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Galicia: The Spanish region where the clocks are always out of sync

The EU’s proposal to end the time changes across the continent has sparked new debate in the northwestern region, with farmers and forest rangers keen on a new schedule

Hora Galicia
The sunset in Illa de Arousa (Pontevedra) this weekend.
Santiago de Compostela

Santiago Pérez, a farmer from Galicia, owns a property called Los Cuervos, where he grows tear peas, known as “green caviar” because of their high selling price, for 80 top-rated restaurants across Spain. His customers also buy all sorts of other exclusive vegetables that had been all but forgotten in Spain because nobody was growing them anymore.

The daily battle that farmer Santiago Pérez and his eight employees wage against time is no joke

At his estate in Castres, in A Coruña province, the phone starts ringing right after 7am. The callers are chefs from Catalonia and Valencia, “the Mediterranean ones, who are up and working because they follow the European rhythm,” says Pérez. “The restaurants from Madrid call at 10am, and those from Galicia never call before 11am.”

In fact, Pérez notes that in restaurants located in western Spain, “at 7am you won’t find a soul there to pick up the phone.”

Despite his light-hearted tone, the daily battle that Pérez and his eight employees wage against time is no joke. The announcement on Friday by the European Commission of a proposal to bring an end to the twice-yearly changing of the clocks by one hour across the continent has brought the issue back into the public sphere for debate. So far Spain has not ruled out a time zone change should the measure be implemented, with the Spanish government announcing they are already researching the possible effects.

Rural jobs are being conditioned by an industrially motivated decision to save on electricity bills

Galicia, located in northwestern Spain, just above Portugal (which is an hour behind), is the Spanish region where the sun sets the latest. And the clock change that takes place in October, combined with Spain’s unnatural time zone – geographically speaking, the country should be in line with Portugal and the United Kingdom – makes matters worse. Plant enzymes are regulated by light and temperature, and are only activated 90 to 120 minutes after sunrise.

At 5.30pm each day, a van shows up to collect the farm’s produce and deliver it outside Galicia. This means that in the winter, farm hands work a straight shift of 8.30am to 4.30pm to make up for that hour of afternoon sunlight that is taken from them. “They don’t even have time to stop for lunch,” explains Pérez.

Rural jobs involving natural resources are being conditioned by the industrially motivated decision to introduce daylight-saving time in order to save on electricity bills – even if not a single light bulb is actually switched on in the fields. “For those of us working in the primary sector, turning back the clock contracts our working times,” says Pérez.

Galician parties agree

Elisa Lois

In late 2006, the Galicia Nationalist Bloc (BNG), then in a governing alliance with the Socialist Party (PSOE), wanted a different time zone for Galicia. The proposal to turn the clock back one hour, in line with Portugal, the United Kingdom and the Canary Islands, was ridiculed by other parties.

But by 2016 the prevailing opinion had changed, and the Galician parliament unanimously approved a similar non-binding proposal.

Geographically, Galicia is located above Portugal, yet it shares the same time as Poland. In the summer, in western Galicia, there is a difference of two-and-a-half hours between solar time and the official time.

Xosé Santos, a forest ranger in A Limia, in the Galician province of Ourense, says that the region is “completely disconnected from reality” in terms of time. “Animals function according to sunlight. The only birds that sing outside their normal hours are those that live in the cities and get disoriented by the light pollution,” he notes.

The time conventions that govern human activity are “an artificial thing,” adds Santos. This is best illustrated by crossing the river that separates Galicia from Portugal. Drivers crossing from the municipality of Tui into Valença do Minho, on the Portuguese side, are reminded by a billboard that it is one hour earlier here, as Portugal is on Western European Time while Spain is on Central European Time.

“Even though we have a bit of office work, forest rangers should not keep the same schedules as a notary’s office – yet that’s the way it is,” explains Santos. In the winter it gets dark at 6pm, when it becomes impossible to monitor the land for poaching or illegal dumping. Santos says that forest rangers’ schedules should be adapted to better protect the animal species living in it.

Meanwhile, the food and beverage industry also supports daylight-saving time because the extended evening sunlight represents more business. According to the Spanish Hospitality Federation, during wintertime people tend to stay home after it gets dark. And some teachers agree that turning the clock back in the fall is not good for kids.

Daniel Amado, a bus driver who covers intercity routes in Galicia, also wants to stay in summertime all year round. He prefers driving in natural light “for comfort and safety.” Back when he had the night shift, he used to “have visions” from the effort of driving in the dark. “I would see shapes on the road that were not really there.”

The region is completely disconnected from reality

Forest ranger Xosé Santos

Out at sea, life is also governed by natural light, but workers depend on fish market schedules to earn their keep. José Luis Villanueva, president of an association of clam harvesters in Vilagarcía de Arousa, says that the twice-yearly time changes are bad for the sector. “We depend on the tides, which in turn depend on the moon,” he says. But major food distribution markets such as Mercamadrid and Mercabarna have their own schedules. “We cannot tell the tide to go down when it is convenient for us,” says Villanueva. “In the winter we always work in the dark. I personally prefer daylight-saving time.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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