The resolve to retrace the path of Cortes' army, born of ""pleasant winter evenings"" spent poring over Prescott's Conquest, hardly seems auspicious grounds for a norteamericano's meeting with rural Mexico. In fact, Bruccoli is far from the dumb gringo he makes himself out to be. Fluent in Spanish -- even fielding a few words in Nahautl and Tlaxcalan when the occasion arises -- he is more than willing to consider the merits of pulque and concede the superiority of huaraches to his store-bought walking shoes. And, most important for the traveler, he is the first to recognize his own ridiculousness. Accompanied by the machete-wielding butcher's helper, Honorio, Bruccoli tramps through the eastern sierra, suffering torn feet (he recalls ruefully that the conquistadores soothed theirs with the fat of a rendered Indian) and barely survives the drunken hospitality of a local judge. In the village where Bernal Diaz counted 100,000 skulls, Bruccoli is laid low by Montezuma's revenge, and having discovered the archetypal Indio maiden he finds that she is a proselytizing Jehovah's Witness. Thus, ""having swallowed dust with them on their trail,"" Bruccoli's identification with the conquistadores turns out to be more than a scholar's caprice; it grows out of a receptivity to contradiction that makes him a consummate traveling companion, adaptable but discerning, knowledgeable but ready to laugh away his academic preconceptions. His progress is amiable indeed.