The Lost Inca Gold
Steeped in death, conquest, desire and mystery, the legend of the lost Inca gold still lies concealed in the remote, mist-veiled mountains of central Ecuador. Deep inside the unforgiving Llanganates mountain range, between the Andes and the Amazon, there is said to exist the fabulous Inca treasure hidden from Spanish conquistadores.
The legend begins in the 16th century, when the great Inca Empire in western South America was giving way to European invaders. Atahualpa was an Inca king who, after warring with his half-brother, Huáscar, for control of the empire was captured at his palace in Cajamarca in modern-day Peru by Spanish commander Francisco Pizarro.
Pizarro agreed to release Atahualpa in return for a roomful of gold. A promise he was quick to break shortly before the last and largest part of the ransom had been delivered. Instead, the story tells us the gold was buried in a secret mountain cave and may still be lying there, tempting people to find it.
One such shadowy figure who tried it is Valverde, a Spaniard who some 50 years after Atahualpa's death is said to have become rich beyond belief after being led to the cave by his Indian bride's family. Apart from proving that the ‘gold digger’ label should remain gender neutral, Valverde also left detailed written directions to the cave, the so-called Derrotero de Valverde.
However, the gold trail went cold until the 1850s, when English botanist Richard Spruce travelled to Ecuador in search of the cinchona tree, the seeds of which were used to produce the antimalarial drug quinine. Upon his return to Britain, Spruce reported to have uncovered Valverde's directions along with a map, made by a man named Atanasio Guzman.
With the myth fully restored, treasure seeker Barth Blake followed Spruce's discovery in 1886. If his writings are to be believed, Blake was the last person to find the gold. However, Blake claimed to not be able to remove it alone, “nor could thousands of men”.
Taking only what little treasure he could carry, Blake left and never returned. Sources suggest that en route to New York, where he planned to raise funds for an expedition to recover his prize, he fell overboard. Some say he was pushed. Many who have since attempted to retrace his steps into the treacherous Llanganates have also paid with their lives. Thus, continuing the long misfortunate tradition of all El Dorado explorers.