Excerpt: Missing in Machu Picchu by Cecilia Velastegui

Missing in Machu Picchu
By: Cecilia Velastegui
Publisher: Libros Publishing
Published: June 4, 2013
Genre: Thriller/Chick-Lit

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High in the Andes Mountains on the legendary Inca Trail, four thirty-something professional women embark on an Ivy League hike to help them confront their online dating dependency, only to find themselves victims of a predator’s ruse, and soon in a fight for their very lives. The women are eager to leave relationships behind for a while, but their intent to cast off their search for a soul mate falls by the wayside when handsome, magnetic Rodrigo, their hike leader, proves too mesmerizing to resist. Friend is pitted against friend as the women vie for Rodrigo’s attentions. Rodrigo manipulates them into participating in a heinous ancient sacrifice that will guarantee the success of his megalomaniacal dreams. But unbeknownst to the hikers, they have been under the vigilant presence of Taki and Koyam, two elderly indigenous women who understand the danger the women are facing at the hands of Rodrigo.

Gossip is the hot brew that warms an icy heart. Koyam and Taki could always count on the mouthwatering taste of gossip to fire them up on the bitingly cold Andean mornings. The promise of chitchat made these two elderly street vendors suck their shriveled fingers with anticipation of the succulent details coming their way. But they were no mere chattering birds: they saw themselves as honorable listeners who never passed the tattling down the grapevine without a good reason or acted maliciously on hearsay.

Gossip simply provided tasty tidbits they could mull over while they sold their homemade souvenirs to the foreign tourists wandering Cusco’s frigid Plaza de Armas. For the last three years, ever since Machu Picchu was added to the list of the Seven Wonders of the World, foreigners had descended like ravenous locusts, hungry to check yet another “Third World” Eden off their bucket list of exotic vacations.

On any other morning, these old friends would have sat on the cobblestones of the plaza, adjusting their voluminous black skirts, chewing and regurgitating each savory morsel the same way their llamas leisurely grazed on the distant hills. But not today. Today, they didn’t even have the stomach to ridicule the gringo tourists pacing erratically in the Plaza de Armas, jittery after drinking too many cups of brewed coca leaf tea, shouting into their cell phones. The word they’d overheard outside the Internet café on this frosty January morning was bitter and poisonous, poker-hot. It singed Koyam’s heart, and inflamed her with a searing rage.

“Rodrigo! Did the gringa just say––Rodrigo?” she hissed, strangling the corners of her old alpaca shawl.

“Indeed, she did,” said Taki. “But the youngest gringa said Rod. Perhaps they are speaking about a different man.”

“If it is Rodrigo, they are not talking about a human being––they’re talking about a monstrosity––”

“Calm down, Koyam, you always overreact. Let’s get a little closer to the gringas and listen to what they’re saying.”

“We can get as close as flies in quinoa stew, but we’re still not going to understand all the gringa chatter,” Koyam retorted.

“We understand a lot more than they think we do.” A mischievous grin lit up Taki’s wrinkled bronze face. “How do you think we haggle and pester them into buying our souvenirs?”

Koyam didn’t answer. She stared across the plaza towards the twin bell towers of the cathedral, silently invoking the sacred mountain beyond: Huanacauri. She didn’t dare utter the name Rodrigo, not even as she begged her ancestors to curse this beast for eternity. She thought he had left Cusco for good, but if he was back, Koyam would be forced to retaliate.

Her lips were clamped, her mouth tight as the stone walls her Inca ancestors built in their sacred city. All these centuries later, it was impossible to wedge even a credit card between those stones. She and Taki loved to watch the tourists try, laughing whenever they broke their funny money: it was their very own street-clown show. Koyam didn’t care if the credit cards were ruined. She and Taki only dealt in cash.

But today Koyam wasn’t laughing. She sealed her lips so her prayers could not be observed by anyone else in the plaza. Her great-grandchildren often scolded her for openly talking about the ancient ways: the old beliefs in huacas, the sacred places and objects so revered by their ancestors. They forbade her to mention the supernatural being who feasted on sacrifices on top Anahuarqui Mountain. They admonished her as if she were the village idiot, and not their seventy-year-old matriarch who still helped support the family. She felt sorry for them. Not only had they lost respect, they were forgetting the ancient ways. It would be their loss not to have Anahuarqui on their side.

Koyam tried to remind them of the words of Manco Capac, their emperor from centuries ago: “Do not forget us, your ancestors. Adore and cherish what we hold dear. The deities, the sun and moon, speak to us. Don’t forget your ancestors who are all around you, watching everything that you do. Honor them. Respect them or they will––”

She never got to finish the rest of Manco’s speech, made hundreds of years ago at nearby Ollantaytambo. Once her great-grandchildren had accomplished the purpose of their visit––to lecture Koyam, as usual––they fled to their next appointment. They all wanted to be perceived as young and modern professionals, working diligently in the tourist-related industries that had blossomed in Cusco in the last decade.

Every once in a while Koyam’s sweet-talking great-granddaughters stopped by the plaza, saying they just wanted to chat with her and Taki before meeting up with a tour group outside the cathedral. They liked to remind Koyam that she should be happy they were living in such an advanced and technologically superior era. Taki knew what they really wanted: to shame their great-grandmother into silence, to stifle what they saw as her antiquated mumbo-jumbo about mummies and sacrifice and the afterlife. They didn’t want her to feed tourists any pseudo-mystical gruel like the bogus shamans who set up shop in the shadowy outskirts of the plaza, offering the tourists a temporary high, and lots of nonsensical talk about the cosmos and harmony. 



 Cecilia Velástegui was born in Ecuador and raised in California and France.  She received her graduate degree from the University of Southern California and speaks four languages.  In addition to her literary endeavors, Velástegui serves on the board of directors of several educational and cultural institutions. She donates the proceeds of her novels to the fight against human trafficking, a central theme of her novels.


One Thought on “Excerpt: Missing in Machu Picchu by Cecilia Velastegui

  1. The beast feast high on the Andes Mountains.

    SO cant wait to read this. It sounds so good.

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