“What the hell? Are we camping here? It’s full of trash everywhere!”
These were the first words that were heard from everyone’s mouth when our 8-people hiking group reached the 2639m camp spot on the Sembalun crater rim side (plawangan sembalun). We had been hiking up the Rinjani volcano for 2 days already, so we were looking very much forward to settling down for the night and having a warm meal.
What we found there though was just unacceptable.
Trash. Trash everywhere. Bottles of beer. Soda cans. Plastic bags. Metal cans and plates from food. Plastic bottles. Papers and napkins flying around. And endless little pieces of all kinds of materials and colours either tramped among the volcanic pebbles on the ground or flying around from the strong gusts of wind.
In the beginning we were all surprised and disgusted by the sight. Some moved forward towards the tents. I just felt completely enraged and could not move. I was partly mumbling to myself, partly shouting out-loud to the other fellow hikers in my group. “This is horrible”, I said. “We can’t be camping on this, it’s disgusting. We have to do something, we need to clean up!” The Australian guy was still standing next to me, also flabbergasted from the sight. “We need to get some bags and pick up the trash around the tents at least. It makes only a very tiny impact, but it’s something. Then we need to tell the other groups to do the same. Who knows, maybe it will trigger a chain reaction…”
So we started. We got whatever plastic bags the porters could provide us and 8 crazy people, both guys and girls, started picking up all kinds of filth that was around the camp area where we would remain that night. We focused mostly on plastic, metal and glass, which do not biodegrade, and somewhat larger pieces, since the tiny pieces were endless and partially buried in the ground.
After about some half hour we had picked up about 5-6 plastic bags of trash. We stopped and took a breath, looking around us. The area looked almost unrecognisable in comparison to its prior state. We felt proud and relieved at the same time.
We noticed though that none from the other groups had taken example. We probably looked like the crazy ones, picking up other people’s trash and getting ourselves dirty. It was time to mobilise them. There was so much more trash around the tents of the rest of the hikers. More help was needed.
“Let’s go talk to the others!”, I told the Australian. “Maybe if we go and speak to them, they will also clean up their tent area. They MUST do something, they can’t just ignore this.” And so we went.
We approached a group from which we had already met some of the people: two German girls from Innsbruck, friends from childhood, that had been travelling together around South East Asia for 2 months.
“We are camping on trash! If it was Germany, the Alpes or any mountain in Europe, we would never allow this situation to happen”, I told them, holding one of the plastic bags full of garbage we had just collected. “But here everyone seems to be ignoring it. We have to do something. If each group collects the trash from around their tents, and tells the others, we can maybe clean up this place at least.”
We walked back to our tents. When we looked back, we saw 4 people including our German friends with bags in their hands and picking garbage. We were extremely excited! It was like a miracle in the making.
Unfortunately we didn’t see any other groups following our example by themselves, but already a small victory had taken place: our little initiative proved that change was possible!
“I’m sorry”, said our guide. He was a 21 year old local boy from the local villages around the volcano. He had been working as a guide for about 1-2 years. He was feeling ashamed. I explained to him that it was not his fault of course, but he had to tell the other guides and porters to clean up the areas that they were camping on. “If everyone starts picking up 1-2 extra bags of garbage each time they come up, and don’t throw more garbage around of course, the mountain will be clean”, I tried to explain. “I’m sorry”, he repeated. He went on to say that the professional guides and the porters were picking up their own trash (something which sounds in conflict with what I later read online from other blogger reports), but the local hikers are not. They are not as well educated and they leave all trash behind. I urged him to talk to them as well, while a doubt was growing in my mind that he would do it.
It was a good start, but it was far from sufficient. Trash was sliding down the steep mountain slopes just under our tents, with monkeys in them looking for something edible. Trash all over the crater lake shore, that we had seen the day before. Dead fish in the lake water. An Indonesian hiker, in his 40s or 50s with military-style clothes throwing a empty fuel can on the ground under a cement construction that was meant to serve as a rest place. Again, everyone ignored. No one did anything, no one even said anything to him.
That day we all pledged that we would make a website to mobilise the people, especially the future hikers but also hopefully the locals, to start cleaning up the mountain. The attitude of both local and international people at Rinjani must change.
If every group collects and brings down a couple of extra bags of garbage at least, and insist that no one litters, the mountain can be clean in a matter of weeks or few months.
It’s a just a matter of caring and spreading the word. Will you join us?