Saturday, May 8, 2010

Doing South America

In any bus along one of the prime backpacking routes of South America or at any [reputable] hostel it is possible to overhear the same conversation taking place between different people.

"Where are you from?"
"Have you done Machu Picchu yet?"
"Yes. Have you done the Salar de Uyuni."
"Oh yes, it was great. Next I will do Buenos Aires. And you?"
"Oh, I will do Sucre."

The places, of course, can be substituted, but the doing remains. This was something I noticed last time I was on the continent but it has become glaring now, as I live it up in a true-blood tourist hostel in Potosi, Bolivia. The syntax bothers me because in the context of said travel the varied incantations of to do are fully loaded. In the dictionary to do is defined as 1. to perform, 2. to execute, 3. to accomplish, but two additional uses come to mind: to do the things on a checklist, firstly, and to do, as in to fuck, secondly. By substituting said meanings, the conversations sound like this:

"Have you fucked Machu Picchu yet?"
"Yes. Have you fucked the Salar de Uyuni?"
"Oh yes, it was great. Next I will check off Buenos Aires from my list. And you?"
"Oh, I will check off Sucre."

As one moves along the Gringo Trail checking off ruins and charming towns from the list, having, in a sense, one-night stands with the dots on the map without investing so much as some devalued pesos, one really is doing South America. What makes this salient in South America is, of course, its unshakeable Colonial past, during which Europeans came and, for the first time, did America. They came and they fucked it: they fucked America's women, fucked up America's natural resources and, ultimately, fucked over a continent and its peoples, leaving this legacy to this day.

Now, gringos are coming back in hoards for more - and why not, there is much to see. But can we please, with history books at our disposal, not do America this time?

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