Monday, March 9, 2015

Peru: Reading List for the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, and Amazon Rainforest

Most of my friends know me as an insatiable bibliophile. With a trip to Peru coming up, my friend Trace and I have been sacking our respective library catalogs and reading anything and everything Peru. The travel guides, as you can expect, are pretty one-note. But if you're looking for some good reads to prep you for a trip up the Inca Trail, to the Machu Picchu, or to the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, then these will definitely wet your whistle.

I'm sure there are a ton more awesome books out there, but these were the ones floating around my county library system and thus ended up on my reading shelf. If you have any other recommendations, please add to the comments section! I'd love to hear!


Cradle of Gold, by Christopher Heaney (2011). Chronicles the life & exploits of Hiram Bingham, the man who re-discovered the Machu Picchu and brought it to the attention of the world. It also covers basic Inca history, their assault from the Spanish conquistadors & missionaries as well as Yale's snobbery in refusing to returning the Incan treasures that Hiram stole  exported from the ruins. It's a great book, dry in a few areas but I think a pretty necessary read. Word of warning: If you are Christian, or American, affiliated with Yale, or live within several states of Connecticut, you are probably going to have an uncomfortable bout of what I call Guilt By Association. I mean really, what we did to those people in the name of God and Discovery? Jeesh. We suck.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu, by Mark Adams (2012). This should be read AFTER Cradle of Gold, IMHO, because it's such a different tone and doesn't give you the depth that Cradle did. It's probably one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read though, and non-fic is my favorite genre. Seriously. It's THAT good. Mark Adams, with a cohort of guides, cooks, and muleteers, re-traces Hiram Bingham's steps on his path to discovering Machu Picchu, Vitcos, and Vilcabamba. If you are doing any "Alternative Treks" like Choquequirao, Vilcabamba or Espiritu Pampa you will love the background this book and Cradle of Gold gives on these epic lost cities.* FYI- since Adams is an "Indoorsy" type person, his adventures and commentary will really have you laughing out loud.

*After reading Cradle of Gold and Turn Right at Machu Picchu, I kind of wish Trace and I had signed up for a Choquequirao/Vilcabamba/Espiritu trek instead of the Classic Inca Trail. Oh well... next time, right?

Amazonia, Puerto Maldonado, etc.

Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon, by Paul Rosalie (2014). While there are many books on the Amazon out there, this one covers the region right around Puerto Maldonado, which is where Trace and I (along with most other Cusco visitors, lol...) will be visiting. Mother of God, of course, refers to the Madre de Dios river, on which Puerto Maldonado sits. It's a great book but now I live in terror of what I may experience out on my Amazon adventure: Anaconda as wide as an oil barrel or sadistic, gun-wielding poachers- what's worse? How about stepping on a floating forest and sinking into the muddy depths below, never to emerge again-? Huh. Yeah.

Walking the Amazon: 860 Days, One Step at a Time, by Ed Stafford (2012). Ed Stafford, modern day explorer, gets a whacko idea to follow the headwaters of the Amazon River in Peru all the way to the mouth in Brazil. Walking. Not by boat. An adventure not for the faint-of-heart, but I enjoyed following along vicariously from my warm couch while snacking on Twinkies and licorice. 

A Parrot Without a Name, by Don Stap (1991). This book wasn't in my local library system but Trace recommended it so highly that I bought it on Amazon. I'm currently waiting for it to arrive. Her review was that, although the book petered out in the end, it was a fascinating look at ornithology and the inner workings of the Amazon Rainforest. Can't wait to read it myself!


Death in the Andes, by Mario Vargas Llosa (1993).  I don't read a lot of fiction, especially translated fiction, but this is one of the most intricate and beautiful books I've ever read. Wow. It is, however, a book that I'll have to read at least one more time- because there are several stories going at once (sometimes on the same page)- there were times that I couldn't figure out "where I was." Llosa is a fantastic writer... I'm not surprised he won a Nobel Prize. Will definitely look for more of his work!It covers an area just north of Cusco, where the Shining Path terrorist group was most active in its heyday.

The Clue in the Crossword Cipher, by Carolyn Keene (1967). What? You didn't know that Nancy Drew went to Peru? Neither did I. I read a few Nancy Drew mysteries in middle school but giving that she didn't have a canine or equine sidekick, I lost interest in the series pretty fast. The past few months I've been raiding our library system for All Books Peru though, and when this came up I knew I had to give Nancy another shot. I think in terms of being a young adult book- compared to what you see at Barnes & Noble today- this is very dated and "innocent." Quite nice. Nancy, along with her two pals Bess and George, decide to travel to Peru to help another friend Carla solve the mystery behind a mysterious plaque that has been in her family for generations. As they travel to Lima, Cusco, the Machu Picchu, "the Argentine" and then the Nasco Lines, calamity upon calamity ensues. Whether it be jumping in a raging river to rescue the plaque, evading crashing mountainside boulders or -my favorite- using her strength to avoid being sucked out the cargo door of a flying airplane- Nancy's quick thinking saves the day. For such outlandish, hooky entertainment value, I'm giving 4 stars. I don't read much YA but I'd rather read about Nancy's super-human sleuthing exploits than garbage teenagers lusting after vampires and/or werewolves (yeah haters gonna hate, and I do hate).


 The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness by Peter Matthiessen (1961). I borrowed this from the library as an audiobook- which I'm happy about, because I think reading it would have been a bit tedious. But listening while I worked in the art studio is pretty nice. It covers Matthiessen's journey to South America, including his thoughts on the people, flora, and fauna of Haiti, Suriname, Brazil, Peru, Chile, etc. I'm still in the process of "listening", only on disc 2, so I will do a better review later... Stay tuned!

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard (2006). This was Trace's suggestion, and even though Roosevelt doesn't spend any time in Peru, I'm still adding it to this list/post because it really gives the reader an amazing look at what exploration was like "back in the day" when Roosevelt, his son, and a contingent of Brazilian military decided to take on the exploration of an uncharted river in the great Amazon Rainforest. Whew, that was a long run-on. It's an eye-opening account of how dangerous the Rainforest can really be. Nowadays with our dry-wick clothes, malaria pills and comfy eco-lodges we don't think about the dangers maybe as much as we should. Roosevelt's team had rampant disease, their clothes literally rotted off them, starvation, mutiny within ranks (including a murder), and a host of other perils to contend with. A great book- I couldn't put it down.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann (2009). Another book recommended by Trace (I just started reading it).  Although it centers Peru's neighbor Bolivia, she says it's a great you-can't-put-it-down book that highlights a Hiram Bingham contemporary Percy Fawcett, and his search for lost civilization within the Amazon Rainforest. I hope to have it finished within the week and will post a review.  I'm on chapter 2- so far, so great!


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