One of the most interesting nights during our trips here in Ecuador is when Ken gets in a story-telling kind of mood and is willing to share the legend of the Inca Gold with us. With great expectation, we pull up a chair with a Pilsner beer in hand and prepare to get lost in the tale.
Finishing up our final paddling trips this winter, we are now all familiar with Ken´s stories of treasure hunting. But to top off the stories, we have thirteen years of our own treasure stories here in Ecuador when it comes to our kayak trips.
Kens story starts out in the early 1500s when a civil war had the Incan empire torn apart (an empire that extended from Columbia down to Chile, with Cuzco Peru and Quito Ecuador being the two seats of power). Led by Francisco Pizzaro, the timing of the Spanish could not have been better as the combination of civil war and disease ravaged the empire and allowed for easy entry into Peru and the southern capital of the Incan empire, Cuzco. With just a small group of Spanish soldiers and horsemen, the Incan Emperor Atahualpa was captured. Interesting– horses had never been seen on the South American continent prior to the landing of the Spanish. Pizzaro held Atahualpa, who ransomed himself for a room of gold and two of silver. Pizzaro, sensing the restlessness of the Incas and knowing he could never release Atahaulpa, had him tried and executed before the rooms were filled with the anticipated treasure.
And this is where the legend begins. Ruminahui, one of the Incas fiercest generals and Atahaulpas half brother, was en route to Cajamaca Peru from Ecuador with a vast treasure of gold and silver. When he neared the town of Pillaro, Ecuador (located just outside of the modern city of Baños), word came down the Inca highway that the Sun God )as Atahaulpa was referred to) had been killed. Rumiñahui, with some 60,000 men escorting a caravan of llamas bearing a rumored 750 tons of gold and silver, turned east into the Llanganates mountains and hid the treasure. The Spanish eventually captured Rumiñahui, but even their masterful techniques of torture could not force Rumiñahui to reveal the location of the treasure. It lays hidden to this day.
Fast forward some 50 years later. A young Spaniard named Valverde married an Indian girl and after a time, was accepted by her family as a good man. One day Valverde was invited by his father-in-law to go for a hike. The rumor is that he returned from his hike laden with gold. Before he died, Valverde left written directions to the location of the gold. The written directions became known as the Derrotero de Valverde.
The Derrotero of Valverde was then sent to the King of Spain, who in turn sent the derrotero back to Ecuador to the governor of Latacunga with instructions to seek out the treasure. While unsuccessful in their expedition, the Spanish did authenticate the derrotero, noting specific landmarks that actually exist to this day. But the mysterious disappearance of their trip leader one night ended the hunt for over a hundred years.
In the late 1700s, a botanist/ miner by the name of Atanasio Guzmán, who worked the old Inca mines in the Llanganates, drew a detailed map of the mountains. But before he could solve the riddle and claim his prize he too died on an expedition in the Llanganates.
One of the small facts that tends to substantiate the existence of the derrotero and the original treasure hunt is that in the first expedition a member died and Guzman detailed his map with a notation muerto del padre Longo; validating that the derrotero existed back in the 1600s and that there were people starting to look for the gold even back then.
Next in the legend sequence is a botanist by the name of Richard Spruce. Spruce was in Ecuador in the 1800s, doing fieldwork on quinine. He was stuck in Baños during a paro (what the ecuadorians call a strike) when he heard about the derrotero. Spruce went to Latacunga and found a copy of the derrotero along with a copy of Guzmans map. He included both in the research he submitted to the Royal Geographical Society. The combination of Guzmans map, the notes Spruce took and Valverdes Derrotero validated the rumors and people have been looking for the gold ever since.
The next in line in the tale is a nova scotian named Captain Barth Blake. Blake discovered the treasure, wrote detailed letters about it to friends, and then on the way back to New York, where he was to organize an expedition to return for the treasure, he fell overboard (some say pushed overboard).
And so the story continues with many tales of death, suffering and just plain ol bad luck. Many continue to seek the hidden treasure. Typically after Ken finishes up his story, we are all fired up about a treasure hunt until Ken talks a little bit about the Llanganates themselves:
Consisting of some 219707 hectares, the Llanganates are located in the center of Ecuador. The treacherous terrain and extreme weather conditions (it rains, sleets, or snows so frequently that thick cloud banks shroud the volcanic peaks of the Llanganates most of the year) make it a most inhospitable place. In talking with locals here in the Oriente whose parents/grandparents have ventured into the Llanganates, we have heard such tales as machetes suddenly sticking against rocks because of magnetite. Or the tale of the explorer Loch, who ventured into the Llanganates. It took his party 70 days to go down the Mulatos River through the heart of the Llanganates to Tena by foot. They were stuck for 20 days at one river crossing with the river so flooded they could not get across to continue. One night they were camping near the Riviera of the Llanganates when the water came up so fast they had to climb a tree and spend the night there as their tents were covered over by water from the heavy rains. All they had was a bottle of whiskey between the two of them
But when all is said and done, we might not be up for a treasure hunt in the Llanganates. But the ERA Team feels like we have found our treasure here in Ecuador three times over:
Once for finding such a rich countryrich in culture, good people, and awesome whitewater!
Second for having such great people to share time with here. Take two of the paddlers on our last trip for the 2009 winter: Tom and Kevin. They are representative of the great folks that have joined us in Costa Rica and/or Ecuador over the years. Guests who not once, but many times over join us for some great times on and off the river.
Between just Tom and Kevin, they have joined us for more than 45 trips between the two countries. We only play a small role in keeping the trips interesting year after year. The abundance of runs means that these two are still paddling new runs even after all these years (and some rain this trip kept us off of two runs that neither had seen yetmeaning another trip is in order!!). In addition, the variable weather found here in Ecuador means that water levels are never the same from year to year, so the same runs seem totally different even if not the first time down. So it keeps everything interesting!
The third treasure we boast of are our guides. Each of the team of guides that works Costa Rica and Ecuador adds something different/special to the trips. Here in Ecuador this season it was Dougs ability to take a handful of rocks and masterfully use them to point out different routes through a rapid, making sure folks didnt explore too far of the correct river path.
There is Craigs endearing giggle as he breezed in and out of a play spots, showing folks how and where the best time on the river could be found.
Kens engaging dinner time storytelling and local school programs to get the kids enthused about river running and learning English. And Juliet´s perseverance in making sure the camera was usually pointed in the right direction and then providing everyone with great pictures and video. ?
We will soon be heading back to North Carolina to catch the spring thaw and enjoy some great boating at home. But not without a last look over our shoulder at the great place we must leave behind until next years trips! And a whole collection of great photos to help us remember the good times.