Monthly Archives: May 2019

The Sacred Valley of Peru

“The reasons the Incas called this the ‘Sacred Valley’ are all around you. Discover them in each of our explorations.”

So read the welcome note left on a desk in our hotel room. It rang true: The mountains and fields and Incan terraces surrounding the hotel amounted to quite an awe-inspiring scene.

I’m not sure I was even aware of the Sacred Valley of Peru prior to this trip. I knew about Machu Picchu, and I suppose if you had mentioned the Incan empire, I would have had vague awareness of the history. But five days of hiking and biking around the valley guided by experts brought the history and culture to life. The history of the Incan trails is pretty interesting, and it’s cool to be able to still walk on many of the trails, many of which were built over 500 years ago.

Most intriguing to me was how the Incas saw God in nature. Mountains were God. Trees were God. Rain was God. Many of us feel a sense of awe in nature. Turning that sense of awe into a full religious fervor is something else entirely. Archaeoastronomy is apparently the study of “how ancient peoples incorporated the sun, moon and stars into their daily lives.” The religious connection to the mountains is multiplied by Peru’s insane weather. As someone told Mark Adams in his book below, “I was in the Sacred Valley in 1983 when a hailstorm knocked out ninety percent of the corn crop in fifteen minutes…So if your perception is that the mountains control weather, you’re going to try to make those mountains happy.”

Machu Picchu itself is a sight to behold. Of course, it’s famous, so it’s crawling with people, which distracts a bit from the sacred vibe. It’s still awe-inspiring to see a mini stone city nestled amidst the Andes. And it’s hard to imagine thousands of men carrying thousands of heavy stones to build the buildings, with no modern stone carving tools. The purpose of Machu Picchu is debated among archeologists and historians to this day. Maybe it was a mini temple. Maybe it was simply the home of the Inca. Maybe it was meant as a stop on a longer pilgrimage. Who knows.

In Johan Reinhard’s book — quoted by Mark Adams in the book I link to below — he suggests that “trying to understand places like Machu Picchu and Vitcos as individual, self-contained sites misses a larger point. These monuments were built in relation to the sun, the stars, the mountains—and to one another.”

There are many microclimates in the Valley, and hikes, bike rides, and car tours available at different elevations. On our last day, we climbed to 14,000 feet and experienced a moonscape-like set of lakes and paddies nestled in the the high Andes mountains. There were no other people; just alpacas and shepherds. The whole scene felt quite distinct from the river trails in the basin of the valley.

Overall, I’d rank this part of Peru up there in terms of outdoor activities combined with historical interestingness. (Note that the city of Lima is generally not a recommended stop for tourists and my one day there on the way home didn’t move me to challenge that recommendation.)

The book “Turn Right at Machu Picchu” by Mark Adams is a really engaging tour through Peru and the Sacred Valley from a modern travel writer. The first 20% is slow going, but the last 80% was excellent. Recommended reading if you’re traveling to Peru and aren’t aware of Hiram Bingham’s explorations. Here are some highlights from my Kindle reading of the book:

Measured in square miles, the country is not especially large. On a globe it looks like a swollen California. Within that space, though, are twenty-thousand-foot peaks, the world’s deepest canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), unmapped Amazon jungle and the driest desert on earth. Peru is an equatorial country that depends on glaciers for drinking water. It’s one of the world’s hot spots for seismic and volcanic activity. (Both Lima and Cusco have been leveled by earthquakes; the country’s second-largest city, Arequipa, sits beneath a smoking peak that could blow its top at any time.) Scientists have calculated that there are thirty-four types of climatic zones on the face of the earth. Peru has twenty of them.

“But if the mules do get in front, let them go because they’re stupid and they do stupid things. Of course you know not to stand within”—here he spread his arms wide—“of a mule. I saw a kid a few weeks ago with a hole kicked in the side of his head. He’ll probably get better because he’s a kid. I’ve seen adults with dented skulls that are never going to heal.”

When Bingham saw [Machu Picchu], it was largely in ruins, torn apart by Spanish religious fanatics infuriated by Inca paganism and generations of Andean treasure seekers looking for Inca gold.

