Monday, 21 September 2009

Hard to dislike, impossible to like

(Friday-Saturday, 21-22 August 2009 – in retrospective…)

Google map:
http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=pt-PT&geocode=&q=cuzco,+peru&sll=-13.516836,-72.05246&sspn=2.627549,5.603027&ie=UTF8&ll=-13.523179,-72.191162&spn=2.62749,5.603027&z=8&iwloc=A

The Inca legacy is everywhere in the Andean trail, from north Argentina and Chile to Ecuador, but visiting Cuzco and the surrounding Sacred Valley is like being in the epicentre of the virtual earthquake that their rapid ascent and collapse was for the human and natural landscape of the region.

And being in that epicentre brings great and awful things…

Cuzco was the Inca state capital, but virtually nothing of their city survived to our days, with the historical centre now being of pure colonial character. I guess you should consider the centre of Cuzco beautiful. OK, I grant you that: it’s beautiful. But all the modern construction that surrounds it is just to forget. You can blame the consecutive earthquakes that hit the city over and over again (as so many other cities in Peru, what helps explaining the urban architectural disasters that you constantly see by travelling in this country), but the truth is that it’s hard to ignore so much ugliness. At night the artificial light helps dissimulate the chaotic urban design, and you almost forget the slum-like look of the houses growing uphill. You almost forget it, but you don’t completely, as the next day the sun will always rise…

But worse than it all is the touristy feel of the city. So many foreigners come to Peru only to visit Cuzco, the Sacred Valley and the nearby Machu Picchu that in the middle of August the town looks more like a Disney theme park than anything else. There are tourists everywhere, in big tours. Tourist shops. Kids selling souvenirs to tourists in the streets. Tourist restaurants. Employees with menus in their hands at the entry of those restaurants, trying to get you through the door, sometimes more insistently than others. Indigenous women and children, dressed in traditional costumes and with lamas by their hand, posing for “picturesque” photos by important monuments, in exchange for a dollar or two.

The entire city is inundated by tourists at this time of the year (and probably during other periods too?), and it just doesn’t know how to deal with it. Or better said, it deals with the crowds in the most uninteresting, unappealing way. There is no visible attempt to provide a well-informed stay: the museums are ridiculously content-less, every store and tourist agency (there are so, so, so many of them!) is offering the very same, and everyone – locals and tourists alike – seem not to bother with such superficiality and such mass-market, undifferentiated experience.

Yes, we got nice pictures from Cuzco. And, as I said, the centre of town is beautiful. But if it’s hard to dislike this city, for me it was impossible to like it either.












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