Something that cannot escape your attention in Mexico is the omnipotence of the plastic bag. Everything you buy comes clad in at least one layer of plastic and handed to you in a bag. We have wised up to this practice and try our best to prevent the plastic overkill, but oh too often before you know it the surreptitious cashier has managed to shove everything in a bag with bewildering stealth and speed.
Don’t get me wrong, the plastic bag is an unfortunate necessity on a cycle tour. Everything leakable must go in a bag – olive oil, hot sauce, sun cream. Who wants their worldly belongings smeared in a heady mix of these sundry items. The same goes for smelly things – socks, flip flops – to prevent the seepage of unpleasant odors. But there is a limit to how many bags we can use, and collecting a huge excess seems to be a depressing fact of life in Mexico.
The problem is especially apparent in street markets and food stalls – our favourite places to shop and eat. Polystyrene and plastic containers, cutlery and bags exchange hands at an alarming rate. To think this is happening all over Mexico every day is pretty shocking. And the results can be seen strewn all over the roadside. In between the dead dogs, trash is so abundant we barely notice it any more (apart from the stench, which is difficult to ignore). In the charming colonial towns the streets and plazas are spotless. But the countryside is apparently fair game for fly tipping or just tossing things out of your car window. The numerous road signs begging people not to dump rubbish, or to keep their roads clean are all in vain.
Back in Aguascalientes, our friend Paulina told us that environmental awareness was just beginning to gain popularity among her student friends. In fact the day we arrived in Aguascalientes there was a protest by cyclists to demand bike routes through the city’s traffic clogged streets. A couple of times we have been offered the alternative of a paper bag instead of plastic. But there is a long way to go to address the problem, and the amount of crap on the road sides is a permanent scar on the beautiful landscape.
There are a few Mexican environmental groups – perhaps the biggest is Pronatura which has been going since the 1980s. The Zapatistas also incorporate environmental goals into their ideology. The latest UN climate change summit was held in Cancun, Mexico with all be it modest results to say the least. Hopefully these are examples of a gradual sea change in Mexico’s treatment of the environment – a rich resource that spans from arid desert in the north to tropical rainforest in the south, not to mention mile upon mile of stunning coastline and some of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world.