Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time

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by Mark Adams

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What happens when an adventure travel expert-who's never actually done anything adventurous-tries to re-create the original expedition to Machu Picchu?

July 24, 1911, was a day for the history books. For on that rainy morning, the young Yale professor Hiram Bingham III climbed into the Andes Mountains of Peru and encountered an ancient city in the clouds


What happens when an adventure travel expert-who's never actually done anything adventurous-tries to re-create the original expedition to Machu Picchu?

July 24, 1911, was a day for the history books. For on that rainy morning, the young Yale professor Hiram Bingham III climbed into the Andes Mountains of Peru and encountered an ancient city in the clouds: the now famous citadel of Machu Picchu. Nearly a century later, news reports have recast the hero explorer as a villain who smuggled out priceless artifacts and stole credit for finding one of the world's greatest archaeological sites.

Mark Adams has spent his career editing adventure and travel magazines, so his plan to investigate the allegations against Bingham by retracing the explorer's perilous path to Machu Picchu isn't completely far- fetched, even if it does require him to sleep in a tent for the first time. With a crusty, antisocial Australian survivalist and several Quechua-speaking, coca-chewing mule tenders as his guides, Adams takes readers through some of the most gorgeous and historic landscapes in Peru, from the ancient Inca capital of Cusco to the enigmatic ruins of Vitcos and Vilcabamba.

Along the way he finds a still-undiscovered country populated with brilliant and eccentric characters, as well as an answer to the question that has nagged scientists since Hiram Bingham's time: Just what was Machu Picchu?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Journalist Adams, whose previous Mr. America was an entertaining rediscovery of the life of early 20th-century fitness guru Bernard Macfadden, explores the weird crevasses of American exploration. In this fascinating history/travelogue, Adams looks at the work of Hiram Bingham III, who became a national sensation after he "discovered" the ancient city of Machu Picchu in July 1911. To celebrate the centennial of Bingham's discovery, Adams attempts to follow Bingham's exact footsteps through the Andes Mountains of Peru, with two clear goals: to figure out "how Bingham had gotten to Machu Picchu in the first place" and, in the face of recent claims that he had illegally smuggled artifacts out of the country, to understand the broader story of Bingham's "all-consuming attempt to solve the mystery of why such a spectacular granite city had been built in such a spellbinding location." Adams successfully weaves Bingham's tales—as well as resuscitating Bingham's positive reputation and accomplishments—into his own description of difficult but often amusing travels with his companions, a rugged Australian survivalist and four local mule tenders, which climaxes with an amazing visual moment that happens only once a year at Machu Picchu on the morning of the winter solstice. (July)
Library Journal
Although Adams was an editor of adventure travel magazines (Outside and National Geographic Adventure), by his own admission he last slept in a tent as a teenager in his parents' yard. In this narrative of his trek through the Peruvian highlands and tropical forests he shares three stories. He writes of the Incas' encounter with the conquistadors and the ultimate collapse of their empire in 1572. The second arc is that of the Yale explorer Hiram Bingham III and his three expeditions in the early 20th century to Peru in search of the lost city of Vilcabamba—the last jungle capital of the rebel Inca state. The last, but certainly not least, is Adams's account of his own trip and the intrepid Australian guide and Peruvian handlers who got him safely to Machu Picchu and back. VERDICT This delightful travelog is reminiscent of Hugh Thomson's The White Rock and Tahir Shah's Trail of Feathers. Adams, both funny and insightful, is intrigued by Machu Picchu without seeming New Agey, and the characters he introduces are compelling. Recommended for adventurers and armchair travelers alike. [See Prepub Alert, 1/3/11.]—Lee Arnold, Historical Soc. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Kirkus Reviews

Intent on undertaking an audacious open-air exploit, but lacking even rudimentary camping skills or basic gear, an adventure-travel writer recounts his unconventional trek to the mysterious Machu Picchu.

Teamed with an irascible Australian guide and a group of Quechua-speaking mule tenders, Adams (Mr. America:How Muscular Millionaire Bernarr Macfadden Transformed the Nation Through Sex, Salad, and the Ultimate Starvation Diet, 2009) journeyed through the wilds of Peru to unravel the persistent puzzle surrounding the Lost City of the Incas: What was its purpose? The author deftly weaves together two story lines, each peopled with striking characters and astonishing landscapes. Told in alternating chapters, Adams details the life and times of Hiram Bingham III, the outsized early-20th-century explorer credited with "discovering" Machu Picchu, whose reputation has recently suffered due to an archaeological controversy. Overlaid on this extensively researched and entertaining historical framework is the author's humorous recounting of his personal and physical transformation during the demanding trek. Following one extremely strenuous hike, Adams confronted a vacation dilemma. He could either jump on a train or walk another six miles with his 60-pound pack filled with books. "This might be my only chance to hike like a serious adventurer, to carry my own pack like atraveler," he writes, "not heave it onto the luggage rack like atourist." Coupled with his keen eye for the absurd and his knowledge of the travel industry, the author gleefully remarks on the excesses of the increasingly commercialized adventure-travel business, while never hesitating to point out his own foibles.

