Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book 127: Turn Right at Machu Picchu

Every time I read a book like this or Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, I feel like I could totally go hiking for several days and almost feel inspired to do it except for the pesky sleeping outside and carrying a tent on my back part of it.  Give me Hawaii - spend the day hiking, and then return to a nice hotel with a shower and dinner in the evening, and hike somewhere else the next day.
Anyway, Mark Adams has worked for travel adventure magazines for a good portion of his life though he has never actually had a travel adventure.  His wife is from Peru and he has visited numerous times, but he hasn't been to the big tourist attraction or ancient ruins of Machu Picchu.  However, he feels inspired to do something and with the 100 year anniversary of the "discovery" of Machu Picchu looming, he decides to hike in Peru and document the trip (this book is a few years old since this discovery was in 1911).
The book is a nice mix of the known history of the Incans, especially around the time of the invasion, mixed with the history of the exploration of its forests and jungles as explorers became more interested.  In some cases the sites these exploreres "discovered" actually had people living on them so they had never been lost per se, but consciousness and interest was raised once the spot light was turned on them.  He also sheds light on Hiram Bingham III, the son of a family of missionaries who wants to make a mark on the world.  He has become a rather controversial figure, and Adams does a relatively good job of balancing the man with the legend, and showing why he has fallen out of favor while also highlighting some of the good he accomplished.
Overall, I thought it was a very informative book and while it doesn't seem anyone is quite agreed yet on what Machu Picchu represents (different theories at different times have included the last city of the Incas that they retreated to, a summer estate, the end of pilgrimage), he does present and make a case for some the more plausible theories.  He also does a good job with deprecating humor as he is clearly out of his depth compared to his guide that has hiked this trails so many times.  As I said, it does make me want to explore at least parts of the trail and see it for myself but I just don't think I have the living out of a backpack thing in me, at least when it's for vacation and pleasure.

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