Experienced Peruvian geographer and archaeologist Dr. James Kus’s first visit to Machu Picchu was as a tourist in 1972. His initial tour gave no indication of his future involvement with the ancient Incan site, and he left thinking, “I’m not going to go back; this is terrible.” Now he visits almost every year.
Kus is a professor of geography at California State University in Fresno and an Archeological Institute of America (AIA) member. He has visited Machu Picchu in Peru over 20 times, has taught at a Peruvian university, and gives tours of Machu Picchu. He came to Knox on Tuesday, March 3l to talk about Machu Picchu and the longstanding conflict concerning how tourism has changed the site and the visiting experience.
Students attended the talk for many different reasons. Senior Erin Warford said, “I am interested in archaeology in general, mostly Greece, but Incan culture, too. Also, the balance between research and money from tourism is a worldwide issue.” Junior Joey Firman was drawn to the talk because of his own experience visiting Machu Picchu. He wanted a more academic view and look at statistics. He said, “Machu Picchu was very beautiful, but you have to say ‘no thank you’ a lot.”
Kus talked about the “real-life Indiana Jones,” Hiram Bingham, who is said to have discovered the remnants of Machu Picchu in 1911. However, Kus said that a close friend of his, Mariana Mould de Pease, has found proof through letters and other written artifacts that Machu Picchu was known about prior to Bingham. In her latest book, she provides evidence such as a land sale document from 1781 that mentions Machu Picchu. “To think Hiram Bingham discovered [Machu Picchu] is absolutely crazy.”
Bingham caused a controversy between Yale University and Peru remains unsettled. He took artifacts from the site and gave them to Yale. Yale has not returned these items even though the Peruvian government has tried for many years to get some type of agreement from Yale, saying they will return the items Bingham took.
Mould de Pease has been leading the fight against Yale. The latest book that Mould de Pease wrote was a direct attack on Yale and how uncooperative they have been. She had dinner with the U.S. ambassador in Peru and he wanted to help, but was told she needed to talk with the Peruvian ambassador in America. “It has all been very complicated because Peru says Bingham took a certain amount of artifacts, but some may have been pieces that Yale put back together, so Yale has a different number of items; there is no way to be certain,” Kus explained.
Kus went into detail describing Inca building styles and focused on the Sun Temple and the Intihuatana, a sacred stone thought to have been used as an astronomical clock or calendar, whose name means “hitching post of the sun.” Incan masonry usually includes solid bedrock, caves, and running water. The best quality buildings were created in the Imperial or Cuzco style. All of these qualities are present in the Sun Temple and the Intihuantana.
There are two windows in the Sun Temple that David Dearborn and Raymond White discovered to be astronomical observatories. One told the Incans when it was the winter solstice and the other told them it was time for the summer solstice.
The Incans believed the Intihuatana tied the sun to a rock. The one in Machu Picchu is not the only Intihuatana that existed in Peru, but it is the only one not destroyed by the Spanish. The Spanish had knowledge of this Intihuatana, but did not destroy it.
The Spanish may not have destroyed Intihuatana, but it was no match for film crews. Kus transitioned into stories about visitors, particularly film crews, and their interactions with the site. A small part of the Intihuatana was chipped by a Peruvian film crew filming a beer commercial.
Tourism has made a big impact on Peru, in both positive and negative ways. When Kus stayed at Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge in the 1980s, his suite cost $25 per night. By 2005 the cost was $1,045, and today it costs $1,584 to stay at the same hotel. During Kus’s first visit in the 1970s, the price for visiting the Machu Picchu site was $2 per day, the price has now risen to $50 per day. Kus believes that “eventually only the people with money will be able to go.”
Tourism is a help and a hindrance, in Kus’s words. “Tourism is helping by providing money to both the Instituto Nacional de Cultura, to run all of their other programs, and by providing lots of [low-paying] jobs for Peruvian workers in hotels, restaurants, [and] shops in the Machu Picchu area as well as Cuzco,” said Kus. “It is harming by overrunning the site, damaging…the stonework, wearing down the grass…The site is kept relatively clean, but there is certainly more trash to be seen today than in the past.”
Kus feels that raising the cost has helped a little. He said, “In recent years, the ‘hippie’ element that used to be common has been driven out by the rising prices of admission, hotels, etc.” However, the site is still very popular and it seems that more and more people come each year. He added, “Hey, it’s still cheaper than Disneyland!”
There is a mountain called Huayna Picchu that daring tourists often attempt to climb. Huayna Picchu is 8,900 ft above sea level and about 1,200 ft higher than Machu Picchu. Kus took three tries to get to the top of Huayna. “My wife has been to the top twice,” he said. “The most spectacular view is from the top of Machu Picchu Mountain.” Kus said the best time to visit Machu Picchu is “May — after the end of the rainy season, [when] the site is still green, but before the crowds of tourists arrive in June.”
Kus said, “[I’m still] involved in it because it is a neat place, absolutely spectacular setting, and still has lots of unresolved questions related to it.”