Intent on undertaking an audacious open-air exploit, but lacking even rudimentary camping skills or basic gear, an adventure-travel writer recounts his unconventional trek to the mysterious Machu Picchu.
Teamed with an irascible Australian guide and a group of Quechua-speaking mule tenders, Adams (Mr. America: How Muscular Millionaire Bernarr Macfadden Transformed the Nation Through Sex, Salad, and the Ultimate Starvation Diet, 2009) journeyed through the wilds of Peru to unravel the persistent puzzle surrounding the Lost City of the Incas: What was its purpose? The author deftly weaves together two story lines, each peopled with striking characters and astonishing landscapes. Told in alternating chapters, Adams details the life and times of Hiram Bingham III, the outsized early-20th-century explorer credited with “discovering” Machu Picchu, whose reputation has recently suffered due to an archaeological controversy. Overlaid on this extensively researched and entertaining historical framework is the author’s humorous recounting of his personal and physical transformation during the demanding trek. Following one extremely strenuous hike, Adams confronted a vacation dilemma. He could either jump on a train or walk another six miles with his 60-pound pack filled with books. “This might be my only chance to hike like a serious adventurer, to carry my own pack like a traveler,” he writes, “not heave it onto the luggage rack like a tourist.” Coupled with his keen eye for the absurd and his knowledge of the travel industry, the author gleefully remarks on the excesses of the increasingly commercialized adventure-travel business, while never hesitating to point out his own foibles.
A funny, erudite retrospection offering more subtle and lasting rewards than the usual package tour.