On my walk to La Playa Grande, on my first morning of a two week yoga and surf retreat in Montezuma, Costa Rica, I was unpleasantly surprised by the overwhelming amount of trash on the beach. I thought Costa Rica was supposed to be an eco-tourism haven of volcanoes, expansive beaches, and tropical wildlife. I never expected to find a filthy paradise with some of the most beautiful beaches I’d ever seen strewn with plastic bottles and partnerless shoes.
“It’s all trash from other cities,” my surf instructor explained. “People throw their trash in the rivers and it all ends up on the beaches of Montezuma,” other locals echoed.
Apparently, the problem is so BIG that no one knows what to do to fix it. Part of me couldn’t believe it, but as I continued to travel through Costa Rica and Honduras, I witnessed a serious problem with people’s attitude about trash and waste. They throw trash out the windows of buses without a second thought and it piles up on the sides of the roads and collects on riverbanks. While the community members of Montezuma occasionally organize beach clean ups, it seems as though they’ve become hopeless and desensitized to the severity of the problem. They rightfully argue that every time there’s a storm, the beaches are filthy again with trash from San Jose, Jaco, Paquera, and Tambor.
“But why are there so many bottles and shoes??” I asked.
“Because they float,” I was told.
So if all the trash on the beach is only the items that float, I don’t even want to imagine what the bottom with the ocean floor must look like. The worst part is that the items that floated are all recyclable. In my hometown of Santa Monica, California, we recycle plastic bottles and donate old shoes to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Why is this not the case in Costa Rica??? Doesn’t the government actually care about the environment? Or is it all just a marketing ploy to lure more eco-tourists to visit their country?? I wondered if world class surfers would still want to surf there if they saw how badly the oceans are mistreated, and what it did to beaches in beautiful little towns like Montezuma.
So every day, for two weeks, my friends and I walked 45 minutes along expansive beaches, through jungle paths, but had to clamber over piles of trash. On a few of those days, I brought an empty grocery bag and filled it with shoes on my walk home from surfing. But there were so many shoes, that I would pick and choose. Saving children’s shoes, rainbow sandals, and ladies’ high heels. Some shoes actually served as homes for sea creatures and I let them be. But my grocery bags quickly got heavy and my arms would be trembling by the time I got back to my hotel.
On my last full day in Montezuma I woke up at sunrise with hundreds of lost soles and watched as four bags of forgotten shoes walked themselves out of the creek on the beach, up the gravel hill into town, and was amazed as they turned the corner, and walked themselves up the main street to the entrance of the most popular restaurant in town. I wrote some signs in English and Spanish about where these shoes came from and talked to anyone and everyone, locals and tourists, about the trash problem that needs serious attention. I went back to my hotel to clean up and when I returned a little later the town was abuzz. People were taking pictures, reading the signs, and talking to each other about the Problem and the Protest.
In the end, everyone asked the same question: “WHERE did all these shoes come from and WHY are they here???”
When I came back later that day the shoes were all gone, dumped in the trash I imagine. But at least it’s better than having them on the beach.