Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Portrait and Voice of Andrzej Pyrka in "Portraits and Voices of the Salton Sea"

Andrzej Pyrka

Andrzej, a friend of roughly 15 years, came to visit me in Salton City just recently for less than 24 hours. It was great to have him visit, as I do love having visitors and love showing people around the Sea and passing on what knowledge I have gained on this stunning and complex area. We did what we could in this brief time, which included a trip once all around the Sea, a stop at North Shore, the Salton Sea State Recreation Area, Salvation Mountain and the Wheels of Karma and War, the mudpots, Red Hill Marina, and driving along the shoreline just South of Sonny Bono. Unfortunately we had to hightail it after that (until the border patrol, where it was slowtailing it for some time) back to Salton City as he had to get back to LA that same evening.

After he left I wrote him asking whether he would like to participate by answering a few questions I had with regards to his visit to this area and he agreed. Here is the result. Thank you for taking your time for this interview!

*If you could please introduce yourself*

I am Andrzej Pyrka, was born in Poland, grew up in Germany, have lived in France, 
the US, Mexico and Belgium at some point in my life and now work in Singapore. 
Am a political scientist working for a consulting company and feel very passionate 
about traveling - especially to the hidden gems of the world, where you don't 
encounter busloads of other tourists.

*What were your first impressions? You had mentioned coming out here with 
contradicting views of the Salton Sea. Could you expand a little on that?*

Since I knew that you are enthusiastic about the region and I trust your judgment, 
it was not MY contradicting views that I came with. I was very much looking forward 
and expecting it to be nice after I had heard so many interesting things about the 
Sea. But it is true that the people that I told I was driving out to the Salton 
Sea were very divided in what they had to say about it. Some said it was a great 
and beautiful place, others would almost 'warn' me to come out here claiming that 
it was a boring and gloomy area and that it was not worth my time. It seems that 
among people living in LA the Salton Sea has a reputation of being the 
'end of the world', a godforsaken place that one should stay away from. People do 
not know much about the sea, but what they know - e.g. the military tests in the 
nearby mountains, the dead fish, the smell - scares them away.

*What was your favorite part? And your least favorite part?*

Interestingly, it's exactly this 'scary' and supposedly unattractive element about 
the Salton Sea that makes it so attractive and special to me - I remember arriving 
at the North Shore in the morning and looking across the Sea that was lying there 
peacefully in beautiful light and with Pelicans and Cranes creating a picturesque 
scenery. Such images one usually only gets to share with a huge number of other 
viewers, tourists, photographers. I was trying to think of comparable places I had 
been to earlier, that were as easily accessible and of similar beauty, for example 
a lake in the Austrian alps. On a Saturday morning, such a mountain lake would 
have been full with people, and it would have been virtually impossible to witness 
this solemn and sublime 'zen' atmosphere for the crowds running around. Since the 
Salton Sea seems to scare more people away than it attracts these days, the visitor
can experience unspoilt and almost unshared beauty.
The least favorite part is that all the beauty and special character of the place 
is tainted by the feeling of decay that is difficult to shake off.
Anywhere one looks and goes, there are abandoned buildings, foreclosed houses, 
stories about the Sea's former glory and alarming news about a disappearing lake. 
This of course is not very uplifting, and all this is difficult to forget while 
discovering the beauty of the place. It's like meeting a wonderful person and 
finding out that this person has been infected with an incurable disease that will 
soon lead to certain death.

*The Salton Sea has been in the news quite often recently due to the stench 
that reached LA. Even all the way in Germany, where you keep up with the news, it 
had made the magazines. Do you think that this has a positive or negative effect 
on the Salton Sea?*

The positive/negative depends a bit on what one think is best for the Salton Sea at 
the moment. If the focus is on waking up policy-makers so they get start taking 
action regarding the Sea's most pressing issues, I think recent global media 
attention is certainly great. Just imagine high-ranking Californian officials 
being asked by a delegation on visit from Germany what the matter was with that 
stinking sea and what was being done about it. The officials will certainly want 
to have a good response to that. If the goal is to attract tourists, I don't think 
recent media reports have done the Salton Sea good. With all the more famous 
tourist attractions across the US, nobody will reserve a weekend to drive out to a 
smelly place; at best such reports will draw 'urban explorers' to come to Salton, 
the type of people that get a kick out of discovering abandoned buildings and 
sites and doing sort of a 'forbidden tourism'.

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