Turn right at Machu Picchu : rediscovering the lost city one step at a time

by Mark Adams

Paper Book, 2011



Call number

F3429.1 .M3A43 2011


New York : Dutton, c2011.


Traces the author's recreation of Hiram Bingham III's discovery of the ancient citadel, Machu Picchu, in the Andes Mountains of Peru, describing his struggles with rudimentary survival tools and his experiences at the sides of local guides.

User reviews

LibraryThing member JGolomb
Mark Adams' "Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time" is a book that's a bit hard to classify. All at once, it's a serious (and seriously funny) travelogue; a smart and tightly written history; and an investigative report into the greatest archaeological discovery of the last century.

Author Adams spent time writing and editing for the now defunct National Geographic Adventurer magazine and despite working with and alongside some of the world's hardest core adventure travelers, he admits to not being much of one himself. He'd visited Machu Picchu with his son, but he'd done it the tourist way. He wanted to REdiscover Machu Picchu - the way its’ original discoverer, Hiram Bingham, had 100 years ago this July. He wanted to hike, climb, slog, tent and explore his way through the Vilcabamba region of Peru and finish at the site that was recently named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

Adams doesn't camp and hadn't been in a tent for years leading up to his Peruvian excursion. His preparation for the trip was extensive, including dressing the part of adventurer. "Have you ever seen Mr. Travel Guy? He's the fellow who strides through international airports dressed like he's flying off to hunt wildebeests - shirt with dozens of pockets, drip-dry pants that zip off into shorts, floppy hat with a cord pulled tight under the chin in case a twister blows through the baggage claim area. All of this describes exactly what I was wearing. I could have been trick-or-treating as Hemingway."

Make no mistake. Adams trip was an uncompromising adventure. There were no soft train rides, or helicopter drops into the jungle. Adams hiked, slept in tents, climbed miles of off-the-beaten-path terrain, and used the same bathroom facilities as Bingham had almost 100 years earlier - nature. His only chance at being successful in this endeavor was to surround himself with quality guides and support. He emphasized when he hired his guide, experienced explorer and discoverer in his own right John Leivers, that he wanted his trip to be about walking in Bingham's footsteps.

The real joy in reading "Turn Right at Machu Picchu" is the frank and insightful humor Adams embeds within his adventurous tales. While Leivers was his primary guide, Adams was surrounded by a colorful and interesting crowd, some of which speak only the ancient language of the Inca - quechua. One guide genuinely feared a man-eating devil goat that guarded the entrance to a farm used as a campsite. Adams points out that rumors and ghosts are abound in Peru and particularly in the Andes where "the mischievous twins of Superstition and Legend tend to thrive." Adams also struggled to communicate with Leivers because they come from such different worlds and experiences. Adams finally strikes a note of commonality when a fairly severe bout of bowel issues made his adventurer guide reminisce about his own time with the same problem.

He takes seemingly meaningless interactions and with only a few words turns them into something substantive, funny and culturally eye-opening. "One of the things about Peru that I'd found it hardest to adjust to - even more so than the popularity of Nescafe in a country that grew some of the finest coffee beans in the world -- was la hora perunana, Peruvian Time. This is the code, indecipherable to North Americans, by which Peruvians determine the latest possible moment that it is acceptable to arrive for an appointment. The statement "I'll be right back" can mean just that, or it can mean that the speaker is about to depart via steamship for Cairo. The habit drove Bingham bananas and hasn't improved over time, despite a widespread government campaign to combat tardiness a few years ago."

Mark's narrative parallels the expeditions of Hiram Bingham as documented in his books "Inca Land" and "Lost City of the Incas". Where Bingham went, so went Adams. What Adams sees, so wrote the famed explorer. Throughout the book, Adams provides a very smartly written and readable examination of Bingham's extensive and dramatic expeditions. His chapters are short and each thread of his story - his own travel, the history of the Inca Conquest and Bingham's parallel journeys - are woven as seamlessly, intricately and colorfully as a prototypical Andean poncho.

In Adams' parallels with Inca history, he points out the difficulty in separating fact from fiction "because virtually all the sources available are Spanish accounts of stories that had already been vetted by the Inca emperors to highlight their own heroic roles. Imagine a history of modern Iraq, written by Dick Cheney and based on authorized biographies of Saddam Hussein published in Arabic, and you'll get some idea of the problem historians face." Still Adams deftly pulls together multiple resources and his own independent research to trace the earliest beginnings of the Spanish Conquest until they finally subdued the last Inca Emperors.

