a magical journey in an ancient land
One hundred years before Spanish conquistadors arrive in South America, high in the Andes mountains, diviners read the entrails of sacrificed guinea pigs, condors whisper secrets to the snow-capped mountain gods known as Apus, and Machu Picchu is being built stone by sacred stone.
Mara is a 15th-century South American woman swept up in the spectacular rise of the continent’s great pre-Hispanic power: the Inca Empire.
This is her story.
I grew up under the gaze of the white-blanketed mountain that I always knew was there, but never myself saw.
He was the Apu Ausangate, and all the lands from Lake Titicaca to the edge of the cloud forest were his domain. His moods were changeable, his affections shifting. One season he could send gentle rain that made the potatoes flower and grow large and sweet, while the next, he might send driving hail that broke the flowers at their peak.
Visible or not, the Apu knew us—his children, his lovers, his people. We were just another herd, like the llamas and alpacas we tended, requiring caretaking and, occasionally, reprimands in booming voice of thunder, lash of lightning. The mountain had his ways of watching over us. The condor was the Apu’s eyes on the wing. The giant bird soared the afternoon winds, angling his bald head, framed by a ruff of white feathers around the neck. His eyes tracked motions on the earth far below, and when he saw something that interested him, he swooped low to get a closer look.
Once, when I was young enough to have only my baby teeth, I met a condor in the canyon. He was eating a dead vizcacha. With his feet on the ground, he stood as tall as I did. He looked up from his food, spread his huge black and white wings, then folded them again. I felt my heart beat faster as those dark, intelligent eyes took me in.
Photos on this page by Kevin Floerke