Culture for sale – the circus of Cusco

I really pity the tourists whose only stop on their way through Peru is Machu Picchu and Cusco. They will get a completely distorted picture of this rich, vibrant country. Because Cusco, so praised and worshipped by many, turned out to be – sadly – a cultural bazaar where everything has a label “For sale” attached to it.

P1360689I walked along the ancient streets, passing the colonial churches and looking at the tourists happily buying another alpaca pullover or drinking another Starbuck’s coffee and I wondered – was I the only one that disliked Cusco? I have to admit – Cusco is beautiful. It has it all: the impressive colonial churches, old mansions, lovely narrow passages of San Blas. But, disappointingly, all this had nothing to do with the peruvian culture I’ve known for the last 6 months. None of the churches had their doors open, you always had to pay, and the lovely street of San Blas were full of trendy hostels and european-style cafes, where a tired tourist can get a muffin and a cup of cappuccino. 

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To be honest, nowhere else in Peru have I felt so uncomfortable as in Cusco. Travelling  almost on a peruvian budget you start noticing things that an average US or European tourist does not pay attention to.

– The price of the hotel rises twice the moment the owner sees your blue eyes

– The Peruvians that you see travelling are Limenios that earn 5-10 times more than a school teacher in Cajamarca

– You cannot afford having a coffee in the center of Cusco. Actually, none of the Peruvians can, it costs as much as here in Germany or more.

– You cannot afford most of the restaurants.

– The main square of the city is usually its heart, where all the people sit around and chat. In Cusco the only Peruvians in the square are those that look for their chance to get some money out of gringos.

From above the clouds Inca Pachacutec looks down at this circus.

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2 thoughts on “Culture for sale – the circus of Cusco

  1. I guess this is the inevitable outcome of the capitalist economy surrounding us. One way or another, it manages to catch you at some point and dictates us all its basic rules. Unfortunately, this all ruins the true heart of the culture, as you put it to words spot on, “selling the culture”. One might think, what a terrible idea to do this, but others would bring on the simplest arguments of economy, “well, what you’re gonna do, there’s demand, we got so many tourists around here”. So in fact it’s not only about the local culture creating this system over there in Cusco and many other similar places around the globe but also and maybe more importantly about the people who are actually demanding all this, or finding it somewhat fulfilling. I’m sure if you ask the locals or even take it to the next step and ask the Peruvian ministry of tourism, they would tell you that they’re extremely happy with the tourism volumes in Cusco. It’s all because some things are just measured with money and in terms of the wealth they create nowadays instead of more important things such as culture, history, education they would/should impose/encourage.

    • Sure Burak, you are right – the capitalist economy will always find its way. And things like this happen all over the world, not just in Cusco. Globalisation is such a horrible process! But the sad things is not just the culture is being “sold”, finally that is nothing new, but the fact that the Peruvians cannot afford to “buy” it. Out of the campesinos who live in the villages not more than 50km away from Machu Picchu probably 99% will never see it – they cannot afford it. And it is their heritage!
      I’ve been reading a lot recently about the economy in the context of Latin America, it is so depressing…

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