MattNoonan's Travel Journals

MattNoonan

 
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  • 27 years old
  • From Illinois, United States
  • Currently in Cordoba, Argentina

Peru: para mi & para you

ramblings concerning a four month stay in Cusco, Peru. circa winter/spring or rainy/almostnolongerrainy 2011 depending on your hemisphere/climate zone.

Parting Thoughts: Parts of a Whole

Peru Cusco, Peru  |  Apr 17, 2011
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 I’m a human being, and I can do anything, just like every other person and group of people there ever was before me. They built Machu Picchu, and you can too, that’s why we’re special. 

As my compañeros and I get ready to leave Cusco and head our own ways, I can’t help but think about how transient of a place this town really is for visitors but how permanent of a condition that transience is.  And that makes me feel small and average, and at the same time gigantic and unique.

I mentioned in an earlier entry the dynamic of being a traveler here; everyone comes, lives, learns, and leaves but Cusco is inevitably engrained in their futures’.  At the same time, Cusco’s future rolls on without ever looking back or missing any single passing person.  I guess that last part is becoming more clear to me now.  I personally feel like I’ve grown from conversations with locals, but I highly doubt that there’s a Cusqueñan taxista writing a blog, or even talking at the lunch table with his family about how he taught some gringo a few Quechua words.  The reality is that unless some deep relationship is made, perhaps like those between us and our host families, the exchange is pretty surface-level and superficial; I think I’m learning about a person’s life and identity, but what I’m really learning is maybe a little bit of what it’s like to be a taxi driver, driving people around and seeing foreign people flabbergasted by their normal.  And the taxi driver might think he’s learning something about the person he’s driving, but in reality, all he’s seeing is a little bit of what it’s like to be a tourist, flabbergasted by something fresh and excited to be learning something.  And at the end of the day, even if the connection is slightly deeper than that, there are infinite future tourists to talk to about the same things, or infinite taxi drivers to ask about their views on the presidential candidates.  We’re really just roles interacting, rather than human beings; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I’ve been to Machu Picchu yet.

I guess that one example kind of shows the dual transience and the permanence of Cusco in a nutshell.  There will always be taxi drivers and there will always be tourists.  But in about five days, I’m not here anymore to participate.  There will always be people to play the roles, but the people change and it doesn’t really matter, except to those individuals.  And if we dig a little further, we can see that the transience/permanence is both personal and collective: as I was planning ahead to my future travels, I found a couchsurfer in Neuquén, Argentina who was just in and around Cusco this past (South American) summer.  So while we’re both torn from the ever moving, ever breathing, ever changing, ever static Cusco, we can meet somewhere thousands of miles away and share our experiences, which will more than likely be pretty similar depending on the types of travelers we are respectively; assuming my couchsurfing friend didn’t take the ultra-touristy approach to seeing Perú, we probably see the country in a pretty similar way.  And what this means is that Cusco doesn’t just exist here between some hills, but its true place is in the minds of the people who know and are familiar with it. 

So Cusco is in constant transition—permanently, or at least as long as Machu Picchu is interesting to people.  This all leads me to question what transience really is.  If everything is always in transition, isn’t it permanent?  Does anything ever really change or is change itself just a small part of the big ole permanence?

It’s easy to feel small in this town, because the same lady will ask you if you want a massage every day you walk past her and she’ll never recognize you.  But maybe that indifference is a characteristic of the world at large too.  And maybe human nature is to try to overcome that.  We have the 7 wonders of the world.  We try to recognize the significant things.  You know, you can see the Great Wall of China from space, but if you think about it a little bit, you can see the whole damn world from space.  Maybe Mt. Everest is the biggest mountain in the world, but the world is the biggest world in the world.  I don’t really think Mt. Everest has a big grin on its face for being the biggest. 

So I guess the conclusion of this rant is to extend the smallness of humanity even a little bit further and at the same time to really take some value in what it is to be that small, and still have the capacity to think we’re important.  Truth is, humanity is pretty sweet; we made Machu Picchu.  We did.  But our tendency towards self-importance is what makes us think that things are outside of us and therefore exciting or special. 

—“I’m not an Inka and I don’t understand other people, therefore Machu Picchu was made by aliens.” 

No, I’m a human being, and I can do anything, just like every other person and group of people there ever was before me.  They built Machu Picchu, and you can too, that’s why we’re special. 

We like to marvel, analyze, and argue about the things we do and things that happen.  That’s why there’s youtube, the Guiness Book of World Records, mirrors, and statistics.

But we shouldn’t gush at the site of a gorgeous snow-capped Andean peak; the mountain has always been there and it doesn’t care, nor notice, if you appreciate it or not.  Rather, we should be in awe of our ability to be in awe and in our ability to be blissfully unaware of how many things there are to be in awe of at any given moment.  For instance, somewhere on earth, an anglerfish is living so deep below the sea that the sun doesn’t nourish it.  That anglerfish is hunting using a big light attached to her head to attract prey.  That hunting anglerfish is a female, like all other anglerfish like her.  And chances are, there are several pairs of testicles attached to her all of which used to belong to male anglerfish before they burrowed their entire beings into her, fusing, becoming a part of her.  All without the sun, for no one to see.

That’s crazy!  Maybe, but if you’re an anglerfish it’s pretty normal.  What’s more crazy is our ability to assign qualities to things that just sort of are how they are—not weird, just different and actually exactly normal.   And that we can sleep at night knowing that there are other animals on earth doing crazy stuff at all hours of the day is incredible.  It’s a miracle that we can at one moment be in awe and at the next, content to watch a baseball game.

To tie it all together, I’ve been to Cusco, I’ve seen seven year old girls try to sell cigarettes in several languages, Quechua women walk their llamas down Tullyumayu, and been offered massages from the same lady more than once in the same day.  I’ve walked around Saqsaywaman and Pisaq, I’ve heard the phrase “hay más colores, amigo” from dueñas of every kind of artisan shop imaginable.  And I’ve been to the top of Huaynapicchu—just like the other 400 people daily that climb it—to see El Eío Urubamba raging below. But all of those things exist everyday and none of them are more special than any other thing just because I or anything other person recognizes them.  There will always be little girls selling cigarettes in the Plaza de Armas and El Río Urubamba will flow on for the foreseeable future.  It’s just a part of humanity, earth, and the human condition.  And that—the ability to segregate and reintegrate, to be transient and permanent, to be self-important and miniscule, rather than all of the vaguely material/tangible results of those conditions—is the sweet stuff.

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