It was disgusting and embarrassing; a sad reflection of our people I thought. The vivid memories still linger like scratch marks left across the surface of my mind, leaving me compelled to address this issue here.
At first, my bare feet sensed the terrain beneath me, grounding me and connecting me to the earth. The primal sensations of the moist fallen leaves, mud, and slippery rocks under me pulled me into the moment, triggering the type of aesthetic scrutiny that can only come from the true appreciation of nature’s beauty.
We had barely began to proceed up the path to the popular Three Pools Waterfall near Blanchisseuse before we encountered the abuse. There, like an alien artifact, completely out of place amongst the thriving lush undergrowth of the tropical rainforest, lay a discarded plastic water bottle. It was upsetting to say the least. I resolved to pick it up on my way out.
As we continued, so did the proliferation of litter. Landmines and booby traps in the dystopian forms of plastic water bottles, smashed shards of glass, plastic bags and wrappers lay in wait for us around every corner of the winding path.
Naturally we attempted to comprehend the kind of consciousness or lack thereof that could be responsible for purposely destroying the very reason for visiting this beautiful place. As futurist Alvin Toffler had predicted; “consumers increasingly would evolve into a ‘throw-away society,’ buying disposable products designed to meet temporary needs, driven by fads that were consciously created to stimulate buying.”
Now it was proving to be true. Not only were people discarding their single-serving disposable items, but in doing so, we were also regrettably turning the Three Pools Waterfall into a single-serving disposable experience.
On our late afternoon trek we came across returning pilgrims clad in smiles, towels and swimsuits. “How was it up there?” I asked in a friendly, non-threatening manner.
“Wonderful, so fresh and cold,” a middle aged woman replied.
I smiled in anticipation.
Further along, the trail finally gave us closure as the teasing sound of flowing water became the anticipated visage of a sunlit, deep, cool, clear, gently flowing stream bordered on both sides by steep rock faces interspersed with dense green jungle. From afar, it was an incredibly beautiful sight. However, upon closer inspection, the thrill of exploration was robbed from us by the ever present scattered reminders of previous uncivilised hikers and river limes.
Opening my eyes under the cool water, I could make out the dark shapes of fish scurrying away beneath me, as I proceeded to swim up the stream and around the corner towards the loud roar of gushing water and playful laughter. There, liming ahead of me on the river bank, was a group of six young men. They seemed surprised to see me as I emerged from the swift flowing stream onto their bank.
The liming party was obviously having a great time. There was KFC, and judging from the big glass bottles at their feet, I assumed the white styrofoam cups they held were filled with liquid courage.
They cheered and encouraged a timid friend up on a rock ledge to take the plunge and jump off. I said hello and then dove into the next pool continuing to swim upstream, driven by an innate desire to know what other natural beauty and surprises lay waiting just around the corner.
Finally, after much difficulty we climbed up above the falls and swam ever further up the river until there were no longer any traces of human contamination. We had finally found the pristine Eden that I had promised my visiting foreign guests. It was only after paying the higher price with our intrepidity that we were able to find it.
The setting of the sun behind the mountain called us sadly back to the path, the road, the car and to the world. It was getting late as we made our way back down with the current to the falls. Jumping into the pools, we once again returned to the bank that was previously occupied by the limers.
The young men had vanished, but to our horror, in their place they’d left their scattered styrofoam cups, their empty bottles of alcohol, food boxes, a bag of potato chips and a crumpled cigarette box. My heart broke from the sadness left behind by the modern disposable single-serving experience.
I just couldn’t let it go. It upset me. These people who we must share this island with, who made the effort to trek all the way to this location for its natural beauty, then destroyed it, not only for me but for themselves and future visitors. Why?
My rage subsided as I remembered the old mindful maxim: “We must not attribute to malice what can be attributed to ignorance”—and in this case, laziness as well.