Friday, May 11, 2012

Guest Review: Turn Right at Machu Picchu

Summary: What happens when an adventure travel expert-who's never actually done anything adventurous-tries to re-create the original expedition to Machu Picchu?

July 24, 1911, was a day for the history books. For on that rainy morning, the young Yale professor Hiram Bingham III climbed into the Andes Mountains of Peru and encountered an ancient city in the clouds: the now famous citadel of Machu Picchu. Nearly a century later, news reports have recast the hero explorer as a villain who smuggled out priceless artifacts and stole credit for finding one of the world's greatest archaeological sites.

Mark Adams has spent his career editing adventure and travel magazines, so his plan to investigate the allegations against Bingham by retracing the explorer's perilous path to Machu Picchu isn't completely far- fetched, even if it does require him to sleep in a tent for the first time. With a crusty, antisocial Australian survivalist and several Quechua-speaking, coca-chewing mule tenders as his guides, Adams takes readers through some of the most gorgeous and historic landscapes in Peru, from the ancient Inca capital of Cusco to the enigmatic ruins of Vitcos and Vilcabamba.

Along the way he finds a still-undiscovered country populated with brilliant and eccentric characters, as well as an answer to the question that has nagged scientists since Hiram Bingham's time: Just what was Machu Picchu? -- Plume

When I was cleaning out the books in my basement, I found a copy of TURN RIGHT AT MACHU PICCHU: REDISCOVERING THE LOST CITY ONE STEP AT A TIME by Mark Adams. I knew I wasn't going to get around reading it in the near future, so I passed it along to my dad. Now, I'm thinking I should have made the time to read it. Here are his thoughts:

A visit to Machu Picchu has always been in my travel bucket so I was excited to review TURN RIGHT AT MACHU PICCHU: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams.   Adams, an adventure-traveler writer, recounts his efforts to retrace the steps of explorer Hiram Bingham III on the one hundredth anniversary of Bingham’s “discovery” of Machu Picchu in 1911.   

Adams’ journey with an Australian guide and a group of Quechua-speaking (native Peruvian Andes language) mule tenders gives the reader a humorous account of the travels of a greenhorn adventurer who hikes the Inca Trail, climbs Huayna Picchu and sleeps in tents for the first time in his adult life.  Particularly humorous were Adams’ discussions of Peruvian Time, the Peru penchant for always being late and the Peruvian affinity for Nescafe coffee in a country that grows some of the world’s best coffee beans.  He also spends time criticizing the excesses of the current tourist business at Machu Picchu. 

TURN RIGHT AT MACHU PICCHU is more than a humorous travelogue.  The author expertly researched the history of the Aztec Empire and the invasion by the Spanish under Francisco Pizarro.  As Adams followed the route of Bingham, he alternated chapters between his experience and that of Bingham.  Adams also weaved into the book an investigative report of Bingham, one of the greatest explorers of the early twentieth century.  The author pulled no punches as he discussed if Bingham was the true discoverer of Machu Picchu and whether he smuggled out priceless artifacts that belonged to the Peruvian government.  Adams even explored the unsolved mystery of the purpose of Machu Picchu. 

The one difficulty I had in reading the book was trying to keep all the Aztec and Peruvian names and places straight.  For example, it was very difficult to remember the difference between Huayna Picchu and Huayna Pacura or what Choquequirao was.  The author does offer some help with a very good Glossary in the back of the book.  He also included some pictures of his journey as well as Bingham’s and a timeline that really helps the reader visualize the Machu Picchu adventure.

TURN RIGHT AT MACHU PICCHU is a good history of Peru, a good adventure tale and a good summary of Hiram Bingham’s exploration of Machu Picchu.  If you’re interested in South American history, early twentieth century explorers or plan to visit Machu Picchu this is a book you should read.  It certainly encouraged me to keep Machu Picchu in my travel bucket.             

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for his terrific review.


Serena said...

It is on my bucket list to visit Machu Picchu! I have always wanted to go...thanks for the review of this book...perfect for me

bermudaonion said...

A book that would make me laugh and teach me a thing or two sounds fantastic!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Totally with BPP on the Peruvian and Aztec names. The only one I can really remember is Lake Titicaca for obvious reasons! LOL

Alyce said...

I enjoyed this book too, and I completely agree with him about those names - they were so hard to remember and differentiate! Nice review!