A funny, erudite retrospection offering more subtle and lastingrewards than the usual package tour.

Joshua Hammer
…ebullient…The book seamlessly joins three narrative threads: the brutal 16th-century conquest of the Incas by the Spanish conquistadors and the subsequent retreat of the rebellious ruler, Manco Inca, into a series of jungle redoubts; Bingham's 1911 expedition that retraced Manco's flight; and Adams's own mishap-filled recreation of Bingham's trip a century later.
—The New York Times Book Review
Jonathan Yardley
Adams gives all… theories their moment, but finally concludes that “Machu Picchu is always going to be something of a mystery. Which is, of course, part of its allure.” En route to this judgment Adams makes his way to a number of extraordinary places, all of them spectacular but pale by comparison with Machu Picchu. He has a few adventures and a scare or two, and gets a considerably deeper immersion in Peruvian life and culture than he’d previously been exposed to in Lima.
—The Washington Post
Entertainment Weekly
An engaging, informative guide to all things Inca.
Christian Science Monitor ("Editor's Choice")

“Quite funny and unpretentiously well informed...The perfect way to acknowledge the lost city’s 100th birthday.”

-Entertainment Weekly
“An engaging, informative guide to all things Inca.”
-Christian Science Monitor ("Editor's Choice")
“Quite funny and unpretentiously well informed...The perfect way to acknowledge the lost city’s 100th birthday.”
-Jonathan Yardley
"[An] entirely delightful book."
-Christian Science Monitor (“Editor’s Choice”)
“Quite funny and unpretentiously well informed...The perfect way to acknowledge the lost city’s 100th birthday.”
From the Publisher
“An engaging, informative guide to all things Inca.” — Entertainment Weekly

“Quite funny and unpretentiously well informed...The perfect way to acknowledge the lost city’s 100th birthday.” — Christian Science Monitor (“Editor’s Choice”)

"[An] entirely delightful book." — Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.08(w) x 6.24(h) x 1.16(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

John's “martini explorer” comment had unnerved me a little—compared to Bingham, I was a white-wine spritzer explorer—so before committing to anything, I thought I should mention that it had been a while since I had slept outdoors. What came out of my mouth instead was “I might not be completely up-to-date on the latest tent-erecting methods.”
“That's all right,” John said. “We'll need mules for a trip like this and the arrieros—the muleteers—can set up the tents. How do you feel about food?”
“You like cooked food?” John asked.
I admitted that I did, in fact, have a weakness for victuals prepared over heat.

Meet the Author

Mark Adams is the author of the acclaimed history Mr. America, which The Washington Post named a Best Book of 2009. A writer for many national magazines, including GQ, Outside, and National Geographic, he lives near New York City with his wife and children.

