Imagining the rich history of Cuzco, Ernesto says there are “two or three ways the city can be summoned.” He first recounts the Inca legend wherein a god, Viracocha, personally selected the ground on which to build the city. As Inca power grew, Cuzco was the center of their “formidable empire.” However, the city that was the “navel” of a strong indigenous empire has been “destroyed by the stupidity of illiterate Spanish conquistadors” and is now only visible in the “violated ruins” that have survived to modern times.
Here, Ernesto completely reverses dominant stereotypes about indigenous people and European colonizers. Rather than imagining Europeans bringing civilization to primitive and weak people, he describes the tragedy of a strong and sophisticated society wrecked by brainless invaders. This new narrative empowers the indigenous people who are descendants of that ancient civilization by hinting at the kind of society they could rise up and rebuild.
Ernesto describes the tourist’s Cuzco, aesthetically pleasing with “colored-tile roofs” and “gentle uniformity,” and passes on to the conquistador’s Cuzco. Even though Ernesto is saddened and ashamed by the memory of the conquistadors, the grandeur of Cuzco’s colonial museums and libraries compel him to feel some grudging respect for the colonial endeavor. Ernesto says that he tried to explore all the versions of Cuzco during his stay in the city.
Ernesto is drawn to the colonial architecture, possibly because it represents the parts of his own heritage he doesn’t want to think about. Breaking away from his middle-class roots turns out to be more complicated and difficult than changing his appearance or the people he hangs out with.