Reflection From My Family Trip To Peru

Cloudy View From A Tourist

I already felt nauseous from the car sickness and altitude as we sped down narrow streets. The torn-down cement would have allowed me to touch the people walking or even the shop owners sitting outside displaying their Cusco merchandise if I tried.

The van that carried the five members of my family and our suitcases, totaling up to well over one per person, jerked onto the curb, as the road could barely fit one car already. The driver opened the sliding doors forcefully, and we were ushered into the busy street filled with both locals and tourists speaking every language.

There was no escape from being followed by hosts with menus, shouting at us to come in and see the real baby alpaca they had inside, or, we could always taste it instead. 

We had officially touched down in South America. 

Massive deep green doors opened, the hotel employees greeting us and motioned to a pale stone section of the strip, underneath a sign reading Hotel Marqueses.

The sign was aligned with two flags on both sides, one displaying stripes of red and white, the national flag of Peru, and the other colors of the rainbow, for Rainbow Mountain.

Beneath us lay a mat reading ‘Beinvenido’ and my mom asked me to take her picture. We were led through the small check-in area, a short hallway where my father was handing the manager our passports in order for her to check our reservation. 

At the hotel in Peru
My mom is in front of the Marqueses hotel in Cusco, Peru.

The back of the hotel opened up into a massive courtyard that the entrance at the front would have never revealed. A fountain sat in the middle of the sun-heated stone ground.

Round tables and chairs circled the fountain, awaiting us with cups of coca tea, coca leaves infused in warm water to help the dizziness of high altitude. Terraces lined the two floors of pillars and the guest rooms, wooden fencing wrapping around, the only ceiling was the sky. It was sheltered and quiet, opposite the crowded city that was waiting on the other side of the stone wall. 

Outside the walls were streets booming with people. August means winter in Peru. Although the sun was strong, the brisk wind was stronger, dressing everyone in their SmartWool socks under heavy hiking boots.

I felt the authenticity was taken away by the mass tourism of the city center, locals persuading the obvious outsiders to buy items at each stop. It made it seem that it was all an attraction, all aimed at tourism.

Mass tourism takes over the everyday life of the locals, as their homes and cities are overrun by people taking pictures of what seems fascinating to them but is affecting someone else's norm.

I started to feel guilty of the excessive lives Americans, and myself in general, have compared to the poverty I saw in Cusco- the pleading of the people to get us to buy from their store beside the street. 

Touring the city of Cusco
A street view in Cusco, Peru
Stray Dogs Enjoying the South American Sun

Cusco is the location of the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, making it the heart of Inca culture. Many of the tourists were here for the same purpose as us, to hike Machu Picchu.

My family and I were one of the 5,000 people who walked along the trails of Machu Picchu daily during their busiest month. In fact, the Peruvian government is allowing double the limit recommended by UNESCO, letting around 1.5 million visitors in to see the sacred site that year while making a six million dollar profit from entrance fees alone. 

A landmark lasting from ages ago sitting on one of the highest hiking points in the world is boosting Peru’s economy while hurting itself from the attraction it brings. The sacred ruin is getting ruined by the number of visitors exploring the once Inca territory. Machu Picchu created many tourist attractions while also providing millions of jobs for Peruvians and tax revenue from restaurants.         

Was it more important to let people explore and learn the history, experiencing a view straight out of Jurassic Park, or should it be left alone to be preserved in the history and purpose it served?

I didn’t know what to make of it, but I was already standing on the grass of the land, so I decided to make it a concern of others instead. I still wished my friends could stand where I was, damaging only just that one area of the land, so their eyes could get the image of what mine did. 

Was it more important to let people explore and learn the history, experiencing a view straight out of Jurassic Park, or should it be left alone to be preserved in the history and purpose it served?

Macchu Picchu
Machu Picchu

In order to get up the steep peak of land, there is a hiking option or a bus ride, which of course my parents had us do both. The bus system isn’t the most effective to handle the number of people coming to see the ruins, as people can spend any amount of time at Machu Picchu, lines for the buses can add up to waiting for hours.

I thought I was good with heights, but being inches away from the drop of death made me rethink the common phobia. Even the bus made me fear for my life. It was out of my control and I could only pray that the bus driver had 20/20 vision in his eyes and sober breath on his mouth.

I held on to the seat in front of me gripping the cushion until my fingers were tensed, stuck in that position. Since my family had an odd number, I was the one left out sitting next to a stranger. 

The lady was a mother of a daughter around the age of 20.

“My daughter works for a non-profit here in Peru, teach tour guides sustainability” she explained to us. “Many natives work for large corporations when it comes to tourism companies, that are under the government of Peru. In order to have a more sustainable lifestyle, tour guides can learn to work for themselves and make more money than having to work for larger institutions.”

Peru Rail
Peru Rail: One of the many tourist attractions to get from city to city.

The bus made a slow turn around the bend of the mountain. Its length made it seem as if the end of the bus was hanging off the dirt path as it rounded the edges. My thoughts drifted into the depth of the drop that lay in front of me.

horrifying trail in Peru
The trail along the side of the mountain

The scenery started giving me an overwhelming wave of emotions. I was in Peru for my own pleasure, because the wealth of my family allowed us the chance to explore a historical site and a different culture.

Peru has the largest tourism income in the tourism industry in South America (The Borgen Project) reducing Peru’s overall poverty. Still, there are inner problems within the system of their tourism profit benefiting the government. 

The amazing Incan ruins that brought my family to Peru, supported the economy while at the same time, was damaging what is bringing the country's wealth in the first place. 

The Cloud Forest in Peru
The Cloud Forest

The hike consisted of two days, the first being the hardest, three hours straight uphill. If I stopped for a second, I would lose my footing, shaking from knowing that the worst possible outcome of death was less than two steps away. 

When we made it to the tallest point I stood so tall on the mountain I was in what is called The Cloud Forest. All around me was a clear fog as if standing directly in the cloud itself, a full panoramic view around me of mountain tops covered in lush vegetation. 

I'll never know how the native people of Peru truly feel about the tourists coming onto their land, but I will continue to try. If I am going to use their land for my own personal pleasure, I will educate myself on if I am really welcomed there at all. I hope the ones that let me in, shared their homes with me, fed my body and soul with food and stories, genuinely wanted to. 

Standing in the Cloud Forest didn't clear my mind, but made it feel just as cloudy as the sky around me.

Just a girl living in the city, writing, and loving my friends, family, and cats.

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