As we drove north, we saw the side of Peru away from the beaches and national treasures. This part is a desert without water, except when the rivers flood. It’s where last year’s El Nino peeled off miles of pavement still awaiting repairs, and the problem no one can escape–waste. Along the highways from Lima to the far north garbage along the roadside is proportional to population. Most roads are lined with garbage ranging from scraps of plastic bag clinging to plant stems, pale flags waving in the wind. Moguls of construction debris border the dunes.
It is frustrating to visit world renowned archaeological sites and gorgeous beaches that feel like oases in a countryside splotched everywhere with trash. How can we convince people to visit us when one neighbor says she now finds it depressing to drive from Lima to Barranca because of the miles of shacks and garbage? And she lives here.Peruvians may produce less garbage per capita than other countries, yet for lack of systems to dispose of waste, much of it ends up along the highway. There is not much investment in landfills or equipment to keep them sanitary. Local officials appear to prefer dumping waste behind a sand dune to organizing garbage disposal. There’s no glamor in cleanup. What happened to “cleanliness is next to godliness?” We all lost our faith. Driving north, the car in front of us opened a window and threw out a whole coconut that they’d finished drinking. They didn’t even slow down. We followed a trucker peeling a tangerine as every few seconds another piece of peel flew out the window.
How can we ask people to keep their trash in their car if the roadside is covered with garbage bags, water bottles and diapers? There are lots of people who need better sanitation, and the evidence is along the roadside.