Machu Picchu… one of the reasons why Peru is such a hub for tourism. With as many as 5,000 people walking through the beautiful ruins each day, it is so hard to truly grasp the scale of the impact tourism has had on the people of Peru. Personally, tourism in Peru is not something I had even considered before coming on this dragons program. Machu Picchu had always been on my bucket list of places to visit, but I knew little more than the beauty of the strange and faraway place I had seen pictures of online.
Last week, when we arrived at Machu Picchu, I was overwhelmed and taken aback by the number of tourists and commercialization of such a sacred space. Peru and Inca Rail makes thousands of dollars every day on the transportation to and from Machu Picchu. The thing about both these companies is that they are both owned by companies outside of Peru, so none of this money stays in Peru, and none of the Peruvian people get to benefit from the exploitation of their lands. With the tourism Machu Picchu has brought to Peru, many people have benefited and businesses have been created, but in the modernization and globalization of this sacred space, a piece of the culture has been hacked away. The fields that used to be for farming have been turned into fancy hotels and touristy restaurants to accommodate for the constant stream of tourists. The families that had lived for centuries in the valley surrounding Machu Picchu have either been forced to move out or have had to find work in the tourism industry and abandon their previous way of life.
As we walked up the last stair that brought us to the entrance of Machu Picchu, we were immediately met with busses of foreigners. Hundreds of people were waiting in lines to either enter the bathroom or get into the ruins. We were ushered into the assembly lines designed to pump out money. But the time we actually got past the gate and into the ruins I was disillusioned with the whole process of getting there. Our time in Peru until then had been so calm and reflective, so our initial moments there felt especially chaotic. The moment we were able to see the lost Incan city, I immediately understood the chaos of it all. The unparalleled beauty was an awe-inspiring view, and I tried to take it all in while simultaneously fearing that it all would all fade from my memory too quickly. Being there helped me understand how my host mom had described it. Sole, my host mom, told me that it was more than just the sight of the ruins that was so special, but the emotions and power that could be felt from just stepping on the land. It was the energy that had been cursing through the mountains for centuries that could still be felt when we walked through the ruins that made this place so special. The sight of the terraces and ruins of the magnificent city only added to the amazement and beauty that is Machu Picchu.
I feel so grateful that last week I was able to experience this wonder of the world, but I am even more appreciative that I was able to do so with the knowledge of the exploitation and the damage tourism has had on the Sacred Valley. Being able to take in the sights of Machu Picchu is something I hope I will never forget, however even if I do forget, the energy and the feelings I felt while on those sacred grounds is something I will never be able to forget.