Turn Right At Machu Picchu: Review

I still remember a day, about 35 years ago, when I opened up my 3rd grade social studies book and was greeted with this scene:

Machu Picchu

By Allard Schmidt (The Netherlands) (Own work) [Public domain, GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons/wiki/File:Peru_Machu_Picchu_Sunrise_2.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Peru_Machu_Picchu_Sunrise_2.jpg

It’s Peru’s Machu Picchu, mysterious city of the Incas. I remember staring at the picture and thinking it was pretty much the coolest thing ever (well, tying perhaps with the atoll that was diagrammed in an adjoining chapter). To think that such a place could exist just made my mind spin. It was so much … bigger than my town, even though my town was admittedly full of great things, like the Dairy Delite and the Big Blue store.

We learned about the Incas, and how they had a way of communicating, not with written words but by tying knots. Why had they built Machu Picchu? No one knew for sure.

The years passed, and my wanderlust remained. But, I channeled it into trips to Europe. I’ve never made it down to Machu Picchu physically, but when I saw a new book out, “Turn Right at Machu Picchu,” I knew that I’d be visiting vicariously.

turn right at machu picchuI really enjoyed this book. It’s basically Mark Adams’s travelogue of his journeys through Machu Picchu and other ancient Inca cities as well. Mark doesn’t do the typical touristy tours; no, he actually hikes the Inca Trail (and several more obscure trails as well). You’ll feel like you’re traipsing up and down the Andes right along with him, maybe even feeling the blisters on your feet.

Interwoven with the travels is a lot of history of Machu Picchu and its “discovery” by Hiram Bingham III, an American, 100 years ago in 1911. On a side note, I discovered while reading the book that Hiram’s grandpa was a missionary to Hawaii and helped build Hawaii’s first church, which I visited last month.

Some of the thoughts that went through my head while reading this book:

  • It seems that the early 1900s were a big time of “discoveries” and exploration. I think of the expeditions to the North and South Poles, the Wright brothers, and more. In many places I’ve visited, I’ve heard it lamented that many visitors from this period of time enjoyed taking along objects as souvenirs, thus plundering many historical sites.
  • Bingham’s “discovery” (I always put that word in quotes, as Machu Picchu obviously existed for hundreds of years prior to that time) of Machu Picchu was publicized in National Geographic, and its circulation doubled after a huge article they did on his travels. I’m thinking that my grade school social studies book was published in the 1960s, when Machu Picchu was still probably an “it” destination based on this hype.
  • I’m really wishing I could visit this city in the clouds, while I still can (trust me, it seems questionable after reading about Adams’s tales: stubborn mules, narrow paths curving precariously around mountain edges, etc.). I look on Machu Picchu as another of those places that most of us have a image of in our minds, but which must be visited to fully experience. I remember feeling this way very strongly when I first gazed upon Neuschwanstein Castle. There’s just something about being there.
  • Long-timers will remember we have a pet chinchilla. Chinchillas are native to the Andes mountains in Peru, and if you ever saw one in action, hopping around like crazy, you’d understand how that must work. I wondered if Mark had seen chinchillas on his Peruvian adventures, and while he hadn’t he did see one of their close relatives, a viscacha — running around in the ruins at Machu Picchu, no less!
viscacha at machu picchu peru

Looks like a chinchilla, but it’s a viscacha. (photo courtesy Mark Adams)

Recommended. This book would be a great way to “travel” as winter sets in, right from the comfort of your living room.

Thank you to Mark Adams and Dutton/Penguin for providing this book for review.

5 thoughts on “Turn Right At Machu Picchu: Review

  1. Interesting! Two of my friends visited there a few years ago. I can only dream about it….

  2. Ah, the magic of far-away places! I loved my social studies book in grade school. I always wanted to go to the Swiss Alps. Instead, I asked for (and got!) a cuckoo clock for Christmas “from the Black Forest.” Thrills for a grade-schooler!

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