“Twentieth-century science is hard at work to solve what is perhaps Yucatan's greatest problem: lack of water. In Yucatan, Christ's miracle would have to be reversed: water is more precious than wine. It is not a question, as in other parts of Mexico, of harnessing the rivers and distributing their water evenly through the seasons. There are no rivers in Yucatan. Water has to be pumped up from the bowels of the earth, and even down there supplies are not unlimited.”
2013: This lady fills a five gallon bucket with water in the Puuc hills of Yucatan at Lol-Tún cave. She hoists the pail on her head, and then makes a long trek to her humble home. While we were there she made three trips. The lady’s strenuous effort gives us a profound appreciation of the water that many take for granted when turning on a tap.
To appreciate this lady’s effort, try hoisting a five gallon pail of water onto your head…then see if you are able to walk with it, not spilling a drop.
Consider this; it takes five gallons to flush a toilet just once and eight of these buckets or forty gallons to wash one load of clothes in a conventional washing machine.
Drinking water is a scarce commodity at Lol-Tún, seven kilometers up in the Puuc hills from Oxkutzcab.
With his people powered tricycle Jorge Diaz pedals off to retrieve water for his small Mayan style restaurant.
This area of the Puuc Hills is very thinly populated due to the fact that water is scarce in the extreme.
A friend living near Uxmal in the Puuc Hills has a well nearly four hundred feet deep. When he put it in twenty years ago, the well cost almost as much as he had paid for house and land. At that time the well could be pumped continuously for three hours and not run out of water. Recently a commercial farming operation nearby began irrigating. Now our friend’s pump sucks air after one hour.
A community water well (noria) in the Puuc hills at Kankab in the 1980’s.
The three small ladies in the photo are forcefully pushing on the long pole and walking round and round while a rope is wrapping around the wooden capstan. The rope brings up a single bucket of water from the deep well. (The rope from the capstan passes to a pulley over the well then descends down into the water.) Kankab now has an electric pump for their well, but Yucatan still has remote villages that employ this old type of system to this day.
John L. Stephens, on his visit to Yucatan in 1840, described in his book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, a water well system similar to what is still in use in some of Yucatan’s villages in 2013.
“Nohcacab, presently known as: Santa Elena has three public wells, and it has a population of about six thousand entirely dependant upon them. Two of these wells are called norias, being larger and more considerable structures, in which the water is drawn by mules, and the third is simply a pozo, or well, having merely a cross-beam over the mouth, at which each comer draws with his own bucket and rope. For leagues around there is no water except that furnished by these wells. All the Indians have their huts or places of residence in the village, within reach of the wells; and when they go to work on their milpas, which are sometimes several miles distant, they are obliged to carry a supply with them. Every woman who goes to the noria for a cantaro of water carries a handful of corn, which she drops in a place provided for that purpose: this tribute is intended for the maintenance of the mules, and we paid two cents for the drinking of each of our horses.”
Mérida before a city potable water system arrived in 1960.
Lilo Linke, in her book Yucatan’s Magic, gave the following description of
Mérida in 1947:
“Above every second or third of Mérida's flat roofs clatters a metal windmill;
I stepped out to the balcony overhanging the garden. Palm trees rustled overhead, imitating the steady swish of rain; through it cut excitedly the clatter of a windmill. Its peculiar noise was to become the leitmotiv of my stay in Mérida. A metal wheel on a grid, the Yucatán windmill has none of the comeliness of the old Dutch mills. They are the symbol of abundance, while the Yucatán mills suggest the dry rattle of a parched throat, "Water, water, give me water!" That morning, however, I was too happy to listen to it for long. I had arrived in fairyland. And not the least of its wonders was that no one had to carry buckets if I wanted a bath; that the turning of a tap would bring me hot or cold water from an apparently unlimited supply. After the primitive weeks on horseback such sudden ease was magic.”
World Water Day
The United Nations General Assembly designated March 22, 1993, as the first World Water Day.
Each year World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. In 2013 World Water Day is dedicated to the theme of cooperation around water. Cooperation is essential to strike a balance between the different needs and priorities of people and nations. The goal is to share this essential resource equitably, using water as an instrument of peace.
Read more about the fascinating world of Yucatan in the books, Yucatán’s Magic, Mérida Side Trips and Yucatan for Travelers, Side Trips: Valladolid to Tulum, available in paperback and digital editions worldwide.