Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

What happens when an adventure travel expert – who’s never actually done anything adventurous – tries to re-create the original expedition to Machu Picchu? That’s exactly what Mark Adams does in Turn Right at Machu Picchu and lucky for us, we get to ride along vicariously.

July 24, 1911, was a day for the history books for on that rainy morning, the young Yale professor Hiram Bingham III climbed into the Andes Mountains of Peru and encountered an ancient city in the clouds: the now famous citadel of Machu Picchu. Nearly a century later, news reports have recast the hero explorer as a villain who smuggled out priceless artifacts and stole credit for finding one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites.

Mark Adams has spent his career editing adventure and travel magazines, so his plan to investigate the allegations against Bingham by retracing the explorer’s perilous path to Machu Picchu isn’t completely far- fetched, even if it does require him to sleep in a tent for the first time. With a crusty, antisocial Australian survivalist and several Quechua-speaking, coca-chewing mule tenders as his guides, Adams takes readers through some of the most gorgeous and historic landscapes in Peru, from the ancient Inca capital of Cusco to the enigmatic ruins of Vitcos and Vilcabamba. Along the way he finds a still-undiscovered country populated with brilliant and eccentric characters, as well as an answer to the question that has nagged scientists since Hiram Bingham’s time: Just what was Machu Picchu? (description from the publisher)

Best Books, Part 4

Here’s the last entry in our Best Books of 2011 from our blogging librarians.

Maggie says “My favorite of 2011 is Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. It’s a dense, relatable, beautifully written book by my favorite author. It’s also the most moving book I read this year. P.S. very hard to pick just one….”

And here’s Ann’s choice. “2011 wasn’t a particularly “good” reading year for me; I read several entertaining books, but nothing that knocked my socks off. However, there was one book from this year that will always be a stand-out for me – Rick Steve’s Paris 2011. With the huge number of travel books available, Rick Steves is a great choice for the first-time traveler, showing you the basics yet encouraging you to get off the beaten tourist path. You can be sure that all of his recommendations have been personally vetted (and they have never steered me wrong) And yes, the trip was fantastic!”

Now it’s your turn – what was your favorite book that you read in 2011? Let us know in the comments!

Best wishes for a Happy New Year in 2012 – may it be overflowing with great books!

Half Finished Books – Part One – True Love (And Other Lies)

 True Love (And Other Lies) by Whitney Gaskell has an interesting premise and a promising heroine.Things I like – Clare is funny and snarkily irreverent about her job as a travel writer for the magazine, Sassy Seniors!

Based in New York, she must evaluate destinations with an eye for early-bird specials and frugal accommodations. Usually, when she gets to travel, she’s sent to budget hotels in American cities.When she finally  gets an opportunity to go to London, she feels the time spent paying her dues has paid off.

(Actually the reason I am reading the book is because I did a search for novels about travel or travel writers).

Stay tuned…

The Lure of the Open Road

What is it about Americans and cars? Maybe it’s the sheer size of our country, or our heritage from our pioneer ancestors who were forever exploring the open road, but most of us have a real attachment to our cars. While plane travel and gas prices have made some difference in vacation plans, the tradition of seeing the country from the road remains strong. Start planning your next road trip with these two new books.

Drives of a Lifetime from National Geographic. This coffee-table-worthy book covers 500 trips world-wide, from spectacular scenery to sophisticated cities. Divided by types of trips (including mountains, sea, rivers, villages, urban, historic and gourmet) you’ll find the famous (the Grand Canyon, Mt Fuji, the Cotswolds of England) to the less traveled (the coast of Newfoundland in Canada, Cuban byways or the Okavango Delta in Botswana) Scattered throughout are quick “top ten” drives by subject (Wilderness Drives, Untamed Roads, African River Drives, Music Drives, Spectacular Bridges) and several “ultimate road trips” with more detail (Australia’s Great Ocean Road, Arches and Canyons of Utah, Sunset Boulevard in California) As you would expect from National Geographic, the photographs are outstanding.

USA’s Best Trips from Lonely Planet. No photos but lots more detail, this title concentrates on just the US with 99 itineraries with something for everyone including lists by theme (city, historic, culinary, etc) Most range in length from 2 to 5 days and are arranged geographically so it’d be easy to string two or more together. Some of the most fun are the longer, iconic cross-country trips – Route 66, Massachusetts to Miami, the Lincoln Highway, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great River Road, the Great Divide (Rocky Mountains) and the Pacific Coast Highway. You’ll never be short of ideas for the your next great American road trip.

Fifty Places to Hike Before You Die by Chris Santella

Working on your bucket list? Here’s a great book that will get you out into some of the most beautiful places in the world for a once in a lifetime experience.

