Life and Death in the Andes

The Andes Mountains are the world’s longest mountain chain, running for 4,300 miles along the length of South America, from Colombia to Tierra del Fuego. For thousands of years they have been the setting for spectacular, dramatic, and often bloody events, even as they have given birth to some of the world’s great civilizations. In this enthralling blend of history, travel, and adventure, Kim MacQuarrie takes readers on a fascinating journey that explores some of the most remarkable and enigmatic stories – from the ancient Incas to the recent cocaine kings – that have taken place along the mountain chain.

Why did the Incas, for example–who created the largest empire ever to have existed in the Americas–sacrifice children on the Andes’ highest peaks?  What secrets do these “Ice Mummies,” many of whom have remained frozen and perfectly preserved for half a millennium, reveal? On Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, MacQuarrie visits natives who have lived for centuries on strange “floating islands” of reeds and who fashion giant reed boats. Did similar boats once transport people from the Andes to the islands of Polynesia, thousands of miles away?  The Andes also gave birth to the coca plant, whose narcotic ingredients launched the careers of cocaine kings such as Pablo Escobar. MacQuarrie investigates Escobar’s amazing rags-to-riches story as well as the link between Escobar and the myth of El Dorado, the native king who once anointed himself daily with gold.

The rugged Central Andes, meanwhile, is where the continent’s bloodiest guerrilla movement, the Shining Path, erupted. In Peru, MacQuarrie tracks down the unsung police detective who secretly unraveled the Shining Path’s plans just as they were about to seize power. MacQuarrie investigates as well the question of why Che Guevara thought he could initiate a revolution with only a tiny cadre of seasoned guerrillas in one of the remotest areas of the Bolivian Andes. And how was it that the bank robbers Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid got trapped in their own final shootout, not far from where Che died? Finally, what clues did Charles Darwin discover in the Andes that would help him to conceive of the theory of evolution—and what secrets did these same mountains reveal that would lead Hiram Bingham to discover Machu Picchu?  Kim MacQuarrie investigated these stories and more while on his own epic journey down the length of the Andes, brilliantly illuminating the captivating and remarkable history of South America’s most majestic chain of mountains.