It was the last Inca holdout that Bingham was seeking. The historical record is confusing, but consistently pointed to a location called Vilcabamba. It was unclear whether Vilcabamba was a town, city, or region, and Bingham's search was further muddied by the historical record pointing to several "final" Inca strongholds. But search he did, and Adams followed.

The first major site on Adams' agenda was Choquequiro, known as the "Cradle of Gold". The site is far less accessible than Machu Picchu despite stop-and-start initiatives by the Peruvian government to create easier tourist access through the Peruvian jungle. It's estimated that only 20-30 percent of the site has been cleared and Adams quotes his guide Leivers suggesting that "When this is all cleared, it'll be one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in the world."

Much new modern analysis of Machu Picchu and the entire Vilcabamba region northwest of Cuzco, revolves around archaeoastronomy - the study of archaeological sites in relation to their positions to each other, their environment and the heavens. Leivers and his ever-present handheld GPS would pinpoint locations of buildings and objects throughout the trip and started to pull together the connective thread of the regions' ruins. Upon climbing to the mountain peak that overlooks the Machu Picchu ruins, Adams wrote, "I had to admit when I ... saw how the site aligned with the natural features surrounding it I'd felt a twinge of...something. Awe? Transendence?"

Adams points out that among the various ruins that Bingham discovered, he also brought to the world the famed Inca Trail which thousands of hikers travel each year. Many Inca trails cross the former Empire, but there's only one Inca Trail - the one that leads to Machu Picchu. Adams followed miles of Inca trail throughout his trip, but needed a second trip with Leivers to explore the Inca Trail itself, and discover the trails' relationship with Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is dotted with ruins of various sizes. Each ruin, whether placed within a terraced valley, or providing a dramatic overlook across jungle and mountains, in its own way, builds dramatically to the point at which it connects with Machu Picchu. Explorer and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence Johan Reinhard succinctly places the Inca Trail in its’ proper context, "you can't finish the Inca Trail and NOT know that this was the end point of a pilgrimage."

As one might imagine, such a hard core experience would have a significant impact on one's life. As Leivers and Adams started their ascent of Mount Machu Picchu, Leivers starts to make a walking stick for himself, but finds that he's left his large hunting knife at their hotel in Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. Adams unzipped his pack, dug around for a moment and then handed his knife to Leivers. The world-wide traveler and adventurer who's led trips across deserts and mountains said "That's good preparation, Mark. Nice sharp blade on it, too." Mark realizes "It was, I'm not ashamed to admit, one of the proudest moments of my life."
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LibraryThing member datrappert
This was as entertaining, fun to read book, and a good introduction to a subject I didn't know much about. Adams is a very engaging writer--which is his strength and also a bit of a weakness. Why it's a strength is obvious. Why I think it's also a weakness is that he tends to turn everyone in the book into a "character" by focusing on their humorous quirks or just by writing about them in his consistent ironic tone. After a couple of hundred pages, this begins to wear a bit thin, although Adams' humor is never forced.

The book's second weakness is its organization. Adams weaves the story of his own trip to Machu Picchu with the story of Hiram Bingham III's expeditions. This works for the most part when describing Bingham's initial journey to Machu Picchu and Adams' own parallel journey, but the last few chapters of the book covering the aftermath of Bingham's "discovery" of Machu Picchu and Adams' further research and return to Peru lacks the same focus. The overall amount of real information conveyed by this book suffers by it not being organized in a way that reveals things a bit more logically. I will give Adams credit, however, for not (at least so far as I know) re-sequencing everything to make a better story they way John Berendt did in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."

Not to focus on these shortcomings, however. This is still a very enjoyable book. It does rouse an admiration in me for the Inca planners and builders who imagined and created Machu Picchu and the other sites discussed in this book. Oddly though, after reading it, I actually have less desire to go to Machu Picchu.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
Mark Adams decides to retrace the steps of explorer Hiram Bingham who is credited with the discovery of Machu Picchu, an Inca site in Peru. The narrative is at times engaging and at times a bit repetitive. The problems seem to stem from trying to incorporate the historical account of Hiram Bingham with the modern-day account of his excursion. The author's use of humor was good throughout the narrative, and it is perhaps this element that has elevated it above other books of modern adventures.… (more)
LibraryThing member TeachArt1
I visited Machu Picchu in my early 20s and ever since, I have been fascinated by its history and its mysteries. I have read several accounts of Hiram Bingham III's life and his "discovery" of what many termed the Lost City of the Incas. (We all know that Bingham discovered the archeological site in the same manner that Columbus "discovered" America, as if no indigenous people ever lived in either place.) This book caught my eye at the library because of my prior interest in the subject.

