The Hostile Environment *
Beyond the steps of the steep Cordilleras, Beyond the mists where the black eagles soar, Higher than the summits hollowed out into funnels, Where the familiar lava boils in bloody flow....
-- Lecomte de Lisle, Le sommeil du condor
Those determinists who seek at any cost to explain every social order in terms of its natural environment would be greatly embarrassed by the case of the Incas. They will not find here the essential elements that, according to them, make possible the birth of a great civilization.1 The cradle of the Inca Empire is an area situated far from the sea, without any navigable river, afflicted with a harsh climate and a barren soil, broken up by mountains and torrential streams, and surrounded by deserts and virgin forests. No country in the world seems better to have deserved the praise of which Europe was deemed worthy than does this plateau lost in the center of a vast continent: everything here was inferior except man himself.
To understand the attraction of a place where Nature is so niggardly, one must have seen this part of South America, so distant and so little known. It is a region that the traveler hesitates to traverse, but where he discovers such marvelous horizons that he____________________