Don Nazario Turpo died a stupid death. The driver of the bus in which he was traveling from Saylla to Cuzco didn’t realize that the local campesinos were making one of their quixotic low-tech protests—placing stones and tree trunks across the road without warning. Fourteen others besides Nazario died in the crash, and fifty were wounded. I had met Nazario, the pacu, or shaman, of Ausangate, a couple of years before at Machu Picchu. Long after the other tourists had gone, he sat in the quiet of the ruins and told my daughter’s fortune.


“I’m coming back to Peru,” Rebecca whispered to me as we walked past grazing llamas in the dusk.


“But not to Machu Picchu,” Nazario said the next morning. The impregnable fortress of the Incas had fallen to the forces of mass tourism. Every day, foreigners by the hundreds were arriving from Aguas Calientes on buses belching diesel, and charging down the Inca Trail and through the Sun Gate. They came guzzling pisco sours on the $500 Orient-Express deluxe day-trip from Cuzco, gazing seraphically at campesinos tilling their fields with hand ploughs—a journey to what is fast becoming one of the world’s most endangered gorgeous sites.


Nazario had mentioned another ancient Incan citadel, a name full of guttural q’s in the local Quechua language. No one went to this place. When my friend Roger e-mailed me with news of Nazario’s death I wrote back to ask if he knew about this sister to Machu Picchu.


“Choquequirao,” Roger answered instantly. “Even more beautiful than Machu Picchu. When do you want to go?”


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Pub Date
February, 2009



When Machu Picchu is overrun with tour buses, Choquequirao—, just twenty-five miles away and accessible only on foot—, is deserted. I set off with my daughter on a five-day trek and discovered the secret of Peru’s original El Dorado.

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