On tourism

Me quedan cinco dias. Five days! That's overwhelming and exciting and sad all at once. On Wednesday night I'll take a red-eye to LAX and then another flight to Seattle, arriving just in time for Christmas Eve with my family. Here in Lima, summer has finally arrived after months and months of fog and chilly humidity (yeah, it's a whole different ballgame). Nativity scenes and blue-eyed Santa Clauses have popped up on the facades of pollerias and corner stores, and the palm trees in the park in front of my house have been adorned with strings of lights and speakers that blast tinny Christmas music every night between 6 - 11 PM. It's all somewhat surreal.

Rach and I decided to squeeze in two final, quick trips (between my performance and her finals) before I head back to the States. I haven't had time to write about the trip to Cajamarca last month, so I'm playing catch-up now. Cajamarca is in the northern part of Peru, in a valley fringed by big international mining companies from the US, China, and other countries. The cityand land is gorgeous, but the mining industry is ever-present-- in the huge trucks that roar through the streets and hills, in the municipal projects that "represent new relationships between the public and private sectors" (i.e. are funded by Yanacocha). A taxi driver named Antonio took us out to the Ventanillas de Combayo, supposedly an Incan burial ground, and explained that a person working for the mining companies can earn a salary 4 or 5 times greater than, for instance, a teacher (and perhaps 8 times greater than that of a domestic worker in Lima). He says that almost every family has an uncle or a son or a father working in or for the mines, so who can protest? Well, he has a point. From my tourist's point of view, Cajamarca seems to have more wealth than other cities I've visited in Peru. It also has noticeably more old women begging for money in the plazas all day before hiking home, up to the hills, at night.

I share this because I think it's important-- for me, for other potential tourists-- to think critically about the places we visit and to examine how we contribute to unjust systems. Rachel and I have tried to be responsible tourists this year, visiting friends of friends instead of "tourist destinations" and planning our own trips instead of going through agencies in hopes of having more control of where and to whom the money goes. But tourism is a complicated and ugly beast. At Machu Picchu, for instance, the guards make barely enough money to support themselves in pricey Aguas Calientes, and they're often fired three months after they're hired, a post-Fujimori development that means that the guards never become eligible for health insurance (it's common practice in many of the supermarkets as well). We learned this from Clemente, a guard who led us up the mountain at 3 AM.

This is a longer discussion, one that I'll happily have with anyone who is thinking about visiting Peru, but I'll leave it there for the time being and just show you some lovely pictures of Cajamarca...

At the hot springs at the Banos del Inca, where Athaulpa supposedly bathed before the Spaniards killed him and ransacked the city's gold. I'm oversimplifying a lot of very complicated stories into this one little blog post, aren't I?

Las Ventanillas del Combayo... empty tombs built by the Incans. Suprisingly similiar to the above-ground tombs that you find today in cemetaries in and around Lima.

Rachel and I decided to do a day hike to Cumbe Mayo. We read that it was about 20 kilometers away from Cajamarca and thought, "20 kilometers is about 6 miles, right? No problem." We weren't worried when everyone we asked for directions warned us that it was leeeeeeejos, far away.

It turns out that 20 kilometers is actually about 12 miles, and we didn't reach Cumbe Mayo (above) until about 4 PM, two hours before sunset (I know, we should have turned back, but we were so close. Mentira.) Luckily, a bunch of hippies gave us a ride back to the city.

On our way back to Lima, we stopped for a few hours in Chimbote, where my buddy Cathleen is working as a nurse this year, to eat some early-morning combinado (cebiche and tallerines a la huancaina-- spaghetti with hot aji pepper sauce) and to reminisce over plastic cups of sweet Chimbote wine.

Another post about our second trip, to the Selva, coming later this afternoon (gotta post this stuff before I head home, because who wants to read a travel blog once the travels have ended?)...

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