Last weekend, I got to travel to Cusco and Machu Picchu with all the students from Boston College in the program. As a requirement of the program, we take a class on Iberoamerican history, which focuses a lot on the impact that the Incan empire had on South America, particularly Peru. Cusco, being one of the highest cities in the world because of its elevation, was the gem and the center of the empire. Every Inca (the name given to the emperor of the Inca empire) was born in Cusco, with the exception of Atahualpa, the last Inca. The city is an open history book, with incredible reminders of what the Incan empire once was at every corner.
Cusco is still the gem of Peru according to my Medical Spanish professor. It’s hard to explain the sense of safety and comfort I felt once I stepped out of the hotel room. Quito is amazing in many ways, but ever since I arrived almost three months ago, there has not been a moment where I have felt safe or at home. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I can’t carry my belongings without looking back every minute, or the fact that I can’t freely speak English to my international friends without the fear of being targeted, or the fact that the incessant cat calling and constant disrespect has slowly driven out my sense of femininity. I remember the indignity that I felt when I first arrived in Ecuador and was told that I could not wear revealing clothes in Quito because this “would give men a reason to touch you”. This was told to me by a professor. It’s not that I can’t wear “revealing clothes” out of respect for a more conservative culture, but rather, I am forced to wear conservative clothes out of respect for the obscenity of a machista culture that still allows this. I noticed a couple of days ago that when I’m walking alone, usually to school, I’m always looking down. It feels like I have slowly lost my pride in being a strong, independent, outspoken women, and now I’m left with very little will to fight in a culture that just allows this. I’ve come up with a weird coping mechanism in which I’ve thought of all the possible scenarios in which I would tell these men that I am in no way interested in hearing their disgusting and unnecessary comments, but of course, they’re only imaginary because saying this out loud would risk my safety. Constant disrespect, constant sexualization, constant objectification, and constant indignation have become normal to my daily routine. Don’t get me wrong, Peru is just as bad, if not worse than Ecuador in this sense. But Cusco, being largely a tourist city, has been deprived of the crime and obscenity, which gave me four days to actually reflect on the beauty of all of the landscapes and creations around me.
Back to the beauties of Cusco, for anyone who is reading this, if you have one place to travel to before you die, Cusco should be it. The first day, we visited several ruins near Cusco, some of which were fortresses, others were temples, and others rest stops. The second day, we visited more ruins and we got to visit the market at Pusaq, and I must say that the artisanal products in Peru are far more beautiful than those in Ecuador and Costa Rica. There is still a clear influence of the Incan culture, the gods of the Sun and the Moon, and nature as a whole. The third day, we got to visit Machu Picchu. To get to there, we took the Inca Rail, a train that that for almost two hours lets you see that beauty of the Peruvian landscapes. The train stops at Aguas Calientes, the little town right below Machu Picchu, and from there we took a bus up to the ruins. I can say that this happened probably four to five times during the trip, that when I got the first glimpse of the entire city of Machu Picchu, I was left breathless. I-just-got-hit-in-the-stomach-with-a-dodgeball type breathless. It’s really an indescribable feeling, even for someone who isn’t necessarily a history fan. It’s simply the idea that humans, once considered uncivilized and savage creatures, created possibly the biggest empire in history and left all of these remains for us to see. There is a simplicity but yet a complexity to all that the Incas did, and yet a sadness in knowing that we could never replicate it or come close to understanding it. No pictures or words could ever do this place justice, so I’ll leave it at this.