Author Mark Adams worked for several adventure publications, but never engaged in any adventure of his own. But after reading the controversy over whether Bingham, the "discoverer" of Machu Picchu, had stolen important Peruvian artifacts and whether or not Yale was obliged to return them to Peru, he decided to research the matter and follow in Bingham's footsteps.

Adams writes: “Have you ever seen Mr. Travel Guy? He's the fellow who strides through international airports dressed like he's flying off to hunt wildebeests - shirt with dozens of pockets, drip-dry pants that zip off into shorts, floppy hat with a cord pulled tight under the chin in case a twister blows through the baggage claim area. All of this describes exactly what I was wearing. I could have been trick-or-treating as Hemingway."

The book tells the tale of Adam's physically-demanding trek through Peru with an Australian guide, John Leivers, who seemed to be Hiram Bingham's kindred spirit. Adams interspersed his own story with the history of the Spanish takeover of the Incan Empire and Bingham's own treks through Peru in search of important archeological finds.

Adams has an entertaining writing style that makes this book both an informative and a humorous read.
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LibraryThing member co_coyote
Lots of good information about the trail to Machu Picchu, but told in a "I'm such a klutz" style that I didn't enjoy it all that much. My god, man, suck it up! You are doing what thousands of people wish they could do, with advantages most could never afford. Don't patronize us.
LibraryThing member luciavargas
Entertaining, fun, informative, awesome book! makes me want to put my boots on , get my backpack and go walk the Inca Trail.
LibraryThing member jellyfishjones
Despite the potentially heavy subject matter - one of the most mysterious and majestic archeological discoveries of the 20th century - this is mostly a light, fun read. The narrative, much like the author's journey to retrace explorer Hiram Bingham III's steps, sometimes bogs down, hence the 3 stars. If you've ever read a feature-length article from Outside magazine, then you know exactly what tone to expect from this work. In fact, it often feels that Adams struggles to break out of magazine feature mode and shape a book-length narrative. Still, I can't help but agree with most reviewers that this is a good introduction to the mysteries of Peru and its most famous site, Machu Picchu.… (more)
LibraryThing member manatree
A quick and enjoyable read that makes me want to track down some of his primary sources. The author, decides to try and retrace the steps of Hiram Bingham, the recently controversial 'discoverer' of Machu Picchu. Adams could have easily made this a more detailed book, fleshing out both the historical and his contemporary observations. I think he kept it pared down to attract a broader audience even though judging by his notes he did the research necessary for a more in depth book. That being said, it was a fun read. The Aussie guide that he hires is a piece of work. My only complaint is that I wish the book included more, and better maps that I could use to follow along on the journey. I always tend to find travel & history books to be sorely under mapped.… (more)
LibraryThing member AndrewSinger
I love to travel. When I cannot do so in person, a great travel story is the next best thing. Mark Adams took me on an entertaining journey past and present to a site that has long fascinated me. I'm not planning on roughing it to the degree that he does (ever!), but his description of these Inca sites (on, off, and way off the beaten path), their history and culture, is wonderful. He writes with humor in a down-to-earth style. The opportunity to share in his travels, to experience, learn, and understand that the entire area around Machu Picchu is part of a cosmological whole, much more than the sum of its fascinating parts, is well worth picking up this story, this adventure.… (more)
LibraryThing member Shirezu
I have always had a love of ancient (and not quite so ancient) civilisations as well as a dream to travel the world. Machu Picchu has always been near the top of my list to places to go and, knowing that, my wife gave me this book.

It is about a long-time travel writing editor who finally decides to go on a journey of his own. He settles on Machu Picchu as it, and it's American "discoverer", was back in the news, as well as his wife and her family being Peruvian. But instead of just visiting the ruins he decides to make a proper adventure and follow in the footsteps of famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) explorer, Hiram Bingham III. Bingham is the man most responsible for bringing Machu Picchu and other Incan ruins to the attention of the world.

Part modern-day hiking story, part history lesson, part political lesson this book covers the totality of the Incan ruins in and around southern Peru. The author isn't alone though and is joined by an Australian adventure guide and a team of Peruvians in various roles. Through reading this my eyes were opened to the wider range of archeological remains to be found. Machu Picchu is the most famous but is also the most overrun with tourists. It's still near the top of my list but I am also adding Choquequirao, Espíritu Pampa, Llactapata, Ollantaytambo, and other sites.

