I am a positive guy and that often makes me guilty of one of the softer crimes in travel writing and photography; only showing the good stuff. The happy stuff. The pretty stuff.
You know, like this:
Ahhhh…Mt. Hood reflected in Trillium Lake, just 45 minutes from downtown Portland, Oregon. Pretty, isn’t it? While I believe the world needs more pretty stuff, it’s only part of the truth. Here’s the reality:
Yes, Milwaukee’s Best, crushed and slightly charred, was just out of frame.
I have seen it over and over in my travels. Jordan, Hawaii, Mexico, Tanzania, Nepal and even “Shangri-La” infused Bhutan. All those places had garbage and trash, in varying degrees, that you almost never hear reported on blogs around the Internet. Again, I’m a positive guy, and I like to look at the good stuff, not bad, but I do think I need to introduce more balance into the content on this site. Maybe your site, if you write or take photos, could use some balance too.
This topic has been on my mind after taking a press trip to Jordan last year with Sabrina. You might remember some of the pretty pictures I posted at the time and in the months after the trip. Jordan is a beautiful place.
But there came a time in our travels through the country when I finally broke down and asked our driver to stop on the side of the road. The disconnect between the beauty we were witnessing, the warmth we were feeling from the Jordanians we met and what we saw outside our car window grew beyond my ability to ignore. What we saw was this:
Plastic bags seem to be the favorite type of garbage left alongside the road in Jordan. In this field they were twisted around a barbwire fence and left clinging to tufts of field grass. The band of garbage did not go to the horizon, although it may seem that way. The band is contained mainly in a strip along the road, about 30 meters from it on either side. That strip dissipated the further we drove from populated areas. But I could always tell when we were approaching another town from the increase of garbage along the roads.
When I had returned to the car after taking a few photos our guide was smiling. We had spent only a day together so far but he had rightly told our driver moments before that I would be asking to stop once I saw the garbage. The scene was not something he was not proud of and, as an ardent naturalist and volunteer at the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Petra, it dismayed him how lax his fellow countrymen and women were about their garbage disposal. He told me exploring nature and taking care of it were not high priorities for the Jordanian people individually.
The scene was repeated along the shores of the Dead Sea. You may remember pictures of me floating in the medicinal waters at the lowest point on the surface of Earth. It’s fun and a little heavenly and so is the photo of me with a mud treatment right after the dip. That photos plays out again and again in blog posts about the Dead Sea.
Just outside our resort, along the road to the newly minted Wadi Mujib Biosphere Reserve, we passed a locals’ hangout. It was a place where Jordanians without the money for the posh resorts go to take a dip in the soothing waters of the Dead Sea and then shower beneath a small waterfall. Some will even picnic in the area. It’s not hard to miss this section of the road.
For about half a kilometer the garbage is strewn within throwing distance of the ancient waters. In their defense, it seems the Jordanian government is trying to alleviate the problem by providing dumpsters and even recycle bins for food waste, but they mainly go unused.
I have seen garbage in all my visits inside and outside the USA. It happens. But I was amazed at how much there was in Jordan as compared to other modern areas of the world, especially in a country where over 60% of the Gross Domestic Product comes from the services industry, with tourism being the main driving force in that industry.
I am not laying all of this out to pick on Jordan. Here’s an image of our guide and my guest carrying a bag of garbage we collected at a popular tourist spot alongside the road in Bhutan:
Garbage happens. Mainly because of lazy humans.
In my own travel writing and photo essays I am going to strive to show a more balanced view of what you can expect to find if you follow my footsteps to the magnificent areas of the world. It’s not all glitter and you deserve to know the truth. It’s also not all garbage.
This post is also a subtle warning to any tourists boards or visitor centers out there who are thinking of inviting me on their next press trip; I will show the good and bad and seek out the balance away from the shiny, posh resorts you hole me up in during my stay. If you are a blogger, I challenge you to do the same. We don’t need more fluff pieces on the shiny things. We need more reality.
Way to keep it real, Peter. It’s an increasingly rare thing to see.
Great post, Peter. I agree with you. Photos we see of these places are often very misleading. I’ve heard that the Taj Mahal is a dumping ground of garbage and yet all the pictures I’ve seen make it seem so clean.
Good points Peter. It’s our job to show the world at its best, but sometimes that can be a disservice if it leads people to believe that the earth will just rebound from anything we throw at it.
Good idea, Peter. We can always use more honesty! It would also be good to provide some context, if possible. A sense of ownership usually provides an incentive to keep a place clean. Witness apartments v. owner-occupied homes. Big difference in quality of yard, amount of extant garbage, etc.
It also helps to remember that it takes excess wealth to be able to afford trucks and land and workers to pick up and move trash and garbage out of sight and, if possible, to a sanitary landfill, as garbage dumps are now known. Hence, we in the First World have the money to spend to take care of this most vexing problem. Clearly, some do it better than other, but in poverty-stricken areas, whose residents often live without the benefit of the rule of law, that is unlikely to happen.