Thursday, 12 March 2009

Dumps and Chumps: A Rant

Yesterday we worked our butts off spring-cleaning our little living room. I will not bore you with the appalling details of that hours-long, exhausting ordeal, as it was a mess we created ourselves. We made the mess, we clean it up.

Today, however, we went "ditch-pigging," our bi-annual cleanup of two pilgrim picnic spots on the Camino between Carrión de los Condes and Calzadilla de la Cueza. We picked up things left by other people, as we´ve done for a couple of years now.

It should not have been so hard.

It´s been a good four months since we drove down that rocky road, four months of winter. There aren´t many pilgrims out there in winter, so we did not expect too much work.

What we found was nothing short of amazing. Not just trash. Not even gross. We are talking filth here. Layer after layer. Shameless. It went right down past stupid to philosophical, people. Philosophical. And that, my friends, is as low as it goes.

Not that Plato and Aristotle and John Stuart Mill are lowlifes. No. It had to be this kind of inexplicably lowdown, lowlife sewage that made them take up philosophy in the first place – the search for meaning in a seemingly meaningless chaos.

The trash. It was, well... so MUCH. Remove a layer of yogurt cartons and water bottles and lunchmeat trays, and there underneath is another LAYER of grocery bags, juice boxes, and wine bottles. The more we cleaned, the dirtier it was. It defied reason. It went beyond Good and Evil. It wore on the soul, even.

These are two little stops along a pilgrim trail. The people walking along here are, supposedly, in search of a spiritual truth. They are (one would suppose) thoughtful, decent, lean, strong, upright folk. They pay their way. They consider what they put into their bodies, judging from the number of Carbohydrate-balanced Electrolytic Protein Supplement containers they leave on the ground as they pass. They carry what they need on their backs. The waste they produce, they dispose of in a responsible manner.

So you would think. Until you pulled up here, where the Camino intersects with the Real Cañada Leonese. Here, for meters leading up to the single concrete picnic table, are weeds and ditches woven with every kind of pilgrim trash: Water bottles, yogurt cartons, sanitary pads, cigarette packets, napkins, toilet tissue, spoons, knives, forks, and food containers of every kind. Pilgrims carried these things here on their backs. They stopped for a few moments to rest. And then, pilgrims left these things here, scattered across the fields and waterways.

We, Rebekah Scott and Paddy O´Gara, are the chumps who come and clean up after the assholes. (Yes, I am calling them nasty names. These are very nasty, evil people.)

After an hour of work Paddy gets disgusted. He swears at all these pilgrim SOBs and parks himself in the car and quits cleaning up after the %¢@s, after whatever municipality ought to be doing this, after the morons who put the overturned trash bin here in the first place, and then all-but abandoned it. “Enough!” he says. “The more you clean up, the more the lowlifes toss down to cover it. There´s no hope for it. No end to it!”

I keep going, just because it´ll be a while before I come back. And after a few minutes Paddy calms down and comes back and starts chucking trash into the bin again. I am glad, but I say nothing. Paddy has more dignity than I do. I can deal with that. In picking up after them, I am as shameless as the assholes who trashed this lovely place.

Nobody wants this job. Nobody does it. Except lowdown volunteers like us. It´s lowdown work, so lowdown it circles right back to righteous. It´s noble, I tell Paddy.

It´s crap, he says. They need to get the chain gang from the prison out here. This is a penance.

And if we don´t do it, who will? I ask. That´s what “noble” is, no? Standing up to the lowest of the lowdown when no one else can be bothered?

We both know that´s also the definition of “chump.” But I don´t say so.

I am not self-righteous, not usually. But I hate this trash as much as Paddy does. And I love this Camino. There´s nobody else out here doing this filthy, mindless job.


God help the poor pilgrim we see throwing litter on the ground.


laurie said...

Reb, this is nothing short of amazing, though I suppose we should not underestimate the human capacity to be lazy, uncaring, and selfish. I don't know how you can stand to do this, but the end products are certainly valuable -- a clean rest spot and this hard hitting post.

The Salvador should offer a contrast, if only because no one walks that way!


Virginia said...

I recall the day (in the 70's) after New Years Eve in Madrid - the street appeared to be paved with diamonds (really smashed champagne bottles glittering in the sun)...actually most places I have travelled over the years show evidence of a very casual attitude toward disposing of trash. (Won't even attempt to talk about the beaches in Ukraine...picnicing amidst human excrement...)

Thank you for all you do to set an example. By modeling behavior you are influencing others.

Did you see the article in the Philadeplphia Inquirer about the Madrid Garbage Police?

In Sunny Santa Fe

Anonymous said...

Penitentes !

Silencio ! ! !

This is what you get for giving up wine for Lent ! ! !

Preparas mi taller !


Anonymous said...

It's a very kind thing, that which you and Paddy did. I remember stopping in that (or a very similar) rest stop and the trash bin was overflowing - if it isn't emptied on a regular basis, mighten the wind/birds/animals not disperse the trash all over? I agree many pilgrims are horrible slobs but some try not to be...

M.A. said...

Sorry for the mess dirty people and lazy "garbage police" in the nearby towns are making. Wind and other weather/time conditions do the rest.
I hate it: we have layers of filth in THE PATRIMONIO GARDENS in Real Sitio de Aranjuez too :O
No future?

Luiza Karner said...

Thank you so much for the work you, and Paddy, did to make the place nicer for others. Noble, yes. Lowdown, no. I must have been overwhelming when you pulled up and saw that trash.

Being used to National Parks that you "take out what you take in" I always carry a trash bag with me to dispose of properly when I can.

Maybe I could give back next year by going on a trash detail.


PL said...

Wears on you after a while, doesn't it? Even on the Via de la Plata, some days in the middle of nowhere, I was constantly amazed at the amount of crap left by the wayside. Philosophically speaking I consigned (resigned?) myself to one plastic bag a day as I made my way, dumping each day's bag at the day's stop; rinse, repeat.

Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

This brings back memories.... but it wasn't nearly this bad when I was there with you. Maybe if they took away the big bin, people would keep carrying their rubbish to the next town. Or maybe not -:(

Timo said...

there´s a Finnish hiking tradition born long before my time way before. If you´re able to carry things in the woods yo´re able to carry rubbish out of the woods. I´ve learned to hike so that no tracks, spills or rubbish is left to be seen. It´s nice to know that there are people who care.

claire bangasser said...

I know the stretch you're mentioning. Godde bless you for cleaning it up.

Two years ago we walked in November, which meant after a lot of people and the garbage was incredible.

I walked for several days writing an 'article' on how the Camino's success is destroying it, how each pilgrim needs to sign a pledge and a garbage bag along...

Godde bless you both for what you did.

Anonymous said...

I´d say that during my days of hiking in the northern woods the basic idea was to carry everything back from the woods. Leave no trace that you´ve been there. If you´re able to carry your things to the woods you are able to carry all the litter and waste back to the recycling facilities.