Turn Right at Machu Picchu

Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

This book is a perfect example of why I like reading books about places after visiting. I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it at all had I read it before. Having done the Inca Trail, I could follow along their journey and compare their experience with mine.

1) Hiram Bingham’s grandfather, Hiram Bingham I, was sent to Hawaii as a missionary and founded Punahou School, where Obama graduated from.

History is path dependent.

2) Incan stone walls were built without mortar, and these interlocking stone walls withstood earthquakes much better.

Buildings – ancient and modern – are really an impressive human feat. How do we build things that don’t fall down for hundreds of years?

3) Alberto Fujimori defeated the communist group Shining Path and fought inflation.

I was very intrigued when I first learned about this Japanese president of Peru.

4) There is a lot of confusion around the lost city of the Incas.

The Spanish drove the last Incan king (Sapa Inca) to Vilcabamba. This old Vilcabamba is also called Espiritu Pampa, not to be confused with another Vilcabamba near Vitcos. It’s even more confusing because Bingham tried to make a convincing case that Machu Picchu was Espiritu Pampa.

5) The intihuatana is an Incan stone structure that functioned as a solar clock. 

I vaguely remember seeing this at Machu Picchu. After reading this book, I realized I hadn’t tried to learn much when I was there.

6) The sun doesn’t arrive at Machu Picchu at sunrise.

This. It was disappointing to experience “sunrise” there since it kind of just gradually got brighter. Angkor Wat was the same, or maybe we were unlucky with the clouds.

7) Gilbert Grosvenor of National Geographic was a backer of Bingham and made Machu Picchu the cover story in 1913.

One of the author’s conclusions is that even though Bingham was not the first to discover Machu Picchu, he was the one to bring it to the rest of the world.

8) Peru sued Yale to return the items that Bingham had taken from the site.

Karp-Toledo, a former first lady, was one of most vocal figures against Yale.

9) Roald Amundsen was the first to discover the South Pole in 1911.

It must have been a cool time with all these discoveries. It doesn’t happen much anymore – now we just have mysterious plane vanishings.

10) Strikes are serious in Peru, and there was a major one in 1999 when the government tried to build a cable car to Machu Picchu.

I noticed people striking while I was there. I heard it was a teachers’ strike at the time. Googling it now, apparently it lasted for months, and train service to Machu Picchu was stopped for 2 days.

I had low expectations for this book, thinking that it would be really dry (partly because of the uninspiring book cover), but it turned out to be an entertaining mix of history and travelogue. One problem was that the Incan place names throughout were hard to follow, which the author had warned about at the beginning. Otherwise, it was a great way to relive one of the hardest and most memorable weeks of my life.



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