I wish my life were as interesting as Karin Muller’s. Unfortunately, it is not. I’ve won a grant or two, even one that will send me to England next year, but nothing I have ever done or will ever do will be as cool as what Muller’s done with her grant from the National Geographic Society. Here, let me break it down for you. Have you ever:
1. Gone a on a six-month jaunt through Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Chile, with a camera man in tow?
2. Map in hand, gone in search for remnants of the ancient stone-paved Inca Road that crisscrosses South America?
3. Been hit over the head with a squealing Guinea pig, only then to be told your diagnosis by the look of its entrails?
4. Been tear-gassed in an indigenous antigovernment protest?
5. Witnessed the mysterious crash of a Brazilian military helicopter in the Andean highlands?
6. Watched a military crew clear live mines that Peruvians planted during the Ecuador-Peruvian border war?
7. Donned an orange cloak and gold sparkles to pull a roast pig (clocking in at 200 pounds) during the traditional Festival of Mama Negra?
Oh, you haven’t? Yeah, me neither. But Karin Muller has, and better yet, she’s interwoven into her adventures the vibrant story of the rise and fall of the Incan Empire. The remnants of the Incan people are everywhere in her travels, and she takes us from the persistence of ancient shamanism (curanderismo) to roundups of vicunas (which, by the way, are adorable), and the harvesting of coca leaves. She explores ancient traditions like chewing coca leaves, as well as contemporary problems, like the cocaine industry. That’s right—there’s a lively history lesson to be found in there too.
My life will probably never be this fascinating. But with any luck, for an evening, I’ll live vicariously through Karin Muller, and witness her South American adventures as if they were my own. If you’ve ever had an inkling for South America, or for adventure in general, I would suggest that on May 7th and 8th, you do too.