by Mary Jo
Anne Gracie found this interesting article from Atlas Obscura which describes how the island of Bermuda has managed to survive and flourish with absolutely NO natural sources of fresh water: no streams, lakes or rivers. Since the Mayhem Consultant and I spent a brief honeymoon there, Anne suggested that I might revise the original travel blog with an emphasis on how how the island has managed with no natural sources of drinking water.
Except one: Rainwater.
On our previous visit, our guide pointed out the white limestone roofs of all the buildings and explained that they caught rainwater and channeled it into cisterns under the houses. At the time, that was just one more interesting fact about the island, but the AtlasObscura article explains a good deal more about this brilliant but simple architectural feature that made it possible to support one of the greatest population densities in the world. (About 65,000 people on a mere 21 square miles of land pieced together from 181 islets.)
All roofs on the island are required to be made of limestone and designed for rain catch. The island is actually made of limestone so when erecting a new building, the stone taken from the ground can be used for the inch thick roofs. And those roof are TOUGH. Some island roofs have lasted since the 17th century.
Though rain catch is still the predominant source of water, in recent times other methods like desalinization plants have been added so there is generally enough water, but every child on the island is raised to respect water and to be very careful of its usage.
This resonates in an era when water supply is a matter of increasing urgency. Too many parts of the world are experiencing devastating droughts and there are increasing struggles about water supplies. (Thinking of the Colorado River and the impossible demands being placed on it.) Bermuda is an example of how simple solutions suited to the environment can make an amazing difference, and we can hope that other parts of the world can come up with other simple, elegant solutions.
That's the story of the limestone roofs, but Bermuda had a lot of other kinds of history. There was no indigenous population. The first known European to land was the Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermudez, whose name was given to the island. Ten years later he came by the island again and released a dozen pigs and sows, for the benefit of future shipwrecked mariners.
It worked, too! The first British settlers came in 1609, when the Sea Venture, part of a flotilla of supply ships heading toward the struggling Virginia colony, was run aground on the reefs during a storm to save it from sinking. All 150 passengers and a dog made it safely to shore. Most later went on to Virginia, but while on Bermuda, they were grateful for the pigs! And Britain claimed Bermuda for the Empire.
With little land for agriculture. Bermuda became a shipbuilding and sailing center, and for quite some time controlled much of the world’s salt trade. After the American Revolution and the loss of British military bases in the new USA, the Royal Navy began building forts and defenses on Bermuda.
Situated midway between the British colonies in Canada and the Caribbean, the island became Britain’s primary naval installation guarding the western Atlantic shipping lanes. The attacks on Washington and Baltimore during the War of 1812 were launched from Bermuda. The Royal Dockyards were the hub of all this naval activity, and are now a very pleasant tourist destination with shops, museums. and a dolphin pool.
Bermuda also had masses of forts: 90 have been built since 1609! My favorite was Fort St. Catherine, which looks modest above ground, but has many levels of tunnels and arsenals below. It’s a great museum,. Plus, hidden behind a pillar between artillery placements was a metal tray with cat food. <g> We saw two cats, and I suspect there were more.
No shots were ever fired in anger from these forts, but in 1941, there was an invasion of sorts when the American military arrived to update and fortify the artillery for the duration of WWII. Most of the military installations are gone now, but their artifacts remain.
It’s almost impossible for outsiders to buy land in Bermuda unless they’re in the mega-rich category, like Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Tourists can’t rent cars, either. Instead, there is a delightful bus system consisting of pink buses with blue trim. (The colors of Bermuda.)
Bus stops are painted pink for buses heading toward Hamilton, the capital, or blue for buses heading away from Hamilton. There are also plenty of taxis that include a site-seeing rate on their rate cards.
We were fortunate to be referred to a driver by friends who’d been escorted around the island by him. He was a lovely fellow, and each day he’d come at 10:00 am and take us to a different area, then drop us off for lunch and take us back to our hotel later. (As an overseas British territory, the fish and chips were excellent!)
Bermuda is a rich tapestry of an island, both beautiful and sophisticated. My favorite place was the oldest city, St. George’s, founded in 1612 under the name New London. It’s charming and historical, with the beautiful church of St. George on a hill overlooking the town and the harbor.
The vital location has always made Bermuda busy and prosperous. These days, the most profitable business is off-shore banking, with tourism in second place. I had no money to launder, but the tourism side of the island is great. <G>
Bermuda is as expensive as its reputation, though! A saying we heard a couple of times was, “Know how to become a millionaire in Bermuda? Go there as a multi-millionaire.” <G>
Have you ever visited Bermuda? If so, how did you like it? And if not—would you like to??
Mary Jo, who wants to go back!