An airport for the Sacred Valley
June 5, 2019 6:25 PM   Subscribe

The Peruvian government has broken ground on a new airport to serve Cuzco and Machu Picchu.
posted by Surely This (23 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
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also eponysterical
posted by lalochezia at 6:42 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Yeah, all the articles tend to skip the fact that Chinchero is 40 miles away from Machu Picchu.

I suspect that the heart of the uproar lies in Cuzco, which stands to lose a ton of tourist traffic.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:55 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


As the climate crisis worsens, I'm curious how quickly tourism-based air travel will get priced out of reach for most people, and if the government has modeled that into how they plan to recover their investment. Aside from the ecological damage from building an airport near this site, these kinds of projects might become poor long-term bets, generally, barring some future technological breakthrough.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 7:21 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


It sounds like it’s meant to replace Cuzco’s airport as well, so it probably wouldn’t be hit too hard by a drop in tourists.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:55 PM on June 5


Here's a Google Maps look at Cuzco, Chinchero, and Machu Piccu. It's not so much a "direct flight" into Machu Picchu, but it'll get more people closer, given that the current Cuzco airport is one runway, is limited to taking narrow-bodied aircraft (Wikipedia). I personally enjoyed the flight into Cuzco, and experiencing that city, before heading up to the base of Machu Picchu on a train (Machu Picchu.org), though I don't recall which one. But I understand that slow travel is a luxury that prohibits some from seeing sights, though in this case, that kind of limit may be helping to preserve the ruins. From The Guardian:
There were more than 1.5 million visitors in 2017, almost double the limit recommended by Unesco, putting a huge strain on the fragile ruins and local ecology.
So a closer, bigger airport seems like a terrible idea, on many fronts.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:33 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


Maybe they should bore an elevator straight up through the mountain and into the middle of the site. Or escalators? They could convert some of those silly old stone ruins at the top into a 24-hour snack bar and souvenir shop.
posted by pracowity at 1:27 AM on June 6 [3 favorites]




Maybe they should bore an elevator straight up through the mountain and into the middle of the site. Or escalators?

Surely due to the altitude and not due to being completely out of shape I found the entire site hard to navigate. So escalators. Lots and lots of escalators.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:56 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


There were already limits on the number of visitors (although they were skirted), and the new rules are a lot more strict about where you can go. They also create a whole slew of tour guide jobs.

Visiting Machu Picchu Just Got A Whole Lot Tougher

I think it doesn’t matter where the traffic is coming from, the throttling has to be managed from by site itself.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:06 AM on June 6


Why the outrage? They are selling what they have to sell, a pile of interesting stacked rocks is what they have to use to buy medicine and education, why the outrage? Good for them, extract every last penny from lazy northerners while they can.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:25 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Because the pile of stacked rocks has historical, cultural, and traditional religious significance, beyond short-term economic exploitation, to the people descended from the ones who stacked the rocks
posted by churl at 9:29 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


Why the outrage? They are selling what they have to sell, a pile of interesting stacked rocks is what they have to use to buy medicine and education, why the outrage?

The outrage is over what is being touted as damage to the site.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:41 AM on June 6 [2 favorites]


So damage to the rocks is a resource they are going to exploit until the resources runs out. It's exactly the same system my ancestors and yours did to ensure we are sitting in a climate controlled offices wasting time and drinking coffee rather than herding sheep or tilling fields.

And short term economic exploitation is likely all we have before the earth is on fire. Rock fans will be relieved that the site isn't underwater however.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:49 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


And short term economic exploitation is likely all we have before the earth is on fire. Rock fans will be relieved that the site isn't underwater however.

Ah, a nihilist. Fair enough.

I would note however that the site is not theirs. It has been adopted by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, meaning it belongs to everyone on the planet. If it were placed on the UNESCO Endangered Heritage Site list it would trigger all sorts of sanctions against the hosting country (I.E. Peru)

This is the World State your mother warned you about.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:57 AM on June 6


I mean not to be a dick but the concerns are there in the article if you want to read it. It's also a little difficult to explain the relationship of the broader Sacred Valley Of The Incas, Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, and Machu Picchu as interdependent aspects of a large cultural and historical site unless you've been through them. The connections between the cities and sites and communities is relevant. For just one example, it would be a significant loss to both the locals and to the tourists to introduce a bunch of low-flying air traffic, noise, and pollution over Ollantay--which is a town unique among all the world and one I frankly have more special memories of than I do of Machu Picchu itself--in the name of expediting tourist traffic directly to Machu Picchu. Nobody wins there. The amount of traffic Machu Picchu already gets in a day is more or less already at its saturation point anyways.

