North American Scum

Oh my goodness, what the hell happened in the last week?

I just returned from Macchu Picchu last night, and oh my god Disneyland.

Here is what I mean by this.

When I arrived in Aquas Calientes (or Pueblo/Municipalidad Macchu Picchu, depends on who you ask) it was dark and I was ferreted immediately to my hotel. Of course I was glad for the hot shower, and of course for the bed.

(I was tired from the journey, because several of my collegues and friends decided to turn the whole train-car into crazy party pisco train. We criticize north american loud tourism because we understand it. I do not judge, criticize, but ya’ll, we were loud. )

The train itself had already been an adventure.

“Peru Rail, creating unforgettable adventures, now announces the arrival of expedition train 84.”

We’d been served Mate de Coca on a large map of the Inca trail, along with chocolate covered corn, fried fava beans,  screaming:


And when I woke up, I was greeted by beautiful jungle mountains, mist, and a rushing river. Outside, Disneyland. Peruvian bands which all had the requisite flutes, matching outfits, and of course, the electric drumset and perfectly balanced sound system. Pretty manicured streets, friendly calls from restaurants of:

“Amigo, pasale! No? Friend? Maybe later?”

Massages every three feet, a hot springs with a matching Inca bartender (whose picture was on the drink menu, emerging from a waterfall with long long hair, no shirt, and arms outstretched) and of course, the ride to Macchu Picchu.

We took a bus.

I really wanted to hike, and indeed, packed for it. But we took a bus. The bus line was packed with complaining white people (and us) and merchants peddling ponchos (it was raining.) Oh well.

Then the entrance line, complete with revolving turnstiles, passport checks, and soft “Andean Music” with synthesizers and triumphant key signatures.

Then the tour. We were first scolded for talking too much (and with reason, at least on my end,) and then led through ruins and ruins, with descriptions and facts, and to be perfectly honest I wasn’t paying attention because of the mountains.

Is that wrong?

You see, I’m not really a person that believes in Cosmic Energy as a force. Not really a person that believes that a city like Cusco is “The Navel of the World.” I’m not into feather fairy rainbow talk (yes I am), I’m not into spirits still alive, and I’m not into the Apu, not into the bible, not in the ways that I believe many are, not literally not as answers.

But I am into these things as complicating questions. (What?) They are part of my life in much deeper ways than can be expressed by a microphoned Peruvian flute band.

I am interested in what happened at Macchu Picchu, but to go someplace and say “this is where the…and this is the…and this totally meant…and the king lived…” is as redundant as anything I could imagine. I do like knowing these things, I do like hearing about them, but to be honest, I would rather have read them on my own and explored Macchu Picchu in silence. Because those mountains, those mountains, that view.

You can’t say things like what the mountains say.

This morning this grew into a discussion of culture creation. The culture of Peru, of course, is being co modified into one like a Macchu Picchu playground, where its easy to eat, drink, relax, feel culture, see the world, all for a price. In addition, the culture of the tourist is created, because what is created is assumed to be what “we” want. So, then the (mostly) white European/North American culture is assumed to be one of easy easy easy, of fancy dinners, lazy days, of one which comodifies culture.

Which I can tell you (and you) isn’t true.

To be honest, I’m no anthropologist, I’m not versed in cultural studies, I’m mostly versed in Philosophy and Theater Theory. So that’s the tool I have to use.

And that is what I said in the discussion this morning.

Because action should be taken!

Not contradictory action, but actual action, action which blends these together!

Its time for some exclamation points!

And what actions?

Well, we’re studying art and politics. And those who say that art does nothing are totally wrong and I don’t agree with them.

My professor gave me some advice on something I’d seen the other day: a small boy (5 years old) without shoes had approached a group of drunk Londoners in the main square at around 12 in the morning. And they proceeded to tackle him, shake him away with their foot, and generally get into his face, calling him every little thing you would soap out of your son’s mouth. At first I could do nothing. Then I began to approach, both afraid (I was one against 6) and yet ready to fight. But the little one left, and the Londoners went to spend more money on alcohol. (For reference, a drink in a fancy club might cost 15/s. or $5.46, or 3.96 EUR.)

He came up to me; he was trying to sell two packs of gum for 5/s.(about $1.82, 1.32 EUR) and they had obviously taken offense. When I asked what they were doing, if they were bothering him, his only reply was that they had simply not wanted to buy the gum. I bought the gum. He ran off into the dark, without shoes, without a jacket, without tears, upright, like a spirit, like an apu, like an angel, like all these things I construe immediately because I can only understand this sort of thing spiritually or else all breaks apart.

And in the end it does anyway.

I cried in private. I’ll fucking admit it, I think I’d better.

My friend said to me: “That’s why Cuscuenos hate gringos.”

And my professor said to me: “You’ve now witnessed all kinds of violence.”

And when I asked what I could possibly do, he replied: “Report it.”

And my friend, that night he said: “Well, now you have the indignation necessary.”

And so action?

Well, that doesn’t seem to be so hard now.


And while perhaps there is not Cosmic Energy as evidenced by blue light coming out of the earth with healing powers (when one has consumed too much [insert substance/vapid ideology here]) one can still use this image, this idea, utopia as a means by which to just fucking try to save the world. Every day. Just a little. Tiny pennies in a big ass jar.


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3 Responses to North American Scum

  1. Evan says:

    “You can’t say things like what the mountains say.”


  2. Luana Cote' says:

    It’s a shame, though slightly understood, that you aren’t able to be a free spirit in such a spiritual place. It is acceptable to think that you are on this trip with a class, with a group of people in the same mindset, and that through shared experience and conversation with said people you will be able to come to understand more. However, I feel it is crucial to go out and take in those mountains as your own, to witness that reality and process it as Dylan Ward without any immediate influence. Its surprising how persuasive people can be without even saying anything, and how easily persuaded one can be just by being around others. Coming up with ideas and feelings and conclusions about a foreign land (or anything, for that matter) on your own is invaluable, especially when you come back to the group knowing that they ARE yours, and are separate from any influence.

    You have amazing words, Dylan. I might steal some of them.

  3. Megan B says:

    Dylan my dear, how I envy you and your journey. Somethings (from some one who has dabbled briefly in anthropology) to consider looking into in one of the most mysterious places on earth, that you may or may not find facinating are the ancient calendar system — they made calendars by tying knots on a circular kind of fabric (I know the mayans did this I believe they did it in Peru too) deeply seated in astrology and spirituality. Also since you are so obsessed with performance you should check out all the uniquely south american stringed instruments (many that are a combination of a drum and a guituar) that they do not have up here, also consider the different tonal systems that we do not even have a comparison to in “western” music. I love you and miss you, can’t wait to see you in the fall!

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