“Placed in the town of Píllaro, ask for the farm of Moya, and sleep (the first night) a good distance above it; and ask there for the mountain of Guapa, from whose top, if the day be fine, look to the east, so that thy back be toward the town of Ambato, and from thence thou shalt perceive the three Cerros Llanganati, in the form of a triangle, on whose declivity there is a lake, made by hand, into which the ancients threw the gold they had prepared for the ransom of the Inca when they heard of his death.” [Steven J Charbonneau, Valverde’s Gold: the Royal Geographical Society Llanganati Paper, 2017, p 51]
So goes the Derrotero – the course or guide handed to the King of Spain by one Valverde. Although few details of Valverde are available (even his Christian name evades us), it is said that, a poor Spanish man of Sixteenth Century Spain (again, we have no exact dates), he had married a native Peruvian woman, whose father led him to the Llanganates, an inhospitable land in the Andes of modern-day Ecuador, and towards a helping of the precious content of the lake there that would make him very wealthy. On his deathbed, Valverde is said to have bequeathed the Derrotero, instructions for how to find the path to access the treasure, to the King of Spain. It is for this trail highlighted in the Derrotero that our expeditionary team is searching, rather than for the seemingly cursed Incan gold.
But how did the treasure get to the depths of the Llanganates in the first place?
When Extremaduran Conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, and his band of fame and wealth seeking Spaniards arrived in the Incan heartland in 1532, they found a local people who lived a simple peasant life – farmers with a good understanding of agriculture, terraces and canals, living in thatched huts. Ruled by the Inca, the natives were in the throes of civil war, being fought out by two sons of the great Huayna Capac, the king of the Inca Empire, who had died in 1527. The Empire had been split in two and, while legitimate heir Huascar concentrated on the area around the capital Cusco, his brother, Atahaulpa, ruled from Quito. This was a tumultuous time for the Inca, with Atahualpa eventually killing Huascar and his family, thus laying claim to the ravaged Empire. How could Atahualpa have foreseen that his rule would be cut woefully short and that he would go down in history as the Last Emperor of the Incan Empire?
Much has been made of the might of Pizarro and his conquest of Peru. With barely more than a gross of men, his army managed to execute around 7,000 unarmed natives and capture their leader, Atahualpa. Preoccupied with the civil war and being naively trusting of the newly arrived Spanish, Atahualpa underestimated his foe and invited Pizarro to meet him at Cajamarca, where he was promptly seized and placed under guard at the Temple of the Sun, leaving his Empire without a free leader. In a bid to secure his release, Atahualpa negotiated a ransom with his incarcerators – he would arrange for unimaginable riches to be carried across the Empire to Cajamarca, where he promised he could fill a room of 22 long by 17 feet wide and 8 feet high once over with gold and twice with silver [John Hemingway, The Conquest of the Incas, Macmillan, 1993, p49]. In a formal pledge, the Spanish agreed to release their valuable prisoner on receipt of the treasure. Precious metals were stripped from Incan temples and hoards of artefacts, including jewellery and ornaments, were added to the collection and hauled across the land on the orders of Atahualpa, to be smelted down by the Conquistadores, stamped with the royal mark of Spain and distributed among the Crown, its army and officials.
But still the Inca leader remained in captivity, the Spanish nervous of a native plot to launch an offensive upon them and to release the most valuable asset of all, Atahualpa. That nervousness grew, along with the rumours of an imminent attack by the locals, coupled by the desire of some Conquistadores to push further into the country and expand their conquest of this faraway and mineral rich land; Atahualpa, who had until then enjoyed a certain hospitality and camaraderie at the hands of his captors, was now put in chains and, eight months after being captured, was sentenced to a public death by execution in a Plaza at Cajamarca. On hearing the news of his leader’s killing, the Inca general Rumiñahui ordered that the treasure once bound for the Spanish in Cajamarca be instead taken east and buried deep in the difficult to navigate and dangerous to cross area now known as the Llanganates. Legend has it that the mummified body of Atahualpa himself is also sequestered there.
Valverde believed he knew where the treasure could be found and though some have attempted to follow his instructions across the perilous ground of the Llanganates (and a crude map based on it, drawn by Don Antonio Guzman in 1820s), none have yet managed to locate it. Our mission is to find the trail of his Derrotero, echoes of the Inca all around us.
- by Becky Condron