Thursday, May 31, 2012

“Lets do it” round 3

“Lets do it Romania” has become the national day of picking up trash.  Today, May 12th, was 2012’s “Lets do it Romania”.  Over the past two years the event has been held in September but the date, and even the season, was changed this year so that it would coincide with the same event in some of the other countries in the region.  In one day volunteers throughout Romania, the Republic of Moldova, Bulgaria, and Turkey picked up trash out of rivers, streams, forests, roadsides, fields, or wherever they saw large amounts of it. 

How does it work?

“Lets do it Romania” is registered as a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Romania but it is also affiliated with “Lets do it World”, organizing on an international level.  In the months leading up to the event anybody can contact the NGO and report a location that has a lot of garbage.  They report the coordinates, information about the terrain, and roughly how many bags of garbage that can be cleaned up in the respective zone.  The locations are registered on a map and in the weeks leading up to the event team leaders register their team and choose a location that they will be responsible for cleaning on the national clean-up day.  Team leaders are volunteers and they lead teams of volunteers to clean up the zone that they choose.  Also in the weeks leading up to the event a marketing campaign is launched which includes commercials, celebrities, posters, and other various marketing strategies both on-line and off in an effort to gather a large amount of volunteers for the event. 

On the national clean-up day teams gather, they either provide their own supplies or receive supplies (gloves and garbage bags) from the NGO or local authorities, and they set off for a few hours of picking up everything from old cloths to plastic bottles to spare bike parts.  After the even volunteers are urged to get online and officially state that they volunteered for the event, and to register the amount of trash bags that they filled.  The numbers are important in that they help to measure the impact of the action which in turn justify funds for future “Lets do it Romana” events. 

The Need:

After being involved in the activity 3 times now I have had a lot of opportunities to reflect on what we are actually doing when we pick up the trash, and why the need for a national clean-up day exists.  The trash that volunteers pick up each year is trash thrown down by other people.  Both last year and this year I found myself in an area with a lot of trash concentrated in one location, essentially someone’s personal dump.  I noticed that in areas outside of cities and towns, in villages and also at construction sites further from town you find piles of waste, weather it be single-use bottles or unused construction materials literally just thrown in a pile and left.  I suppose it is much easier for people to find a place close-by and somewhat hidden to dispose of their waste than to rent a dumpster, or somehow transport their garbage to a place where it can be collected and disposed of in a designated landfill. 

There are a couple of things that need to change in this situation and the local authorities are responsible for both of them.  There shouldn’t be a need to gather up people on a single day during the year to pick up after others.  First off, local governments need to provide a trash pick-up service to their citizens and to the citizens on the edge of town or even in nearby villages that don’t necessarily have the resources to be able to do the same.  Secondly, the local governments need to consider littering a police priority at least until the mentality about littering changes.  They need to target those people and companies doing the most littering and impose heavy fines that will in-turn fund the trash-pick up service and police salaries of course. 

The Impact:

“Lets do it Romania” activates thousands of volunteers in all regions of Romania and as a volunteer activity it does help to encourage civic responsibility.  The event also does much to actually clean up the country as thousands of bags and I don’t know how many tons of trash are collected from areas where the trash would have otherwise remained for years to come polluting both the view, and the ground water.  In my opinion the largest impact that “Lets do it” has is awareness.  Littering is a problem that everybody knows about but without “Lets do it” I’m not so sure that anybody would do anything about.  I’ve seen people complaining about their dirty town and then later on throwing their trash or cigarette butts on the ground, contributing to the problem.  Even though volunteers from all age groups volunteer for the event the event’s advertizing is certainly targeting a younger generation, mostly adolescents and college aged students.  Targeting this younger group and teaching them these values through volunteer activities helps to ensure a cleaner future for Romania. 

Over the past 3 years “Lets do it” has been growing in Romania.  It started off on the right foot with an aggressive marketing campaign in the first year.  The second year I saw more benefits for volunteers (t-shirts, materials) encouraging participation.  The third year I saw a “Lets do it” make a small push for selective collection, making the activity a bit more difficult for the volunteer but with an increased educational and environmental impact.  While the nature of the event is advocating for a cleaner future, the logical next step for “Lets do it” is to get involved and encourage its volunteers to get more involved in advocacy for a cleaner environment.  By this I mean putting pressure on local authorities to make better decisions so as to help eliminate the need for a national clean-up day.  At this point in Romania it is financially a better option for construction companies to leave all of their waste in one place rather than rent a dumpster for proper disposal.  It is financially a better option for individuals to throw their garbage in a nearby forest than to transport it to a place that will dispose of it properly.  The need for a national clean-up day won’t dissolve unless this is addressed.  Companies need economic benefits for proper disposal whether it is a tax break or avoidance of a fine.  Individuals need a better option, a garbage collection service.  If these changes aren’t made, a national day of some citizens cleaning up after others will turn into a sad tradition that will only frustrate the public rather than the hopeful volunteer action that it is today. 

