Turn Right at Machu Picchu

This is a good, fun book about rediscovering the Lost City of the Incas. Mark Adams, no relation, tells an engaging story that intersects his experience with that of Hiram Bingham, the American explorer who brought Machu Picchu’s exceptional beauty to the world’s attention. Adams weaves the stories together well, telling how Bingham came to investigate the lost world of Peru, and then telling his own story of being led through this mountainous and forested region, investigating and discovering areas on his own. It’s a good book, and makes me want to travel and see Machu Picchu; I definitely recommend it for those interested in a fun, true story of sublime beauty and amazing archaeology.

Adams worked for travel companies and magazines for years, and ultimately found this idea and trip as a way to get out from behind the computer and do some actual reporting and storytelling. He found a guide, John Sievers, an Australian who had lived in the Peruvian hillsides for decades and knew the region just about as well as anyone. They followed the same walking path that Bingham had followed, exploring each mountain and creek while interspersing the story with actual notes from Bingham’s travels. They visited a wide range of sites, and sourced information from many different travelers from that area, spanning the 1500s through the 20th century. Adams tells about how the Incas were slaughtered by the Spaniards, and those remaining retreated into the mountains where Spanish troops had difficulty pursuing them. He describes walking those same paths, and of learning that you should wear two pairs of socks when hiking downhill, due to the force of landing on your feet so many times in a row. He talks about amazing views, star-filled skies, and the incredible precision of Incan construction — parallel, perhaps, to the precision of Egypt’s pyramids. Adams describes the alignment of buildings to match the sun’s path, and that specific lines of intent are clear on the solstices. He is in awe of their complexity, and it seems incredible that such an advanced civilization simply disappeared.

The book is enjoyable, and following the path of both Bingham as well as Adams is fun. I’m happy to have read the book, and it definitely piqued my interest to begin traveling again soon. Hopefully, as my children grow up and are more capable of traveling well (without diapers, naps, or tantrums), we can begin seeing the amazing sights of the world and I can instill them a tremendous appreciation for the size and vastness of our world, to say nothing of the universe beyond.