Setting Research: Where Do I Even Start?

I’ve known since early on in the first draft of Featherfolk that the setting wasn’t…well…settled. I covered the mountains with familiar plants and animals because that was the easiest thing, but I knew I wanted to give it a more exotic feel. The only problem with exotic locations and cultures is that I know next to nothing about them. Hence, exotic.

Ever since I hit on the Andes Mountains and the Incas as a possibility for re-flavoring the world, I’ve been checking out stacks of books from the library, searching for documentaries, and scrolling through pages and pages of Google images, just to try and get a taste of the history and culture and climate and flora of such a place.

If I base the Featherfolk on another culture, I want to know more than just the tropes. Shallow knowledge would result in parody, which I feel would be disrespectful to that culture and its living descendants.

It’s quite overwhelming. How do you immerse yourself in a culture long dead, on another continent in another hemisphere, whose languages were not at all related to your own?

How do you start?