The agency I booked my trip with (I had to do this four months before arriving in Cusco) placed me with a group of 17 people (of which only two were Peruvian and none was living in Peru at the moment.) To take us through the Trail, the agency hired 3 guides and 25 porters, a total of twenty-eight men. The figure surprised me.
The guides took turns to explain to us whatever we encountered along the walk. They named the natural passes and the archeological sites we arrived at, including Llactapata, Runkuray, Sayaqmarka, Phuyupatamarka and Wiñaywayna, telling us about their significance back when Incas and pre-Incas inhabited them. The stories they told us were comprehensive, or at least as comprehensive as archeological facts mixed with historical speculation and mythical interpretation allow for. Right at the beginning of the trail, right at the first stop and thus, during the first “history capsule”, Edwin, (the only of the three guides who felt comfortable enough speaking in English—more than half of the group spoke no Spanish—), explained that to refer to the ancient peoples as “incas” was incorrect: “Inca was only used to refer to the highest ruler. The rest of them were Quechuas, the Quechua people. What we nowadays call ‘Quechua language’ should be referred to as Runasimi.” Of the three guides, only one, Israel, spoke Runasimi, and this in a limited capacity. He was in charge of communicating with our twenty-five porters.
Porters are, most of the time, local cuzqueños hired by touristic agencies to carry everything that is needed for us, tourists, to experience the historic trail “first-hand”. This includes plastic tables and chairs (for dining), tents, mats and sleeping bags, kitchen tools and utensils, food, cups, plates and everything else —not including clothes and personal items— that the tourist will use to survive in the altitude. Their ages ranged from 23 to 50. All of them came from little towns I have never heard of before. Unlike the guides, they only spoke Runasimi. I wanted to ask them so many questions. Do you identify yourself as Peruvian? Cuzqueño? Quechua? What do you think about these ruins we foreigners travel the world to photograph? Do you cherish them? Do you cherish the nature around them? Both? Neither?