Fifty Place to Hike Before You Die explores the world’s greatest walking adventures. Some, such as the Lunana Snowman Trek in Bhutan  or the Kangshung Valley Trek in Tibet, are difficult, multiweek backpacking adventures. Others, such as Japan’s Nakesando Trail, are more leisurely, traveling from village to village or try Italy’s Amalfi Coast, visiting bistros along the way. There are hikes from all parts of the world and include the expected – the Matterhorn in Switzerland and the Grand Canyon in Arizona – and the surprising – Snow Lake in Pakistan and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. All of them have one thing in common though – extraordinary experiences in extraordinary places.

The major shortcoming of this book is the brevity of each entry – while basics of each trail are included, the serious traveler will need to investigate more complete information in other sources. Treat Fifty Hikes as an appetizer, an introduction to possibility and inspiration. Then choose a destination, get out your hiking boots and mark another item off that list!

All Over the Map by Laura Fraser

Following her memoir, An Italian Affair, travel writer Laura Fraser shares an intimate peek into her private life, which includes traveling to exotic places and interviewing eccentric personalities in All Over the Map.

On one hand, I was at once envious, wishing I had the means to travel, seemingly at whim, to such intriguing locals (Italy, Provence, Peru, Samoa, etc.) but on the other hand, sympathetic to what dangers she may have faced (Rwanda) and to what her career and lifestyle choices have forced her to forego — a lasting marriage and children of her own.

She is open about her love affairs, poignantly honest about an assault in the South Pacific, and appreciative of her large network of friends.  In all, the book achieves the desired result and illustrates why she is successful in her field — readers may have seen her work featured in O, the Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, and many other publications.  Those who enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love will also enjoy this; plus it’s also an excellent example of how a non-fiction work can read like fiction.

Cold Reads: This Cold Heaven by Gretel Ehrlich

For the last decade, Gretel Ehrlich has been obsessed by an island, a terrain, a culture, and the treacherous beauty of a world that is defined by ice. In This Cold Heaven she combines the story of her travels with history and cultural anthropology to reveal a Greenland that few of us could otherwise imagine.

Ehrlich unlocks the secrets of this severe land and those who live there; a hardy people who still travel by dogsled and kayak and prefer the mystical four months a year of endless darkness to the gentler summers without night. She discovers the twenty-three words the Inuit have for ice, befriends a polar bear hunter, and comes to agree with the great Danish-Inuit explorer Knud Rasmussen that “all true wisdom is only to be found far from the dwellings of man, in great solitudes.” This Cold Heaven is at once a thrilling adventure story and a meditation on the clarity of life at the extreme edge of the world. – Barnes and Noble synopsis

Once in a Lifetime Trips by Chris Santella

If you like to travel, you’ll love this book!  In creating this little treasure of a book, Once in a Lifetime Trips: The World’s 50 Most Extraordinary and Memorable Travel Experiences, author Chris Santella  interviewed travel experts with first-hand knowledge of the destinations  described.  The photographs alone are enough to make one drool — the stunning full-page color vistas really seem to capture the essence of each location– and make one dream of someday seeing them in person.

Included are some places I’ve always wanted to go to (such as Machu Picchu in Peru); others I’ve never even considered (Mongolia or Cappadocai) and some, such as Provence by Bike, that I just might have to investigate.  One drawback — these are not cheap trips — they are first class, often even using private jets to conveniently transport guests get from point A to point B, so for most of us, they really are once in a lifetime trips, if ever.  Still, it doesn’t hurt to drool and dream!

Hawaii: the Big Island Revealed

submitted by Georgann

Aptly subtitled “the Ultimate Guidebook,” Hawaii: the Big Island Revealed was a great help to us on our recent trip to The Big Island. Authors Andrew Doughty and Harriett Friedman were terrific “tour guides.” The prose is well-written, humorous and thorough. I was so glad we took this book along!

It can be overwhelming to plan a trip to a far-away place, but the authors told us what to do and what to skip. All the recommendations they made were well worth following. And when we didn’t follow but struck out on our own, our results were less than stellar. I liked how they rated places to see with “Real Gem” or “Not to be Missed” icons.

The authors tell you where to turn by mile marker. I had no idea how extremely helpful that would be until we began driving and realized that there is very little signage along the roads. Businesses are not allowed signs in front, but only can put their names on the buildings themselves, so it is easy to drive right by and miss the place you were looking for. Also, even the highways signs were different, so the mile marker directions were important.

Our guidebook made it safely to The Big Island, was well used while there, and is back on the shelf at the library. If you are planning a trip, take this “Real Gem” along! Even if you aren’t going, it is a fun and interesting read!

All the Live Long Day

With the last years’ worth of talk about passenger rail between here and Chicago, there is a vivid battle on our local papers’ comment pages between the “that would be nice” faction and the “they’re just trying to get re-elected, where will the money come from?” team.

Before taking a side, one might wish to peruse this fresh book by James McCommons, Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service.

This one isn’t gathering dust on our shelf.  People are using it no doubt to bolster their arguments.  That being said, how cool would it be for Cubs fans and the 75% of the University of Iowa students from Chicagoland? Or, nationally, anyone spending two hours riding the bus in Los Angeles for lack of infrastructure?