Paris is groaning. It’s groaning not under the weight of any expectation, or an excess of Gallic shrugs – it’s groaning under the weight of solid metal, in the form of padlocks.
If ever there was a stupid touristic fad, it’s surely this one: lovelocks. You buy a padlock, declare your love for someone on it with a Texta scrawl, and then attach the lock to a landmark and throw away the key.
It’s cute, I guess, for the first couple that does it. Kind of endearing for the few after that who discreetly stow their padlock on a bridge and share the secret of its existence in a foreign land. But then everyone does it, and you’re left with this, once beautiful bridges in Paris that are now covered entirely in padlocks.
Forget, for a second, the potential structural damage the weight of these passionate declarations could do to old edifices, and consider the aesthetic damage.
Where once the bridges over the Seine were clean and untouched, they’re now bulging with touristic excess, the gormless calling card of those who’ll never have look at these edifices again.
It flies in the face of that somewhat clichéd rule of travel – take only photographs, leave only footprints. Don’t leave a padlock. It’s dumb.
It’s not, unfortunately, the only example of tourists loving something so much that they’re also killing what’s good about it. There are countless examples of the sheer weight of tourist numbers and their actions destroying the things that they’ve come to see.
On the topic of love, there’s “Juliet’s House”, the alleged home of a fictitious character in Verona, Italy. Millions of lovers make a pilgrimage there to pay homage to she of Romeo and Juliet fame, inexplicably choosing to do this with graffiti, bits of chewing gum and scrawled notes. The result is, frankly, horrible, and probably deters plenty of people from even visiting.
That’s bad. Natural and ancient attractions, however, are the ones that inevitably suffer the most from tourists’ choking embrace.
Places like Machu Picchu, a centuries-old wonder of the world that’s currently being trampled by thousands of tourists a day. The Incas’ masterpiece has withstood centuries of rain, wind and earthquakes, but surely it can’t handle the weight of the tourist footprint forever. For some the mere presence of a tourist centre like Aguas Calientes so close by would signal its inevitable downfall.
Cambodia’s Temples of Angkor are sure to suffer a similar fate. Their visitor numbers have increased exponentially over the last few years, with millions of tourists now clambering across those stone edifices, some scrawling graffiti on their walls, or just patronising the rows and rows of restaurants and tacky tourist shacks that line the complex paths.
Great Barrier Reef is being killed with kindness. Pollution from the tourism industry, coupled with the trampling of feet and the touching of hands, causes vast degradation to the attraction all of those people come to see.
Or try the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, an amazing part of the world, a nursery for animals in which you’re now far more likely to see five jeeps full of tourists than you are an actual member of the Big Five. It can feel like a highway in there, with the sheer amount of vehicles come for the attraction.
And then there’s the Bali effect, when an entire island has its identity forever altered by the presence of tourists. There’s deforestation to make way for large resorts; there’s drunken Australians wandering the beaches; and there’s an increase in the general population, putting strain on the island’s resources. It’ll never be that lovely, quiet island again.
Some of these worldwide problems are unavoidable. The rise in global travel means an inevitable increase in visitors, and an inevitable increase in the problems these visitors bring with them with their mere presence.
The only thing you personally can do is try to keep your own impact to a minimum. Don’t litter. Don’t clamber across centuries-old monuments. Don’t scrawl “I woz ‘ere”. And don’t leave any padlocks.
This article was originally published in Sydney Morning Herald
Sources: smh.com.au | Author: Ben Groundwater / The Backpacker