Turn Right at Machu Picchu
Posted by joeabbott on March 7, 2017
I could have sworn I wrote about this book previously but I have found nothin’ on my site … seems like an omission to not mention such an excellent volume so here goes!
A while back I was strolling the aisles of Costco and, as usual, lingered a bit at their book selection piles. And, in another usual happening, I tossed one of the paperbacks into my cart: Turn Right at Machu Picchu, Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, by Mark Adams. In short: read it. The writing is clean and clear, the pages are full of pop culture references (meaning: fun), and it describes a story a bit short on adventure but deep in engaging history, marvelous characters (both historical and those in modern day), and the jaw-dropping premise of a person whose outdoor exploits consist of camping in a pup tent in his backyard as a child deciding to hike the Incan Trail to Machu Picchu (among other destinations).
I got the book as I know little about Machu Picchu … and what I do know is muddied in New Age beliefs of it being a “power center” … and I hoped the pages would be an engaging way to learn more about this location. And the book certainly came through in that regard. But, the story has multiple layers in it, making a straightforward “book review” a bit of a challenge.
First, Adams covers his story: his motivation for heading out on this trip, the guide who takes him to Machu Picchu as well as many other Incan sites, and the boot-in-front-of-boot hikes. And while boot-in-front-of-boot might sound boring, Adams has an engaging style and the command of an author who knows how to keep his audience interested. On top of that, his overall lack of experience under a backpack makes the tale equal parts preposterous and commendable.
Next, there’s the Incan story, of which some stuff is fascinating and wonderful, and others devastatingly tragic. I’ve read a number of books about the Spanish “conquest” of Mexico and South American and every telling leaves me shaking my head at the barbarism and fundamentally evil nature of mans’ mindset in those days. I won’t dwell on that aspect too much, as I have little in the way of structured thought on the matter, but whenever I hear these stories I wonder that someone didn’t say, “hey, stop a second … what the hell are we doing here?”
Offsetting the headshaking, the fascinating aspects were titillated by Adam’s telling of what’ he’d learned. There was intrigue about who (Westerner) really discovered (if you can discover something the locals already knew about) or visited the site first, wonder at how the site was selected to match up with the Incan religious\life\world views, and mystery that we still don’t really understand how near-prehistoric cultures achieved such engineering marvels. And I repeat that last part for emphasis: we just don’t know how they did it. Yup, we can see what was accomplished or take it apart, but aside from appreciating the mix of engineering and artistry, we don’t know how it was done. The story contained a description of and earthquake on Machu Picchu (or perhaps another Incan site) in which the stones “danced” throughout the rumble and then settled right back into place. Now compare that to “modern” villages that are all but destroyed in face of an earthquake!
And that was the part I was really interested in: why was Machu Picchu built there, what was the site used for, and who were these fabulous engineers who accomplished such a feat. And while archeologists continue to decipher the stones and artifacts left behind (the Incas weren’t much for writing and what text they did have were all but annihilated by the Spaniard clergy and those seeking to rule over them), our understanding of this people is only slowly evolving.
Finally, the book contains a bit about Mark Adams and a small part of his life. Admittedly it only covered a few pages up front to establish his credentials for taking this trip, and a few at the end as he talked about meeting up with his guide on the trip for a foray into Adams’ milieu, New York City. Again, engaging and a fast read, it seamlessly wove its way into a story on Machu Picchu without annoying as a “why is this here” sort of injection.
While all of that is a very fine “what is this book”, I’ll finish here by simply saying, read it. The pages turn quickly as the story evolves, you find yourself engaged in the story of the author and those around him, and you learn a little about a very remarkable place.