I recently had the chance to see Gringo Trails, a feature length documentary directed and produced by Pegi Vail. The film is so well done and such an eye-opening experience for any traveler.
The documentary starts with the story of Yossi Ghinsberg who backpacked with 4 friends into the Bolivian jungle, when a torrential rain overtakes them, washing them away and separating them. Yossi is left alone in the jungle to survive. After several months he is rescued. This is where the story begins.
Gringo Trails takes you down the path of travelers, mainly backpacker’s who take off for a unique travel experience where they can really get off the beaten path and the damage that results from the lack of respect for the culture, land and ecosystems.
The film takes you along with hundreds of backpacker’s who decide to journey to Bolivia in hopes of visiting the jungle just as Yossi did. What this adventure created in a country that wasn’t prepared for such a large number of traveler’s, was damage. Realizing there was money to be made by treking into the jungle guiding backpacker’s, these untrained guides began taking traveler’s into the jungle. They take backpacker’s off the beaten path, trudging through the jungle, damaging the ecosystem. Guides are shown with walking sticks disturbing Anaconda snakes and their habitat just to give the traveler a one of a kind experience. As this happens, the Anaconda population drops by half, the jungles are damaged almost beyond repair.
The lack of respect for the people of Bolivia, the animal’s habitat and the ecosystem is deeply disturbing.
Next destination, an island paradise in Thailand. Images of a pure white sand beach, beautiful turquoise waters, an unspoiled destination are shown completely untouched. But, when word gets out, backpacker’s flock to this incredible tiny island off the coast of Thailand. After several years, the number of travelers increased until one year 50,000 people travel by boat to a Full Moon Celebration. Days of drinking, partying and fireworks take over. The images of this beach are sickening. After the party, all that is left is human feces, bottles, plastic bottles, and drunk party goers sleeping on the beach. I am stunned by the complete lack of respect. Why is this okay?
The story continues on to the Salt Flats of Bolivia. A remote area of pristine virgin salt flats, with very few inhabitants. The movie takes you to the area before and after as backpacker’s discover another remote area to explore. We discover what happens to the area, the damage and the permanent change to the landscape due to the visitor’s. There is now a dirty trail left from tire tracks across the salt flats. People don’t think twice about running across the salt flats, damaging them and looking to enhance their own experience without a care about the people of this region.
As guests in other countries, we need to learn to be better and do better. Every country, ecosystem, and culture deserves to be respected. When we, as traveler’s visit other places we need to realize we are guests and we are to leave no trace that we were there.
I highly recommend the film, it is extremely well done and gives us all something to think about the next time we travel.
For more information on Gringo Trails visit, http://gringotrails.com/