Yet Another Treatise on Trash
I have a three hour wait for my connecting water taxi back to Sarteneja. As a low budget traveler, I don't get too extravagant with my spending. Of course just being here in this country is extravagant.
Having said that, I found a cafe and thought I'd write some notes over some "real" cofee. I am a bourgeoise snob.
I came in and the gentleman behind the counter inquired if I would like something. "Why yes", I said with exuberance "As long as you promise not to wrap it, pour it or otherwise serve it in plastic or paper". He smiled but looked a little puzzled. He then made me a splendid Americano and served it in a porcelain cup.
I never did understand people who sit inside a cafe drinking coffee out of a paper cup. It shows a lack of appreciation for the beverage. Not to mention the amount of trash created. It boggles my mind that people are really that unconscious. I think well meaning people choose simply to ignore their impact. In my own community of Durango, Colorado folks love to proclaim their commitment of a greener world. Those same are often the ones drinking coffee from paper. Locals had the audacity to raise hell about the King Mine spill. Those mines have been leaching crap into the river for a hundred years . Very few people seemed to care. But now there is the EPA to blame. Anyone with any kind of cell phone, computer, television etc has bought into the mining industry because most consumer goods contain raw materials from a mine somewhere on the planet. Even my bicycle has mined materials. It's all fine and good to be vocal about Climate Change, plastic and carbon emissions. That is until it threatens one's own sense of convenience.
I'm traveling in Central America at the moment and there is little if any infrastructure to deal with rubbish. There are municipal collection points but much of it lines the road sides and public beaches.
Does Eco-tourism really exist? Can tourists really practice environmentally responsible tourism? If so, how?
The island of Caye Caulker off the coast of Belize is suffering under the weight of it's own refuse. I don't think there is any kind of system in place to remove the garbage from the island. In my explorations of the island, I found much of the trash dumped in less populated areas and mangroves.
I think locals and tourists alike share the responsibility in the production of all this garbage. That includes me. It is almost impossible to buy food or drinks on the street or from take out restaurants without it being wrapped in plastic or styrofoam. I simply cannot handle one more fucking plastic bag or styrofoam take away container being handed to me through the window of a restaurant or street food vendor. I don't eat much restaurant food while traveling, it gets too expensive. I prefer to cook when I have access to a kitchen or eat fruit, bread, cheese and what have you. Fruit comes in it's own neat little package. It takes energy to make conscious decisions like this and sometimes even I don't have it. But just like the adage says, "if you're not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem."
Of course if I really look at MY footprint on Earth, I see that my carnivorous tastes are also responsible for the degradation of Earth's ecology overall. Not to mention flying to Cancun, MX. I read a blurb about a woman cycling around the world and hopping continents by ship.
Some countries in the industrialized world are taking steps to reduce the use and waste of plastics and single use items. Bangladesh banned the use of single use bags back in 2002. It was discovered that plastic bags led to 2/3 of the country being submerged during heavy rains because plastic bags had clogged up drains. It may only be major disasters that will force governments to act.
However environmentally conscious people may be at home in north America or Europe, it's easy to let it go by the wayside once off home soil. People go "on vacation" to get away from the stress of work and other demands. They don't want to think about anything. This includes their impact on the host countries. Maybe I am giving these industrialized, "enlightened" cultures too much credit. I was surprised to see North American and European tourists walking out of the markets with 3 or 4 plastic, single use bags filled with plastic water bottles. In fact, now one can buy a four ounce bag of water. Bite off the corner of the bag and voila! Clean drinking water is not ubiquitous in this part of the world. It is not a given that one can turn a tap and fill a glass with safe drinking water. Many municipalities have built water treatment facilities to remedy this. Thankfully for this, entire communities are free of serious health threats that come from dirty water.The majority of the purified drinking water is delivered through re-usable 5 gallon bottles. In Mexico, many accommodations provide access to drinking water dispensers and one could fill a glass or reusable water bottle for pennies. But not every country or township is the same. Subsequently, tourists in less developed areas are forced to buy water in single use plastic bottles. it's everywhere, but the bottles go in the trash when empty. I have a small water filter that I use if I can at least see through the water coming out of the tap.
My experience in Tullum, Mexico on the south coast of Yucatan has become a center for eco tourism. One can find, yoga on the beach, massage, and an assortment of shaman selling peyote ceremonies in the jungle (no shit,I actually heard a guy trying to sell this to some "hippies"...). Tullum attracts a certain kind of tourist. Usually young, "hip" and enlightened. It's a stereotype and we all know what I mean. Tullum went from a small seaside village to a bustling tourist metropolis replete with yoga studios and advertisements for "Ecologically" friendly accomodations. On closer inspection, I discovered that some so called "Eco-lodges" near the beaches got their electricity from large diesel powered generators. These were usually out of sight of the main areas of the lodge. Out of sight but not out of hearing range of anyone else going to the beach and certainly the plumes of gray smoke and smell from the exhaust was pervasive.
This brings up more questions: How can tourists be responsible to the planet; is it even possible?
The questions I ask myself are, "Does it matter in the long run and is it just my own western sensibilities that are affected because of my personal aesthetics involving the landscape?"
Thanks for reading.