I am afraid that I am going to have a bit of a rant! With all of the posts I still have to do about our trip, and all of the photos I need to go through, plus a myriad of other things we need to write about, this thing can’t wait and may even change your traveling habits in the future.
See this photo above. This picture was taken on Day 3 of our Bolivian Salt Flats Tour. We stopped here to view the active volcano you see in the background on the right. Now this might not look that interesting to some of you, but the rock formations that have occurred from thousands of years of wind and sand storms across the lava flow are really quite spectacular. I had to walk hundreds of yards to get this photo as it seemed that as soon as we got out of our 4×4 we walked into a public toilet. Yes, the place was littered with toilet paper. I am kicking myself that I didn’t take a photo of it to show you, but it was pretty gross.
See this photo above? This was taken on the same day, a bit later. This is petrified coral that you can see all the way to the volcano. All of that was under water at one time. Guess what I saw while I was having a mooch around? Toilet paper, and a disposable diaper someone put under a piece of petrified coral. Huh?
So, it got me thinking. When we got to our hotel that evening I mentioned the toilet paper thing to an American lady I met who was traveling in another jeep. She told me it was the women and how she thought it was disgraceful. Just the mention of toilet paper at the lava flow brought forth a tirade worthy of a politician. It wasn’t just me.
The two young Germans sitting at the table looked rather uncomfortable, especially the young lady who was starting to turn bright red, from embarrassment? Her boyfriend, came to the defense, I say the defense as he probably didn’t want to incriminate his girlfriend, by saying that the drivers should tell people not to use the area as a toilet. Then by saying that there should be someone to clean it up. When it was pointed out that 1) it was neither the responsibility of the drivers to do anything except get us from A to B and 2) we were in the middle of a freaking desert, in nature ( my mind nearly exploded at this point), could he not just accept that as visitors to a foreign country, it is our responsibility as guests to keep the place as tidy as possible? He tried to argue the point, but between my American friend and I (two Americans against two Germans) we beat him down. It transpired that he was feeling rather sensitive as they had had all of their gear stolen from the boot of a car they hired a few weeks prior and probably thought we were picking on his girlfriend. She was probably guilty of leaving paper behind, along with most of the women who had used the area as a pit stop. We weren’t singling her out, she just happened to be there. She wasn’t the first to leave paper and probably won’t be the last, but maybe she will be more thoughtful when answering the call of nature.
So yes, women can be very dirty. Why it hadn’t occurred to any of them to take the paper back with them in a bag to the jeep is beyond my comprehension. The desert is called thus because it is dry. It doesn’t rain. The paper won’t biodegrade. Paper needs water, organisms and time to biodegrade and it is not something that happens overnight. Why am I assuming that the mess was caused by women? Simple deduction. Women require privacy and paper to pee. Every rock I went behind was littered with paper. Men can just stand up and turn around and that is what most of them did. Why didn’t the women bury the paper you might ask? Well, I can only assume that they were too darn lazy or it wasn’t so easy to dig a hole around an old lava flow due to the ground being too hard. So, with all this paper lying on the ground, and the fact that the desert can get quite windy, you can imagine that this paper is just going to fly around and get stuck to bits of rock and shrubbery. It was very disgusting. I think what made it more so was that this was the first time on our travels, and we were 3/4 of the way through, that we had seen anything like this before.
We had used many public toilets on our trip. They ranged from really clean, with bidets, to nothing more than a hole in the ground. I took tissues with me everywhere as 99% of the time you could guarantee there wouldn’t be any. Many times when I had to pay to use a toilet I would be given a mean amount of paper that might just be enough dry you off but not enough for a poo! It was safer to bring your own. The same went for hand sanitizing gel. You just couldn’t guarantee that there would be soap or water to clean your hands.
If you did manage to find some paper, most of the time it was very thin and would most likely disintegrate upon contact. Then there was the fact that all paper had to go into a bin. That’s right, you were not allowed to put paper in the toilet. Most likely it would block up the drains. This is common practice throughout South America, even in the smartest hotels. In fact, I got so used to putting paper in the bin, I carried on doing it for a few days after we got back home! Needless to say however, the state of many toilets was pretty disgusting. It is amazing how people manage to get shitty paper on the floor when there is a clean and empty bin right next to them! And that is just the women!
I was getting along fine on our travels in the toilet department (by being prepared) and would occasionally be pleasantly surprised to find that a lady’s room that I was dreading to go into turned out to be actually quite clean. Buses tended to be quite bad and so I would get Bob to do a test run for me. When we went on long walks in the mountains, I took to wearing panty liners in case I had to go in the woods as I didn’t want to be carrying around a bag of used TP. I know that might be too much information, but when you are a lady of a certain age, panty liners are a God-send for other reasons too, like when sneezing or coughing too hard or when the weather is too hot! Fortunately, I am not yet at the stage where I need to start wearing Depends.
Surprisingly, there were toilets available on our trek to Machu Picchu. Even in the middle of nowhere, there was always somewhere to go at a rest stop. It may not have been ideal, but it was somewhere to go. Otherwise you had to use the Inca toilet. Work that one out. When you are required to drink copious amounts of fluid on a trek, it has to go somewhere. This is the only time I would ever like to be a man. All a man has to do is turn around. In all of our time traveling, even in the middle of nowhere, we never saw anything as bad as we did that day in Bolivia.
We spent four days traveling long distances in a 4×4. Invariably, because of all of the bouncing around in the vehicle, when we stopped to look at some amazing feat of nature, you just had to go. So the men would walk away from the car and turn around and go. The ladies had to find somewhere to hide. Alone. Yes, that is how women are. We need privacy. And we need to be creative. Where do you go in the middle of nowhere without even a rock to hide behind? You go in a sand ditch that is just about high enough to cover your ass, but not high enough where others can’t see you pull your pants down, if they were looking.
We met some travelers that were going try to climb up to the summit of Aconcagua, in Argentina. Not only did they have to take everything they needed to survive for a month on their trek, they also had to bring all the rubbish back with them. The only consolation of that is what they brought down with them would weigh less than what they went up with.
You might want to argue that the locals are not any better with disposing of their rubbish. That may be so. I have seen adults throw rubbish out of bus windows. You see rubbish littered on the sides of the roads, in rivers and streams. As a guest in another country, we can only observe. Yes, it is disgraceful to see adults drop litter everywhere. It doesn’t set a good example for the children. However, it hadn’t really been that long ago when America started it’s Clean Up campaign and people were being educated about disposing their litter. Same thing in Europe. I remember there were billboards, TV advertising, newspaper and radio advertising about this. I have not seen this type of campaign in any of the countries we visited. In Argentina there would be bins and a sign, and yet we would still see rubbish all around. Things were better in the parks.
It is difficult not to be judgemental about this type of thing, but it all comes down to education. If people are not being educated in the most basic way, as in schools, then it is going to be more difficult to get the populace to change the habit of a lifetime without some enforcement in place. So, rather than being judgemental about what the locals are doing, you can be grateful that you have an education and come from a country where people care about the environment rather than having to worry about where their next meal is coming from. The environment is going to be the last thing on the minds of those that live in poverty. And yes, even the ones that are well off are just as bad, but they really believe that there are those less fortunate that will clean up after them and perhaps earn a little something in the process. The class system is still alive and kicking in South America.
So, for all of you travelers out there, especially the ladies, please think about what you are doing when you are out enjoying nature. Don’t leave anything behind. We all want to make our mark in the world, but sometimes we need to make it seem as if we had never been to a place. This way it will be nice for those who come along after you.