Anyone whose read this travelogue over the years knows I like to sum up my trip with a number of observations that — alone — are too short or picayune to devote whole posts to, but taken together, help frame each trip for me and allow me to tell stories about it.
While ‘Exit Interview’ May strike some as too pretentious, it captures my intent in this post. Please don’t expect a lot of cohesion or deep thoughts here — the observations came at times I had no paper to write down more coherent thoughts; I was too wiped out after climbing Pisac and Ollantaytambo; or my phone battery had died and I had to hold onto the thoughts by a thread.
First and foremost is my reaction to the people I met in Peru. Individually and collectively, they proved far kinder and more welcoming than the Argentines I met in Buenos Aires six years ago (it helps that none of the Peruvians tried to rob me at gun point, but that’s not a high bar, is it).
The next thought I had was akin to how I felt in India: to wit, thank goodness my eight years as a bike courier eradicated any physical fear of fast cars and breakneck speed demons. Because both Lima and Cuzco featured a number of hellbent-for-leather tour bus and minivan drivers. The switchback road from Aguascalientes to the gate of macchu pichu is riddled with massive tour buses eking by each other at heart-stopping speeds and proximity. And yet, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I thought peril was even an iota of consideration for a whole week!
Speaking of macchu pichu, my third and final observation concerns the paradoxes of organization I witnessed everywhere — at museums, archaeological sites, and the airport. Where tourism is concerned, they are logistical geniuses that Rommel, Patton, or McArthur would have yearned to have on staff. Getting 5000 people a day up and down a massive mountain, safely in and out of a world heritage site without people falling off the edge, or vandalizing the “cultural patrimony, as they call Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and macchu pichu is no mean feat.
And they do it extraordinarily well: lines move quickly. Trains come in and out of the station, disgorging visitors from every country on earth. Buses careen up and down the switch-back roads without crashing or falling off. Guides move around each other in tight and uneven ground at high altitudes with a grace Balanchine or mark morris would envy.
However, a ceremony in the main square of Cuzco tied up traffic for miles. So crazy was the congestion that, though we left my hotel for the airport two hours before my flight, I got antsy that I might miss it! Inside the airports, nobody seems to know (or want to tell you) which line you should be in, where the united airlines personnel might be; or what is holding up the boarding process.
It was downright Kafka-esque, just trying to learn if I’d gotten the stand-by spot on an earlier plane I’d volunteered to take when told my flight was full. And there seemed nobody in charge, nobody accountable.
For the life of me, I can’t explain this vast discrepancy in organizational genius and breakdown between the two spheres of public life and service in Peru, but I got there and back safely. What’s more, I can’t wait to return, so I can hike the Inca trail and see the ruins I missed this time.