Inca Trails by Martin Li is the story of a unique journey through the Bolivian and Peruvian Andes. The author is on a quest for a deeper understanding of the Inca by traversing the lands they inhabited, conquered, and were eventually driven from by the Spanish conquistadors. The book is an interesting mix of travelogue and history book that begins near La Paz, Bolivia and traverses Peru to Vilcabamba the Old.
The travels really begin when Li reaches Sorata, hires a guide and buys a mule for the first part of his journey over Bolivia’s Cordillera Munecas and Cordillera Apolobamba before reaching Peru’s lengthy Altiplano and journeying on towards Cusco, Machu Picchu and beyond. They travel along old Incan paths that wind through the mountains, the high Altiplano, and descend to jungle-like overgrowth to cross rivers in deep valleys. They stop at many small villages and camp under the vibrant stars during the cold Andean nights.
The modern-day journey was interesting, but the stories of the Inca are where the book really comes alive. The authors deep intrigue with the Inca comes through and one begins to understand his desire to travel this ancient path and see what the Inca saw.
One of the most compelling stories was that the Inca had the capacity to decimate the small Spanish force who came to conquer them, but because of their own legends that predicted the arrival of pale-skinned, bearded deities returning from the sea they welcomed them instead of killing them. Upon their arrival, the Spanish were invited by the Inca king to meet him in Cajamarca. While thousands of Inca were unarmed, the Spanish brought weapons and fired cannons, and the Inca were caught off guard and most were slaughtered. With many of its fierce warriors killed and the Incan king captured, the Inca faced an uphill battle against the sophisticated Spanish guns and weaponry. Unfortunately, their main downfall was trust both of the Spanish and of their folklore.
Another story was the Inca’s eventual retreat to Vilcabamba and the maintenance of their kingdom there at the edge of the jungle where it was almost impossible for the Spanish to attack. They manage to survive there undisturbed, practice their traditions, and plan a rebellion against the Spanish. One day, seven Almagrist rebels who had assassinated Pizarro of the Conquitstadores showed up. Since they were now enemies of the ruling Spanish faction, they were welcomed by Manco Inca, the reigning king and lived there as his guests for two years. Eventually, his guests decide to leave and return to Cusco, but before they go they stabbed the Inca to death to gain a pardon from those in charge in Cusco. In an eerily similar end to the previous story, another major act of trust and welcoming by the Inca was betrayed by the Spanish.
This book is most interesting as a vibrant history of the Incas. If you’ll be traveling through the area, it will help set the background to both the culture and the historic Incan ruins you’ll see.
Inca Trails: Journey through the Bolivian and Peruvian Andes, Martin Li, Author House, 2007
©Christina Kay Bolton