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Travel Porn is a feature in which I review books from my beloved travel literature genre. So far I’ve reviewed Bangkok Noir, a short story collection that brings the noir genre to the steamy streets of Thailand, Hotel Honolulu, a fictional account of a Waikiki hotel manager’s quirky life in a paradise lost, Tiger Balm, the memoir of a woman traveling through Indochina in the year I was born, Walking the Amazon, the true story of a man who spent 860 walking the entire length of the Amazon, and Headhunters on my Doorstep, the story of a recovering alcoholic following in the footsteps of Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson. This genre, this kind of book — it’s travel porn, plain and simple.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu“The Inca Trail is like the narrative of Alice in Wonderland — dreamlike and open to interpretation.”

Turn Right at Machu Picchu must be a bestseller in the departure lounge of flights to Peru — on my flight into Lima alone, I saw two other travelers clutching copies. What could be a better read for a girl heading out to do just as the title of the book demands?

A Look Inside

Like the subject of my last Travel Porn book review, Turn Right at Machu Picchu features three interwoven story lines. The first is of the proud Inca warriors fighting the invading Spanish for their empire and eventually retreating to a city in the clouds, a city that would someday bring visitors from all over the world straight to Peru. But first the city would be lost and found and lost again and staked claim to by a revolving door of discoverers, including the most infamous among them, Hiram Bringham III. These stories are brought to life as Mark Adams, a former cubicle-trapped author of an adventure sports magazine takes to the road for the first time to follow in their footsteps and practice what he’s been preaching all those years.

What I Liked

I always love to read travel books while I’m in the subject destination, as it is always a thrill to recognize exotic places in literature as the city you had breakfast in last Tuesday. When the author mentioned the Kevlar-like orange peels on his Inca Trail trek, I had just been struggling with the skin of my own naranjo on my own hike.

I recognized hints of my favorite humor/travel writer, J. Maarten Troost in some of Adam’s writing. His desire to impress his Crocodile Dundee-style guide John means that truths such as “the last time I’d slept in a tent was in 1978, when my father brought an imitation teepee home from Sears and set it up in our backyard” get blurted out as, “I might not be completely up-to-date on the latest tent-erecting methods…” and he rightly describes the Inca Trail as “Woodstock for people with gym memberships.” I admired the author’s good nature and sense of adventure in the face of limited experience and other obstacles, and enjoyed when the narrative followed his present day story and included personal anecdotes.

Stories of interviews with impressive figures like the former First Lady of Peru and the discoverer of the country’s prized Ice Maiden are interspersed with stories of the author’s years working for an adventure magazine from behind a desk and his tales of trekking through Peru. My favorite recounted his story of meeting small children in the rural countryside who had never heard of the United States but inquired sincerely if the rumor was true — was Micheal Jackson really dead?

Machu Picchu, PeruI equally enjoyed the second level of the book, the chapters that flashed back to the parallel story of Hiram Brigham’s Peruvian expeditions. The explorer was born in Hawaii, one of my favorite places on Earth, which put me in the position to like an otherwise hubristic and seemingly ego-driven man.

One of Hiram’s challenges made me laugh, as it seems to be a common problem for adventurers in Peru. Just as the author of Walking the Amazon had to convince local tribespeople he was not a pela cara out to steal their organs, Bringam’s expedition was held up by a rumor of a crime ring in which locals were murdered so their siphoned body fat could be sold to cosmetics manufacturers. The rumor mill is as alive and well in Peru now as it was in the early 1900s.

The third level of the narrative flashed back to the bloody time of the Spanish invasion of Peru, when the Incas allegedly fled Machu Picchu. Having struggled through my guidebook’s history chapter, this section of the story helped me flesh out and humanize my understanding of this chapter Peruvian history, for which I am grateful. It is hard not to imagine what this ancient culture might be today had it been left to flourish without the violent influence of outsiders. One of my favorite anecdotes from the book was of an earthquake the struck Cusco in 1950, collapsing many Spanish buildings and revealing the intact expert stonework of Inca walls underneath.

What I Didn’t Like

There wasn’t much I didn’t specifically like about this book, though I might not have felt the same deep connection with the author as I have with other travel memoirs. I do wish there had been a better map included as even as I was traveling Peru at the time of reading I was often confused as to where the author was, and I also wish the publishers had sprung for color printing on the photos inserts. Machu Picchu just isn’t as spectacular in black and white.

While this isn’t a criticism of the book so much as the brutality of the Spanish invasion of Peru, I found it difficult to stomach some of the violence described.

Who This Book is For

Travelers planning a trip to Peru, hiking enthusiasts, and history buffs.

Now It’s Your Turn!

Today I’m giving away a brand new hard cover copy of Turn Right at Machu Picchu to one of you! Think of it as a virtual free bookshelf at your favorite hostel. Readers from all countries are welcome to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway copy of this book has been provided to me, at my request, by the publisher. The link in these posts are Amazon Affiliate links, and I will earn a small commission from any resulting purchases.

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14 Comments...
  • Sarah Somewhere
    December 13 2013

    Sounds like a great book for me to ‘bookmark’ for next year! I’ve heard that the ‘history’ the guides offer on the trek is a little sketchy, so it would be good to get a historical persective in an entertaining narrative form. Thanks for the recommendation 🙂
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..On staying and going

    • Alex
      December 14 2013

      Maybe I will get the pleasure of sending you a copy, Sarah!

      • Sarah Somewhere
        December 14 2013

        Dude, I wish, but the postal system of Mexico must be the worst in the world. I haven’t entered for this reason alone 🙂
        Sarah Somewhere recently posted..On staying and going

        • Alex
          December 16 2013

          Ha, I can imagine mailing from Peru to Mexico would put the postal system to the test 🙂

  • Valerie
    December 14 2013

    I love following your South American travels! Am planning a trip there next year!

    • Alex
      December 14 2013

      Awesome, Valerie! Hope these posts have been helpful!

  • Caroline
    December 14 2013

    Sounds like a good read for Peru – I’m loving your coverage on South America. I’m hoping to make it there really soon!

    • Alex
      December 16 2013

      Glad you aren’t getting sick of South America! I know sometimes readers get sick of reading about a place before I get sick of being in it 🙂

  • Rashad Pharaon
    December 16 2013

    Thanks for the recommendation. I also really like The Celestine Prophecy for Peru as well!
    Rashad Pharaon recently posted..How To Start Saving Money To Travel The World

    • Alex
      December 16 2013

      I will check that out Rashad — thanks for the suggestion!

  • Frank
    December 16 2013

    This is such a great book! I really wish I had read it BEFORE going to Machupicchu, it’s got such great information as you pointed out, written in a very humorous way. I’m also a J. Maarten Troost fan and cannot wait when/if he puts out another book, humorous travel writing I find to be the most entertaining.

    Have a great time in Peru!
    Frank recently posted..Cooking up a Storm in Chiang Mai

    • Alex
      December 16 2013

      I actually read this book ON THE TRAIL and it was the perfect thing to drift to sleep to every night! As for Troost, did you read Headhunters on my Doorstep yet? It just came out — it was my last review in this series! Check out my post for my thoughts on his third 🙂

      • Frank
        December 16 2013

        Just read your review, sorry for the multiple comments! I will definitely be checking out Headhunters. If you’re into the adventure mixed with history while still being funny style of travel writing I’d recommend The Lost City of Z. It’s pretty fascinating and a great read.
        Frank recently posted..Cooking up a Storm in Chiang Mai

        • Alex
          December 17 2013

          Thanks for the recommend! Just added it to my Amazon wish list 🙂

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