985: Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

by Gerard


985.37: Adams, Mark. Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time. New York: Plume, 2012. 292 pp. ISBN 978-0-452-29798-2.

Dewey Construction:

  • 900: History and Geography
  • 980: History of South America
  • 985: History of Peru
  • 985.3: History of the Southern department of Peru
  • 983.37: History of the Inca regions of Peru

Mark Adams always wanted to be an adventurer. After years of dead-end jobs, he became the editor of a travel publication, sending folks on assignments to far-off lands and collecting their stories for the masses. Far from being an actual adventurer, he realized he was a poser. While you can read about tourist attractions all day, the written word can never replace the actual experience. So, he decided to do something about it.

Adams travels in the footsteps of the early 20th century explorer Hiram Bingham III, a third-generation would-be clergyman who got bit by the exploration bug and decided to make a name for himself. After finding his way onto scientific delegation to Chile, he learned of a ruined city that the world had largely forgotten. In 1911, Melchor Arteaga led him to the ruins of Machu Picchu and into the history books. Bingham brought back countless Inca relics to Yale University for study and display (much to the continued consternation of the government of Peru). He would return to Peru twice after that in 1912 and 1915, but neither trip proved as fruitful as the first.

Adams, while following roughly the same path as Bingham, comes to realize both the context and the magnitude of the discoveries. He also learns the value of wearing two pairs of socks while hiking in the jungle. His guide, John Leivers, helps him literally and figuratively navigate the world of the Inca Trail. His help in the author’s journey creates some of the most poignant and humorous anecdotes while they trek through the jungle.

The twin stories of the author and Bingham are also set against a third strand of history—that of the original Inca and the Spanish conquistadors. This triple history further enriches the adventure as we learn how Pizarro, Bingham, and the author interact with both the people and the environment of South America. Interwoven with each of these strands are bits and pieces of Peruvian politics, ethics, society, and culture. I thought the humor in this history book was well-timed and very engaging. This makes for a great weekend read.