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Book Review: Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

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Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams is a non-fiction book in which the author follows the footsteps of Hiram Bingham III.

Journalist Mark Adams has spent a lot of time reading and editing stories for travel magazines. This time he decided to be part of the story and investigate allegations brought against Hiram Bingham III by retracing the famous explorer’s journey.

Part travel journal, part adventure story and part history lesson, Adams takes the readers into the extraordinary and colorful land of Peru in his search to find out what exactly was Machu Picchu.

One hundred years ago today explorer Hiram Bingham III found Machu Picchu and brought his findings to the rest of the world. Mark Adams, who worked for adventure magazines, used his contacts to follow Bingham’s footsteps in the jungles of Peru.

I love to read about places I’ve already visited; more often than not I wish I’ve read the book before I visited. When I saw the title of the book being offered by NetGalley I immediately asked permission to read it.

I visited Machu Picchu in 1992, before there was a cap on visitors and the touristic part of the visit was not as oiled as it is today. We had to find our own guide, hired some mules on the way and hoped we had enough food to last us for several days while we walked the Inca Trail.

At the time I didn’t appreciate what I was doing, I was young, in shape and figured that it’s a “must do.” Several years later it dawned on me what I was privileged to do and privileged to see and experience.

In Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time Mark Adams takes my little trip a step further; he actually walks in the footsteps of Hiram Bingham III in places where few have ventured.

The book is in part a funny/serious travelogue, part smart history and part investigative report into Bingham’s discovery all encompassed in an unbending adventure. Mr. Adams, who was not a serious adventurer at the beginning of the trip, did well by surrounding himself with John Leivers, a professional guide who, for me, was the highlight of this book.

I certainly understood Mr. Adams’ annoyance with what he calls “Peruvian Time.” It drove me, a person who considers being on time as being late, absolutely nuts. There is a whole another issue which Mr. Adams passed on telling about the loose definition of “the truth” as well as foreigners being “fair game”/walking ATM machines, all of which simply rang up a wrong nerve with me.

Adams’ journey parallels the one Bingham describes in his books Inca Land and Lost City of the Incas. Adams writes a very readable narrative of his journey, Inca history, Bingham’s adventures as well as a little Peruvian history and culture tidbits.

Being that the first hand research material that is available for the Inca Empire has been chopped and diced by the emperors to glorify themselves, Adams does an excellent job pulling different resources to conjure up the beginnings of the Spanish conquest of the continent.

As I mentioned, I wish I had this book accessible to me in 1992, when I walked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. The trail is filled with Inca ruins which I made a point to visit and when I reached Machu Picchu I absolutely knew that was the end. However, I completely missed the relationship of the trail with the famous site.

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  • Very cool Doug, thanks for link.

  • This definitely is a wonderful, interesting, and entertaining book.

    I just so happened to meet Paulo Greer and some of the other characters from the book, in Cusco, just as Greer’s article about the earlier discover of Machu Picchu came out in SA Explorer. I certainly know what Adams means when he calls him an “obsessive amateur historian.” He was single-mindedly determined to share his story. My companion and I had to begin to avoid him out and about in Cusco so as not to hear his theories again and again! Here is a blog post I wrote at the time about him.