The interview — Ricardo Espinoza

“The great Inca trail unites the towns of the Andes on foot”

 Interview with Ricardo Espinoza, “the walker”.

 About Ricardo:

I was born in Lima in 1960. I grew up in Magdalena. I studied at the colegio Inmaculada. I read general studies at the Universidad Catolica, and then I dropped out of university; I’d always known I would: I wanted to go travelling. Ever since my teenage years walking in the natural world, through the country, was something vital to me. I speak a little Quechua, but I still haven’t had the motivation to learn it thouroughly… and I haven’t found anywhere where they teach it. You meet marvellous people walking through the Andes… Andean reciprocity is a living law. We have to understand that we are the foreigners there.

“The great Inca trail is the name I give to the great longitudinal path going from north to south along the spine of the Andes and which in pre-Hispanic times, according to historians and researchers, was known as the Qapaq Ñan. But now they call it the integrated road system. I’ve walked most of this route – from Quito to La Paz – in 1999, about 4000km over some seven months, after having done another 2000km of the transversal routes between the coast and the high mountains, during ’97 and ’98. I thought about walking the paths between the peaks and the rainforest. It’s like doing the vertebral column and the ribs. I havent done the third part and I’m not going to,” explains Ricardo Espinoza.

Who did you travel with?

With Ecuadorian, Peruvian and Bolivian archeaologists, making a simple record of the route. We couldn’t do more as the budget wasn’t up to it. But we did do something more important, which was making known that these paths are usable, and that’s what we all have to do: walk along them.

That’s the point of the book.

Absolutely. And it’s already had a great effect: there are a lot of people walking the trails, and projects involving them.

What kind of projects?

The main project, for example, on which I worked with the World Conservation Union, but with which I reached an impasse as Peruvians say, during the last government, specifically with Señora Karp [an archaeologist and the wife of the last president]. There’s another group called the Peregrinos el Qapaq Ñan [Qapaq Ñan Pilgrims] which is the one I like most, as they take the route as a real way to show the world an alternative to globalization and fast food and all that, walking slowly, uniting people, performing ceremonies with the apus. They’re reviving the heritage of their ancestors.

How did you get to know them?

Because in a sense they’re inspired by my work, in what I’ve shown them. The thing is that this path was so big that nobody could see it.

What is it that you find walking along it?

You can find everything along its thousands of kilometres. And it’s just one path, and not many, for a reason. Because it answers the question asked by Jesus Mendoza in 1505: “If I want to get to Cusco as fast as possible, what route do I take?” That’s the Qapaq Ñan. The route is Inca because there had never been a group before with such a large territory and governance on such a grand scale as to need such a huge route.

What’s the trail like?

In some cases a road has been built along it, for instance between Cusco and Puno, or between Quito and Cuenca, because the route is still in use today. In other regions, such as Conchucos or between Cajamarca and Junin, the trail is an elevated causeway standing 40 or 50cm above a plain subject to flooding, and ten or twelve metres wide. Extraodinary. All of this was made by the Incas and by nobody else. There’s no reason to call it the Andean trail. And nobody has walked as many kilometres of it as I have.

What was the highest part of the trail?

The highest part was 4,500 metres.

What was it like walking along there?

 By experiences aren’t much to go by, as the climate has never affected me much, but I can tell you that the Spanish abandoned the trail very quickly. Although they used it in the beginning, later they only used the east-west routes, as they were only interested in the sea.

What are the people like who live along the trail?

You find that the reciprocity of the Andes is a living law. It’s something that we westerners will never understand. It works with travellers too. They greet you as though you’re one of them back from a journey: with the best room in the house, food, and kind words, like an old friend. They somehow sustain the traveller.

And do they give you information?

If you’re a researcher, then yes. They know where the trail goes that their father used, or, if you ask an old man, that he used when he was a boy, that was shown to him by his grandparents and made by the Incas. “They say that it goes to Cajamarca, they say that it leads to Cusco.”But they don’t have any real idea that the path leads to Colombia or to Argentina. And when I’ve shown them the book, they see that the culture is the same for all that distance. It’s a path that unites and integrates the Andes, that’s the marvellous thing about the Qapaq Ñan. The Inca trail covers a distance that in Europe would go between Lisbon and Moscow; in North America, from Miami to Alaska. Only here, the average altitude is 3200m.

In the book, you tell a few anecdotes from your journey.

Yes. And more than enthusing people, they seem to disuade them from visiting, because they have to go into this with absolute respect. For instance, once the local defense group chased us because they thought we were bandits. We have to understand that, on the Qapaq Ñan, it’s we who are the foreigners.

2 Responses

  1. Where can I purchase the books, especially Peru a toda costa, in English?

  2. Where can I get a copy of accurate maps of the Inca Highway system? Is your book available in English? If so, where?

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