The story of the Incans is a sad and unfortunately common one. Destroyed by greed we may never know the full truth behind their sometimes enigmatic ruins. Instead all we can do is our best to educate, preserve and protect.
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LibraryThing member Diabolical_DrZ
Read this on the way to Machu Picchu. Very effective melding of an interesting bit of early 20th century history and biography with a good peak at early 21st century travel zeitgeist. The book does a great job of portraying the principle people involved historical and in the present day.
LibraryThing member NielsenGW
Mark Adams, while following roughly the same path as Hiram Bingham III, 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.
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LibraryThing member satyridae
While I found this interesting, it also dragged a little bit. The parts about Hiram Bingham, old-time explorer (and artifact thief) were perhaps my favorites. I'd certainly love to read a book about Adams' guide John, who is a modern-day Bingham. Lots of fascinating people, not enough photographs. Worth a look.
LibraryThing member eyes.2c
…‘the truth is that Machu Pichu is always going to be something of a mystery’
Machu Pichu is on my ‘bucket list.’
My attention to this fabulous site was further piqued by the interview author Mark Adams did about his then, forthcoming book, Turn Right at Machu Pichu, with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.
(I had already been talking to friends who had visited there and researched times to visit and costs.)
When NetGalley had this title as an ARC I couldn’t resist it.
As many have said Adam’s work is a factual, entertaining and sometimes humorous read that inspires at least me, to hasten a visit to this fascinating site.
I would love to do it the way Adams did, in the footsteps of Hiram Bingham III.
Alas for me, those days have gone. I can however benefit from Adam’s travels, by increasing my understanding of Machu Pichu from his book, and by planning a less rigorous but satisfying experience of the ‘mysterious’ Machu Pichu.

A great read!
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LibraryThing member careburpee
After many years as an editor at National Geographic Adventure magazine, Mark Adams decided that he had had enough of sending other writers off to the far reaches of the globe in search of riveting stories from the world’s most inaccessible places. As the hundredth anniversary of Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu loomed, Adams, married to a Peruvian woman and long fascinated with Bingham (thought by many to be the inspiration for Indiana Jones), decided that this was the assignment to get himself out of his New York office.

And so, with limited outdoors experience (Adams hadn’t been in a tent in he couldn’t remember how long), the author set off to follow in the footsteps of the famous explorer through the jungles of South America. Through a fine balance of humor, thorough research, a well structured narrative, and lively prose, the reader is ushered along on a journey through three eras of history-the age of the Inca, the age of Hiram Bingham, and the age of Mark Adams. Many authors in a memoir of this sort inject far too much of themselves into the narrative. Adams uses his experience to provide comic relief but leaves the focus on Bingham and the Incan history which he strove to unearth in the jungles of Peru. Hiram Bingham’s own pursuit to answer questions pertaining to the Inca which remained unexplored or unanswered in his own day, in part for his own scholarly knowledge, and in part his desire to build his own legacy, was well laid out by Mark Adams. Throughout this exploration of Bingham’s quest the reader is carried along through three time phases simultaneously.

Not being one for jungles (Snakes? I think not!), I was happy to follow along from the comfort and relative safety of my own corner of the globe-yes, we have bears here in the Last Frontier, but at least I can see the threat coming! Mark Adams’ prose is so vivid, the reader will feel transported. I highly recommend this one for its history, adventure, and verve.
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LibraryThing member nittnut
I was a little skeptical at the start of this book. At first, I was concerned it was going to become one of those dreary travelogues where the inexperienced author gets in over their head and the whole thing is a disaster and then they write a book. But it really wasn't that at all. He's definitely inexperienced in terms of that kind of rigorous trekking, but he was all in. The book is a nice mix of historical information about the discovery of Machu Picchu and the author's personal discovery. There are some great stories about things that happen along the way too, but they don't dominate the narrative. It's well written, and if you enjoy travel books, this is a good one. I don't know that I will ever hike the Inca Trail, but I definitely want to visit Peru someday.… (more)
LibraryThing member theeccentriclady
My friend had some books she was giving away and this one seemed interesting. After several weeks of not wanting to pick it back up and seeing it just sit there on my Good Reads currently reading list I had to just give up on it. I enjoyed it when I was reading it most of the time but I found going back into the history so much became boring to me. I learned things I did not know and wish I could have stuck with it but I have way to many other books to read. If you like travel books, a lot of history and do not have a pile of books staring you in the face you might enjoy this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member bragan
Mark Adams spent some time in Peru following in the footsteps (more or less) of Hiram Bingham III, the "discoverer" of the ruins of Machu Picchu. (You kind of have to put the scare quotes around "discoverer," given that there were actually people living there at the time. Not that his expedition wasn't still an impressive feat.) Adams intersperses his account of his own travels with a lot of details about Bingham's life and work, as well as a little bit of Incan history. It's interesting (and very bloody) history, and Adams certainly makes it sound like a marvelous place to visit in person. But, I have to say, my initial reaction to his writing is that while it was perfectly OK, and even featured a few nice, snappy metaphors, it wasn't exactly the liveliest travelog I'd ever read, and the Bingham chapters could actually get a little bit dull. I did like it better as it went along, though, and I suspect the book's failure to grip me quite as much as I would have liked may have had more to do with my mood than with Adams' prose. It is entirely too bad, though, that the photo section is all black-and-white, as it seems like the sights he's describing are definitely ones that deserve to be seen in color.… (more)
LibraryThing member kaulsu
What a wonderful book. For the person intending to visit the awe inspiring site, to the armchair traveler, this is the real deal! Ably narrated by Andrew Garman, I wholeheartedly recommend listening to the audible version. My one tiny regret is that I could not see how the Quechua language was rendered in print.

