No, not Bolivia IS rubbish – far from it – Bolivia’s rubbish. Like so many Latin American countries, waste and environmental management is a perpetual problem here. This was not so evident in Sucre, where street cleaners are employed pretty much every day of the week, up before the crack of dawn sweeping the Plaza and the streets around it with long spiky tree leaves that make perfect brooms. It’s not a nice job, and there aren’t many (any?) public litter bins outside of the very centre of the town, but hats off to the local government for making the effort.
But in many countries in this region, rubbish removal from homes and businesses is not a council service, but is taken care of by private contractors. I’m not sure if that is the case here in Sucre, but someone collects it, as wandering back home at night we saw plastic bags of all shapes and sizes suspended from metal hooks at head height sticking out of the walls of buildings. Not all buildings have these, however, and the many bags left on the street are often torn open, their contents strewn for several feet down the road, as the multitude of hungry street dogs tore into them overnight.
Perhaps the most bothersome aspect of municipal hygiene as far as I’m concerned is the alarming amount of bottled water drunk by everyone here, ourselves included. This is a problem that seems to be endemic pretty much worldwide, but particularly so in developing countries where the tap water isn’t safe or particularly pleasant to drink. We are not snobby about this sort of thing at all and would gladly have drunk the tap water, but every source we checked said it wasn’t a good idea, and we didn’t want to get ill and waste a day in this beautiful city.
This inevitably leads to enormous amounts of plastic bottles going to landfill and thrown into gutters etc every day of the year. We bought ours in the biggest (2.5L) size we could find, but it didn’t sit well with us, and we just used it for drinking, boiling water for cooking and tea etc. We hoarded our bottles for several weeks under the sink, looking out for recycling facilities everywhere we went, but one day we came back to find that our cleaner had removed them and presumably thrown them away. I think perhaps my biggest regret on this trip is neglecting to bring a water purifier.
A couple of friends had a snazzy portable one that was battery operated and purified water using UV light, giving me serious gadget envy. I think as soon as the opportunity presents itself I will add one to my packing list, I have used more plastic bottles in the last three months than I probably have in the last three years.