I travelled through Ecuador with my friend Gary a few weeks ago. On the bus from Otavalo to Esmeralda, a young man was sitting alone on the bench right in front of us. In his early twenties, short hair in a Mohawk, he was drinking beer after beer, burping loudly and tossing can after can through the window, along the Andean roads that meandered towards the coast.
At one point, I told Gary I could no longer tolerate his behavior and would have to ask him to stop. Half asleep, Gary glanced at the man, his broad muscular shoulders and large tattooed neck protruding through the space between the seats. “I won’t let you do that,” said Gary, contemplating with empathy my irrefragable ecological compulsions and comparatively frail stature. “I’ll have to fly to your rescue, once again,” he added smiling … and then, unexpectedly, as the man tossed one more can, Gary did come preemptively to my rescue, touched his shoulder and said: “Excuse me, can you please stop trashing your cans through the window?” The young man turned around drunk, fuming and arrogant. In a callous condescending tone, he replied in a surprisingly good English “Its my country …” but before he could give us the metaphorical finger and complete his sentence “… and I’ll trash it if I want to …” looking straight in his eyes Gary uttered calmly “… and its my planet!”
As we drove for a few more hours along Andean valleys, the man kept drinking copiously, burping loudly and unhappily tossing can after can in the small garbage bin attached to the side of his seat. From time to time the bus would stop. The man would jump out swiftly and piss all the beer along a bush or a wall. The bus would resume its journey and the man his alcoholic consumption and bladder abuse.
A the bus rocked us gently down to the valleys, I thought of the curse of so many developing countries where abundant natural reserves no longer make nature preservation a priority. I thought about self-destruction. I cringed with deep sorrow remembering the everlasting litter, plastic bottles and aluminum cans littering the country roads and Pacific beaches facing the mythical Galapagos Island that only appear pristine from a distance. I thought that with a bit of luck this had been an awkward teaching moment and that hopefully with education, one day, the young men of Ecuador would stop drinking themselves to ethylic stupor and trashing their glorious country.