Review: Turn Right at Machu Picchu

Since I was a little kid, Machu Picchu has been a faint buzz in my ear, as if the mountain itself were sending whispers on the wind to summon me. Thank you, National Geographic!

So of course I had to read, Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams.

The general gist is that Adams, an adventure & travel magazine editor, wanted to experience the journey of famed explorer, Hiram Bingham as he ‘discovered’ Macchu Picchu in the infancy of the 20th century.

There is much, MUCH contention around Bingham and his ‘discovery’ (can something be discovered if indigenous people were living there, on top of the mountain, at the time?), but history buffs will find interest in his liberation of Peruvian artifacts as well as the battle for ownership between the American university housing the relics and the Peruvian government.

But, the most interesting of all to me? That would be the speculation that Hiram Bingham was the inspiration behind the Indiana Jones character. You’d think I would have taken more away from the book than that, and I truly did…really, but Indy is a girlhood crush that I will love forever – I STILL want to be the female equivalent.

What kept drawing me to pick up the book again and again was the month long trek to reach The City in the Clouds. Adams could have taken the more well known of Inca Trails – reaching the top in just 4(ish) days. Instead, he chose to follow the explorations of Bingham’s crew through thick jungle, where a machete becomes as vital as water, to steep single track trails that are pretty much express lanes to the pearly gates.

Adams alternates the chapters between Bingham’s travels and his own. While I do love history, the recounts of Bingham’s trials and tribulations were a little dull. Please, don’t let that detour you from reading. It is Adam’s own journey that I was enthralled with and which caused me to rethink the fancy train ride to the top of the mountain – a luxuriously easy way that would mean no sleeping on the ground or doing ones business behind a bush. I shudder just typing the words. Adams changed my view by giving me a mental image of the ruggedly beautiful landscape with its glorious sunrises, ultimately causing me to look up portable potty options for the trail. In other words, if you are going to Machu Picchu – GO BIG!

The whole reason this book resonated with me is that Adams is a desk man. He isn’t a world class explorer; he wasn’t even a weekend hiker! He admits to us that his most recent experience with blisters was wearing ill-fitting fancy loafers to the FiFi awards – perfume awards to those of us NOT in the know (I know, right?). So imagine Adams in hiking boots traipsing up a mountainside, into the stratosphere, and then having to come back down the other side. It wasn’t pretty (for his toes) and I do apologize to the author for laughing out loud at his discomfort. What makes him relatable is that he started out as us, an armchair explorer – editing adventure stories instead of living them.

If he did it, then so can we, right?

Aside from the humor, he talks of the beauty of the landscape, the quirkiness of the culture and all the speculation behind what this beautifully fascinating Lost City was meant to represent.

On a scale of best books I’ve ever read, this isn’t one of them. But it certainly ranks among some of the most entertaining and interesting. Perhaps it is because I’m a sucker for stories where the average person takes on the adventure of their lifetime, willingly or not. My hope is that you’ll enjoy Adam’s discovery of Peru, and himself, as much as I did.

As for me? I have, The Lost City of Z sitting at the ready for my next couch adventure. Where will your next reading adventure take YOU?

8 thoughts on “Review: Turn Right at Machu Picchu

  1. A female Indy Alienbody? I can see it! But have you mastered the use of a bullwhip yet?

    The jungle has always seemed a much more menacing place to me then the desert. I kind of like being able to see the sky, even if the sun is frying by brain and everything else. And I like my snakes on the ground where I have half a chance to see them, not able to drop down on me without warning. Hats off to Adams for taking the long road to Machu Picchu and making an entertaining book from it… Sort of Romancing the Stone with out the romance? Hats off the you too for an entertaining review!

    • I have NOT mastered the bullwhip, but…BUT…I’m not afraid of snakes! I think that would make me maybe even a bit more awesomer than Indy! (yes, I said “awesomer”, it will be a real word one day…you just watch!). Thank you for reading!

    • I hope this doesn’t disappoint! I will admit that I would speed read through some paragraphs, that sort of travel can be a bit…tedious? But, overall…I think it was one heck of a journey. I’m just a sucker for this sort of hardship…that I can read and not actually do myself. ;-)

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