There’s a balcony in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco that is perfect for people watching. My roommate, Emily, and I frequent this place to take part in one of our favorite activities: poking fun at tourists in the plaza. Americans are very easy to spot-being an American myself I know how absurdly paranoid we can get which leads to extreme preparedness. Americans are the most overprepared travelers you will ever meet. We certainly do our research and follow it to a tee. If you read any guide book it will tell you how to be hyper vigilant of anything that could possibly go wrong from sunburn to mosquito born illnesses, altitude sickness to food poisoning, muggings or getting bit by a rabid dog. Your average traveling American has a remedy for each of these things prescribed by their doctor at the travel clinic and has read extensively about them so much that I have turned identifying them from a far into a hobby.
Cusco is situated high in the Andes and it is not a bad idea to be prepared for such conditions it’s just hilarious to see the extremes people will go to. A classic American tourist sighting in Cusco looks a bit like this: a middle aged American couple both dressed in all tan Colombia appeal, hiking boots, bucket hats, lathered in sunscreen, they’ve got their sporty sunglasses on that probably cost half my monthly salary here, rain jackets tied around their waists, they each have a backpack filled with other layers, water, sunscreen and- my favorite part of this get-up- they are using hiking poles! In the literal middle of the city as if the plaza was part of the Inka Trail. It’s a phenomenally overprepared outfit. Another classic: families in matching jackets, usually North Face and a vibrant color. You would be astounded at how common this is. I haven’t narrowed it down to strictly Americas but it’s definitely tourists coordinating their outerwear in men’s, women’s and children’s size.
I am not the only person who notices such characters. I mean, it’s pretty hard not to. These people are the prime market for local artists and vendors who sell artwork, tours, massages, food, give tattoos ect. in the plaza. Sometimes even children are among the sales people selling the infamous llama keychains of Peru. With an alarming number of tourists swarming Cusco every year it is no surprise the city’s economy relies heavily on tourism. At times it can feel a little overwhelming but it is simply a fact that Cusco’s economy relies on larger ones like the United States and other western nations. You as the tourist represent that at face value. It’s business. It’s livelihood. It’s unequal trade agreements. It’s colonialism. You’re your privilege and it’s a fact.
I recently had the displeasure of meeting an entitled American traveler who rejected this reality. Emily and I were perched on our favorite balcony celebrating her admittance to law school when said ungrateful, homely American man sat down next to us. Immediately his arrogance radiated around him as he spat at us, “where are you guys from?” We were in a good humor so we engaged him and told him our story. He quickly jumped into telling us about his own travels and how many times he had been to Cusco. At this point in conversation it was just the basic ‘where are you from? what do you do? Blah blah blah’ that you find yourself having constantly in Cusco. Then the tone changed when he said, “Yeah, nine years ago there used to be a lot less assholes selling paintings and shit”. It became clear this guy was a royal prick (RP) and had no concept that what he was saying was a projection of his white male privilege not to mention insanely rude. RP was so entitled he couldn’t accept the fact that the presence of people like himself as a western tourist has changed Cusco and Peru forever, the economy relies on tourism.
Peruvian culture is very warm and welcoming of outsiders which makes it a safe comfortable country to travel. Peruvian people are very proud of their country’s ancient history and culture and generally want to share it with everyone who has the desire to learn about it. Which makes for fantastic tourist relations. RP was upset that people who live here, who at this point in American politics would most likely not be granted a visa to visit our country because of racism, are trying to make money selling their art by marketing it to tourists. The audacity! That wasn’t in your guide book, buddy? Don’t be an asshole? Recognize the position of privilege you were born with and that your passport holds. If I could change one thing about guide books it would be this, a section on global privilege and recognition of your position as a global citizen interacting with the world. This is a small example of entitlement and racism I witnessed. Don’t even get me started on party hostel culture. I’ll get into that another day.