Turn Right At Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time

Title:Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time
Author(s):Mark Adams
Publisher:Dutton Adult
Published:June 30, 2011
Date Added:May 21, 2023
calibre ID:e-2248
Date Finished:n/a

About the Book

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?

Source: Goodreads

Editorial Reviews

“[An] engaging and sometimes hilarious book.”—The New York Times Book Review

“A serious (and seriously funny) travelogue, a smart and tightly written history, and an investigative report into perhaps the greatest archaeological discovery in the last century.”—NationalGeographic.com

“An engaging, informative guide to all things Inca.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Adams deftly weaves together Inca history, Bingham’s story, and his own less heroic escapade….Those favoring a quirkier retelling [of Bingham’s exploits] will relish Mr. Adam’s wry, revealing romp through the Andes.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Quite funny and unpretentiously well informed…The perfect way to acknowledge the lost city’s one hundredth birthday.”—Christian Science Monitor (“Editor’s Choice”)

“[An] entirely delightful book.”—The Washington Post

With a healthy sense of humor…Adams unearths a fascinating story, transporting his readers back to 1911, when Yale professor Hiram Bingham III hiked the Andes and stumbled upon on of South America’s most miraculous and cloistered meccas.”—NPR.org

Source: Barnes & Noble


Turn Right at Machu Picchu

By Meg Weaver | July 22, 2011

July 24th marks the 100th anniversary of Hiram Bingham’s rediscovery of Machu Picchu, which awoke the world to the beauty and mystery of the “Lost City of the Inca.” Celebrations around the world are happening this summer to commemorate the centennial. Here at the National Geographic Society in Washington D.C., you’ll find a photo exhibit of vintage shots of Bingham’s first three expeditions to Peru.

Also this month, we’re celebrating online. Our Trip Lit columnist Don George reviews Mark Adams’s new book Turn Right at Machu PicchuAs an über-fan of all things Inca, I asked Mark to do a Q&A with us so we could learn more about his book, his trek, and other travels. Plus, we’re offering a free copy of Mark’s book to one lucky reader who submits a comment below detailing their best tale of trudging to Machu Picchu or why they dream about heading there.

Photo courtesy of Dutton Publishers

How did you come up with the idea to retrace Bingham’s steps on his search for the Lost City of the Inca?

About three years ago, I was working in New York City as an editor at the late, lamented National Geographic Adventure magazine. At an active travel magazine, Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail are subjects that come up in meetings pretty much daily, probably in the same way the British royals are discussed at Vanity Fair. So when the name of Hiram Bingham III—the man who famously located Machu Picchu in 1911—popped up in the news not once but twice in 2008, I immediately thought there might be potential for a story.

When did your fascination with the Inca world begin and what ignited it?

I’ve always had an interest in Peru because my wife’s family is half Peruvian, and we’ve made several trips to Lima to visit relatives. But I have to admit that the Incas and Bingham were largely mysteries to me until I started researching this book. What happens is that the material is so fascinating—lost cities, temples of gold, human sacrifices, evil Spanish conquistadors, ambitious Ivy League professors-turned-explorers obsessed with becoming famous— you can’t help but get sucked in.

What was the trip’s toughest moment? And its best?

The hardest moment came on the second day of a three-week trek, as we were climbing to the ruins of Choquequirao. It was almost 90 degrees out and we were traversing a slope that was almost vertical. I struggled because I was not in nearly good enough shape, and I’d ground my toes into hamburger meat the previous day by walking down 5,000 steep feet of switchbacks wearing new boots. Bingham wrote about the climb in one of his books, but I thought he had exaggerated. He didn’t.

The best moment (leaving aside my arrival at Machu Picchu, which is always amazing) was probably the morning we spent walking the 15,000-foot-high Choquetacarpo Pass. The area is so far off the map that the old Inca highway there, probably built 600 years ago, is in great condition. It’s like walking on a miniature scale model of the Great Wall of China. We didn’t see another person for two days.

For our website you compiled a list of six alternate routes to Machu Picchu for visitors who want to escape the congested Inca Trail. Any tips for travelers to avoid the crowds?

Thanks to the quota system on the Inca Trail, it’s still a terrific hike. The Incas quite obviously designed it to unfold like a good mystery novel, with twists and turns, rising and falling action, suspense and surprises. What I’d recommend is to do the Inca Trail in five days rather than the standard four. After all, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so what’s the rush? Plus, you’ll stay at less-crowded campsites and spend most of your hiking time separated from the biggest crowds. I’m told that all the other treks to Machu Picchu are lovely—there’s even one now that allows you to sleep in lodges rather than tents, if you don’t mind paying extra. June, July, and August are the busiest months for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, so if you can go in April, May, September, or October, that’s preferable. And I can’t stress enough how important it is to book ahead, even months in advance. The good old days of strolling into Cusco and arranging an impromptu Inca Trail trip have long since come and gone. You might, however, be able to set up a last-minute journey to the ruins of Choquequirao. It’s known as Machu Picchu’s “sister site” because of the resemblance between the two.

Besides Machu Picchu, what are some other places you’ve traveled that have really captivated you?

When I worked as a magazine writer, I always seemed to get sent to out-of-the-way places. The Basque country in northern Spain, which looks like a cross between Provence and Wisconsin. The crumbling red-brick shell of what was once America’s greatest health sanitarium, in upstate New York. One of the most incredible places I’ve ever been is American Samoa, where I was dispatched to find out why so many Samoans make it to the NFL. The main town, Pago Pago, is pretty drab, but once you get outside of it the beaches are amazing and deserted, and half of the island is a national park with a skyscraping mountain called the Rainmaker at its center. Because there’s no tourism infrastructure on the island, almost no one ever visits.