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Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
JGolomb More than 1 year ago
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, and climbed miles of off-the-beaten-path terrain. 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. 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 banan
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because my college aged son was about to embark on a year-long volunteer position in the mountains of Peru. I wanted a little background and some history. I got both and more. Adams is an engaging and fluid writer, as you would expect from a desk bound editor of a travel journal finally adventuring rather than editing other's travellogs. What I did not expect was how funny Adams was, and how his personality lent itself to observation of the amazing Andes. His persoanal account of his own travels is woven nicely with the history of the exploration of the region by a Yale professor in the early 20th century, and a history of the Inca Empire. Adams writes with equal parts of admiration for the professor/adventurer and modern distain for the disrespect shown by a plunderer of the Lost City of the Incas. He also writes with humor and tenderness and an obvious love of the Andes, his guides and porters. I have recommended this book to a large and diverse group of readers, from my son, wife and father, to history buffs and to fans of "fish out of water" comedies and to readers of non-fiction adverture tales. You will not be disappointed by the book.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
"Turn Right at Machu Pic­chu: Redis­cov­er­ing the Lost City One Step at a Time" by Mark Adams is a non-fiction book in which the author fol­lows the foot­steps of Hiram Bing­ham III. Jour­nal­ist Mark Adams has spent a lot of time read­ing and edit­ing sto­ries for travel mag­a­zines. This time he decided to be part of the story and inves­ti­gate alle­ga­tions brought against Hiram Bing­ham III by retrac­ing the famous explorer's journey. Part travel jour­nal, part adven­ture story and part his­tory les­son, Adams takes the read­ers into the extra­or­di­nary and col­or­ful land of Peru in his search to find out what exactly was Machu Picchu. One hun­dred years ago today explorer Hiram Bing­ham III found Machu Pic­chu and brought his find­ings to the rest of the world. Mark Adams (web­site), who worked for adven­ture mag­a­zines, used his con­tacts to fol­low Bingham's foot­steps in the jun­gles of Peru. I vis­ited Machu Pic­chu in 1992, before there was a cap on vis­i­tors and the touris­tic part of the visit was not as oiled as it is today. We had to find our own guide, hired some mules on the way and hoped we had enough food to last us for sev­eral days while we walked the Inca Trail. At the time I didn't appre­ci­ate what I was doing, I was young, in shape and fig­ured that it's a "must do". Sev­eral years later it dawned on me what I was priv­i­leged to do and priv­i­leged to see and experience. In "Turn Right at Machu Pic­chu: Redis­cov­er­ing the Lost City One Step at a Time" Mark Adams takes my lit­tle trip a step fur­ther, he actu­ally walks in the foot­steps of Hiram Bing­ham III in places where few have ventured. The book is in part a funny/serious trav­el­ogue, part smart his­tory and part inves­tiga­tive report into Bingham's dis­cov­ery all encom­passed in an unbend­ing adven­ture. Mr. Adams, who was not a seri­ous adven­turer at the begin­ning of the trip, did well by sur­round­ing him­self with John Leivers , a pro­fes­sional guide who, for me, was the high­light of this book. I cer­tainly under­stood Mr. Adams' annoy­ance with what he calls "Peru­vian Time". It drove me, a per­son who con­sid­ers being on time as being late, absolutely nuts. There is a whole another issue which Mr. Adams passed on telling about the loose def­i­n­i­tion of "the truth" as well as for­eign­ers being "fair game" / walk­ing ATM machine, all of which sim­ply rang up a wrong nerve with me. Adams' jour­ney par­al­lels the one Bing­ham describes in his books "Inca Land" and "Lost City of the Incas". Adams writes a very read­able nar­ra­tive of his jour­ney, Inca his­tory, Bingham's adven­tures as well as a lit­tle Peru­vian his­tory and cul­ture tidbits. Being that the first hand research mate­r­ial that is avail­able for the Inca Empire has been chopped and diced by the emper­ors to glo­rify them­selv
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An interesting travelogue of Mr. Adams' treks in Peru interspersed with data about Hiram Bingham, the purported discoverer of Machu Picchu and a history of the Inca Empire's downfall as Pizarro and his ilk pillage the Empire and murder its rulers. Mr. Adams descriptions of the ruins in several locations accompanied with his historical perspectives gives us a glimpse into what the Empire looked like in its heyday. Adams writes a compelling account and presents a great way to learn about this period in Peru's history. E readers should refer to the glossary and historical chronology at the back of the book for enhanced understanding of the text. I wish I had realized it was there before I finished the book.
Gregor1066 More than 1 year ago
Mark Adams has taken and documented a trip that many of us only wish we could take. This story captured me from the beginning and once started, the Nook was difficult to put down. Following the steps of Bingham, Adams travels in the Andes of Peru to visit several of the "lost" Inca strongholds, from the heights of the mountains to the depths of the humid Amazon jungle. Not only does he make these Inca areas sound wonderful to visit, but the human side of his adventure with John and the porters makes you feel like you are with him and his team. My Step Daughter has taken the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and has experienced some of this adventure (of which I know I am unfit to do...at this time anyway). But Adams goes beyond the routine traveler's trip to Machu Picchu and does it the old fashion way - on foot and straight up hill in sweaty clothes, bitting insects, aching feet and strained muscles. Would recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about Bingham, Machu Picchu's discovery and real adventure travel in general.
DoranneLongPTMS More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Mark Adams entertainingly relates his own trek in Peru, as he follows in the footsteps of Hiram Bingham III and his "discovery" of Machu Picchu in 1911. Having traveled in Peru myself, I can relate to much of what he shares.
ARD66 More than 1 year ago
History and humor all together! I'm going to Peru in a couple of months and this book told the history in an interesting way with lots of humor thrown in. Mark Adams did an excellent job on this one!
TheBibliophile More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I've always wanted to visit Machu Picchu and this book gives a completely different view of one of the most well-known Incan city. It has definitely changed the way I want to experience Machu Picchu. Great book...especially as I had just finished "Ice Maiden."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fabulous, well written book
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it's kind of boring...
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fun.book to read. Liked the humor and the description of both Bingham's trips and the author's trips. Great storytelling.
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freespeechlibrarian More than 1 year ago
i REALLY enjoyed this book!
donnareads911 More than 1 year ago
Yawn..... Bored even though the land and history is rich and colorful. Just didn't feel the excitement.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Very enjoyable read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago