Before you think I am belittling Machu Picchu by comparing it to a zoo – I am not. If you grow up in Cusco, surrounded by Inca ruins, as my girls have, seeing a tiger and feeding an elephant and giraffe is a bigger deal than a visit to Machu Picchu.
They had been looking forward to visiting the zoo in England for as long as many people have been wanting to see Machu Picchu. It struck me there were more similarities.
The experience is not as perfect as you would like
- You spend twice as much time travelling, as you do inside
- You queue lots
- You are reduced to a single file at points
- You feel slightly processed
But you still would not miss it. And the looks on children`s faces when they see certain animals is identical to the look on people’s faces when they see Machu Picchu for the first time.
Environmental responsibility is not a major factor in most people`s choices
There were signs at the zoo telling you about their environmental responsibility but for most people that does not play a huge role in defining which zoo they visit ( or who they travel to Machu Picchu with). The discussions over whether either zoos or travel can ever be responsible are also complicated.
We like to relate things back to ourselves.
We were given lots of specific details about the animals by signs scattered about,
“Did you know Pileated Gibbons show a high level of sexual dimorphism?”
No, I didn’t. And I still need to look up what sexual dimorphism means. I see many guides at Machu Picchu giving technical information on stone building techniques and astronomy. The truth is most of you do not need that level of information. You want a story that helps them relate to it- and that is what we ask our guides to give you.
You can relate easier to other cultures ( or species) when you discover the ways in which they are just like you. If you are a builder, finding out the Inca recipe for mortar may help. But if you are a small child, finding out how Inca children played may be more important. It is one of the positives of travel, it helps us realise “foreigners” are just like us.
At the zoo people were comparing the animals to themselves:
“Spends as much time sleeping as you Nikki,” dad to teenage daughter outside the sloth cage
“That’s what I want to do, just lay out in the sun and forget everything for a while,” wife to husband looking at leopard sunbathing
“He eats all messy, like me when I was a baby,” small boy to grandparents watching a bear tip broccoli on his head.
“Yes, but at least he eats his vegetables,” Grandad`s reply to the boy.
The highlights may not be what you thought
Yes, feeding the elephants was nice – but the highlight for my girls and I lasted just ten-seconds. For ten magical seconds, there was a gap in the crowds and we stood alone looking into the eyes of a small Sun Bear who was sitting watching us back. And that is what we try to do at Amazonas Explorer – help you find those little moments, that will stay with you forever, as well as take you to feed the elephants.
P.S. you can see monkeys at the zoo, but nothing compares to seeing and hearing them all around you while staying at a lodge in the jungle.0