November 3, 2007

Paru Parte Dos: The Sacred Valley

The cliche

Cuzco is the heart and beating soul of the tourist scene in Peru. It may be covered in hordes and every second store on the plaza may be an aplaca shop or a tourist agency, but the town is still has its moments and if you peel back the layers it is possible it can show you a side of itself that is really gorgeous.... It just might be hard to see past the number of pizza shops or tourist buses sometimes.

When the Spanish arrived at Cuzco, dizzy with gold fever, they demolished the temples and the town Saqsaywaman up hill and hauled all the large stones down to reconstruct the Inca capital in Spanish style. Eventually they got bored and 15 years later the capital was shifted to the new setlement of Lima. But what a 15 years! The huge Catherdral is a marvel and they plonked it right on the original palace and temple to make sure the heathens werent going to be worshiping any more savage gods. The inside is covered with plundered gold and silver and so ostentacious you wonder seriously what Jesus would say, had the man who threw the rich/money lenders out of the temple seen what is being made of his image these days.

The cobblestone alleyways lead through mazes of 500 years old buildings, all on orginal inca bases. Large pot hatted woman in large colourful traditional dress bump and mingle with the gringos or settle on the streets selling vegetables or knick knacks brought in from the countryside. (That, or they carry baby llamas and charged stupid gringos for photos.) And its usually grey and fucking cold.

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October 31, 2007

Peru Parte 1

We are Peru

I must be one of the rare few who dont get excited about the prospect of peru when people mention in quivering anticipation of how it or amazing macchu picchu could be. For many tourists Peru is S America and Macchu Picchu the reason for the long haul to the continent. Everything else takes a backseat and travellers get glossy eyed and make a dash for Peru s archeological jewel and miss out on what else Peru has on offer. Which I´ll give Peru credit, is a wide variety of cultural pockets and extremely diverese wild life and environs... but when it came down to it, Peru just didnt get my engine revving like other SA countries. It seemed like perhaps overall I had just been going through the motions of another andean nation and in the process dealing with the bulk of the surly Andean tourist industry. Doesnt sound enticing? Well read on... perhaps who ll find the odd glimmer of excitement and wonder hidden behind my cynical take on tourism centred around the Sacred Vally and M Picchu.

After coming from Ecuador and Colombia , Juliet and I were a little taken aback when emerging bleary eyed from our bus at the station in Piura we were told by the guard how perilously dangerous it would be for us to walk out in the street with our backpacks, despite it being manically busy and 8 in the morning. This was Peru, the most touristed of the countries on the continent. And this is a little disconcerting as it seemed improbable, but when a number of locals tell you this with nothing to gain themselves you start to second guess and get slightly uneasy. But we hopped in a taxi to another bus comapy merely a few blocks away and werent robbed before travelling another 3 hrs again and repeating the process and getting the same warnings.

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October 22, 2007

Why I hate Borat

 Borat Thong

Bland pop culture seems to be spread pretty thick at gringo cafes in South America, and among the muck of Red Hot Chili Peppers or Bob Marly that constantly seems to be violently asailing ones ears ( the true mantras of the wide eyed ,world traveller), the odd screening of pirated DVDs become a point of obvious attraction for those wearied by the road and in search of more gringo diversions.. ( from the actual country they are visiitng it can seem considering the number of these types of cafes or hostals and the frequency they are patronised). A popular movie in particular that travellers of all walks and countries seem to love and is perpetually on screen is Borat, and it is one movie in particular I loathe in contradiction it seems to popular opinion.

I remember working in England in a dreary grey winter of 99 and the pub hours were late but a particular ray of sunshine in my day was the finishing up in time for the Ali G show around 11. Ali G was a fantastic take on cynical comedic paraody and manged to get the best (or perhaps worst) out of people on their own accord. For the few uniniated, Ali G was a white jewish guy who dressed up like he was a black guy from the projects and had been given a youth focused program to help young people understand the issues of today. And the guests he interviewed went along with this tangential take on current affairs. They ignorantly took his stupidity, crassness and terrible ethnic stereotype for what was todays youth culture and became the joke themselves. It was funny because they so obviously couldnt see past this ridiculous parody and opened themselves up trying to bridge the gap of cross generations. IT was funny how ludicrulous out of touch politicians, PETA activists and academics were with "todays youth".

Then in the second season came Borat. And employing the same stratedgy, that of an alien host from a foreign culture, he managed to bring an even greater amount of horrifyingly honesty opinons and racism out of Englands gentry. Pretending to be Kazakstani and unaquanited with English customs he manged to get away with asking some horrifyingly funny questions and recieving even more disturbing answers. On one occasion he is talking to a participant on his horse about to partake in a fox hunt. WIthout a hint of sarcasm Borat tells the man how he likes to shoot animals because it makes him feel like he has "big balls". How it is fun to blow apart small animals. And the aristocratic hunter agrees, admitting quite confessionally how it makes him feel like a big man.

Once agin the joke was not on Borat, but on the interviewee who could not see through the thinly veiled bullshit or stereotype he presented. He exposed their racism and I took great delight in his episodical revelations of Englands willingness to accept what is presented to them.

TO me what made Borat genius was that he was not Borat. He was a white middle class jewish guy. Borat was a costume worn only for the interview to expose how pathetic it was that people could not see through his stereotype. Borat didnt exist outside of the interview. This is what disturbed me about the movie and made me hate it so.

No longer was Borat a jewish guy pretending to be a helplessly pathetic kazakstani, he was a full blown charcter with a back ground and life and took part in stupid skits without modern society on camera to witness. Suddenly he has a village, with a wife a (skanky ) girlfriend, prostitutes he visits and a poor backward village that become the butt of the jokes. He drinks out of the toilet . This in particular would be funny if it was to provoke shock from a person he was interviewing there in front of him who couldnt realise that everybody in the world has toilets and knows what they are for. Instead this is a cheap joke jabbing at how backwards Kazistanis are and done to appeal to college jock humour.

Putting Borat on screen with a story and background ruined the whole concept of Borat. the ignorance of the populace is no longer the joke but the character of Borat and his cheap pathetic costume which wears very thin when not involved in interviewing the so called powers that be. The whole idea of Borat as subversive has been turned into potty humoured drech. Its a great shame, because there was a time way back in my late teens when Borat made the sunine on the dreaiest of Winter days.