I made it to the land of the Maya a few years back and checked off one my bucket list items: experiencing Chichen Itza.
The site is magnificent; the architecture is awe-inspiring; the history is bloodthirsty and regal and primitive and mythic.
Part of the appeal is the romance of ruins (to borrow a title), and the enigmas inherent in abandoned temples, sacrificial ceynotes, and broken glyphs carved into moss-covered stelae.
There may perhaps be no more inaccessible ruins than those of Machu Picchu, an abandoned Incan citadel situated high in the Andes, hidden amidst the clouds. I think it’s next on my bucket list — but you actually have to do a little adventuring to get there, and my kind of adventuring is really more like reading about adventuring while sitting by the hotel pool, as multiple gin and tonics are brought to me by tanned, bikinied waitresses.
Turn Right at Machu Picchu is a hell of an adventure book, the narrative of Mark Adams and his quest to follow the trail blazed by Hiram Bingham in 1911, when he “discovered” Machu Picchu and brought knowledge of its existence back to Western Civ.
Hiram Bingham in 1931, then a senator, posing on the wing of an honest-to-God autogyro — the preferred mode of travel by pulp heroes and cloaked avengers. No idea who knickers dude is.
This story is told pretty much in alternating chapters of how Bingham found not only Machu Picchu, but three other important Incan sites, and how Adams, almost a century later, braved the Peruvian jungles for insight into the true meaning of the city in the clouds. Plus, it’s a travelogue with a sense of humor. Adams doesn’t hesitate to show just how much a city boy he was, trudging through the tropical jungles with coca-chewing natives, wild llamas and experiencing living in a tent for the first time. It’s his wry humor and his self-deprecating fish-out-of-water story that give personality and charm to what could have been a dull travel book.
I know for sure now that I want to go to Peru and walk the Inca Trail in the shadow of Bingham. Until then, I’ll have to settle for Mexican restaurants and ice-cold Tecates.
It could be worse. And I hope there’s a Machu Picchu Hilton. With a pool.