Along the Inca Road: A Woman's Journey into an Ancient Empire

Overview

One of the engineering wonders of the world, the Inca Road was built more than five hundred years ago to link the far-flung outposts of a fabled empire -- an empire that ruled in golden splendor until the conquistadors arrived to plunder El Dorado and put a swift, cruel end to its extraordinary culture. But its legend survives in the masterful masonry of its paving blocks and the ruined glory of ghost cities such as Cuzco. In this vivid, free-wheeling expedition, Karin Muller travels the ancient route to explore ...
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Overview

One of the engineering wonders of the world, the Inca Road was built more than five hundred years ago to link the far-flung outposts of a fabled empire -- an empire that ruled in golden splendor until the conquistadors arrived to plunder El Dorado and put a swift, cruel end to its extraordinary culture. But its legend survives in the masterful masonry of its paving blocks and the ruined glory of ghost cities such as Cuzco. In this vivid, free-wheeling expedition, Karin Muller travels the ancient route to explore its dramatic history and discover new adventures along its length and breadth.

Along the Inca Road shares the stillness of sunrise in the haunted aerie of Machu Picchu, clings to the roof of a rattletrap bus skirting the vertiginous precipices of the Andes, carouses through the streets of an Altiplano city on Carnival, and inches warily forward as Ecuadorian soldiers probe for land mines with bayonets. Muller's ready for just about anything, whether it's challenging the Pacific surf in a traditional Inca reed boat, locking horns with a bull in a cheering Peruvian arena, or joining a crack Bolivian anti-narcotics team on a hunt for clandestine cocaine labs deep in the jungle. She initiates us into the mysteries of the spirits at a shaman's rite involving hamsters, hallucinogens, and copious libations of moonshine, and high in a mountain meadow captures a struggling vicuna, whose prized silky fleece once was reserved for the Inca god-king alone. And these are only a few of the traveler's tales from a 3,125-mile odyssey encompassing four countries and every form of transportation under the sun, from footslogging, mule train, and motorbike to state-of-the-art military vehicles.

As she spins the wool of her stories into a modern tapestry of faces and memories, Muller intertwines a chronicle of the ancient Inca from their race's mythical birth on an island in lofty Lake Titicaca to their sudden plunge from the height of imperial power at the hands of a ragtag band of Spanish soldiers of fortune. We learn how they lived, worshipped, and warred, and why such a magnificent culture proved so vulnerable to invaders.

As spectacular as the mountainscapes that are its breathtaking backdrop, Along the Inca Road is a wonderful panorama of past and present -- the kind of sharply observed portrait of a unique part of the world and its colorful people that displays the art of travel literature at its best.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hoping to embark on a "hero's journey," Muller (Hitchhiking Vietnam) makes the most of a National Geographic grant to explore the ancient Inca Highway that runs through the Andes. Explaining her intention, Muller writes that heroes "are not the strongest nor the bravest, nor even the most deserving. But they all share one trait: They are traveling into the unknown." In this spirit, Muller travels over 3,000 miles through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile for "six unscheduled months to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way--to spend time with farmers plowing their fields and cross the high plains with a llama caravan." Muller's enthusiasm and interest are unflagging whether in the midst of a dangerous political protest in Quito or undergoing a traditional guinea-pig healing session elsewhere in Ecuador. ("A razor blade materialized and the animal was slit from chin to tail, its skin pulled off like a glove.") While Muller admits difficulty in abiding by some cultural practices encountered--"the trouble was my own upbringing," she admits, "the only real religion in my family was science"--she proves fearless and open-hearted, loath to pass up any experience. Muller even goes out of her way to join a physically and emotionally grueling patrol to remove land mines in the Cordillera mountain range, never complaining that what was said to be a "demonstration" was actually a field of live mines. "That night I dreamt of wandering through a field of exquisite purple flowers," she writes. "I leaned down to pluck one and vaporized." Muller weaves substantial bits of South American history, geography and current events throughout the text, a fitting tribute to an extraordinary odyssey. 16 photos. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The multilingual Muller is best known for Hitchhking Vietnam, a book and PBS Special based on seven months of traveling around Vietnam. For her next challenge, Muller decided to follow the ancient Inca Road from Ecuador to Chile, this time with the help of National Geographic, which provided her with funding and a cameraman. The results of the trip are an upcoming documentary and this thorough and enjoyable book, which paints an interesting portrait of the people the author meets. Despite the often rough and very uncomfortable conditions on the trip, Muller never complains. Instead, she focuses on the warm hospitality of the people, the turbulent history of the region, and the beauty of the countryside. Her daring spirit compels her to take part in several adventures, such as participating in ancient festivals, going down into a gold mine, trying her hand at bullfighting, and accompanying the Bolivian army on a cocaine raid. Muller's account is a lot of fun for armchair travelers but would also be worthwhile for anyone interested in learning about the region. Recommended for all travel collections.--Kathleen Shanahan, Kensington, MD Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
From The Critics
Along The Inca Road is a fresh and exciting experiential travel documentary written by a woman who follows a route of the ancient Inca Road from Quito, Ecuador to Santiago, Chile, along the mountains and coast of western South America. Her experiences are immediate, vivid, demanding and colorful. She clearly enjoys the challenge of dipping into and sampling all aspects of local culture. We are with her as she learns to pilot a caballero (reed boat) on the coast of Peru, carries the feast table of Mama Negra in Lacta Cunga, and climbs endless roads and trails to meet the people. Along The Inca Road is a book about the author's experiences with the people as much as about geography and history. After many hair-raising, sometimes hilarious, always challenging and intriguing experiences, she sums it up with the following: "I had once thought that I was embarking on a 'hero's journey' - an odyssey into the unknown, filled with obstacles, success and failure, and newfound knowledge. And so it had been - only I wasn't the hero of this story. I was just the chronicler. The true heroes were the people I met along the way... They had all stopped for a while to lend me a hand. What I learned from them would carry me through the weeks to come. As long as their memories stayed with me, this journey would never really end (p. 294-295)." And even more succinctly, she remarks: "The history books have it all wrong. The Inca Empire was never really conquered. It's alive and well (p.294)." To participate vicariously in her fresh experiences, read this bright travelogue. You won't be able to put it down.
Kirkus Reviews
An observant seven-month trek down the High Road of the Inca Empire from solo adventurer Muller (Hitchhiking Vietnam, not reviewed).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780792277279
  • Publisher: National Geographic Society
  • Publication date: 9/1/2001
  • Series: Adventure Press Series
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.72 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Table of Contents

1 The Thin Red Line 1
2 To the Northernmost Reaches of the Empire 9
3 The People's War 25
4 Mama Negra's Groom 35
5 A Life of Giving 45
6 The Crash 57
7 Into the Dragon's Lair 73
8 Land Mines in Paradise 95
9 A Journey into the Spirit World 117
10 The People of the Clouds 133
11 Twilight of an Empire 153
12 The Patriarch of Huanchaco Beach 159
13 The Walker 171
14 A Mango in the Surf 187
15 The Holy Hub 195
16 Taking the Bull by the Horns 199
17 Ancient Lives in Modern Times 215
18 The Golden Fleece of the Andes 219
19 A Sacred Place 239
20 Lost in the Jungle 243
21 The Traveler 265
22 Cocaine 269
23 The Devil's Dance 277
24 Wheels 287
25 The Chronicler 293
Anatomy of an Adventure 296
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