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What Next? A Roller Coaster to the Temple of the Moon?

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Map of the Macchu Pichu area.
Coming to Cuzco is like stepping back in time--walking down colonial streets, passing ancient stone walls built by the Incas. In another sense, though, it's like going home.

Cuzco is the largest tourist site on the continent, full of Americans, Israelis, and Europeans. I can get my falafel and even go to see movies in English. I get tired of vendors constantly waving traditional artisanias, like wool scarves, in my face. I get tired of hearing English and being around tourists. Nonetheless, I really like it here, and I know the money tourism brings in helps these people live better lives.

Click to learn more about
Cuzco from Lonely Planet
Click to learn more about traveling in Cuzco, Peru. Visit the Lonely Planet.
The question is: how best to share this beautiful country and culture while still maintaining it? This delicate balance is the subject of much debate. Ironically, just by being here, we change both the culture and the environment we come here to see. Next month a private company, with the blessing of the Fujimori government, will begin constructing a gondola (cable car) from the nearby town of Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. The gondola will make getting to the site much easier for tourists, and give them a good view of the river valley below. I imagine it will also cut down on the constant flow of busses up the windy path to the top.

But the people of the Cuzco area, especially the students and all of the best-known Incan scholars, are trying to stop this project. They claim that it will desecrate this sacred spot, adversely affect the environment, and ruin the ambience. David Centeno is a professor of Archeology at the Universidad National de San Antonio Abad del Cusco, where the students from Madre de Dios go to college (see my article in the May 15th dispatch: "You Can Take 'Em Outta the Jungle, but You Can't Take the Jungle Outta Them". He is helping organize a large protest next week, in which thousands of concerned students and Inca scholars plan to march all the way from Cuzco to Machu Picchu to express their disapproval of the plan. "These hills are all Apus, they are all gods, they are sacred," he explains. "But the government doesn't see that. All they see is money. I cannot imagine Machu Picchu without its surrounding beauty."

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Professor David Centeno is helping to organize a huge protest against the construction of a Machu Picchu gondola.
Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Peruvian government has declared it an Archeology and Nature Reserve. That means it should be protected, right? Well, I guess it depends on how you define "protect." I've been told that an average of 1,000 people visits Machu Picchu daily. At $10 per person to visit, that's a lot of money for the government, and a lot of money for the upkeep and preservation of the site. But that's also a lot of wear and tear and, some might argue, desecration of a sacred site.

So here we are, tourists from all over the world, traveling far to pay homage to this amazing site. Yet, by our very physical and economic impact, we forever change the face of the place we come to see. What irony. If they put a roller coaster to the Temple of the Moon, would I ride it?


Monica - Waterworld, or the Floating People of the Lake
Kavitha - The Children of the Sacred Lake
Kevin - Banished or Delivered?
Shawn - Coca and the Environment
Team - Coca: Modern Vice or Traditional Power?
Making A Difference - Save the Redwood Forests (and the Coho Salmon, and the Spotted Owl, and All of Us)!!!
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