Dr. Hermosa helps Ernesto and Alberto get “an approximate picture of Peruvian life” and procures them train tickets to Machu Picchu. During an impromptu soccer match there, they meet a hotel owner who lets them stay free of charge and educates them about ancient Inca culture. On the train ride back to the city, Ernesto notes the contrast between the third-class carriages where Indians ride and “comfortable rail coaches” reserved for tourists, most of whom have come to Cuzco because of Machu Picchu’s increasing international popularity. He also remarks on the Indians’ “somewhat animal-like concept” of personal hygiene and their habit of relieving themselves beside the train tracks.
Ernesto resents the wealthy foreign tourists who come to take advantage of South America’s cultural sites without really understanding them. However, he himself still doesn’t respect indigenous people in practice, using derogatory language to describe their habits when they differ from his own. Although Ernesto develops sophisticated cultural theories while looking at cultural ruins, he hasn’t figured out how to apply them to real people yet.
Ernesto spends a lot of time in the archeology museum, even though it is “pretty poor” due to the extensive looting that took place before the government cared enough to protect ancient artifacts. The museum’s curator, who is a mestizo (of mixed indigenous and European descent) speaks to Ernesto not just of archeology, but also of the deplorable present conditions of Indian people. The curator says that immediate economic improvement is necessary to “mitigate the soporific effects of coca and drink.”
The condition of the museum is proof that mainstream society doesn’t value indigenous culture the way Ernesto is beginning to. But the fact that the curator is passionate both about ancient artifacts and the current economic situation seems to confirm Ernesto’s developing theories about the connections between culture and politics.
According to the curator, the goal of archeological study is to help people understand ancient civilizations so that modern Indians can “look at their past and feel pride, rather than, looking at their present, feel only shame.” Ernesto says that the museum is not just a repository for articles of the past but a place of present importance, “proof of a race still fighting for its identity.”
Reclamation of native culture isn’t just important because it makes people feel better—it can have tangible effects on the political and economic situation of working class people. The mestizo curator, a rare example of an Indian who obtained an education and made it into the middle class, is an example of what this process can help accomplish.