Book: Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time (NEW: June 2011) by Mark Adams
I’m celebrating the anniversary of the rediscovery of Machu Picchu this week, although for some reason the Peruvian government jumped the gun and celebrated early–on July 8.
Sometimes I really love this job. Once again I am able to read and share a book that amuses, amazes, and inspires the reader to pack her bags and hit the road. In this case a VERY old road in South America, known as The Inca Trail. There are actually a lot of Inca trails, as Mark Adams discovers in [amazon_link id="0525952241" target="_blank" ]Turn Right at Machu Picchu[/amazon_link].
The amazing “lost city” of Machu Picchu, a World Heritage Site, could quickly devour more superlative adjectives than a writer could stuff into a 60-lb backpack. Mark Adams, a former editor, never resorts to telling us how spectacular the Inca lairs look. Instead he masterfully shows us. He relies both on research into Hiram Bingham, the popularizer of Machu Picchu, and the very witty tale of his own mid-life adventure as he follows Bingham’s footsteps. (Terminology coinage alert: experiential biography) In relating the history of the Spanish conquest of the great empire of the Incas, Adams describes Pizarro thus, “Pizarro was a bastard (in the genealogical sense, though he was no dream date as far as the Incas were concerned, either.)” Adams describes himself as “Mr. Travel Guy.”…”Between my microfiber bwana costume and the bags of candy that Justo (the cook) kept foisting on me, I could have been trick-or-treating as Hemingway.” Bingham, might have been “Mr. Travel” of 1911.
Hiram Bingham, a Yale professor with chiseled cheekbones and an ever present slouch hat, organized expeditions into Peru in the early 20th century, and 100 years ago this week (July 24, 1911) he re-discovered Machu Picchu.
As Turn Right at Machu Picchu tells the story of Bingham’s life, we learn that we have already met him, but his name was Indiana Jones in the movies. But more importantly, we learn that his several expeditions were daring and he quite literally broke new trails–including one very old trail–The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. No matter if someone else (after the ancient Incas) actually investigated (and looted) Machu Picchu before Bingham, he was the one who trumpeted it to the world and made it popular.
Mark Adams quotes Rudyard Kipling‘s poem The Explorers:
Well, I know who’ll take the credit–all the clever chaps that followed
Came, a dozen men together–never knew my desert-fears
Tracked me by the camps I’d quitted, used the water-holes I’d hollowed.
They’ll go back and do the talking. They’ll be called the Pioneers!
If you were thinking, as I was, that a trip to Peru would be complete once you took the train to the famous Lost City, you may revise your travel plans after reading this book.
Adams shows us, toward the end of the book, why a hike up the Inca Trail packs such a wallop that those who take the Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu and fly home, miss the interconnectedness of a cluster of sites.On the trail you can explore other sites along the way. For another thing, this was a sacred processional route for the Incas. The whole area is packed with similar cities in the jungle. The other sites, a bewildering array of names with too many letter a’s and too many syllables–Ollantaytambo, Choquequirao, Vitcos, Llactapata, Patallacta, Espiritu Pampa–reward the visitor with solitude instead of the jostling for best camera angle you find at Machu Picchu. Granted, no other sites have the grand location of Machu Picchu, but they do have Inca stonework and mysteries of their own. And get this–they are all connected in lines that tie them to the sun and stars and solstices.
Bingham wrote articles for National Geographic Magazine. In 1913, an article titled, “In the Wonderland of Peru” tells about the rediscovery of Machu Picchu. Adams says,
The story and its accompany photographs–including a panoramic view of the entire site, printed as a foldout–conveyed a romantic tale of exploration and discovery that would endure for about a century; an intrepid young American professor, searching the capital of a vanished kingdom, discovers an immense city in the clouds, lost to the jungle for untold centuries.
So how romantic and adventurous can it get? And how can you resist reading such an enthralling book? And haven’t you packed your bags yet? Wait…you’ll need a guide. Mark Adams suggests lots of books–from scholarly to popular, the guidebook he recommends is [amazon_link id="1555663273" target="_blank" ]The Machu Picchu Guidebook: A Self Guided Tour [/amazon_link] by Ruth Wright.
A comment on an earlier post came from my friend Mark at Travel Wonders of the World: I went there a few years ago including walking the four-day camino (trail). Walking through the Sun Gate at dawn is one of travel’s great experiences as the entire city awakens below you. Mark provides two articles at his site that are well worth seeing: a brief description of the trail and the other Incan towns on the way and the 100th birthday article with a historic Bingham photo.
I want to thank the publicity department of Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Books for sending me this book for review, and I thank Flickr and other sources linked to the photos for the wonderful illustrations. And yes, if you click on a book title and order something from Amazon I make a little money. (And it works if you are in Great Britain, Canada or France as well as the U.S.)
Your turn. Have you been to Machu Picchu? Do you have it on your list? Why not?