The Owners of Machu Picchu
When I met Roxanna Abrill, she hadn’t returned to Machu Picchu in years because, she explained, each visit caused her such pain and resentment. It meant having to remember the many things she and her family had lost. It was the summer of 2006 in the southern hemisphere, and the morning she agreed to return, the sun shone intensely in the Andes. We arrived at the end of the line, at the train station of Aguas Calientes, a small tourist town just below Machu Picchu, built in a narrow valley along the flood-prone banks of the Vilcanota River. We walked toward an office not far from the town square, to buy our tickets to Machu Picchu. Or, as Abrill noted, the tickets that would allow her to enter the land she considered to be her own property. She’d never told her story to a journalist before. It just sounded so preposterous.
Abrill claims to be the rightful owner of the land on which Machu Picchu rests—undoubtedly some of the most valuable real estate in the Americas. She was about fifty years old, had never married or had children, in part because she’d been responsible for her family’s finances since her father’s death in June of 1976. He had a heart attack in Lima, while filing a petition to recover a portion of the land that had been expropriated from him. Not long after his passing, Abrill had been awarded a Fulbright to study history in the United States, an opportunity she turned down. Her mother said she would die of sadness if Roxanna left her alone in Cusco, and so she stayed, and has spent much of her adult life caring for her mother. If there is any resentment, she does not voice it. Abrill had worked for years as a curator and historian at the museum at the University of San Antonio Abad in Cusco. In recent years though, her energies have increasingly been focused on collecting all the pieces of evidence that support her family’s claim to its improbable inheritance.more from The Virginia Quarterly Review