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Culture Acquired, Unexpected Lessons Learned in Machu Picchu, Pt. III

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Originally published via Armageddon Prose Substack:

(Continued from Pt. I, Pt. II)

Culture Acquired, Unexpected Lessons Learned in Machu Picchu, Pt. III


Somehow, at some point in the 20th century, the narrative emerged in the self-flagellating West that American tourists are the worst, a perspective mostly promulgated by Europeans and American liberals themselves that has persisted.  

This is objectively nonsense.

As anyone who has been forced by circumstance to deal with such an entity can attest (ask any Thai tour guide, for example), one Chinese tourist is one too many — a theoretical scenario, at any rate, because Chinese tourists almost exclusively travel in hordes of 20+ on discount tour group packages, led around the nose by a leader with a weird flag like some kind of Red Guard brigade.

To be sure, Chinese wandered around in tour groups here and there in Machu Picchu and Cusco with their ridiculous and selfie sticks in tow — but, glass half full, there were far fewer than I had feared. The vast Pacific Ocean, it appears, even in the airplane age, still affords some degree of geographical buffering. Genghis Khan never made it here either.

On a tour of the areas surrounding Machu Picchu (there being many ruins and geographic delights in the region aside from the Big One) I asked our guide in poor Spanish what he thought of Chinese tourists, not prejudicing his answer in either direction by offering my own thoughts first.

“No me gustan,” he said.

He didn’t like them.

This appraisal he offered up hedge-free — a bit off for a profession usually heavy on the international diplomacy, as badmouthing a major source of revenue is usually seen as bad for business.

I asked why, and he answered that they don’t want to spend any money on anything.

This gentleman’s assessment is absolutely true; I have watched, as related in Broken English Teacher: Notes From Exile, a pair of Chinese tourists haggle over a 50-baht ($1.75 or so) plate of Pad Thai on Silom Rd. in Bangkok. (It might have been even less than that; I can’t remember exactly. In any case, it was super-cheap as far as Pad Thai with all the fixings goes, but nothing could ever be discount enough for a Chinese tourist.) 


I encountered on a visit to one Incan temple ruins an old abuela of the Andean persuasion, way less than five feet tall, her feet visibly blackened by the sun and dirt and hard living in the sandals she wore, clad in old-timey garb — even though she didn’t have a role to play, as she was selling nothing — who sat crumpled near a tree and ate an apple with her three teeth.

“What kind of a life has she had?” I wondered.

At some point living in the Caucus Mountains, and having seen what hard living did to the Soviet-era relics there, it occurred to me to start a website called or or some such name — a project I might embark on yet if and when I have more free time on my hands.

          Related‘Tbilisi Pride’ and the New Culture War Front For Eastern Europe’s Soul

After watching those veterans of the Soviet Union — whose husbands probably died decades ago in some gulag or fighting some war, or else from alcoholic fatty liver — literally doubled over at the hip so that their torsos was basically parallel to the ground, walking aided by a cane back from the market with a potato and an onion to cook their soup or whatever, I gained enormous respect for this genre of person imaging what kind of adversity they had survived.


As she often surprises me with random literature as gifts, my wife picked up before our departure to Cusco for me in some Lima bookstore an old copy of Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley: In Search of America” — an odd traveling companion to take with me to Cusco and Machu Picchu, perhaps, but one of the central themes being a relatable “the grass is always greener” kind of wanderlust:

At times, he presciently predicted what might become of the nation — this being written during the Golden Age of Americana in 1961, when optimism abounded and material wealth had reached its definitive historical zenith — when the old-fashioned ways were given over to what some call “progress” and what others might call “technocratic dystopia”:

At many times, his observations reminded me of those offered by the Unabomber. Perhaps, in a different life, he might have mailed bombs to titans of industry as well — we being, by and large, products of our environments and all of the influences therein.

          Related‘Unabomber’ Ted Kaczynski: The Psychological Origins of True Domestic Terrorism

Ben Bartee, author of Broken English Teacher: Notes From Exile, is an independent Bangkok-based American journalist with opposable thumbs.

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