Travel writers who made the trek to Peru for the 100th anniversary celebration of Hiram Bingham's arrival at Machu Picchu are facing a dilemma, whether or not to put the word discovery in quotes. As more than a few scribblers have rightly observed, the American merely followed native guides to the abandoned city: His revelation was their constitutional.
Writers are hedging their bets so far. The Los Angeles Times is simply running 100 facts about the site while The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal broached the topic through Mark Adams, whose new book Turn Right at Machu Picchu retraces Bingham's steps.
The one voice that has never leaned towards ambivalence in discussing Bingham's achievement is that of the Peruvian government, which has skipped the hand-wringing and headed straight for the party. The light show begins Thursday night.
In bypassing the symposium on the morals of archeology, government officials sent the clear message that it is more pleased that Machu Picchu falls within its border than it is concerned about the Incan legacy. They can join the club.
Of the 657,000 visitors that make their way to Machu Picchu annually, only a handful are, as Bingham was, expert in South American history. Fewer still are archeologists or researchers. Visitors to Machu Picchu are normal people who wish to spend a day or two in the thrall of an amazing place.
In 1922 Bingham, peering around his Harvard PhD, presaged the mountain city's inevitable future, writing: "Whoever they were, whatever name be finally assigned to this site by future historians, of this I feel sure that few romances can ever surpass that of the granite citadel on top of the beetling precipices of Machu Picchu, the crown of Inca Land."
Bingham understood that details would only obscure the view. Discovered, "discovered," or re-discovered, the crucial thing to know about Machu Picchu is that its beautiful.
The Peruvian government is still hosting journalists from around the world, so there will be a few more Machu Picchu stories popping up in your news source of choice. If these stories don't compel you to go, the romantic vistas pictured below should do the trick.