Southern hemisphere: The Llanganatis Expeditions (1986-1998)
In Quechua, the native Indian language, ‘Llanganates’ means ‘Beautiful peak’ (‘Cerro hermoso’ in Spanish). Today a national park of 219 707 hectars in the approximate center of Ecuador, it is one of the most inaccessible regions in South America.
In this part of the Andean cloud forest, altitudes stretch from 1 200 to 4 638 meters. At these altitudes the weather conditions are unforgiving; mostly quite cold and moist, if not downright pouring with rain (precipitation ranges from 1000 to 4000 millimeters yearly).
The topography is highly dramatic: very steep, almost vertical mountain sides, including volcanos, interspersed with deep jungle valleys. Large rivers, waterfalls and deep lakes constitute effective obstacles on the way. Climbing equipment is absolutely necessary to proceed into the area.
Members of the KE Group have done six expeditions to Llanganatis; in 1986, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1994 and 1998. Five of them are covered in a book ‘Expedition Llanganatis’ and the ones in 1993 and 1994 were documented in TV-documentaries produced by Swedish national television. Apart from the archaeological mission, the objective was to establish a gold museum in Ecuador – the only country among its neighbours lacking one, since its gold was either stolen by the conquistadors or hidden away and never found.
The story underpinning the expeditions starts more than 400 years ago. In September 1532 Francisco Pizarro started to march inland for ‘la Conquista’ (the conquest) of the Inca Empire, which then stretched along the Pacific coast from northern Chile to southern Colombia.
At the time, a long civil war was barely over between the deceased Inca’s two sons, Huascar and Atahualpa, where Atahualpa finally emerged as the leader. War-weary and probably mystified by the unfamiliar appearance of the intruders (and especially their horses), the Inca thus saw Pizarro’s conquistadors landing on their shores.
In November 1532 in Cajamarca, Pizarro treacherously took Atahualpa prisoner, by inviting him to dinner. Realizing the Spaniards’ lust for gold, Atahualpa proposed a room filled with gold as ransom – and Pizarro agreed. The gathering of the precious metal started across the entire Inca Empire. But yet again Pizarro proved treacherous: while the room was not yet filled (containing approximately 24 tonnes), he ordered Atahualpa to be killed by garroting in July 1533.
When the Inca general Rumiñahui got word of Atahualpa’s death, he redirected his army of carriers to the Llanganatis instead and hid the gathered gold there. Some of his men were also sent to pick up Atahualpa’s corpse. Rumiñahui and his men then fought the Spaniards bravely and although Rumiñahui eventually was captured and tortured to death, he never revealed the location of the treasure.
More than 300 years later, the Scottish botanist Richard Spruce made a voyage of botanical discovery in South America (1849 -1864). When arriving in Ecuador 1857, he discovered an old guide to the location of the Inca treasure (‘Valverde’s Derrotero’). Valverde was supposedly a very poor Spanish soldier, but after marrying an Inca noble he became extraordinarily wealthy.
Spruce also discovered a map made by another botanist, Anastasio Guzman, based on Valverde’s guide. Spruce published the map of Guzman along with Valverde’s guide in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1861 (Vol 31: 163-184).