Thursday, November 17, 2016
Turn Right at Machu Picchu - Mark Adams
When I was younger, I was more adventurous. I don't think that's unusual. Jack and I travelled a lot in the 1980s and were interested in the non-tourist side of travelling. Although we could have been kidnapped and murdered, or just kidnapped, or just murdered, several times, by taking chances, we took those chances. We went to a posh, private gaming club in London, invited by non-felonious-looking English people. And we got a private, unexpected tour of St. Lucia's decidedly non-tourist side by a man who jumped into our car at a forlorn crossroads and said he was a tour guide. We couldn't get him out of the car, so we gave in. A little riskier, but there was a rain forest and hot springs - into which we could have disappeared forever. According to the newspaper, those things do happen.
Anyway, I'm much happier to travel via armchair and book. The last time I flew to Boston, I had to almost strip in the middle of the Philly airport. Is that civilized? I think not. I worry more about bug bites and non-vegan edible food, bathrooms, sleeping quarters, delayed flights, etc., than I ever did. So I love a good travel narrative, and Turn Right at Machu Picchu is that. I also love lost cities and exploration (yes, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of my favorite movies), so I especially loved this book.
Mark Adams, a travel journalist who works mostly in an office, decides to follow in the footsteps of Hiram Bingham, the Yale professor credited with finding Machu Picchu, the city of the Incas, in 1911. Bingham's story alone is worth reading. Adams hires John Leivers, an Australian guide whose passion is documenting Inca structures before they're 'saved' by a sometimes inept Peruvian government and overrun by tourists. Many of the perfectly constructed Inca roads have been paved over and the caretakers have badly repaired some ruins. Machu Picchu, although the most famous of the Inca cities, is not the only one.
Adams writes humorously at times, like Bill Bryson, but he also adds the history that we should know to appreciate the world of the Incas, destroyed by the treasure hunting Spanish in the 1500s. He alternates the story of the Incas and the Spanish, the story of Hiram Bingham, and his own excursion into the deserts and jungles of Peru. I'd like to read more about John Leivers. He's such a character that he deserves his own book.
This was an interesting and fun book. I learned a lot about the Incas, the structures they left, the indigenous people of Peru, and the natural beauty and dangers of the country. If this book piques your interest, you can find lots of things on YouTube and the Internet about Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham, and Peru. For movie buffs, Secret of the Incas, a movie starring Charlton Heston, is available only on YouTube, as far as I can tell. I have a first edition of Bingham's book Lost City of the Incas, so I've been delving into that.