foto faves

foto faves

Sunday, June 2, 2013

you can not turn back time...

and I think every one of us would like to at one point or another-  if you read this blog regularly you know that I frequently say GO NOW!

I say that because rarely do places get better over time- if you are lucky- sometimes - they are just different, if you are really lucky and things were wonderful the first time - it is great if they are pretty much the same.  With all travel experiences it is tough to beat the "new experience"...

I think in the past I may have mentioned the ruin of the Jumieges abbey where I visited the first time in the mid 1990s.  It was a magical place.  The entrance "guarded" by a trailer- with a caretaker who took our money and opened the gate and then let us be to wander the ruins. No barriers, no barricades, no "stay on the path" signs.  We had to take a ferry to get there- one of those small four car kind of ferries that cross rivers all over the world, a barge with ends that drop so you can drive on to it. (all photos from film era and simple camera so please excuse the quality- you still get the drift of my comments)





That day in 1996, my mother and I were the only two people on the site.  We took our time exploring- many things we only surmised their purpose as the signs were non-existent.  Just two and a half years later, in the fall of 1998, I returned to find areas cordoned off and a new spiffy visitors center.  The sense of discovering something magical completely removed from the tourist attraction it had become.

the new entrance included a detailed site map -


oh well- you may be wondering why I bring it up- and here is the reason- I just returned from the trip to Peru and Ecuador.  I had been to Peru in 1999 and it was a fabulous trip.  My first "third world" country, I was excited about discovering pretty much everything but the thing that most impressed me was Aguas Calientes the gateway town to Machu Picchu.

In 1999 - the morning we arrived, we got off the train.  There was no road from Ollantaytambo onward, and I still remember being awed by the fact that there was no road!  The train ran right down the middle of the unpaved street.  The street was of course lined by concrete floor cafes, backpacker style eateries, and lots of handicraft stalls... I thought I had fallen through the rabbit hole and this was the farthest place away from civilization on earth... we walked to the end of the rail line and caught a bus (old "school bus" type bus) that took us up the mountain across a dozen switchbacks overlooking a precipitous cliff down to the Urubamba River- to the lost city of the Inca - Machu Picchu, rediscovered in the early 20th century by Hiram Bingham.




so there is no way to sustain that sense of wonder... there is no repeating a "first time" and now there is no repeating it at all... Aguas Calientes is paved, the railroad line is crossed over by pedestrian bridges and the handicrafts are sold in a building alongside with a permanent roof and paved floors- a warren to navigate through to get to the buses (now much more comfy, and at least having the appearance of safety, for the journey upward.)

When we visited in 1999 - we were not alone (the 15 of us) but the site was so vast and the people numbered so few that we may as well have been.  We spent more than an hour at the Watchman's Hut overlooking the entire site with no other folks vying for that prime photo op location.   

 
you can see from this less than stellar photo how few people were there.  And when we arrived before sunrise the next morning, we found the same - a few backpackers who had finished the Inca Trail and come in for sunrise that cloud covered morning... 

and yes- my cautionary tale holds true again- now hundreds and hundreds of tourists, despite drizzly weather- I worked hard to capture a few tourist free photos (which you will see in due course of the recitation of our latest journey)  But I could not recapture the sense of place.  I asked the guide if the little boys still ran down the hill from the top beating the buses on the switchbacks every time to collect a tip at the end of the journey - and was not at all surprised when he said "no, they are not allowed to do that anymore."

When Jen and I went to Vietnam in 2003 we visited a lovely river town Hoi An in central Vietnam.  A group of extremely casual restaurants ran alongside the north side of the river along a dirt lane, facing  lush greenery and a few small wood frame homes.  When Phil and I returned in 2009 we found a new bridge across the river and condo developments on the south side....

On our 2003 visit to My Son, Jen and I were two of four people at the UNESCO World Heritage site- two guys from Australia being the others.  Phil and I found hundreds of tourists speaking a dozen or more languages when we visited My Son in 2009....

 
Dirt paths- and the other two tourists...



much of the site still overgrown- we had to take a jeep after walking over the rickety bridge that crossed the river at the site - then from the jeep we walked a muddy path to the first of the temples-



In 2009 when I returned: tour buses crossed a new bridge and dropped you off at the same spot but now the path is paved and pristine- and the entrance and exit walk made of stone- as always I studiously avoided photos of the crowds...but suffice to say there were more than four of us there that day...



A deep sadness for what is lost is balanced by my gratitude for having "been there and done that" while it was what it was- I am sure some intrepid travelers, from decades before I got there the first time, would consider my experiences corrupted from theirs... time marches onward.... GO NOW!  GO NOW! GO NOW!

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