I fumble in the darkness to find my shoes, slip them on in the midst of furiously excited puppy licks and trip my way to the front door to let the dogs out. It is a quiet morning, finally the rain has stopped. I look up at the night sky and see the stars shining brightly, the moon sits low and in the distance the top of the snow-covered volcano glows orange below a cloud of smoke. It is a gorgeous morning and my grogginess is immediately replaced with motivation to get in a dawn hike. I close the door and run back to the bedroom to quickly change, swapping my house shoes for my hiking boots and my pajamas for layers that will keep me warm as the day transitions from cold moonlight to warm sunshine.
The dogs pile into Super Burro and I toss an extra trash bag in my backpack as I top off my water bottle and grab a snack for the road. As I pull out onto the street, I sit at the corner, looking left and right- where shall we go? The thought of the glowing volcano is tempting, but I plan to squeeze in some snowboarding there tomorrow, so instead I decide to head to our favorite spot along the gorgeous Lago Caburgua.
As we cruise along the road the sky slowly transitions from night to day, and the stars begin to fade into the blue, one by one. We park along the quiet dirt road, walk a little ways down the steep, narrow trail leading to the beach and I take a deep breath as we arrive at the water’s edge.
It is such a lovely morning. The clear sky that greeted me earlier is now sitting behind a heavy morning mist, which is casting magical shadows across the still lake. The beach is silent except the sound of the calling birds. The shrill songs mix with the soft swooning sounds of the two birds that glide across the water. Everything is still and fresh. Slowly, with dramatic purpose and effect, the sunlight begins to spill onto the mountains surrounding the lake.
I hike with the dogs across the sandy beach, hugging the shore until the edge of the water pushes us up into the forest briefly. The trail narrows between trees, then opens up again to another beach. We walk along the water’s edge, Curi and Check tackling one another in the sand and periodically racing into the water in rapid succession. We cross the river feeding into the lake basin and make our way further around the edge, enjoying the quiet of the morning and the beauty of this place.
Eventually we run out of trail and have to turn around. I sit for a while, drinking my yerba mate and writing. There is not even the hint of a breeze, it is so still. As I finish, I tuck my journal back into my backpack and pull out the trash bag and a pair of gloves for the hike out.
Lago Caburgua is pristine, the water is incredible clear and the mountains that line its edges are simply breathtaking. It lies just east of the famous Parque Nacional Huerequehue, a huge draw for tourism, particularly in the summer months. It is surrounded on other sides by undeveloped native forests, a truly beautiful place. According to Wikipedia (this was news to me, so I can’t verify it), in 2007 the Fundación Lago Caburgua was founded to protect, rescue and preserve the heritage of the lake.
Despite it’s incredibly clear waters and obvious beauty, Lago Caburgua has a big pollution problem. Many blame this on the popularity of the lake during the summer months, and are quick to point the finger at the “lazy, dirty tourists”; but the fact of the matter remains that the garbage is here, long after the tourists have left. And it isn’t just a little bit here or there, it is everywhere; and it is heartbreaking.
Every since I discovered this place back in January, I have always brought with me on my hikes trash bags and gloves. With every visit I remove one bag of trash, which is all I can carry up the steep hill out to the road where my car awaits. I have never, once, felt as though I made a difference. There is just so much garbage needing to be hauled out, that it always seems to overwhelm my efforts as my bag fills up so quickly.
I know that this is a local issue in many ways- yes there are some easy changes we can make here that will make a difference- such as setting up easily accessible trash and recycling facilities, organizing community beach cleanups to really tackle it, designate people who will be accountable for keeping the area clean and educating folks.
But there is also a much larger conversation that we should be having as well- one that goes way beyond this local issue and delves into the responsibility of our global community. A conversation about why we are consuming this stuff in the first place, and why on earth, in this day and age, are we manufacturing (on a rapid, massive scale) anything that cannot be recycled or upcycled and therefore ends up in a landfill, or worse, once we are done using it.
Why are we paying for water that comes in a plastic bottle when we can save ourselves money using a refillable bottle and also save the incredible volume of energy, water, and oil that goes into making that plastic bottle in the first place?
Why are we manufacturing trillions of plastic bags to shuttle around the things we buy when there are probably enough reusable bags already existing on this planet for each person to own at least one?
Why isn’t all of the packaging that is wrapped around our food made from compostable or biodegradable materials?
Fundamentally, I believe that in order for us to even begin to imagine a sustainable economy, whereby we have access to products and services that have either zero or positive impact on the planet, we have to begin by seriously examining our consumer practices- which in turn also means looking at our production practices. And, just as we locals can’t point and say “it’s just the lazy, dirty tourists”, we global citizens can’t point and say “it’s just the lazy, dirty companies”. It is up to every single one of us to speak up and be the change.
When I think about changing this broken system on a global scale, it is overwhelming- just like when I look at the shores of Lago Caburgua and I cannot imagine even one of my bags full of trash having an actual impact. But the reality is that I am having an impact. And although my efforts feel small, they are mighty. And even though I can only carry one bag at a time, I can use my voice and I can share my story, and I can share the stories of these things that I carry out and the places they are damaging.
Have you ever seen a ripple in a lake get smaller? I never have, I have only seem them grow. I can start a ripple, I can throw this pebble and see how the ripple grows. Because you never know who your ripple might touch, who might embrace your small effort and join you, adding energy and force, and eventually creating the power of a wave.
So this is my small ripple. I have committed to get outside every single day in October. No matter the weather, the agenda and to-do-list, no matter the deadlines; I am carving time outdoors in the wild places that surround my home here in Southern Chile. As usual, I will continue to carry out any garbage that I find during my hiking, surfing or snowboarding adventures. But this time I’m going to show you what’s in my bag. I am going to expose the stuff that has been discarded, and I’m going to do so against the backdrop of the incredibly beautiful places where I find it.
This is my attempt to start the conversation. To peak your curiosity, and mine as well, and to raise our collective consciousness of the stuff that we consume and discard every single day that we live and breathe. Let’s talk about it- the what, the why, the how. Let’s consider what it is made of, where it has come from and where it will go when we are finished with it. Because everything goes somewhere. There is no “away” to throw it to.
If you would like to follow me on this adventure, and see some of the incredible places that I am lucky to have so close to home, please check in with this visual journal which I will be updating daily:
You can also find my daily hauls featured on Instagram:
While I would love to have you follow along with me, I would love even more for you to join me. This is a personal project, but it is a small simple thing that anyone can do anywhere in the world, every time you step outside. Some of you probably already do it. What I am asking is that you share your story, show us what’s in your bag, join the conversation! If you post via social media, tag it #litterati and/or #thereisnoawaytothrowto so we can all see the great work you are doing.
Remember, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.