Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams is a hugely fun read. The author, an office-bound editor at various outdoor and adventure magazines, takes it into his head to retrace the steps of Hiram Bingham, the man who (allegedly) discovered Machu Picchu in 1911. So he hires a highly experienced and well-regarded guide and gets to work.
I love books about adventure. I don't know why; I have no desire to, say, climb a mountain or trek through Amazonian jungles. But I sure love to read about others who do. This book is right up my alley, then, but here's a surprising thing: unlike other adventure books I've read, which I've enjoyed but had no desire to emulate, Adams' account made me wish I could hire a personal trainer, get in shape, and then retrace his entire trip. That's quite an accomplishment on Adams' part.
A great part of that is Adams' humorous, often self-deprecating tales of his own lack of experience. When he meets with guide John Leivers, Leivers talks dismissively of "martini explorers"--people who want to be adventurous but can't cope without the luxuries of life. Adams thinks with trepidation that, compared to Bingham or Leivers, he himself is a white wine spritzer explorer. But he's determined to suck it up and complete the journey.
Leivers himself is an interesting character, with plenty to say about the way people live today. He laments the days when travelers were really travelers, wanting to immerse themselves in a trip to Machu Picchu rather than viewing it as just another item to tick off the bucket list: "'It used to take three weeks to get people in the right frame of mind, to un-brainwash them. Now it would take three months just to get people's heads straightened out. A lot of times, with women especially, these trips would change their lives. They'd go back to London, quit their jobs and sack their awful boyfriends. It's a real problem now--people don't know how to enjoy life. They want hedonism, short-term thrills.'"
And so the tale goes, with chapters of Adams' adventures interspersed with historical highlights and controversies over Bingham's work. You know what this book is like? It's like the movie Julie & Julia, except that the Julie parts are as entertaining, if not more so, than the Julia parts.
Along the way, Adams meets some kids who have never heard of the U.S., but ask him if it's true that Michael Jackson is dead: "I tried, and failed, to come up with the Spanish words to say, 'The King of Pop will live forever in our hearts.' So I just nodded yes and tried to look sad."
While poking gentle fun at the Peruvian way of getting things done--in which time means nothing, and truth is hazy--Adams still manages to display a huge amount of respect for the people and the sites. The photos that accompany the book are far too few; I pored over them again and again and wished there were more.
Maybe...if I just got in better shape...and saved some money...