Machu Picchu: Historical and Natural Sanctuary
Much time has elapsed since, in order to go to Machu Picchu (here after Mapi), one had to pass through an experience basically “local,” if we understand that an incipient tourist system management in Peru had not reached the prefabricating standards that regulate the so called “matured tourist products,” such as the Eiffel Tower or Florence. Until the eighties, the train that was managed by a (disastrous) state company called Enafer would leave the San Pedro Station; in the same city, early in the morning, there were at the most three very similar systems. Two were for tourists, that were more elegant and fast and with a hostess included, and the other was more modest. The third was like going to Katmandu with Ravi Shankar as travel buddy; it was a local train that took longer than the others, but enabled the traveler, especially the backpackers to have some time to befriend peasants, potato and chicha vendors and young farmers that worked in the Inca Trail.
You would reach the town, known in the old days as Aguas Calientes (today it is called Machu Picchu: marketing, so they say), that still remains an emporium of chaos and informality, although before this was such that the pizza restaurants had to move their outside tables in order to let the train pass. Then there was the most expensive combi (passenger bus) of the world (which is a monopoly transportation that continues until today) taking you to the city of Pachacútec, where one could stay in relative silence, experiencing the sensations for which maybe the monument was created: the pleasure and meditation in the abysm of a cosmic idea. Many years ago, when Peter Fonda and the late Dennis Hopper carne to Cusco to film that delirium film called “The Last Movie,” I went to Mapi for the first time. In the past you could sleep in the Inca rooms, although nobody in its insane judgment would have dared lo close its eyes upon that gigantic Stonehenge that surrounds you with its static shadow under the forged moon: of course the lysergic and the cannabis helped me to be realistic.
Another access road to Mapi was by the Inca Trail, during times when the journey was a pioneering task; there were people from all over the world, with a machete in hand that would dare travel through the tropics full of ferns and trees and would climb mountain crossings that left you without breath. During four or five days you would walk and sleep in camps full of snakes that would wonder close to the tents, and eat Maggi soup for dinner. One would reach the lntipunku (“Sun Door” in Quechua) and from there watch the paradigmatic image of what tourism is in Peru today: Mapi shining with all of its volumes created by an ecological architecture and the green infernos that go all the way to the Amazon.
But one day Mapi was changed; the train was privatized, new social classes appeared in train coach cars and the local train disappeared. Aguas Calientes grew as a metastasis and continues being a serious problem of contamination and insecurity to dwellers, but its land is the most expensive of Perú. Today you can go to Mapi by a 500 dollar train, have a free bar and eat gourmet food, although the passenger could feel ashamed because he will always be badly dressed. Of course there are options, although the local train… is forbidden to tourists!
Today, in order to go to Mapi you don’t depart from the Cusco station of San Pedro, but rather from the Poroy station (located eleven kilometers from Cusco), with which the brilliant zigzag that the train made to leave and enter the city is history. You can also take the train from the Ollantaytambo station, which indeed saves time, but it has lost its marvelous effect over the Inca town: it is now filled with vehicles that leave and pick up hundreds of tourists, full of noise and smog where there used to be pure air and silence.
Certainly, Mapi is the crown jewel for foreign tourists; the best archaeological destination of South América, a Unesco World Heritage, Historical and Natural Sanctuary, a wonder of the world. Thanks to Mapi, tourism exists in Peru and that is not an exaggeration. In 2010, approximately 700 thousand tourists, both national (one third) and foreign (two thirds) visited this citadel. In other words, one fifth of the tourists that arrived that year to Peru visited the Inca city. But that flow demand urgent measures. Firstly, to establish and enforce a visiting capacity, something that every protected natural area should have. And then, the agents involved in the issue public and private, should start looking for alternatives to this sole product by developing and promoting other destinations and markets in Peru.
Machu Picchu is starting to show signs of overuse. Unesco alerts each time more frequently about its risks and a private tourist destination advisor of important tourist destinations in the world has written that Mapi is oversold. The visit you do| nowadays, without trying to detract it, is so contaminated by marketing and the density of people, that it is almost impossible to feel Machu Picchu, as well as it waí felt by Peruvian poet Martín Adán and which was so badly portrayed poetically b, Neruda. Although, let’s be honest, it is not my task to fill the traveler with preconceptions. Go to Mapi and draw your own conclusions. Many people, upon their return from the city of Pachacútec, feel that they can die peacefully. Strange epiphany, but let each of us deal with our own business. Let’s go to Mapi.