The Guilty Tourist

I talk a lot about “touristy” areas when traveling. There are places that are oversaturated with travelers of all kinds; whether they wish to view historical sites, architectural phenomena, or natural beauty, these attractions are often packed to the brim with people who are dying to see some of the most amazing things created by humans or by nature.

I’ve read travel blogs and articles in guides or magazines that talk about this issue. They often recommend places that are secluded, uninhabited by humans, or are all around “untouristy”. Many of us actively seek out these spots.

One thing we can’t forget, though, is that we, too, are tourists and anytime we visit a place, we are adding one additional human body that would otherwise be vacant of it. From my own perspective, every traveler has as much of a right as I do to visit a secluded beach or a locale typically uninhabited by tourists…but if we all did, these kinds of remote gems wouldn’t exist anymore, at least not in the way some of us know them now. And really, it isn’t so much of a right as a privilege, one that comes with a great deal of responsibility, in my opinion. In these highly touristic areas, I often notice that this responsibility is skirted to the side in favour of comfort, laziness, and inconsideration for the culture, the environment, and even the tourist attraction that many have traveled thousands of miles just to get a glimpse of.

In regards to Peru, I think most people, travelers and non-travelers alike, know that Machu Picchu is, hands down, the most famed and sought after tourist attraction in the country. Simply put, you can’t visit Peru without visiting Machu Picchu. In fact, Cuzco itself is a jumping off point for a wide variety of treks, adventures, and so forth in the rest of the country. It’s next to impossible not to end up here if you are spending time in this multifaceted Amazonian nation.

So of course, Teresa and I had Machu Picchu on our short list of things to do in Peru. I’ll discuss Cuzco next time, which was AWESOME by the way, especially when you get a good distance away from the central square and out to the areas where the locals are marketing their products and services primarily to other locals instead of tourists.

And that was the problem I had with Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu itself and the place where a good chunk of travelers stop overnight before ascending up the mountainside to the famed Inca creation. Everything, but EVERYTHING is marketed to tourists in the most expensive, and sometimes obnoxious, manner possible. It made my head hurt, not just because people were screaming at me to buy overpriced bullshit from them, but because the town itself is so beautiful, situated in the crook of the mountainside and along a tumultuous river, but not a lot of people seemed to be taking it in. Places like this are where you often see the grumpy travelers, never in a good mood, rude and condescending to locals, people who you wonder why they even decided to travel in the first place. People who come to a cuisine-rich country like Peru to eat chicken fingers and fries. Sorry, but I fucking hate it and please go home, you’re wasting your time here and taking away from people who want to have a real, profound experience. I don’t make these kind of comments lightly, and I try not to project myself in any way that is reflective of this negative mindset. But I do observe it and I want to relay it with sincerity, even in this post-(Peru) travel stage that I’m writing in.

It’s not all bad, and arguably good for the local economy to have people spending money and telling their friends and family about how great it was and getting them to come down and ignite the local economy with their expenditures as well. But further nuisances arise when you have locals catering to clientele that are unappreciative and, honestly, don’t look like they’re having any fun at all. It makes their marketing strategy really hokey and often equally condescending. If I hear “same-same, but different” again, I’m gonna lose my shit. It’s not that that phrase can’t be said with an earnest conviction to embracing a culture that isn’t your own, but I’ve heard it more often uttered in drunken, disingenuous banter.

So, am I just as guilty as a tourist? I mean, here I was, in the exact same place as so many others who I’m now criticizing. But c’mon, it’s Machu Picchu. I really did want this experience and I really did want to leave as soft and unobtrusive a footprint as possible. So as usual, Teresa and I ran in the opposite direction from the streets lined with places selling expensive, tasteless coffee or hamburgers and hotdogs. We found a local spot around 5:30pm that was empty, until about half an hour later when it became flooded with locals. It was completely open and we saw travelers passing by, look at the unfamiliar menu. Most walked along without so much as a glance. I watched a guy get talked out of checking the place out by his girlfriend. Not a single one came in. That’s how I knew we were eating at the right place, where they made us fish soup from scratch (I assume based on how long we waited) and a variety of other Peruvian goodness that I savoured with every bite. I effed up by not taking a picture of it.

I have no words for Machu Picchu, so here you go, picture-wise. Also, be sure to check out my Facebook page (the link is in the top right of every one of my articles) for travel vids, including one I did on the spot at the height of Machu Picchu when it was still a little deserted, very early in the morning as the mists were rising and falling (basically before the entire 2500 person maximum made it passed the entranceway). Enjoy!!

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14 thoughts on “The Guilty Tourist

  1. Wow, what incredible traveling you’re doing! And the pictures are wonderful. Thank you for sharing them, along with your thoughts. This is a spectacular blog! I hope to visit the ruins in South and Central America someday (especially Puma Punku), as well as India and Egypt. Until then, I’m eternally grateful to people like you who know how to capture the mystery and the beauty with a camera… and are kind enough to share the magic.
    Cheers,
    Talmage
    storiform

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  2. Thanks for the awesome photos. It has been a dream of mine to visit Machu Picchu since I was a child. Your photos give a nice perspective of the isolation and beauty of the place. It is so green and the mist and clouds make it seem even more so mysterious. It still looks pretty pristine. I was worried that visitors would somehow have an environmental impact on the place. Reading about your experiences there only made me want to go even more.

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    • It is true that a mass of visitors will have an environmental impact. It’s difficult for hundreds, if not thousands of people per day to not leave that kind of footprint behind. That being said, it’s a beautiful site and if the number of patrons allowed to visit could be better regulated, the impact we leave behind will be more manageable.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the status about the site. I think that the cost of getting there and the fact that it is not easily accessible will help keep the site in better shape than most archaeological sites. I so wish I could go there and see it. It must be an experience, I think I would be able to sense the ghosts of those who inhabited it and be transported back for a while, at least in my imagination. It is a magical place.

        Liked by 1 person

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