Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ninja Turtles would like this post

(haha, ...realized I should probably apologize to any tourists who get to this page googling "Viña del Mar beach"... this is the wrong spot)

I saw this really interesting video about men who work to clear out objects and other tasks inside the Mexico City Sewage system. It looks absolutely disgusting, but its National Geographic so its still manageable to watch.

Unfortunately, this video actually reminded me of a (only slightly less revolting) personal experience. A few years ago I was a volunteer for a project cleaning up the Potomac river in Washington D.C. The Potomac river isn't exactly the Mexican sewage system, but it was close enough... that river was revolting!

One small fraction of the junk we pulled out.

The entire bank of the river was full of needles and random trash, though as a volunteer I opted for the team that actually got in the water, mostly digging up and hauling out household objects and other things that shouldn't be there. I remember working on pulling out not only numerous old tires and plastic objects, but shopping carts, motorcycles, newspaper stands, and dead animals. I've seen people all over the world trying to slyly toss their litter on the ground, but I couldn't imagine the massive effort people must have gone through to get these major appliances into the river!

Getting ready to dive in! (Kidding, I, far right, only got in as deep as the tall waders. The thought of accidentally falling in or letting the "water" get inside the waders had me quite nervous though. It felt really diseased.)

When I first got to Chile a number of people warned me not to swim in the water, though it wasn't because of their warnings, as much as the cold, that I never went in until this fall. I often went (and still go) to the beach in Viña del Mar, which looks pretty nice and actually does not appear too dirty besides the crowds of men who use Muelle Vergara as a bathroom. What I did not piece together for quite a while was that all of the people who had warned me about the beach were quite a bit older and were probably remembering the beach in its condition from earlier days. Not so long ago (I forgot to write down when but well within the lifetime of my middle adged students... maybe within a decade or two ago?), before the new system in Viña and Valparaiso, apparently sometimes the coast would be literally strewn with raw sewage. Some of my older English students would tell me about going to the coast only to find themselves wading around, or sitting on a beach, strewn with it.

While raw sewage on the beach did not particularly interest me, learning about the sewage and storm-water system began to. I later had, among my adult students, someone who's job was to inspect the underground tunnels (stories about giant cats and guarens and encounters with people who make made these tunnels home in the summer, such as under Avenida Argentina- last summer you could easily see into uncovered sections during repairs), someone who worked at the outlet of the tunnels where they reach the ocean (stories about the crazy stuff people dare to toss into the tunnels like entire couches, and the unfortunate cases where dead bodies would show up at the tunnel exit), and an engineer who works with the tunneling to the offshore location (now about 3 miles off the coast of Laguna Verde, efficient enough and far enough away that there aren't any surprises on the beach). Makes for interesting classes, at least!

(Reusing wood from a bed frame someone tossed ... among other junk polluting the shore.)

I still don't have a perfect picture of how the sewage and storm-water system works here but I have gathered that the garbage contributed by people causes major problems at times. Even during heavy rains it is obvious that the water collection system in the streets struggles to function because of the large quantity of objects people have tossed there because they were too lazy to find a dumpster.


  1. I have faith that the new generation of Chileans will teach their children to protect the Earth. This faith stems from watching and hearing my husband's children talk about what they learn in school. There seems to be a stronger focus on learning what destroys the Earth and how we/they can reverse those effects (or prevent them all together.)

  2. Studying the sewage and stormwater system may not be interesting, but it's good that you still went ahead and learn about the basic stuff. In my opinion, it’s really a must for every homeowner; for them to know how it can help to conserve and recycle rainwater. Also, they will know the things that they can do to help, like cleaning garbage off the pipes where the stormwater is connected, and much more. I hope more people will be like you and show an interest in learning the good things about this, as well as being responsible homeowners.. Cheers!

    Sharon Strock @ StormChamber®