Along with the perks of being president of a Latin American country comes the responsibility for its economic development. Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, whose ethnically diverse Andean nation of 27.5 million suffers from an undeveloped infrastructure and pockets of poverty, believes tourism is the key to his country's future prosperity.
"Tourism is an industry that will allow us to become part of the global economy while preserving our cultural roots," he explains one day as we stroll through the gilded reception hall of the National Palace in Lima. Pausing beside a statue of Tupac Amaru, the last Inca emperor who was beheaded by the Spanish, the 58-year-old President looks out beyond the city's La Plaza Mayor to the baroque cathedral whose crypt contains the bones of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro.
"You know," he says slowly after a moment of thought, "Peru is much more than just the city of Lima. Come with me for a week. I'll show you a country with great surfing beaches, the highest lake in the world, a river so vast that it sends a plume of fresh water 200 miles into the ocean, mountain villages that soar above the clouds, and a desert with ancient hieroglyphics that baffle anthropologists."
It was an exceptional offer from an extraordinary man whose life
comes into sharper focus the following day when I accompany
Travel Channel chief correspondent Peter Greenberg and a Travel Channel camera crew as they tape the third episode of their "Royal Tour" series. We board Peru's presidential jet and fly north to the city of Trujillo on the Pacific coast. "I grew up poor, 1 of 16 children, 7 of whom died," the President begins after the flight attendant gives us Inca Kola and heads back to the main cabin. "I worked as a shoeshine boy, sold lottery tickets, and by age 12 was writing stories for a Lima newspaper."