An observant seven-month trek down the High Road of the Inca Empire from solo adventurer Muller (Hitchhiking Vietnam, not reviewed).
Running for 3,000 miles down the spine of the Andes, with enough feeder roads to fashion 15,000 miles of byways, is a network collectively known as the Inca Road. It was the kind of transportation filigree that functioned as a nervous system for the pre-Columbian empire (and also served to facilitate its demise, as the Spanish conquerors enjoyed its benefits as well). The author picks up the road at its northern terminus in Ecuador and follows it down to Chile. She is on the lookout for experiences and, finding them, plays them only for what they are worth, while avoiding any temptation to overdraw and remaining wary of her untutored eye. Fortunately this doesn’t keep her from wading right in. She visits a shaman who specializes in healing the sick by beating them with guinea pigs. (Somewhat in the manner of Woody Allen, he observes that “there are other ways of curing. Tobacco, alcohol.”) She is skeptical, but curious and eager—a good traveler, in other words, who is open to snake oil salesmen and willing to learn how to form a proper wad of coca leaves in her cheek. Throughout, she provides history and eye-opening context (“more than half of the basic foods that feed the world today were born in the southern reaches of the New World”). She also knows how to court danger casually enough to send a few chills up her spine, and her pity and sorrow feel genuine: at the toll taken by landmines strewn about during the region’s many undeclared wars, for example, as well as at the lives of gold miners who are afraid to leave their underground stakes (one man having spent essentially eight years in the deep dank dark).
A journey worth sharing: travel at its spare, energetic best. (photos, not seen)