There is so much more to the story of Machu Picchu than I ever understood. I almost thought about buying some hiking boots...… (more)
LibraryThing member addunn3
Very interesting re-treacing of the Machu Picchu rediscovery in 1911. My only complaint was the lack of maps to help understand how the sites and trails were linked.
LibraryThing member SignoraEdie
A must read if you are going to Machu Picchu. Funny and factual. Give you a good sense of the culture of Peru as well as the history and reality of this wonderful site!
LibraryThing member she_climber
Undecided on whether or not this was a good book to read while trying to plan a trip to Machu Picchu. Now I want to be in Peru for months on end exploring all the ruins everywhere, looking for lost gold, and hiking all over the Andes. Now there is no way time or budget will allow me to do as the author did...retracing the steps of Hiram Bingham from 1911 which led him to Machu Picchu. The book does a nice job of going back and forth between present day and the history of Bingham's journey.

I loved how this guy: a journalist for an adventure magazine, who admittedly doesn't camp, had never slept in a sleeping bag, and whose exercise consists of walking around in Manhattan, took on this monster endeavor. Granted he had the help of John Leivers, the guide of legends (how do I hire this guy?) and a fun-loving cast of porters to help him along the way. But eventually he reached in his back pocket and discovered a "rock hard grapefruit where his butt should be".

The book slowed down toward the end when the author delved into the politics of Bingham's discovery but it picked back up again when the author decided to join back up with Leivers for one last adventure... hiking the Inca trail, tourist style. Which only led to more turmoil in my mind, because that sounded pretty good too.
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LibraryThing member Deankut
Very interesting and worth reading, but lacking in the adventure department..
LibraryThing member jlharmon
This was another Peru trip preparation book. It was more entertaining than the guidebooks, but it still had some historical and contemporary information that I found useful. The book has two interwoven threads. It tells the story of the author's midlife crisis trip to Peru and his crazy month long trek around the Andes with a too-adventurous Australian and a couple of mules. He gets blisters and bug bites and carries a pack around and learns how to machete. He sees all the Inca ruins that are off the beaten path. And of course there's a great description of Machu Picchu. The story of his trek is broken up by the story of Hiram Bingham, the American adventurer/scholar who was the first to excavate Machu Picchu and other sites. You learn the history of that original exploratory trek as you follow the author on his journey to recreate it. And then you are glad that you live 100 years after that first Hiram Bingham expedition and that you won't have to hike to Machu Picchu and get eaten alive by bugs and plants because you bought a train ticket. This book may have worked better in print rather than an audiobook, since it was sometimes hard to keep the modern-day story and the Bingham stories straight over several listening sessions.… (more)
LibraryThing member theonearmedcrab
In “Turn Right at Machu Picchu” (2011) Mark Adams tells several stories, one is that of Mr Adams himself, and another that of the Incas, and their empire’s quick demise at the hand of the Spanish. But the main one concerns the life and obsessions of Hiram Bingham, the first to rediscover Machu Picchu (or not, there may have been other claimants to that title, too). The book is part biography, part following Mr Bingham in his tracks. And part trying to understand how he could have been so wrong in his identification of the last stronghold of the Incas, claiming that it was Machu Pichu whilst missing the obvious clues further into the jungle. Mr Adams works in the publishing business, yet, the book is too long, too many irrelevant elements in the story - not in the least Mr Adams’ life story itself and his penchant for metaphors which are often far-fetched, and not necessarily funny, however hard he is trying. Still, the book is nice enough to have finished it. So, a careful recommendation then.… (more)


Physical description

333 p.; 24 cm


0525952241 / 9780525952244


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