Commentary

Tourist Escapes and Cuzco’s Life

Would You Like to Buy a Picture

In a brilliant little essay Alberto Fuguet upends the standard understanding of tourism. He writes that more important than the destination is the place people come from. But for the people of Cuzco who wonder what will attract more tourists and get them to spend more money, Fuguet is wrong. It has to be the destination–Cuzco–since they have no control over the point of departure.

Fuguet comes to his point, in his book Apuntes Autistas, after noticing that the words that most often accompany tourism have things to do with escape. Even if it is an adventure, it is still part of an escape. Justifiably, then, he notes that if you are escaping, the reason why you are escaping and he place you are escaping from are far more important than where you are escaping to.

Of course the tourist industry, including PROMPERU, DIRCETUR, and all the agencies of Cuzco present scintillating images of destinations. On this they are not unlike a film industry that covers its DVD’s or the images that stand for a film wherever the film might appear, they hope they are icons and not just indexes, with pictures of sexually attractive people in suggestive poses. If Fuguet is right, though, the value of all these pictures is to make the point of departure more boring, more insufferable, and more deserving of an escape.

But Fuguet is only partially right if read this way. These images are not created only to weaken a persons contentment with their home. They also are saturated with the desires of people, like those of Cuzco, for themselves. They are also about finding themselves legitimated in the projected eyes of the others who presumably will look at them and see them and good and then want to leave home to find them and give them money.

Cuzco lives by selling its past and its otherness, an otherness that can only exist as such if there is some point of reference to whom it can be other. That point may be Lima or the fantastical world of the Gringo. But it requires that other to view it so that its customs and traditions, its daily ways of being might take meaning and seem valuable.

After all, Cuzco is valuable, dramatic, and of course attractive. It has an amazing history as the capital of one of the most impressive empires ever and it is the staging ground for Machu Picchu which is one of the certified wonders of the world.

Getting Ready to Photograph Machu Picchu
Getting Ready to Photograph Machu Picchu

Tourism then plays this double role. It creates viewers and the viewed and is saturated with two, often unequal, desires.

We could then argue that Fuguet is strangely right. Even in Cuzco, tourism is about the point of departure, the imagined people and the real people who will come and see it and its marvels.

If we were to leave the analysis there, we would have stayed merely on the surface of the issue. In Cuzco there is much more.

Apu Ausangate Above Cuzco
Apu Ausangate Above Cuzco

The is a powerful Apu regularly looking at the city and making it other, just as there is an outsider taken in and cared for–a very powerful one–who on his day can draw almost the entire city into the Plaza de Armas to receive his blessing even if it rains. The first is the Mountain Ausangate who peaks over the north end of the Watanay Valley to constantly watch Cuzco and the second is the Lord of Temblors who resides in Cuzco’s Cathedral.

Not only do the mountain and the Christ refer to powerful figures external to Cuzco’s people but drawn into their lives, they also refer to Andean ideas with resonances elsewhere in Native America.

People require powerful figures from outside to watch over them, as Catherine J. Allen notes in her beautiful study of the people of Sonqo, a rural community in Cuzco, entitled The Hold Life Has. The Mountains are those figures. Just as the llamas and sheep have human herders or shepherds, so the people are llamas and sheep to the mountains who are their care takers.

Lord of Temblors Exits the Cathedral
Lord of Temblors Exits the Cathedral

The Christ is a similar caretaker and shepherd for the people of Cuzco, but his story is also very interesting. Supposedly, according to Abraham Valencia Espinoza’s Cuzco Religioso, the Lord of the Temblors was a gift from the Spanish Crown to the people of Cuzco. A lot happened along the way between Spain and Cuzco, and the statue in the Cathedral is a version of the one the Spanish king sent, rather than the original, people say. But, the Christ is something from that Crown that was taken in by the people of Cuzco and kept by them, just as traditionally people understand babies as foreigners who come into their families.

Tourists Find Meaning in Cuzco
Tourists Find Meaning in Cuzco

Anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro argues that this taking of outsiders into society is something important for many South American Indian societies His book From the Enemy’s Point of View is only one of his works developing this idea and its implications. But if nothing else he supports the notions that the external perspective — like the tourists who legitimate, from their points of origin, the culture and values of Cuzco — is something necessary from within the traditional lives of the native peoples of this part of the world.

As a result, Fuguet’s observation may actually not be so right. It may be that the welcoming of tourists today at the airport and bus terminal is not just a celebration of their value, despite the obvious modernity of the United Nations which declared this day and the Directorate of Tourism which in conjunction with local businesses organized it. It is also something that builds on deep Andean roots whereby tourists and their places of origin are brought into Andean ways just as they wear the caps and sweaters of Andean cloth. They become dressed to a small degree int eh humanity of the Andes just as they give value to Cuzco’s world.

Long Live Cuzco
Long Live Cuzco
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