****The White Rock

Inca Masonry

(photo: c2.staticflickr.com)

By Hugh Thomson – When I was in the 7th grade I came into possession, I cannot recall how, of a pamphlet about the Incas. No more than 20 pages, it was probably not scientifically accurate, especially since understandings about this civilization have evolved considerably since it was published, primed with new discoveries and interpretations, but it seized hold of my imagination, and I’ve never recovered. The Incas built on the achievements of previous groups to extend their empire throughout the high Andes, establishing looser affiliations with trading partners in the jungles and on the coast, until their offhand destruction by the Pizarro brothers in the 1500’s.

No surprise, then, I was easy prey to the charms of The White Rock: An Exploration of the Inca Heartland, which tells of TV documentarian Hugh Thomson’s several bold trips through Inca country as a young man in his twenties and, after waiting out the passing plague of the ultra-violent Shining Path movement, his renewed adventures seeking as-yet unexplored and under-explored Inca cities, including Old Vilcabamba, the last jungle redoubt of the last Sapa Inca, Tupac Amaru. Thomson weaves into his narrative the history of the Incas and the state of native Peruvians today. The book contains several maps (which could have been keyed to his journeys), a glossary, and welcome photographs.

Inca stairs, Emmanuel Dyan

(photo: Emmanuel Dyan, Creative Commons license)

The possibility of new discoveries yet to be made is part of the continuing appeal of Andean exploration. The conquistadors were so intent on acquiring gold and silver that they ignored everything else, and Peru “is one of the few places left in the world where new ruins continue to be discovered,” says Thomson.

Because the Inca had no written language, and because their arts were destroyed by the fires of smelters or simple desecration, their remaining stone buildings, having stood half a millennium or more, are a stubborn, silent testament to their achievements.

This book is a tribute to the adventurers who are looking up, up to the mountains, following the ancient Inca roads. Well beyond the Machu Picchu overrun by tourists lies a world of still-unknown cities and outposts. Overlooked in the days of human betrayal, and sometimes hidden by encroaching nature, the old Inca roads and stone stairs beckon.