Most contaminated country we have ever seen
The title doesn’t sound very positive, because what I want to say in this post its not positive at all. Right now we’re travelling across Peru and what we have seen so far is an unforgettable experience. Well, sort of anyway.
Let’s start at the very beginning. Peru was supposed to be a cherry on our South American cake - the problem is that this cherry is rotten and the whole country is highly overrated. It is supposed to be charming, fragrant, tasty and picturesque with all those beautiful landscapes, cute lamas hanging around and happy mammas carrying their kids on the back. But the reality is very different - one can blame the weather and the fact that we tend to travel off the bitten track avoiding typical tourist traps so we see things normally not seen by an average visitor. We love to wander around and outside of city centres and (unfortunately in this case) we have keen eye for details.
I have to admit that Peru shocked me. It was not positive awe but very negative impression. We were already travelling for a while and this was the ninth country we visited so far during this trip. While we crossed from Ecuador to Peru I was shocked seeing tons of garbage littering the whole place.
Somebody might say Oh, come on! Peru has gorgeous mountains, which I have seen on the Discovery Channel or National Geographic. But there is garbage all over the place.
Initially we thought that this might be typical for the border area and if we go further inland this shit would disappear and we would see all those beautiful landscapes other people were talking about. But we were wrong. Three weeks have already passed since our arrival in Peru, and garbage littering roadsides became permanent feature of Peruvian landscape.
Of course, tourist places, like Plaza de Armas in Cusco or Arequipa, which we have visited are stunning and very well maintained. They look like they would in any European country. Here and there one can see some litter but there is nothing strange about that. But if you leave areas frequented by tourists you will see tons of garbage thrown into the river or "promenade" delimited by rows of plastic bags full of trash and this would be the best case scenario because usually garbage is just scattered around.
I like watching the landscape while travelling by car or by bus. For hours I can sit and look through the window with my headphones on. Until now this was a very pleasing experience because I could relax watching green fields, hills, waterfalls, villages, sheep or cattle. But Peru is totally different and even looking through the window hurts because there is garbage all over the place, in every town, village or city. And it looks like it’s "growing" where the grass should grow.
Peruvians seem to love plastic bags and bottles which they happily throw out from their vehicles windows. And all this shit ends at the road side. And this seems to be a standard behaviour - believe me I am not exaggerating!
Just a couple days ago during long haul bus ride I have observed a couple sitting in front of us, and those guys were throwing everything through the bus window. We were watching this with disbelief and when Daniel suggested to them that it's not the way they should behave they just laughed.
Similar thing happened to us in the center of Chachapoyas. We were walking across little square which was being renovated and we saw two old Peruvian ladies. One of them dumped plastic plate on the pavement like it was a normal thing to do. Appalled by that we told them (or actually Daniel did because I understand Spanish but I don't speak it very well) that this is not right. I have mildly cursed them with CONCHUDO (this term has been explained to us by one of the tour guides on our way to Gocta waterfall. It's not outright offensive but perfectly describes an ignorant person who litters and doesn’t care about the environment) looking directly into woman's eyes. Apparently she got the message - initially with a sneer she said that as strangers we have no right to tell her what to do in her own country but eventually she picked up damn plate and strolled away with her head down.
Of course this is not our country but it doesn't change anything because it is still our planet! So it doesn't matter if somebody litters in Poland, USA, India or Peru as environmental damage is the same.
There are literally tons of burned garbage laying around, thrash thrown into rivers and streams or scattered along roadsides, not to mention so called "national parks" which look like big garbage dumps. And all this interacts with our ecosystem - and I mean our (mine, yours) as there are no barriers stopping the proliferation of this shit through water and air to the rest of the planet. After all Peru is not covered by impenetrable dome ;-)
This is probably caused by lack of proper education. Uneducated parents pass their own ways of doing things to their children, and those would eventually pass the same to the next generation: sleep well, have kids, have a full belly, throw garbage through the windows, be ignorant and don't care about the world outside. That's our feeling, anyway as typical (well, this might sound like generalization and stereotyping but that's the way we feel) Peruvian doesn't travel too far especially outside the country and doesn't have too high expectations from the life - drive a cab or tuk-tuk, become a parent (not necessarily responsible one), get his bowl of rice, piss whenever and wherever he/she wants (literally) and treat all Caucasians as stupid gringos (because all "whites" are Americans).
Actually so far this is the only country where we feel like we are being not welcomed, just tolerated because we have money and they want it. Sad faces, reluctant interactions and overall feeling of not being really welcome. And those values/habits are passed from father to son, from mother to daughter. So when you add the lack of proper education you get the sorry state of the things.
Ok, but maybe we got a wrong impression? Not really - at some stage we had an opportunity to chat with one local lady who was sweeping the pavement (and who was smiling and was willing to chat with us) and she said that she is also scared by the amount of trash floating around her own country. She told us that the problem is known but the government is not doing anything about it. There are no government agencies controlling the garbage processing and police doesn't care even if they see somebody littering, so I assume that environmental protection services are non-existent in Peru.
Daniel explained to her that for us it is a horrible situation and that we don't want to come back to such a place in the future. She accepted our words, apologized for her nation and promised to repeat our conversation to local politicians. Would it matter? We strongly believe that it would and that such little talks with locals (obviously those who are happy to talk) might actually change something for the better.
From the other hand it's very sad that important and well known organizations such as Greenpeace, which have their mouth full of slogans about protecting natural environment and which collect significant funds in due course don't seem to notice such problems as Peru's garbage. In our opinion this is a very important issue and if nothing is done in the years to come some (especially those less touristy) parts of Peru may be covered by thick layers of trash. This problem also affects water supply as rivers are being polluted, water is being contaminated by harmful bacteria increasing the risk of serious epidemics. So eventually people would suffer too if this problem is not properly tackled.
I have heard that there is this new trend in Poland and picking up the garbage in common areas became fashionable. Be it few pieces or some bags being picked up and disposed of, this always makes a difference. But this doesn't work in Peru, and it wouldn't make sense anyway because there is so much garbage laying around. So even if you picked up garbage all they long, getting back pain in the process, nobody would notice any difference, unless an army of industrial grade garbage disposal vehicles invaded that country and did the cleaning :)
It's very sad but at the same time very true and the fact is that locals should change their attitude first - no action would succeed if they don't change their ways and don't learn to manage their own refuse. Initially we thought about organizing some sort of action to do something about that problem but seeing what we saw, we have given up.
Even their politicians do not seem to care. At the moment Peru is in the middle of an election campaign. Posters calling for votes are all over the place. And on those posters there are faces of politicians and slogans promising better future. But it looks like nothing is going to change.
Thank you for reading my article - I have planned to post it for some time because of what we have seen in Peru. We felt helpless, sad and at the same time very angry as we got an impression that locals don't care and pretend that everything is fine. And we think that there are others who might share our feelings about this country - well advertised and marketed abroad as a prime tourist destination but not delivering on those promises.
For us, Peru is a smart looking poo wrapped in posh paper and I would never recommend going there. And if somebody tells me that he wants to visit Peru I would tell the person to visit nearest garbage dump to feel the climate.
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