Book Review: Turn Right at Machu Picchu

Bob MillerBook Reviews

For much of my life, I have loved tramping around in remote places in the American Southwest. Finding blank spots on the map, I’ve enjoyed exploring them, discovering magical secrets few others know about, based on whispered rumors or perhaps just telltale bits of interesting topography on USGS maps. Or, as often happens these days, I imagine the adventures my creaking joints and busy calendar no longer so enthusiastically sign up for. In Turn Right at Machu Picchu, author Mark Adams delivers a delightful itinerary for the imagination of the “Gee, I wish I could (still!) do that” would-be adventurer.

Adams relates his real-life experiences as an unlikely explorer on his own ill-advised “bucket list” adventure trekking the Andean highlands. Retracing the path of celebrated explorer Hiram Bingham, Adams is at the mercy of his hired Australian expat guide who is a colorful amalgam of Indiana Jones and Bingham himself.

Telling his story  in a breezy, self-deprecating style, Adams regularly pokes fun at himself, finding the comic humor in his own lack of fittedness for trekking the unforgiving landscape of the Peruvian Andes. His companions also come in for a certain amount of good-natured ribbing, but Adams’ obvious and genuine regard for his subjects keeps it all in good fun.

Interspersed with the narrative of his own adventures, Adams adds biographical stories about Bingham’s life, his adventures in Peru, and how they came about. He also relates tales about the last days of the Inca empire as the remnants fiercely resisted the Spanish and attempted to carry on the struggle from refuges hidden deep in the impenetrable landscape of the Peruvian cloud forests. These stories—some comical, some tinged with sadness and regret—add color and depth to the narrative and will be greatly enjoyed by the armchair history buff or anyone else hungry to hear tales from this complex, intriguing place.

So find a comfortable overstuffed chair, brew up a cup of coca tea (if the local laws allow!) and go out huffing and puffing over 15,000 foot passes to find the amazing ruins of Choquequirao. Fight your way through an impossibly overgrown trail in the pouring rain of the Peruvian cloud forest. Spend a night enjoying most-welcome local hospitality at Valentin’s farmhouse. Search for the lost city of Vilcabamba. For most of us, Turn Right at Machu Picchu is the next best thing. ¡Hasta la vista!

Main photo: A portion of the Turn Right at Machu Picchu cover design by Nancy Resnick