanish teacher of my education around water shortages and saving water and she remarked that Spain has a similar problem with drought. Yes I know, but the water still flows from the taps I said. She sighed.
So returning to Spain, after Antigua, with no risk of water stopping flowing from my taps, did any of this stick?
I don’t run taps when I brush my teeth, or flush for tissue. I don’t wash up! But that’s another story. My showers now are less frequent, still one or two a day, but shorter and if indulging in two showers, I use the Caribbean method.
I do laundry less often, only wear pants once for sure, but I pretty much live in my cut off denim shorts and wash them much less frequently.
So yes, Antigua has taught me how to save water by making the problem very real and expensive, I know it shouldn’t have taken that and I should have been doing it for environmental reasons, but… Travel has changed me, I now conserve water. And not just when I need to.