Debbie is one member from a family of six. She journeyed to Peru this past June and July with her partner Dawn, and four teenage children. They were looking for an atypical tourist experience where they would have the chance to truly experience an unfamiliar culture, and engage with persons from another place.
As Debbie sat down to map out their family’s various agendas and commitments, including FOUR different school schedules, Debbie came to the conclusion that over the next two years there was only ONE two-week period in which they could fit in a family vacation. We aren’t talking a National Lampoon style road trip here. Instead they opted for a 16-hour plane ride to Peru and a tour via one of TAP’s co-founding operators, Crooked Trails.
In my brief interview with Debbie, you get the sense that she and her family are “do-ers”. They not only searched tirelessly for a really meaningful family vacation, but more specifically for a service project in which they “would be helpful to someone other than [them] selves.” Who knew that she would come back to the states with an even grander undertaking and purpose than originally intended?
Peru, as she puts it was the perfect destination with, “a different culture, a different language, a different continent, a different side of the equator, beautiful landscapes, and friendly people.” Apparently it was also the perfect place to run into heaps of improperly disposed of garbage and plastic bottle land mines. Ancient sites like that of Machu Picchu, which is supposed to be highly regulated by several institutions who want to protect it, was still a culprit in allowing plastic water bottles and other plastic waste infiltrate its trails, clog it’s roadways, and take away from the overall awe-evoking experience of the site.
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. There were plenty of stories from her trip worth mentioning before any talk of the somewhat disappointing reality on the Inca Trail. Preparation is key to any trip, so before embarkation day arrived, Debbie took the advice of Crooked Trails and purchased two SteriPens for her family of six, along with a water bottle for each person and two extra bottles for a hike they were going to take somewhere along the way. According to her,
“We happily sterilized our water and always had plenty of clean water to drink. It was so easy. We often refilled our bottles at the hotel or asked a restaurant to fill it from the tap. We found that we only needed to carry a couple reusable water bottles with us during the day, because it was so easy to refill and sterilize them.”
While on the trip they had spent a five-day period with a homestay host family in the small community of Chinchero. They were able to save their host family the hassle of boiling extra water, showing them exactly how sterilizing their water so quickly was possible due to UV technology. Even Debbie’s limited but well-meant knowledge of the Quechua language could not stop their ability to enjoy every moment with their Chinchero family. All whilst knowing that they had clean water to drink, and were able to protect the community’s environment.
Also along the way they were introduced to a cow named Rosie whose milk provided a break from the watering hole, and were mystified by the magic words, “ousa ousa,” which had the power to put a pig on its side. Their guide proved its effectiveness by showing off on a, “medium sized pig tied up next to the road.” Apparently the pig flopped over and remained perfectly still as it waited for the belly rub of a lifetime.
This was one of my favorite stories Debbie shared with me. It has nothing to do with water, plastic, or even waste, but it got me thinking about developing our own magic words that would have the power to zap away all of the plastic waste left behind by travelers. Perhaps this is a bit far-fetched, but I was thinking something along the lines of, “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo, put em’ together and what have you got, less plastic for both me and you!”
Unfortunately, I think it will take more than a few magic words to solve this global issue; which brings me to the most important part of this story.
“It wasn't until we began the portion of our trip in the Sacred Valley that we realized how unique we were among the other tourists. When we arrived in Ollantaytambo, we were shocked to see how many people were buying and carrying disposable plastic water bottles. They were everywhere, and of course, people were going through several a day. It just seemed so wasteful!”
This fascinated Debbie, so as her family practiced using “ousa ousa” on one another, they crunched some numbers. If they were to not have used Crooked Trail’s recommendations, six people and 14 days later, they would have gone through at least 250 disposable water bottles. Debbie claims even this amount would not have kept them as hydrated as they were using their reusable bottles, and filling straight from the tap whenever they wanted. Not to mention, being hydrated at any altitude is a safety measure just as important as drinking clean water.
Unfortunately the dumping didn’t stop there. They witnessed a, “trend of tourists buy[ing], consume[ing], and discard[ing] disposable plastic water bottles from Ollantaytambo, to Aguas Calientes, to Machu Picchu.” Most of which ended up in the river and on the side of the road.
“It made us think, what can we do to make it easy for these tourists to not generate so much plastic garbage in this beautiful country?”
Encouraged by all of this visual evidence, the conversation on what to do about it finally came up. “We talked about wanting better for the people who were visiting and for the people of Peru,” and they knew, “not everyone would want to purchase a SteriPen for only a one or two week trip, especially if they were the type of person who wasn't likely to use it again after their trip.” That is when the flood gates opened. Let me back up to explain.
When Debbie and her family first de-boarded the plane in Lima, they were intrigued by all of the kiosks renting out cell phones for in country use. What a clever idea to package something useful but not permanent, for tourists visiting from the world over. As they pondered ideas for helping stop bottled water consumption in Peru, they realized that people might be interested in renting water-purification packs much like the ones they had put together for their own use, and in line with the idea of the cell phone rental kiosks. As an alternative to purchasing these items which can be costly on your own dime, one would only need to rent a pack equipped with a SteriPen, a pre-filter for protecting the lip of the water bottle from contamination, a filter for particulates, extra batteries, and a cloth for wiping everything down. Add a Klean Kanteen (or whatever form you choose), and you are golden.
“It was so easy to throw the small pack into our backpack for the day, and know that we had everything we needed. As we brainstormed in our hotel room in Ollantaytambo, we thought we could make it just as easy for other people.”
The goal would be to make sure travelers have everything they need to, “go on their trip and happily drink clean water,” then simply return the pack once they are back home. As Debbie sees it, “It would be a simple solution that would make it easy for tourists to see the beautiful country of Peru, protect their health, and not damage Peru while they are there.”
As the Andeans and Debbie would say, “Sulpayki!” (Translation: “Thank You!”).
Your friendly TAP Supporter,