lost and found

With a break from hosting academic groups for the month of June, I packed up my backpack for a few weeks to explore the mountains, valleys and jungles of Peru.

625392_6eb33e841c5343188d8b8121ca700819-mv2_d_4608_3456_s_4_2Starting from Lamas, onto Tarapoto, Chachapoyas, hiking to the Gokta waterfall and Kuelap ruins, traveling through Trujillo and Chimbote on the way to Huaraz, Chavin, and San Marcos, I’ve been through (too) many bus terminals and purchased, drank, and thrown away more than 10 plastic water bottles in just about a week.

That’s more plastic water bottles than I’ve bought in as many years.

I am embarrassed to even write down these words, and more so each time I toss an empty bottle in the municipal trash bin at a bus terminal before boarding to my next destination.

But a girl’s gotta drink.

A few years ago, when discussing the hidden costs of common commodities, a former professor of mine once prompted the question – what happens to the tiny amounts of water that are often left in plastic bottles when they are thrown into garbage bins and eventually end up in landfills?

This question has stayed with me since.

Because maybe when we stop to think, all those drops of water might just add up to something worth counting.

I’ve dreamt of those lost sips of water, left fragmented from one another by our selfishness, our blatant disregard for emptying out the last remaining drops of water on a plant, or lawn or even an asphalt parking lot for the droplets to sizzle and sigh with relief, drawn back into the larger cycle of evaporation.

What about those half drunk bottles of water, lazily left behind on park benches and bus seats and movie theaters? abandoned.

Not to mention about the idea of a disposable plastic water bottle in the first place. That’s a separate argument.

I’ve fantasized about the gallons and gallons of water that we’ve trapped inside those plastic cages, water caught in a liminal threshold, suspended between life and death, removed from the larger context of clouds and rain and evaporation to forever forget the feeling of coming back to a greater whole.

On my long bus rides through the Peruvian countryside I’ve been listening to Rebecca Solnit reciting her book, Field Guide to Getting Lost, where she weaves together threads of lost and found through personal accounts and non-fiction essays. To me, water itself maintains this cyclical theme of gathering together and reorienting, by losing itself to the flow of a river and the rush of rain, and finding itself in your drinking glass.

When last night’s dew evaporated off of the cobblestone streets in this morning’s blazing sun in Huaraz, that water is lost to me. For now. But what about the water that some corporation found and bottled and sold to someone else to store in dark cupboards on dusty shelves? This water is lost in a larger sense. Lost to its natural flow of transformation. Stuck, standing on one leg in the doorway.

And not to mention, where was this bottled water even found in the first place? What did they do it after it was found? And who lost because of it? What about the people who used to drink from that mountain spring, and are displaced now, because of a giant pump in the way?

So, rethinking, I suppose I could travel through the Peruvian countryside- complete with bacteria and viruses that are strangers to my North American body, with a heavy-duty filter, iodine tablets and extreme diligence. I could imagine filling up my water bottle at sinks and water fountains, then patiently waiting the allotted time for the filtration and iodine to do its trick. But even iodine tablets have holes in their functions, and besides I wasn’t able to get a heavy duty filter for my travels.

So for 1 sol every 625 ml, I will have to resign myself to removing the cap off of each empty water bottle and drinking every last drop before it ends up in the recycling bin at the next bus station.

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