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My Bloody Romania: Bucegi Mountains (of garbage)
If you're a regular reader over at my laugh-riot, almost-award-winning blog, Killing Batteries (and if not, why exactly?), you'll know that I do my share of complaining. It's my way. I must complain to vent pent up rage or I'd have gone ape$hit on some deserving cop/hostel clerk/bus driver/post office employee by now and I'd be blogging about the food and internet cutouts at Sing Sing rather than various locations around Europe.
Well, I've held my tongue long enough. I'm about to open up a can of 'Leif-Flavored Foot Up Your Ass' on the entire Romanian population for their alarming, baffling and idiotic penchant for wanton littering.
I've already commented in this travelogue about trash lining the sides of most roads and collecting in the immediate orbit of any tourist sight, but my ability to overlook this finally snapped when the Little Vampire and I took a day hike at the Bucegi Mountains.
Certainly, in any urban area trash can be a bit of a problem due to the sheer number of people producing it. But if people even half-heartedly dispose of their trash in a civilized manner, the tide can be controlled. Unfortunately, Romanians have yet to realize this particular wrinkle of modern society. Garbage is discarded at whim, usually wherever one happens to be standing at the time when one has finished their beer/ice cream/potato chips, regardless of the proximity of a proper waste receptacle. And it's not like these lazy asshats are being asked to move all that much to find a bin. Most cities are veritably 'littered' with garbage cans. In central Iaşi, there's a tiny, green garbage can hanging from every second post. Yet garbage rolls down the streets, gathering in small drifts in corners. Fortunately, most cities have armies of street sweepers attending to the problem, so the trash never gets more than ankle deep.
On a side note, I give Romanian street sweepers the highest regard for their dedication to what is plainly an awful job. Not only do they somehow hold their own in the epic struggle to keep Romania's streets relatively clear of garbage, but they cope admirably with what I assume is an inundation of turd piles left by thousands of stray dogs (and domestic dogs owned by indolent bastards). Meanwhile in places like Paris and all of Spain, only a fool would look away from the pavement for fear of sampling the all-you-can-eat Dog $hit Buffet they maintain on their sidewalks.
Romania's countryside is another story. Trash seemingly only gets collected seasonally or, in some cases, never. Roadside picnic areas are the worst. Sometimes these places have been supplied with a single well-intentioned trash can or dumpster by some local entity, forgetting that they didn't install the Magically-Emptying model and so someone has to stop by on occasion to deal with their contents. Since no one does, they fill in a few weeks, then overflow, then the growing trash pile around the base starts to even bury the receptacle itself. But that's assuming that most people actually get off their asses, waddle over and add to the localized trash pile. Sadly, most just chose to throw their garbage just a few feet away or, with supreme effort, into the nearby woods which they also freely use as open air $hit houses, complete with used toilet paper flapping in the trees.
As hateful as these sights are, at least one usually only sees them as they zoom by at 120KPH. What's going on around the quickly spoiling mountain trails is another story. Which brings us back to the Bucegi visit.
The day started in now familiar fashion with unseasonable cold and rain, with a gusting, hat-snatching wind that, we learned belatedly, closed down the cable cars from Buşteni for the day. With our cable car-assisted climb to Babele Peak ruled out, we were forced to chose from a number of hikes leading from the edge of town. In a moment of temporary insanity, we briefly considered hiking the entire distance to Babele, a four and a half hour march, which might have been realistic if not for the late hour (it was already noon by this point) and the flimsy clothing we had on. We resolved that the Babele hike was folly and thank goodness. The next day we saw news reports of 14 tourists needing to be rescued from Babele later that same day after being trapped at the top by dangerous weather.
So it was that we opted for the very low-impact, 30 minute hike to a small waterfall. Not even 10 meters after the 'no littering sign', 50 meters after the last trash can, the piles, and I mean piles, of garbage started. Plastic bottles, chip bags, tins of tuna, candy wrappers, beer cans, beer cans, beer cans... The reason for this was obvious. Little sheds selling snacks and drinks start at the parking area and continue right to the foot of the mountain. Weekend Warrior jackasses intending to 'enjoy the outdoors' load up on Cheetos, ice cream sandwiches and tall cans of Ursus as they set off and not a single one of them is carrying their waste when the emerge from the woods a few hours later. It's been deposited in the precious outdoors they've driven so far to experience.
I really don't like the way I look or sound when I start spouting off about these things in public, it smacks a bit of the Ugly Tourist waltzing into town and telling the natives how to behave, but the Little Vampire was in total concurrence, so with this encouragement I moaned incessantly as we stepped around garbage all the way to the waterfall.
After a while, I actually started to admire how far the trail of trash persisted. It seemed as if some of these people had been carry six-packs of beer and catered lunches for them to have carried the wrappings so far before discarding them. Minutes later at the waterfall, I discovered the last piece of the puzzle. A pair of f*ckwits had set up two tiny food stands barely out of photography range of the falls. They had just about everything a hungry hiker might need after a grueling 30 minute walk, except one crucial item: a garbage can. Not only were people merrily invoking the 'Once I Drop It, It's Not My Problem' approach to Romanian waste disposal, but some people were taking it to the next level and throwing their trash into the falls, like contest to see who could get their garbage caught in the highest branches. It made me sick.
I realize that there are dough heads in every city on earth who are capable of this level of gleeful vandalism and natural destruction, but the ubiquitous distain that Romanians seem to have for their surroundings is deplorable. I cannot in good faith promote nature tours in Romania until these people wake up, make tougher littering laws, enforce them, and send out the tens of thousands of people that it's going to take to clean up the staggering mess they've made in what was once a beautiful country.
Leif Pettersen, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, co-authored the current edition of Lonely Planet's Romania and Moldova. Visit his personal blog, Killing Batteries, for more condemning of entire populations and guidelines on when it's OK to be an Ugly Tourist.