“For two weeks out of every year, the sun comes straight down this corridor,” John said, sweeping his gloved hands backward as if he were a matador ushering in the solar bull. “It’s right on the June solstice line, the point where the sun rises on the shortest day of the year. And it’s a straight shot to Machu Picchu. The Incas probably hung some sort of golden sheet or reflector at the end of it to reflect sunlight back to Machu Picchu. Can you imagine how spectacular that would have been? Machu Picchu would’ve still been dark, waiting for the sunrise, when the reflection would just shoot across the valley! “And in that direction

The masonry, like that of most Inca masterworks, tilted slightly inward and tapered as it went up. “Owing to the absence of mortar,” Bingham wrote, “there are no ugly spaces between the rocks. They might have grown together.”

There’s an old kitchen maxim that squid should either be cooked for two minutes or two hours. A similar rule could be applied to Machu Picchu. With a good guide—there are dozens of them lingering by the front entrance—a visitor who’s short on time can see the highlights of Machu Picchu in two hours. A visit of two days, though, allows enough time to take in the site’s full majesty.

One of the major factors in the rise of archaeology had been the birth of the public museum.

“Of course. What’s the difference between Bingham and a huaquero at this point? Nothing. Bingham was very clever at marketing himself. He managed to make himself look like the discoverer. That’s a legend that needs to be completely thrown out.”

Aside from a small group of scholars, administrators, and lawyers at Yale, almost everyone with an interest in Machu Picchu agreed that the artifacts Bingham took should be returned. There has long been, however, some (politically incorrect) doubt about Peru’s ability to take proper care of its antiquities. The National Museum in Lima was notoriously robbed of hundreds of irreplaceable objects in the late 1970s. The Museo Inka in Cusco had twenty-two gold pieces stolen in 1993. One well-known explorer I spoke with recalled handing mummies and artifacts over to the INC, only to return later and learn that they’d been lost or stolen. In 2008, a pair of vendors operating a souvenir shop off the main plaza in Cusco was found with 690 Inca and pre-Inca artifacts; they’d been hawking them on the Internet.

Just now, when we thought there was practically no portion of the Earth’s surface still unknown, when the discovery of a single lake or mountain, or the charting of a remote strip of coast line was enough to give a man fame as an explorer, one member of the daredevil explorers’ craft has “struck it rich,” struck it so dazzlingly rich, indeed, that all his confrères may be pardoned if they gnash their teeth in chagrin and turn green with envy. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about that extraordinary sentence is that it happened to be true.

The irony of Bingham’s prosecution is that he really was smuggling artifacts out of the country, hundreds of them—just not those that Valcárcel had accused him of. The previous year, the historian Christopher Heaney has written, Bingham had negotiated the purchase of 366 Inca artifacts from Tomás Alvistur, the son-in-law of Huadquiña’s owners. After a bit of haggling, the antiquities were smuggled out of Peru and arrived in New Haven, where they outshone the pieces that Bingham had excavated at Machu Picchu. … “Frankly, Bingham didn’t find shit. He bought the Alvistur stuff.” This was the collection of 366 artifacts from the son-in-law of Huadquiña’s owner. “Machu Picchu was completely sacked before Bingham was born. Far and away the best stuff that Bingham got out of Machu Picchu he didn’t find—he bought. The funny thing was, Bingham snuck that stuff out and they wanted to keep it a dirty secret. But that stuff legally they can keep. It’s the other stuff that has to come back.”

The truth about Bingham, perhaps the only thing Paolo Greer and Eliane Karp-Toledo would have agreed on, is that he did something less romantic but ultimately much more important than discovering Machu Picchu. He saw the ruins, quickly determined their importance (if not their origin) and popularized them to a degree that they couldn’t be blown up with dynamite or knocked over in the search for buried gold, as Vitcos had been. Would Machu Picchu exist if Hiram Bingham had never seen it? Of course. Would it be the same Machu Picchu we know today? Almost certainly not.

Similarly, if he’d never published Lost City of the Incas, would Bingham have been accused of stealing credit for the discovery? No. Was he the original Indiana Jones? Not exactly. But if he hadn’t published Lost City of the Incas, would the character of Indiana Jones ever have existed? Probably not, at least not in the form we know.

Why Do So Many VCs Say They’re Introverted?