Primavara in Petrosani

A travel opportunity arose as worker's day rolled around in Romania as well as probably all former communist states.  Worker’s day is the first of May and a national holiday.  This means that its an official day off in Romania and many people go to the seaside as it marks the opening of the season there.  It’s my understanding that if you’re Romanian and you don’t make it to the seaside on the first of May then you probably have a picnic or a barbeque if the weather is nice.  I decided that instead of descending to sea level like many people from Bucharest are doing I’d climb in elevation and head to the mountain.  Former Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders have taken time on a monthly basis to make it back to their Romanian homes where they lived and worked their first two years of service.  Unfortunately I have not followed the trend and finally I took the chance to make it back to Petrosani for the holiday. 

The decision to revisit Petro City seemed almost destined.  After visiting a few weeks ago with Wes in a depressing rain, my desire to hit the mountains only deepened.  The bitter-sweet event that is the COS conference took place in the days leading up the beautiful 1 May weekend in Petrosani and it happened in Cluj.  The location worked out perfectly as I could easily take a longer but still direct route back to Bucharest while stopping for a couple of days in Petrosani.  Monday being an extra day off leading up to the first of May and making for a 4 day weekend was the third major reason to return.  Finally the “cherry on top” was the weather, forecasting sun and warmth during the entire weekend.  It would have been a crime for me to sit around in Bucharest in such conditions. 

Cascada Lazar

The best days are the discovery days and this was one of them.  It was one of those days when you wake up in the morning knowing “x”, have had these “y” experiences until now and thinking “z” about what there is to come, and when you go to bed that evening all of those values have changed.  The destination was talked about a bit, documented a bit, little more than a rumor, certainly unplotted and it was the day’s goal to find it.  The last time this happened I found myself in a field of thick evergreens pulling myself along, struggling to find a way.  Eventually the way was found, the day was complete and it remains unforgettable.  See Lacul Burtan.  This time the destination was a waterfall and though it didn’t require the same amount of struggle as Lacul Burtan, the mere fact that it was unmarked added to the adventure, which might end up preparing me a bit for those unmarked high peaks in the ADK.  The waterfall is Lazar Falls and it is located in the mighty Retezat Mountains of Romania. 

Ernest, Doamna Grecu and myself were back at it again like we were during so many weekends when I was residing in the small miner/mountain region of Romania.  This time Doamna Grecu’s son who has a passion for photography joined.  It isn’t hard to find someone in the Jiu Valley that has a passion for photography as there are countless places and moments in nature there that you simply must immortalize in a digital file.  See the “stories in picture form” link list to the right.  The last major hike took place in the same region, the southern edge of the Retezat Mountains.  Though they are not the highest peaks in Romania or even in the region, some of the most beautiful sights that I have experienced have happened there.  The snow-covered peaks shined brightly in the morning sun but where soon forgotten when the road thinned out and we were following a stream up through thick forests. 

The central point of the hike was a grass covered bridge that somehow had a boulder fall down on it, taking a large chunk out of its far left side making it impassable by car and leaving the upper half of the road just for those on foot.  If only there were more bridges like this one that the mountain declared war on, leaving even more wild places for those willing to get out of their mobile rooms and feel the rocks under the soles of their shoes.  Throughout the day the bridge served as a resting spot, a water refill, a seat, a kitchen table, a bed and a crossroads.

First we crossed the bridge choosing the path that led us to our destination, Lazar Falls.  The waterfall was about 15 meters high and after a short struggle we found a good spot to take some photos from.  While the other guys where taking photos I decided to explore the area in search of an overhead view.  The view I didn’t really find but I did make it to the other side of the waterfall where the trail seemed to end.  We decided that there must be more but maybe in another direction so we returned to the grass covered bridge to eat lunch and consider another route. 

After lunch we headed up another stream by the bridge.  That stream took us over some rough terrain and before going too far we found a small waterfall to rest at.  The group decided to call it quits there, rest and head back but there was talk of a higher waterfall somewhere in the area.  In my experiences with waterfalls in the great finger lakes region of New York State, you might find a couple small ones here and there but if you keep heading up the river it is very possible to find a large impressive one.  I saw a curve in the river not far up and while the others were resting I decided instead to explore.  Just beyond the curve there was a series of 3 small waterfalls with a fourth large waterfall following.  After catching a closer look I noticed that the forth one, though hard to get to, was even higher than Cascada Lazar.  I think it is what others on forums called Cascada Maria. 

Following my discovery I returned to the group to report the findings but eventually we ended up descending down to the main road to end my first of three hikes this springtime in Petrosani. 

Cascada Lazar was on a Saturday.  Sunday and Monday I participated in hikes that I have done before but really enjoyed.  Sunday hiked in Parang on one of my favorite trails which took use to a ski area, a large rock where I took a nap and a descent past sheepfolds.  The views of Parangul Mic from Partia Slima on a sunny spring day are amazing when the top of the snow capped peak shines against the light blue sky.  Monday’s hike took us to up to Straja with a decent down Braita.  In a few locations along the trail downed trees presented an obstacle.  These trees along with the steep descent, uneven trail and heavy leaf coverage made for a slow, exhausting hike.  Despite our challenges it was a great day of hiking through the forest alongside waterfall after waterfall.  We exited the forest joining the number of groups of barbequers out to get a tan and spend some time in nature on their day off.  It was the Monday before May Day, a long weekend and a beautiful day when we stopped for a much appreciated beer at a small cafe just off the trail. 

