Turn Right at Machu Picchu, by Mark Adams

What a fun book! Mark Adams has authored Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time for the subconscious explorer in all of us. Part travel journal, part history, part adventure, and part cultural guidebook, this book is one of my favorite reads of the year. If you’ve ever wanted to go on an adventure but didn’t want to get off your sofa, you’ll identify with this book.

I love true adventure books. Tell me a true story about men or women who go exploring or attempt the impossible, and I’m enthralled. Be it Livingston in Africa, Armstrong on the moon, or William Stone in the deepest caves on the planet, I’m eager to hear the story. Maybe it’s because I love the Indiana Jones movies so much. Maybe it’s because I’ve done my share of bushwhacking through rainforest with a machete in hand. Or maybe it’s because the best adventure stories are the true ones. Whatever the reason, I’m a sucker for stories about great explorations.

But back to the book. Adams is an editor who works in New York. He becomes fascinated by the story of Hiram Bingham who “discovered” Machu Picchu. Perhaps a better phrase is that Bingham popularized Machu Picchu to the Western world in 1911. Anyway, Bingham’s adventures and discoveries become an obsession for Adams, so he decides to head off on his own grand adventure. Hiring an Australian guide who is brimming with character, they hike into the Peruvian wilderness to retrace Bingham’s route.

I love how Adams weaves the story together. He seamlessly brings together a story that might seem disconnected if you look at the topics. For instance, a single chapter might include references to the beauty of the Peruvian rainforest, details about Bingham’s difficulties getting financial backing for his explorations, descriptions of a pack mule’s tendency to kick, his guides insatiable appetite, the Inca’s fixation with the solstice, and the legal battle between Yale University and the government of Peru. It seems crazy when you look at it that way, but Adams is a good writer and it all comes together nicely. So nicely that you find yourself unable to put the book down.

If you want a book that uses the Peruvian wilderness as a backdrop while it keeps you entertained, teaches you a few things about history, and makes you laugh out loud, this is a great book for you. Highly recommended.