Water. Essential for life…both the human kind and the plant kind. Really any kind. Where do we use water in our daily lives? I brush my teeth, flush the toilet (been doing this more frequently recently), make tea, fill my water bottle, shower (not as often as I used to), wash the dishes…and that´s before I´m out the door in the morning. The plants that feed us need to be watered to grow so that they can nourish us. Everything needs water.
Tacna is a desert. This simple fact means that there is very little water. They claim that this is the driest desert in the world, but I´m not sure if I believe that…isn´t Antarctica drier? (that´s another thing about peruvian cutlure…things get exaggerated here) The water for Tacna comes from the Andes. It winds its way down the mountains and slowly travels toward the coast. There is actually a river that runs through Tacna. This is the source of most of the water. The odd thing about this river though is that they decided to pave over it. It runs right through the middle of the city, but you would never know it because they forced it underground. There are a few places here and there where you can look into a hole and see the river, but by-and-large you would never know about the river if you didn´t know where to look.
I guess one useful thing about the river being underground is that it doesn´t get as dirty as it passes through the city. But that really doesn´t matter at this point because it isn´t very clean when it arrives in Tacna. Something that I´ve definitely taken for granted is the purity of the tap water in the US. We boil everything here before drinking. It reminds me of that time the Boston water line broke and we had to boil the water at BC for a few days…except this is every day and not merely a novelty that interrupted our day at BC. To this end, we have a large 8-10 gallon water dispenser that we drink from. Boil the water and dump it in and drink. Then repeat.
I mentioned that Tacna was a desert. A dry desert with a river. And in the last 20 years the population here has grown by roughly 300,000 people, which is leading to water shortages. In fact, in the recent elections (I believe in September or October) there was a party running on the water issue, and you can still find their posters around town. This shortage manifests itself in the form of water shut-offs. Generally at night the water flow into Tacna is slowed or cut. We live so far down the river in the city that we usually still have water because the pipes haven´t completely emptied, but we can´t use the water for much. It becomes very cloudy with a milky white color. And sometimes this doesn´t just happen in the evening. Last week there were several spans of 3+ hours of no water at all in our house. But funnily everyone still waters their plants and I´m not sure how much people are trying to conserve water…it just seems to be one of those things far off in people´s minds.
One more cultural differenence…water is not seen as a thirst quencher here. People will reach for juice, soda, or anything before water. They say that they don´t feel like their thirst is quenched unless it is sweet. Something that might have become engrained because people don´t really drink the water out of the tap anyways…
Thanks for reading!