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We sat on a bench in the petite courtyard of the hostel, arriving after twenty-two hours aboard a bus from Lima. A dozen pigeons roosted above us, chip-chirping to us, themselves, and whomever wished to join. They sang to our muddled minds, our drained bodies, yet encouraged me to remain eager, restless towards the mysterious Incan capital, Cusco, Peru.
I tilted my head back and gazed out into the allotted pale blue and feather grays from above. A glimmer of light pierced into the square from the sun’s angle over the Andean horizon, hints of dusk manifested towards midafternoon. I shoved some dried Coca leaves into the corner of my mouth and chewed, bitterness confined between my teeth and the back of my throat.
“Did you guys want to do anything?” Rose said, lunging to her feet.
“What did you have in mind?” I asked, unenthusiastic.
Bella sighed, taking off her glasses to rub her eyes, “I’m so… I don’t know–”
“Beaten?” I said.
“I was going to say disoriented.”
“I don’t know… Lightheaded? Tired? I don’t–”
“Well, I can’t help but feel like we’re wasting time,” Rose said, pacing the courtyard.
“Wasting time?” I muttered, annoyed.
“You two have ten more days out here than I do. If we’re going to be hopping around these different cities, I’m going to see as much as I can.”
“I guess I could go for a walk,” I said, stretching as I stood up, “Bella?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll walk,” Bella said, shuffling upstairs to collect her handbag, “Give me a minute.”
Rose and I waited for Bella downstairs before heading to the city center, a quick five minute walk down one street. Our aimless steps into the city set a slower pace.
“Did you ask João if he–”
“Sleeping,” Bella said, breathing heavily, “João is sleeping.”
“Are you okay?” I asked Bella.
She wouldn’t look at me as we walked into the city. So much time in such a confined space, an entire day in a bus plus the rapid altitude change to 11,000 feet (3,400 meters). Even if I misread her body language, the sting of a light headache distracted me from everything but the path ahead. The muddled mesh of salivated leaves didn’t help.
But we strolled through the city center plaza soon enough as a familiar cloud clung to the posterior of my perception, huddled between dozens of North American and European tourists. A realization sunk throughout my memories as I was reminded of the cluttered pathways of the French monastery Mont Saint-Michel.
The whisk of capitalist venture had stirred through Cusco, mixing the American values of KFC and McDonalds with desperate locals looking to make a living. We stood in the epicenter of a cultural vacuum. Cusco suffered from Disney World syndrome.
An epidemic striking cities and cultural sights around the world. I sat on the edge of a nearby fountain and sighed. Although I was surrounded by the beauty of ancient foundations dating centuries old, shortsightedness haunted the facades of Starbucks built atop the bases alongside countless rugs covered in handmade jewelry.
As Mont Saint-Michel offered me the death of monk and pilgrim culture, Cusco exhibited the death of old Andean customs while showcasing what it once was in cuisine and archeology. It’s the innocent hallmark of Disney World syndrome.
“Y’all hungry? I see a place selling Guinea Pig and Alpaca,” I said.
Bella’s face scrunched, “I’m hungry for anything but.”
“We should probably look into Machu Picchu tours first,” Rose added.
I looked over to Bella and we nodded in agreeance as we got up from the fountain and walked towards the agencies lining the eastern side of the plaza. We made it to the gates and soon we’d be purchasing our tickets to Magic Kingdom.