Cusco: Intersection of Modern vs. Traditional Culture

We arrived in Cusco a day late but more excited after we had spent hours in the airport the previous day. We stepped off the plane and onto the ground into the 7th largest populated city in Lima. I was winded after just going up a few steps, something I expected at 10,000 feet elevation. We were picked up by Condor Travel and taken to our hotel. The drive through Cusco was incredible, although it was brief it was very telling of the kind of city we would spend the next two days in. The architecture was all stone and had a huge ancient influence. The traditional clothing of the Andean peoples is seen everywhere mixed amongst modern dressed tourist.

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The area we stayed in was an area heavily trafficked by tourists like myself. On every sidewalk and in every square there were women and children dressed traditionally. They would compliment you and ask if you wanted to buy something.

Using their culture to promote their economy, hesitance to turn to modern technology because what will Cusco be once they leave behind the traditions of their society. Handwoven textiles, scarves, hats and gloves can be found on every corner, it takes days to complete these cloths. So why wouldn’t they switch to modern technology and use machinery to produce more of their products at a cheaper cost to them especially when considering labor? It’s all about the tradition I believe, the influence of it is what I am still unsure of. Do the working women just enjoy doing their weaving during their “free time”? Or is it an entirely tourist driven process?

Regardless the process works, I bought a few pieces of clothing for myself that were made from alpaca fur. Every piece is unique, every design and pattern is developed by its creator who never follow any sort of pattern. Unique design is something that is lost when machinery is utilized. Our modern society uses machines to mass produce items to meet demand in a more efficient way. The majority of traditional people of Cusco have not resorted to modern modes of production. Does that make them less efficient in their production well yes of course it does but the net cost benefit and the price people are willing to pay for handmade items is higher than a machine made “alpaca” sweater.

The coloring of the yarn for the cloths and textiles is also traditionally done, plants and even bugs like cochanillo are used to make natural dyes. My stereotypical United States developed mind is intrigued by these processes. I think to myself why if they were going to keep in touch with their traditional ancestors with the hand-weaving why wouldn’t they invest and save time by purchasing premised dyes and even yarn for that matter. It is something that I have trouble understanding because of the place that I come from. In the United States it’s all about creating a product with the greatest potential net profit, in cusco it is far from it. Bartering for items is expects as nothing in markets has price tags. It’s a tourist driven market and items are created to appeal to the modern tourist who wants to be able to say they know they met the women who weaved their scarf.

All of this yarn was hand dyed by women working next to the Llama and Alpaca petting zoo we stopped at on our way out of cusco to parque de las papas.

All of this yarn was hand dyed by women working next to the Llama and Alpaca petting zoo we stopped at on our way out of cusco to parque de las papas.

In the town square where we stayed had a hard time deciphering what was real tradition and was solely tourist driven. If we hadn’t been there would the women and children still be selling their products on the street. My assumption would be no. Traveling up to parque de las papas it is clear that there are still people who rely heavily on their traditional society. Farm animals including cows, donkeys, chickens, pigs, horses and sheep were seen everywhere. Most of them were free to run loose and had a rope tied onto them I would guess to catch them when they were needed.

Our drive up to Parque de las Papas was windy, and nauseating at times but unlike anything I had ever expected to see in Peru. The long drive up the mountain though was a perfect way to given me perspective on the cultures of the mountain dwelling culture. The people of this land have learned how to utilize every resource they have. Their homes are made of mud and straw and formed together to make sun dried bricks. Their roofs were either made of straw thatching or clay roof tiles. The mud and straw brick homes were stabilized by a layer of rock which could move and flex more in the event of an earthquake. It is smart design. Our trip up to parque de las papas was a true representation of the people working in harmony with the rocky and unstable landscape of the Mountain.

It is hard not to think about our past, our past as it relates to contribution to the deprivation of our natural resources and environment. One might think that practices like hand plowing and terracing was less detrimental to the land and water. I think this can be interpreted this two ways, one would be that some of the people of cusco simplistic understanding of the land, as their current practices were passed down through generations and did not account for these things. Or they can be seen as more in tune with their land because they are almost exclusively using man and animal power to live their lives in the land that was passed down by their predecessors. The drive up the windy dirt roads to Parque de las Papas prepared me for the traditional practices like weaving and potato harvesting that would quickly captivate me.

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