Source: National Geographic Online

Plot Summary

Plot Summary

Turn Right at Machu Picchu is a hybrid book, part serious historical reflection and part travelogue. Written by journalist Mark Adams and published in 2011, it reflects on Hiram Bingham III’s famous journey into the wilderness of Peru and supposed discovery of Machu Picchu, a “lost” Incan city that briefly made Bingham one of the most famous explorers in the world. Bingham’s star faded, however, when it was realized that the city was not at all lost and more or less everyone in the area knew about it and that Bingham had elided certain details in order to burnish his story. As the one-hundred-year anniversary of the “discovery” approached and Yale University prepared to finally return Peruvian artifacts Bingham had taken from the site, Adams proposed following in Bingham’s footsteps to wrestle with his legacy and see what had happened to these incredible places over the course of decades.

The book opens with Adams meeting the man who would be his guide on this journey, Australian John Leivers in Peru. The two discuss Bingham and Adams lays out his proposal to follow Bingham’s route to both understand how the man found his way to the city of Machu Picchu in the first place and possibly understand Bingham’s thinking in presenting his “discovery” in the way he did. Adams freely admits that he is not a seasoned adventurer, but rather a man who normally sits at a desk all day. Leivers and Adams hit it off immediately and begin planning the adventure.

Adams then alternates several chapters between background on Hiram Bingham III and background on himself. He traces Bingham III’s family and early life, noting that the man’s obsession with his own legacy means we have all the information necessary to reconstruct his life’s journey. He recounts his own early life and notes that as he aged he became conscious of how life can end suddenly, without warning, which drives him to think about achieving some of his goals—like visiting Machu Picchu. The mystery of why the Incas built these immense and carefully organized structures in beautiful but isolated areas of Peru is established as one of the main goals of Adams’ journey: After Bingham’s deception concerning the “discovery” of Machu Picchu, theories about its provenance and purpose had shifted and changed and Adams hopes to find some clue as to the truth.

Adams continues this alternating structure, tracing Bingham’s journeys and interspersing his own preparations, noting the many parallels between their experiences as he does so, such as their shared bewilderment at the Peruvian habit of being exceptionally late for every appointment. Adams reflects on the difficulty in sifting fact from fiction regarding Bingham’s discoveries, as the histories often quoted are exaggerated to the point of uselessness, and he notes the fact that Bingham was less than honest about his three expeditions and acted in an imperialist manner in regard to artifacts taken without permission, though this doesn’t necessarily mean his work completely lacks value.

As they set off to follow Bingham’s route (alternating, again, with accounts of Bingham himself at the same locations), Leivers has doubts about Adams’ abilities, calling him a “Martini Explorer.” Adams does struggle; even a century later, the route Bingham took remains largely wilderness, and it is difficult, physically demanding hiking with plenty of danger. As Adams acclimates to the demands of the trip, however, Leivers comes to respect him and the two become very good friends. Their relationship forms a third thread in the book, in fact.

As Adams follows Bingham’s footsteps, he relates to the reader what he’s learned about Peru and the Peruvians, much of which is frustrating and amusing to American sensibilities, as well as echoed by Bingham’s reactions a century earlier. Simultaneously, Adams notes the commercialization of tourism and adventure travel, mocking his own costume purchased for the trip and noting the erosion of natural beauty in places like Machu Picchu due to an influx of tourists who don’t have to work particularly hard to get there, although Peru does limit access to historic sites in an effort to stave off such damage.

As they draw nearer to Machu Picchu, Adams also puts himself in Bingham’s mindset, seeing the country as that explorer did, and trying to determine whether Bingham was a sincere explorer who thought he had discovered something lost or a self-promoter who purposefully deceived the world for his own gain. While the group encounters some danger and the occasional moment of drama, by and large Adams is up-front about carefully planning the trip, and most minor problems are resolved quickly. Between them, Leivers and Adams explore a theory that the symmetrical, beautiful abandoned city of Machu Picchu and other locations were not individual sites built in isolation but part of a large network of structures connected to each other.

At the end of the book, they successfully arrive at their destination, and Adams admits that he is no closer to solving the mystery of Machu Picchu, noting that due to the damage inflicted by the Spanish conquistadors and looters over the years, many of the sites remain largely unexplored and mysterious.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu is ultimately a personal book more than a historical work. While Adams is inspired by Hiram Bingham’s adventures and offers real historical rigor, the real point of the story is his own transformation into a legitimate explorer and his fascination with the country and people of Peru, as well as his burgeoning relationship with John Leivers, whose humorless but friendly attitude makes a perfect foil for Adams’ own wry self-criticism.

Source: SuperSummary

About the Author

Mark Adams

Website: https://www.markadamsbooks.com

Twitter: markcadams

Mark Adams is the author of the acclaimed history Mr. America, which The Washington Post named a Best Book of 2009, and the New York Times bestsellers Turn Right at Machu Picchu, which Men’s Journal selected as one of the Fifty Greatest Adventure Books of All Time, and Meet Me in Atlantis. His work appears in many national publications, including GQ, Rolling Stone, Outside and the New York Times. He lives near New York City with his family.

Source: Goodreads

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