Fools Gold: Searching for Goodness in the Human Heart

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I tried a different tack. What would you do if you found it? It's so big you can't hide it. In fact, I want to make a museum.

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It's the Indians' patrimony. I don't want some foreigner to find it and take it out or melt it. The next day we set out in more torrential rain, following circuitous paths left by mountain tapirs. Diego wore an old British Army pith helmet, carried a stick, and hobbled like an itinerant Buddhist monk. We clawed up steep, muddy trails, then crept along a knife-edged ridge, with sheer drop-offs on either side.

Nothing remained waterproof, and the fierce mountain winds chilled us to our bones.

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After I found my way to camp, the rain stopped, and Diego led me to a hill overlooking the camp. Beyond our valley we could see a riot of clouds miles away, lit up like a projector by the lateral rays of the late afternoon sun. For an hour or more, the sky performed a slow striptease, finally revealing glorious snowcaps. That's where I used to look, too. Diego studied Cerro Hermoso's jagged outlines for a moment, and then said, "In his guide, Valverde provides perfect instructions on how to progress and where to camp for the first four nights.

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Then on his fifth and final day, he tells you the exact location of the treasure: a certain cave near a waterfall in the area where Incas smelted gold. But there's something very weird about that description. So, if you're following Valverde's guide, you walk perfectly for four days, following all of his landmarks, and then suddenly you must leap a whole week. I think somebody deliberately altered the guide after Valverde's death. They didn't want anyone else to find the bounty until they could finance another effort — which they never did.

So, if the Derrotero had been corrupted by someone, how did Diego figure out where to look? The man who found the treasure in the s, then vanished coming back on a ship to get it. His map. Before setting out for the mountains, Diego and I had gone there to pay the patriarch a visit.

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In the middle of his holdings he'd built a lovely house raised on stilts and thatched with palm leaves. He proudly reeled off stats: "Thirty-two families work here.

I have 1, cattle. He had unofficially broken Jesse Owens's sprint record, he insisted, and various weight-lifting records besides. His employees and many other Ecuadorans regarded him with palpable awe. He'd graduated from military school in California and served in the U. Army during World War II as a crack shot.

Old photographs showed a dark-haired man of amazing good looks and sideburns, busting broncos in an immaculate white shirt. Examiner," he said. One was a great Texan who loved Llanganatis.

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A military plane finally found him. To his way of thinking, he was no treasure hunter, but an aristocratic scholar who pushed back the frontier for everyone's benefit. It's like the quest for Fermat's Last Theorem or the double helix. A century ago, the globe abounded with explorers who came to be recognized as savants — Schliemann of Troy, Stanley of the Nile — but only after they'd found their grails. How much is he worth? I asked Diego at one point.

Many millions. He owns another ranch with 5, cattle and Ecuador's main bottled-water company. But he's in trouble.

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  4. He was in the midst of a bitter family feud too complex to unravel. His latest wife had stalked off, taking the maid and cook a great perfidy. Most of his children were at war with him. So the houseboys ferried in whiskey all day. He lay atop the bed in his boots, taking long gulps of bourbon.

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    Suddenly he sat up and reached into a closet, pulling out an ivory-handled Colt. I got a glimpse of the cylinder: It was full of shiny brass bullets. In their strange way, these two were utterly devoted to each other. There were copies of copies of Barth Blake's notes and letters. Blake was the last person to find the treasure, if the notes are to be believed.

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    In one letter to a friend, he wrote, "It is impossible for me to describe the wealth that now lays in that cave marked on my map, but I could not remove it alone, nor could thousands of men There are thousands of gold and silver pieces of Inca and pre-Inca handicraft, the most beautiful goldsmith works you are not able to imagine, life-size human figures made out of beaten gold and silver, birds, animals, cornstalks, gold and silver flowers. Pots full of the most incredible jewelry.

    Golden vases full of emeralds," and so on. He found the treasure, he said, "by the merest chance. Blake made two maps. Two maps? My confusion mounted, as did my suspicions. One letter also said, 'If something should happen to me, look for the reclining women,' and then spoke of a cave situated above an extinct lake. They'd spent a lifetime puzzling over all this; a novice shouldn't be able to breeze in and get it all in one fell swoop. He did them on his fingertips. He said, "I believe the treasure to be in the area where my old friend Bob Holt died last year.

    On our fifth day in the mountains, after our heady glimpse of Cerro Hermoso's snowy peaks, we searched for the crop of ridges that Blake called "the reclining women. A "zumbador" — a preposterous-looking bird with a long, curved beak and markings like a quail, only much bigger — tore out of the mist on short wings. We made it to the ridges, and then came down again in a wall of fog, none the richer. We trekked for days through what Diego tantalizingly called the treasure's "hot zone. One day we spent hours hacking through wide-bladed grasses ten feet high and stumbled onto a silent clearing surrounded by marshland and bald hills.

    It was a spooky spot, an old campsite littered with candy wrappers and dozens of empty cans. They had such a hard time on that mission. They got a month's leave afterward.

    Fools Gold: Searching for Goodness in the Human Heart
    Fools Gold: Searching for Goodness in the Human Heart
    Fools Gold: Searching for Goodness in the Human Heart
    Fools Gold: Searching for Goodness in the Human Heart
    Fools Gold: Searching for Goodness in the Human Heart

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