Once again springtime in Petrosani doesn't fail to impress me making springtime my preferred season of the year.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Spring Riding

Four hours of almost continuous riding can tire you out on a nice spring day.  Sunday presented me with the opportunity to get back out on the town discovering.  First off, I was finally in town for an entire weekend and secondly the weather turned out for me.  What more was there to discover?  After looking at the Bucharest map I noticed that even after living here for several months there are still large sections of the city that I have yet to wander around.  Sunday’s main goal was to see what Lacul Morii is all about.

Getting out the door took a while as there were things to do around the house.  Regardless, the continuously changing sky of the morning began calling from the first wake up call at 6 am continuing until it was shedding its light equally on each street.  It was then when the bike and I took our first steps of the day down the stairs of the block and out the door.  After making a couple of quick notes in my journal we were off to the sun overhead rather than behind us like I would have preferred. 

Part one of the ride took me through parts of town both familiar and unfamiliar.  Following the mighty Dambovita River from Piata Unirii I passed some of the nice downtown architecture and main boulevards.  Pedestrians and fishermen accompanied me along the route.  I temporarily veered off course when I saw the College of Foreign Language, Engineering and a few other things.  It looked almost like a park but one whose grounds keepers had taken a 5 year vacation.  People were running through the green, tree-lined lane which opened up to a large courtyard where students were resting and reading on benches surrounded by graffiti painted campus buildings and signs falling off their posts.  After making it back to the main route I continued up the river in search of the lake.  Before finding the lake I was caught in a dead end at one point and on the other side of the tracks at another point.  These hold ups added some time to the trip but not a single bit of frustration.  It was one of those Sunday drives in which getting lost and finding your way is not only permitted but welcomed.  After riding slowly through a packed park and up a dike I arrived at the lake, Lacul Morii, with its winds nearly blowing me over. 

Lacul Morii looks large on a map and looks large in real life but it only takes about an hour to ride around slowly on a bike.  There is a small island just off the coast of the lake with a bridge leading to it.  The island features a gazebo, a non-functioning fountain, an over-grown landscape and several picnickers.  Just beyond the north edge of the lake there is a landfill while the western edge includes a residential area, a small wooden church and many fishermen.  The western edge is the only part in which the road tracing the perimeter of the lake is broken and I was forced to ride into the residential area twice before completing my tour of the lake. 

From Lacul Morii the traffic, honking, asphalt, traffic lights, shops and crowdedness led me astray on my course to arrive at Herestrau park.  After ending up in Victoria square I could get back on track with hopes that eventually the largest park in Bucharest would act as a refuge from the overwhelming city elements closing in on me.  So it turned out, entering the large park was more like entering a mall on black Friday. 

The lanes were loaded with people walking, couples walking, and groups of people walking.  They were walking alone, walking their dogs, or walking their toddlers.  Meanwhile there were bikes weaving in and out of the people in what appeared to be a somewhat dangerous fashion even though miraculously I did not see any accidents.  It is Bucharest’s largest park with decently wide walkways but with the traffic it received on one of the first Sundays of spring you would hardly notice.  The main walkways feature a bright green lane lined in yellow with a white bicycle painted in the middle every 10 meters or so.  The bright green color of the bike lanes in Herestrau set it apart from bike lanes in other parts of the city.  Being that the park houses 2 bike-sharing programs and the popularity of riding in the park has been rising over the years, the realization and respect for the bike lanes are all the more important for the safety of all park users.  With the walking traffic that I saw in the park on Sunday the bike lanes might as well not be there.  They were not respected and they couldn’t have been respected with so many people in the park. 

As I was riding along I heard someone yell out “Maggie”.  Immediately, knowing who it must have been I stopped, turned around, and saw the country director of Peace Corps Romania.  Right, we both live in the same city but I was still quite surprised that with all of the people out that day I ran into someone that I knew.  After slowly creeping along having to get off and walk my bike in some parts I stopped and sat down in the grass next to the lake.  Despite their being so many people around you can stop, sit down in the grass, and when you see the view of the lake on a nice day it is actually quite easy to forget about the crowds of people passing along the asphalt walkway behind you.  For a short moment I admired a boat passing by and in the background an impressive example of communist architecture, in free press square.
My time was winding down and for various reasons I had start heading back to my place.  A 30-45 minute ride across the center of town awaited me.  I imaged the small streets that I would soon be riding on, Ioanei, Tamnei, Austriei, Carol 1, Dacia, Mihai Eminescu, ect.  After living here for just 8 months I know certain parts of the city like the back of my hand.  During that ride back I reflected on the newly discovered parts of the city and realized that my last few months in Bucharest are looking to be full of similar bike rides over previously unknown streets.