The other morning we went to the beach in Ayampe, Ecuador to read and have a swim. It’s not the absolute most breath-taking beach in the world, but it is long and wide and beautiful, with great waves, which, coupled with hot weather, makes for an attractive surfing spot.
There are lots of semi-expat young people here, many of whom are helping to run hostels and the like. One such couple turned up at the beach half an hour after us with their dog, obviously heading for a surf. The dog came bouncing up the beach towards us and, before we knew what was happening – how to put this delicately? – left an enormous turd 10 feet in front of us. I looked askance down the beach at the owner who was either completely oblivious or just didn’t care. He called the dog back and headed towards the water.
Not relishing the prospect of a morning with the sun beating down on the thing right next to me, I got up, went straight over to the owner and had the following conversation:
Me: Hola, hi, English or español?
Surfer guy: English.
Me: OK great. Um, your dog just did a massive dump right in front of where we’re sitting. Did you bring a plastic bag to clean it up?
SG: I sure didn’t. I guess you just gotta wait for the sea to come and wash it away.
SG: That’s just the way they do things here.
Me: *silence; eyebrows*Is it? (Looks away at turd, shakes head in disbelief, looks back at surfer guy)
SG: What, right in front of you?
Me: Yes. See where that guy is sitting? Right there.
SG: That’s ok, I’ll come and clean it up for you.
Me: Well I don’t expect you to do it with your bare hands*, but just next time, bring a plastic bag.
* In hindsight, should totally have expected him to use his bare hands!
He then proceeded to follow me down to the offending spot and agree heartily that it was indeed “a bad one”, before attempting to scoop it up with a flat rock, succeeding only in flicking it, in pieces, down the beach. He continued doing just that, flicking it away from me and James (like THAT was the point I was making) and sort-of-towards-the-sea, before walking away from the smeared mess without a sorry or backward glance.
WHAT a tool! The first thing that wound me up is that yeah, that might be “the way they do things here”, but that doesn’t make it ok, ESPECIALLY for a western traveller who obviously knows that leaving dog turds on the beach isn’t cool. The town here has a problem with fouling and litter, mostly because of the street dogs who tear into rubbish bags to eat, do their business everywhere, and don’t have anybody to clean up after them. However, when someone owns and clearly cares enough about a dog to buy it a collar and take it to play on the beach, I bloody well expect that you would be a bit more responsible than just letting the sea wash away its business…in like eight hours, when the tide eventually comes in and out again. I mean, come on, have some respect for the town you choose to live in cheaply and surf in every day. Some people here also kick dogs in the street…I’m guessing he doesn’t do that just cause it’s “the way they do things here”.
It seems that the concepts of conservation and recycling etc have yet to bed in in lots of Latin American countries I have visited over the years. I have written before about the rubbish in Bolivia’s streets, and how the complete absence of recycling made buying bottled water an unfortunate daily experience for us there. Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the region, and with resources and landscapes so varied as jungles, mountains, rivers and the precious Galapagos, I think we had high hopes that the situation here in regards to waste management and care for the environment would be much better.
Sadly it seems not to be so. I had a long conversation with the German chap running one of our first hostels here. He has been visiting Ecuador since the 1960s and it’s safe to say he’s seen it all. When we were at his hostel we found not one, but two turtle carcasses on the beach, and his take on it was that when fisherman are trawling they get caught in the nets and then dumped, I assume into the sea to later wash up on shore. I really hope this isn’t true, but in a country that practically has the sea turtle as its emblem, I find it mildly horrifying that we have seen three dead turtles (the third was that morning, shortly after the dog incident…which you know just did wonders for my mood) and have yet to see a live one.
What gets to me is that yes, there are urgent problems with multinational companies exploiting natural resources and lacking environmental responsibility, and we can often feel helpless and small when it comes to dealing with them (check out Sum Of Us for some small ways to fight back). But what each and every one of us does have control over are our own actions and choices. You can very easily choose not to let your dog foul up a public beach where children play and tourists surf. You can choose not to indiscriminately trawl the sea and throw away what is of no value to you. You can choose whether or not to fly tip rubbish on the road side, or leave your old tampons on the beach (yep, found that one that morning, too). Ugh. I just feel so furious when modern, presumably educated people know the consequences of their actions, but choose to do it anyway.