Cuzco, Peru — It was Saturday morning, and the public library was jampacked with students. They sat in small clusters along long tables on wooden chairs, and most were enlisting the aid of at least two friends to puzzle out information in what apparently is not only a limited, but a fairly old, collection.
A few students were reading periodicals attached to platforms facing the wall around two sides of the room, but most were either looking up reference books in the card catalog, waiting in line to get a book from one of the two clerks on duty, or poring over a reference book and making notations in well-worn copybooks.
The blackboard indicated there were so many days left of vacation before classes resumed, but that final examinations were coming the following week.
I talked with a student who had gone through the process the year before, and she confirmed that the students lined up early on Saturdays during vacation periods (most holding jobs during the weekdays), particularly before examinations, in order to study for the exams.
Some of the examinations are oral; some written. But all require recall of specific names, dates, events, and commentary from ''people of importance,'' is the way she put it.
My informant, Teresa, passed her examinations so that she could study to be a tourist guide. Now she is in her third year of a five-year course which includes instruction in English, French, and German. She, she quickly explained, is concentrating on English and doesn't study the other languages for fluency.
She doesn't wish to be ''just any tour guide, but one who specializes in Machu Picchu,'' the famous Inca archaeological site 14,000 feet high. Accordingly, she and several of her student friends spend at least three days each week at Machu Picchu. At minimum, an eight-hour round-trip train ride.
Sometimes they listen to the other guides; more often they study one particular detail which their teacher has told them of or they have found in one of the books.
German, Teresa explained, is useful to know because so much about Machu Picchu has been written in that language.
Also, Teresa thinks it is important for her to get to know the area ''as I do my room at home, so that when I am taking tours I can concentrate on making the correct allocations of history.''
We had a little struggle over that phrase and agreed that since much of what is known about the Inca civilization is still ''hidden knowledge,'' it is necessary to tell what you have learned but to continue to study to learn more.
Teresa's course has included every aspect of anthropological and architectural history of the Incas, but not with any research done on her part, just listening to the professors and remembering what she has been taught.
Teresa has not been to Lima, and hence has never seen the early Indian pieces on display there in the Museo d'Oro in the ground floor of the Hotel Bolvar. But she could tell me a little about it and urged that I go. (I did.)
And I also shared with Teresa memories of the collections I had seen over the years, particularly in London, New York, and Washington, of Peruvian art over the centuries.
''Oh,'' she exclaimed, ''that's why I want to be an archaeological guide. We have such a proud history, and I love to learn about it.''