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11:52am on Sunday, 1st April, 2007:

Places I'd Like to Visit #4


Continuing the occasional series...

If I had the time and the money, some day I'd like to visit Cuzco — or Cusco as it's now formally spelled. It'll always be Cuzco to me, though.

When I was at secondary school, we were made to get books out of the school library in the vain hope that this would cause us to read them. Sometimes, for example if it was raining outside at lunchtime, we would actually read them. One day, while trapped in the library over a wet break, I found a big, white hardback with the impressive title: Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru. Although a factual book roughly an inch thick, it was nevertheless both riveting and rollicking (especially to a 14-year-old boy); I took it out and read it in the space of a week.

The book concerned the invasion and conquest of the Incan Empire by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1532. It took a reasonably neutral stance (neither the Spaniards nor the Incans behaved in ways that we would today regard as moral). I liked it not so much for the stories of how 106 infantry and 62 cavalry could beat an army of around 80,000, but rather because of the picture it painted of the Incan Empire. It was very vivid, very detailed and very exciting. I'd heard of the Incans when I read the book, of course, but I didn't know all that much about them: now, I was able to get a sense of the Incan world, what it must have been like, how it must have worked, how the people must have lived. It was gloriously different, and yet somehow still tangible.

It's the echo of that tangibility, nearly 500 years later, that attracts me to the ancient Incan capital, Cuzco.

Although I haven't been to Cuzco, one of my schoolfriends has: after finishing Pizarro and the Conquest of Peru, I enthusiastically recommended it to him and he was taken by it as much as I was, if not more. Some 10 years later, after university, he went on a trip to Peru (the famous Incan site near Cuzco, Machu Picchu, was in the process of being noticed by the more adventurous tour companies). From his reports, it was far better than he was expecting, and I believe he may have been back there since.

Will I ever visit the place? Probably not: I don't have the necessary powers to persuade my wife to go along with the idea. Not even the fact that its high altitude gives it the highest levels of ultraviolet radiation of any city in the world (and she'd therefore be guaranteed to get a tan) would work.

Unless ... Hmm, maybe if I tracked down a copy of the book...

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Copyright © 2007 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).