What is the mountain's name?" Don Domingo asks, in the Quechua language, from the back of the Ford Club Wagon.
Few other motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike this day are thinking about the names of rocks. With traffic crawling at 5 m.p.h., most of them are silently cursing the electric sign superfluously warning them to REDUCE SPEED, CONGESTION AHEAD or pondering the antacid ad on a barely rolling bus.
But Don Domingo, en route to Manhattan from a place in the Andean clouds, has other priorities. The "mountain" in question is a 20-ft.-high, graffitied roadside outcropping identical to dozens of others between Newark Airport and the Lincoln Tunnel. The van's Anglo contingent is fairly sure that the rocky bluff has no name. Don Domingo consults perplexedly with his companions Don Martin, Don Nicolas, Don Andres, Don Hilario, Don Ascencio and Don Juan Gabriel. This place is stranger than they had imagined.
Where the Dons come from, mountains are deities. When last week's Millennium World Peace Summit, the grand religious confab affiliated with both the U.N. and Ted Turner, sought South America's purest practitioners of Incan and pre-Incan pantheism for its environmental panel, it turned to the Q'ero nation. The Q'ero, who live at an altitude of 15,000 ft. in several villages south of Cuzco, were amenable. They had had a prophetic vision about traveling to a far land to discuss the world's growing disharmony: pollution in the clouds that wreath their peaks, bizarrely early frost that threatens their potato crops and new parasites that weaken their alpacas. They relayed only a few requests. Would the summit help them get the birth certificates necessary for visas? Would it underwrite three days' horse rental to convey six of their seers to the nearest decent road? Would it be all right to bring a few ritual staves and stones to New York?
It would. But could any ritual prepare the six shamans--so removed from modernity that Don Nicolas can read the Incan code of knotted cords but speaks no Spanish--for the big city? The Dons call the DC-10 that brought them a "big bird." They don't know how to open a Coke can. As the van enters the Lincoln Tunnel, one of them remarks, "This is the Uccu Pacha"--the Underworld. What will they make of Times Square? Or of the Waldorf-Astoria, where the summit is based?
They take it in stride. So do the other delegates, in their stunning diversity. In the hotel lobby a 7-ft. patriarch from Africa's Horn mingles with tiny, saffron-robed Cambodian monks and an indigenous tribesman who appears to be wearing an entire stuffed owl on his head. The gathering is not devoid of tensions, including a protest over the absence of the Dalai Lama, who was slighted to placate the Chinese at the U.N. The security staff is edgy. ("Make a mark! Any mark!" a guard, desperate for an I.D.-card signature, begs Don Andres.) But the general mood is one of excited collegiality.