I wrote a tweet a couple months ago:

Who knew that introversion/extroversion was such a hot topic?! It generated a lot of replies from people I respect. Here’s one:

And this:

And this:

The three replies above, as I understand them, all make a similar definitional point: A person can be introverted and still be highly social; it’s just that the social interactions drain them of energy and they need to re-charge alone afterwards. Fair enough and I appreciated the clarification.

Now, if we accept the premise that VC is an extremely social enterprise, does this mean that VCs who consider themselves introverts by this definition — capable of being highly social — do these VCs find themselves drained of energy at the end of most days?

Mike Arrington replied and said yes:

Brad Feld has also written about how he is “fundamentally an introvert” and, similar to Mike, the venture work stream drains him completely once a year:

About once a year I completely use up my extrovert capacity.  I drain it completely to zero. … The last sixty days have been awesome but extremely intense. My ordinarily full days had the Do More Faster book tour layered on top along with a bunch of other public appearances, interviews, speaking engagements, and events.  About two weeks ago I started feeling a fatigue that I couldn’t get in front of and the last two weeks pushed me over the edge.

For those for whom this is true, who am I to judge their career decisions? It’s hard to perfectly match career to personality; no job will ever be 100% perfect. And this dimension of social/energy is just one consideration on whether VC is the right fit. Both Mike and Brad have been extremely successful in tech and venture capital. I don’t know Mike personally, but I do know Brad, and I know that on balance Brad loves what he does. The VC job, on balance, appears to be a great fit for him.

My point is that, in general, most of the VCs I know are highly extroverted. And this would be logical, because people tend to gravitate to jobs where a primary piece of the job description energizes them, not drains them. So with respect to VCs and introversion/extroversion, I believe there are not as many Mike Arringtons out there as we may think — i.e., people who are “painfully introverted” who do the job well even though it leaves them “exhausted.”

Among this crop of extroverted VCs I know, some still call themselves introverted, which perplexes me. They’re highly social and do not seem — at least to me — not very drained by all the socializing. Yet they nonetheless refer to themselves as introverted.

What’s going on?

First, as mentioned in my original tweet, the “introvert” label has come to be associated with adjectives like thoughtful, intellectual, wise, evolved. Introversion may be a higher status description than extroversion. Extroversion is associated with smarmy networkers. I don’t read many extroverts declaring themselves proud extroverts in public. I do routinely read about people proclaiming their introversion.

I’m fascinated by the evolution of terms and connotations. As “networker” has evolved from being a cutting edge business skill in the Dale Carnegie era to now being term to describe the worst excess of that original skill, so too has “introvert” evolved from formerly describing a shy, awkward minority to now being a broad term that connotes a refined, thoughtful, intellectual air about life that seemingly a majority of people now claim.

Second, the comparison set. VCs in general are among the most extroverted humans on the planet. They (we) are professional meeting-takers, emailers, phone callers, conference attenders, deal makers with others humans. (To be sure, I appreciated the point in the reply tweet embedded above that 1:1 founder meetings is a different type of “social” activity than big group meetings, and VCs do a lot of 1:1 small meetings.)

When you work in venture, you’re comparing yourself to other VCs. I know VCs who take 7-8 calls/meetings a day and then a long dinner, and they do this 4 days a week. But, they look around and see another VC who does all of the above PLUS post-dinner drinks followed by an all-weekend conference, and the first VC thinks, “Gosh, I’m an introvert compared to that guy.” It’s LeBron James comparing himself to Steph Curry and concluding, “I’m not a very good three point shooter,” when LeBron’s 3 is better than 99% of all humans’ 3 point shot. So, it’s a comparison / frame of reference issue.

So, to recap my thinking here:

  • You can be introverted and be highly social. If this is the case, you probably find those social interactions draining. But you can do it successfully.
  • Some VCs are introverted, successful, and are simply drained by the social part of the job.
  • The vast majority of VCs in my experience are highly extroverted, which makes sense in terms of trying to align career with personality.
  • Many more VCs describe themselves as “introversion” than who probably are. Perhaps because of status considerations. Perhaps because of their comparison set.

Thanks to everyone who replied to the tweet and emailed me about it. Definitely pushed my thinking. Happy to hear any additional feedback on these points in the comments.