I'll also mention that dismissing these sites (Machu Picchu and the many other large pre-1400s construction projects in the Sacred Valley) as a "pile of rocks" is a weirdly adversarial way of framing the concern that people have. These are major historical engineering achievements, combining terraced agricultural planning and city-design, cliffside construction, novel quarrying technique, city planning for defense, water systems, and precise astronomical features. That's to say nothing of cultural, religious, and traditional purposes that the site continues to serve to locals to this day. These things might not be your personal concern but they're the concern of the people involved. Which is, to answer your question, "why the outrage". But it seems increasingly like you're here to grind a different axe.
posted by churl at 10:13 AM on June 6 [8 favorites]


That's to say nothing of cultural, religious, and traditional purposes that the site continues to serve to locals to this day.

Something I've never been clear on has been the continuity of those purposes from the 1400s to today. The place was all but abandoned in the mid 1500s and its existence doesn't appear to have been widely known of among Peruvians after that. In records it is barely mentioned, and that as a a former capital and little else. It seems likely that when it was "discovered" in 1911 it was as new to Peruvians as everyone else.

Not that incorporating it into Peruvian culture since that point devalues things. I'm just curious how much actually has roots in the 1400s.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:31 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


That’s a super good question. My recollection was that the entire site is closed to the public on scheduled days/times so it can be used privately and ceremonially, but my recollection of the specifics is pretty crummy this morning.
posted by churl at 10:47 AM on June 6


I'll also mention that dismissing these sites [...] as a "pile of rocks" is a weirdly adversarial way of framing the concern that people have.

Trolls live in rocks.
posted by pracowity at 10:47 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Under, not in.

But I guess I kinda was trolling. Apologies.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:04 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Maybe they should bore an elevator

I would note however that the site is not theirs.


It'd be really great if we could avoid the attitude that First Worlders obviously know better how to manage historical sites, national development, and tourism than Peruvians. What would be the reaction if non-Americans pressured Americans not to build a new airport in Philadelphia or New York, because there are World Heritage Sites there?

If anyone owns Machu Picchu it's people of native descent— which means, 85% of the population of Peru. (Unesco doesn't own the site; note that when Germany wanted to do some development, Dresden Elbe Valley lost its World Heritage Site status.) Peru is not required to be an undeveloped nation forever just because First World tourists prefer it that way.
posted by zompist at 2:23 PM on June 6


What would be the reaction if non-Americans pressured Americans not to build a new airport in Philadelphia or New York

The pressure (and petition) not to build this airport is coming from Peruvians
posted by churl at 3:20 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


It'd be really great if we could avoid the attitude that First Worlders obviously know better how to manage historical sites, national development, and tourism than Peruvians.

UNESCO is part of the United Nations. Plenty of Third World countries in there too.

Also, there is absolutely no reason to assume that Peruvians know how to run a heavily visited tourist site. That requires expertise, something UNESCO is in a far better position to provide than any single country. If they come through and say "You should limit this to X visitors a day" it’s because they’ve seen similar sites and the problems they’ve had.

Peru set limits far above UNESCO’s recommendation and then, and this is key, exceeded their own limits by 50%. Recently they’ve raised their limit another 30% and we don’t know yet how much cheating is going on. So even if Peru had the expertise to come up with a plan it’s not at all clear they’re capable of executing it.

This isn’t to say that Peruvians should be cut out of the process, or even not have a big part in it. But the World Heritage Sites are too important to be left to blind faith that individual countries will just work it out.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:31 PM on June 6


I honestly don’t know what to think of this. I perceive that Peru did a better job of protecting the Sacred Valley than say France did of preserving Mont St Michel and I’m a bit wary of the idea that we should all know better how to manage tourism from afar than the local government. It’s a fantastic, mesmerizing place — not just Machu Pichu but the whole of the valley. As noted above, they have been trying to dial back the numbers of tourists, but there is extraordinary economic pressure to bring more and more tourists because money. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that we get more up in arms about Machu Pichu or Angor Wat than Amsterdam or Mallorca or Santorini, although the distinction between them is unclear at best. We seem to embrace lecturing the Galapagos or Peru much more quickly than Iceland or Spain. As an enthusiastic traveller, I worry a lot about loving places to death.
posted by Lame_username at 3:27 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]


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