Lesson Learned on the Inca Trail


Abstract needed here…


During the course of my career, I have literally traveled to the far corners of the earth. What still continues to surprise me is the fact that beyond the language and other differences, globalization has created a relatively homogenous international society. In search of something new and unique, I was therefore tempted by the promise of Peru. A country that has remained relatively untouched by the blatant commercialism of Western cultures, Peru became my vacation destination in late 2004.

Traveling from the airport to my hotel in Lima, I was greeted by evidence of the difference between Peru and most business destinations graffiti highlighting that this was still a third world nation. But Lima was just a stopover. I was destined for Cusco, the center of the Inca nation, or as some would have it, the center of the Universe at that time in history. Perched high in the Andes, Cusco was established as a cultural and spiritual center over 500 years ago. When the Spanish ‘discovered’ Cusco, they were greeted by stone structures, massive boulders flawlessly matched together to create temples to worship the deities of that time. Clad in pure gold, ceilings and walls reflected the power and grandeur of a culture that clearly understood both nature and science. In the harsh mountain terrain, aqueducts had been crafted to create an endless supply of water. Terraces filled with fertile soil transformed inhospitable and rocky ground into gardens that produced an array of corn, potatoes and other crops to feed the Inca nation. Granaries and warehouses carved into mountain sides stored enough food to feed the Incas and the other cultures they had absorbed for many years. An astonishing feat accomplished by sophisticated agronomy and horticultural skills.

Along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Photographer: Michael Powers
Wilderness Travel, www.wildernesstravel.com

The Spanish conquerors destroyed the ‘Pagan temples’, retaining the foundations on which they built lavish cathedrals. European artisans taught the indigenous population how to carve wood into extravagant rococo chapels, to paint pictures of the lives and deaths of saints and festoon these homages to another God with pure gold and silver. The Inca rulers were crushed, and today their descendants have been lost in the despair of many centuries of Conquistadors.

Several hours by train from this cultural Mecca, yet another testimony to the skills and talents of the Inca’s remains. Machu Picchu; an enigmatic legacy from a nation that harnessed the environment in a way that has sustained until today. The same aqueducts that fed the crops 500 years ago are still evident in this mountain retreat. Farmers graze their Llamas and Alpacas on the terraced mountainside, the grass nourished through the natural processes that have endured through centuries. The passing of time is only apparent in the roofless structures that once housed the elite members of the Inca leadership. It is believed that they came to Machu Picchu as a retreat where the thought leadership of the nation spawned new ideas, studied astrology, archeology and other sciences that they incorporated into their culture and legacy.

In Machu Picchu there is no evidence of Christian icons that are the legacy of the Spanish Conquistadors. Here the wise men and woman of the Inca culture worshipped Pacha Mama and Pacha Papa, celebrating the earth mother and father in a series of simple temples hewn from the massive rock that was already there in this mountain citadel. Hidden from the rest of the world until relatively recently, Machu Picchu remains a mystery in terms of when it was inhabited and what caused the abandonment of this esoteric community.

Perhaps one of the reasons this culture failed to survive was due to the polarization between the intelligentsia and the proletariat. The invasion of the Spanish removed the layer of creativity and innovation, leaving a vacuum that was not filled. Once this leadership was lost, the nation became directionless and has subsisted on the legacy of the past to this day. Peru is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. The culture of the Incas, that predicted the future and recorded events in kiputaques (a series of knotted strings, creating a library for those who know how to decipher them) is not apparent in the populace of Cusco, Lima or any of the major centers. The light has gone out from the eyes of their descendants -the spirit of the nation that created these wonders no longer in evidence.

Torn by dictatorships, guerilla warfare and economic hard times, Peru is a country with a glorious past and an uncertain future. Tourism, currently one of the major sources of foreign exchange is threatened by an underlying hint of violence, crime and political unrest. Gold, a legacy of their ancestors, continues to provide employment and national income. (However, this is a wealth that is not shared with the populace, who are some of the poorest people in the world.) Agrarian communities still work the land with Llamas, crude implements and tools that have remained unchanged for centuries.

Traveling through Peru gives one a feeling of a land lost in time. Many homes still have no electricity or running water. Textiles are dyed by traditional means, fabrics woven using skills passed down from generation to generation. Paradoxically, the only evidence of the current millennium is in the ubiquity of the World Wide Web. Even the smallest village boasts an Internet Cafe, where locals part with hard earned currency to communicate with other cultures. This thirst for knowledge is heightened by years of exclusion from global information. What are they learning from these cultures beyond the realms of the Incas? More importantly, how will this society, with such deep connections to the past, embrace the future, in order to create a society that can join the 21st century to feed the people and create a middle class?

The Peruvian economy is controlled by a privileged few, a model that is not sustainable if this country is to participate in true globalization. The inability to attract significant trade or investment due to the crime and lack of democratic principles in the nation should be addressed as a matter of urgency. The current imbalance of financial power needs to be addressed. The natural resources need to be harnessed by all, creating an economy that is self fuelled, encouraging investment and stability. Peru can learn from countries that share the legacy of lost empires, for example China, and examine the principles of their ancestors to create a sustainable economic environment. The ancient Incas understood these components of success, which include:

  • Create an economy based on tangible and renewable assets.
  • Feed the nation through careful agrarian practices and skillful global trade (Peru has gone from an exporter of food to an importer).
  • Ensure political stability – replace the current corrupt public service environment with a democratic model with ethical standards for all.
  • Educate the people – develop the skills required to provide a workforce that attracts investment and development.
  • Enhance the infrastructure – this includes the installation of both physical and digital highways to ensure mobility of people, products and information.
  • Embrace technology- the skills of the artisans can be harnessed, moving from producers of trinkets for tourists to producers of global consumer goods.
  • Open the gateways- the long Peruvian coastline provides access to rich markets in the Asia Pacific region- create incentives for global traders to embrace these shores.

Peru stands at the cross road between the past and the future-perhaps the road ahead is a digital highway. The first links to this “yellow brickroad” already exist in the Internet cafes, where other cultures and technologies are showcased for the Peruvian populace. The convergence between computing and communication creates opportunities for the descendants of one of the highest cultures of the last millennium. We hope they will rediscover the spirit of the lost nation and create a new Inca trail.

Scroll to Top