Taking responsibility for the impact of post lockdown tourism

With lockdown easing up, I understand people are eager to get out of town and blow off some stress. I’ve been on a few post lockdown trips myself, most recently to Fort Portal this past weekend, where I shared a cottage with friends, at a sweet spot in between 3 crater lakes, not far from Amabere Caves.

There is a steep but stunning hill nearby that both tourists and locals enjoy climbing for sweeping views of the crater lakes and Rwenzori Foothills. However, as your gaze slowly adjusts to the views, it’s hard to ignore the litter that cumulates at the top of the hill. The unsightly human impact against the natural beauty of the place stood out like a piece of dark meat suck in between pearly white teeth. It was uncomfortable, embarrassing, and left me wondering why no one had acknowledged or done something about it.

Fort Portal is known to be a very clean town, and it was disheartening to find out that the trash problem was a new phenomenon in the area, that came with the influx of visitors post lockdown. With domestic tourism starting to pick up again, it seems that we don’t yet truly value the beauty this country holds, because if we did, we wouldn’t be so quick to toss our plastic bottles onto the ground, or even consider cutting down forests for sugar plantations.

To some, littering is not a big deal, but what we don’t realize is that your litter, my litter, everyone’s litter builds up very quickly and as it begins to pile up and get entangled with the bush and ground, clearing it out becomes more difficult as time passes by. Not only is it terrible for the environment, it also ruins the experience of a place, for yourself and others who are yet to visit. No one gains from the momentary reckless convenience of tossing your trash onto the ground, it’s a lose-lose situation.

As an outdoor enthusiast, who has worked in the tourism industry for a few years now, I felt a burning responsibility grow within me. Grateful to have traveled with likeminded friends, who were just as disappointed by the trash left behind by “post-lockdown-tourists” like us, we all agreed to try and restore some dignity to that beautiful hill. We managed to fill up 2 bin bags in just 20minutes, amongst 3 of us, with a disgusting assortment of plastic and glass bottles, plastic straws and plates, gum & candy wrappers, disposable masks, and even a couple of used condoms!

It wasn’t our litter, and no one asked us to do this, but that’s beside the point when you realize the inter-connectedness of life, and how far-reaching the impact of your actions can be, no matter how small.

When you see something wrong, if you can, then you must do what you can to make it right. This earth is our home, and although it does not need us human beings, we most definitely need it to live happy fulfilling lives. We are custodians of our natural treasures, and we must protect, take care and honor them, because it is in nature that we find healing, it is nature that helps us get real and grounded, especially in these crazy times. So let’s stop cropping out the shitty parts or adding filters to blur out the filth, and actually do something about it.

We only had time to do one side of the hill, but there is a whole circuit around Lake Kigere, that is popular with visitors. I’d be happy to organize another trip there again, for people who value nature and are keen to volunteer to clean up the whole trail.

What more do you think we can do, as domestic tourism begins to grow, to ensure that we preserve the integrity of our natural sites? We all know no one follows rules or signage, and it’s not as simple as placing an un-serviced bin up there. We need sustainable solutions, and to inspire behavior change.

Here are 5 ways I try to honor the natural spaces I visit:

  1. I follow the hiking concept of leave no trace behind, except your footprint. This means I am personally responsible to take back everything I come with, especially my trash, and try to leave a place as pristine as I found it.
  2. I always carry bin bags with me whenever I go hiking, they not only make for great makeshift rain protection to keep things dry, they can also be used to collect trash you may encounter or generate along the way.
  3. I always carry my reusable water bottle, and other cutlery, I may use to carry food. So much better than using disposable bottles and plates.
  4. I invested in some cloth masks, which I wash and reuse, instead of the disposable masks. They not only generate less waste, they also look funkier, and are cheaper in the long run!
  5. Speak up when you see someone mindlessly littering, and remind them to do the right thing. Lead by example, share and post your efforts on social media, to inspire others to do the same.

I would love to hear more ideas on simple practical things we can do, your suggestions are welcome in the comments below.

I know that bad habits take time to shift, and lasting change doesn’t come about by shaming people. The least we can do is to try and do better so that we can preserve the natural beauty of a place and are able to enjoy and visit it time and time again.


What do you think?

Written by Liz Kamugisha

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