Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewed by Danny Heap
While thousands of gringos follow the Inca trail through Ecuador and Peru, in Cloud Road John Harrison ventures off the beaten track, following the route of the Camino Real, the Inca Royal Road that runs through the Andes. Linking the distant parts of Tawantinsuyu (Inca empire), the road once allowed teams of Inca relay runners to carry messages across the empire in a matter of days.
This is no stroll in the mountains for Harrison though, rather a 600-mile slog through harsh country - the cold, the rain and the altitude all take a toll on Harrison’s morale as he ventures into parts of the Andes where travellers are rarely seen. This is a journey to places where life is tough and the poverty very real; places barely touched by the luxuries of the modern world and where there’s a constant battle between human beings and the elements.
As he ventures along his journey, Harrison experiences first-hand the spirit and determination of the Andean people. He brings to life the landscape he treks through, the abandoned Inca ruins and the spirit and pride of the people who live there. There’s also humour, not least of all in his relationship with Dapple, the archetypal stubborn donkey that he buys to aid his journey but who becomes more of a hindrance than a help.
Harrisons’s trek is a journey not just in the geographical and physical sense but also in the mind. Harrison copes with feelings of fear, loneliness and isolation, finding out not just about the people he meets and places he sees, but also about himself.
A mixture of travel literature, Inca history and something altogether more personal, Cloud Road makes a great addition to the literature on the Incas and Peru. This is a must read for those who want to get below the surface and find out about the real Peru.
Danny Heap works in the sales department of Lonely Planet’s London office.
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