Copyright Michael Marcotte, 1997
The Amazon Basin.
Dark and foreboding to some, to the more intrepid it excites and beckons with mystery and adventure. It is the primeval forest of legend and imagination. Fed by the world's largest river and spreading across portions of Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru, the Amazon's vast interior contains the largest continuous expanse of forest in the world.
Encompassing some of the most remote and rugged portions of South America, it is nearly equal in size to the entire continental United States. Much of this immense two-and-one-half-million-square-mile jungle is so impenetrable that it has never been explored. Scientists estimate that hundreds of animal types and thousands of un-catalogued species of plants, birds, fish and insect life exist in these rainforests. That is in addition to the thousands of known species.
In the Amazon River itself, or in its hundreds of tributaries, live several types of South American crocodile, flesh-eating piranha, and monstrously large anacondas. In the rainforest dwell the jaguar, rare black panther, puma, and ocelot. Through the branches and on the ground below slither the bushmaster - the world's largest poisonous viper, the fer-de-lance, coral snake and several of the other deadliest snakes known to man. The abdomens of some spiders here grow to the size of tomatoes. Some of these venomous creatures spin webs thirty to forty feet across. One in particular, the Goliath bird-eating spider, reaches nearly a foot in length. Malaria-carrying mosquitoes, leeches and vampire bats are also among the more unnerving denizens of this primordial wilderness. Giant anteaters, tapirs, sloths, giant Harpy eagles, condors, manatees and a variety of monkeys add a softer variety to the more sinister images, but do not serve to make it any less alien.
Some of the fiercest Indians that ever lived, including the Achuara and Auca headhunters, cannibals and poison dart tribes such as the Hivitos, Chuncas and Yagua, called the Amazon their home. Numerous tribes that still practice such customs, have yet to encounter modern man, or who remain hostile, are still known to exist deep within these jungles.
To be fair, the Amazon is clearly not the Valley of Death. Many dangers exist in the jungles, but mankind has co-existed with these for thousands of years. There are many more places for animals to hide in a rainforest, and as wild creatures are generally very reclusive, they most often retreat or remain secluded when humans are present.
Amid this environment, from the fifteenth to the sixteenth centuries, arose one of the greatest empires ever known, and the largest of any native civilization of the Americas, the realm of the Inca. By the time of the Spanish conquest, it is estimated that this empire controlled around twelve million people in what is now Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and northwest Argentina. The Spaniards even reported seeing Inca sea vessels as far north as Panama. Hundreds of stone metropolises, that in their prime must have rivaled our modern cities in size and beauty, still exist in the forests and highlands of South America. Archaeologists have now partially excavated a few dozen of these cities, such as Machu Picchu, Kuelap, and Vilcabamba. Others, reclaimed by the jungle, remain lost, known only from historical accounts or legend.
The Inca called their empire "Tawantinsuyu," meaning "the four parts." The term Inca has come through common usage to mean all the Quechua-speaking tribes who were subjugated by this empire. The Inca, however, was actually a royal title given to the rulers of a minor Andean tribe that gained prominence after conquering its neighbors. Among these were the Chachapoyas, who are believed to have built the incredible pre-Columbian stone highways that criss-cross Peru. These and many other subjugated tribes were required to pay tribute to the Inca rulers, in gold, silver, and precious gems.
Known to have accumulated a wealth beyond imagination, the Inca somehow managed to hide this immense treasure. Only a fraction was ever captured by the conquistadors.
When Francisco Pizarro made the Inca ruler Atahualpa his captive, the Inca sought to obtain his release by offering to turn over a great ransom. Only a small portion, although estimated at fifteen million dollars, had reached Pizarro at Cajamarca, in 1533, before the Spaniard foolishly had Atahualpa assassinated! In the chaos that followed, approximately forty thousand Inca Indians fled. Before the Spaniards' very eyes, these refugees took with them huge amounts of treasure. The Indians that remained told the Spanish monks that the treasures the conquistadors already had collected were only "a drop in the bucket," compared to the wealth that the fleeing Indians had taken and hidden.
Not surprisingly, the conquistadors gave pursuit. Ambushed by the hostile Chuncho Indians and their poison darts and arrows, and thwarted by the dense jungle, the Spaniards were delayed. Ultimately they were forced to abandon the pursuit. The fleeing Indians vanished into the jungles east of Cuzco, Peru. Some experts believe that these Indians used a vast network of secret tunnels, the likes of which have actually been discovered in modern times beneath Lima, Cuzco and elsewhere in Peru, to escape the pursuing conquistadors.
Airplanes, satellite images, and other modern technologies have created renewed interest in the search for the lost city and the treasure. Several expeditions over the past five centuries embarked upon the search for El Dorado/Paititi inside Peru, Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia. Some of the expeditions, such as that of the famed British army surveyor, Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, in 1925, and more recently, the ill-fated Franco-American team lead by Bob Nichols, in 1972, vanished inside the immense Amazon jungle without ever having been heard from again. Others returned, but empty-handed. The descendants of the Inca, the Quechua Indian people of Peru and Bolivia, still speak of great stone cities deep in the forest that contain incredible wealth. The inhabitants of these hidden cities are said to still dress in brightly colored feathers, carry bronze-tipped spears, and live in the ancient ways.
Gran Paititi, the greatest of the Inca outposts, along with the fabulous Inca treasure, remains undiscovered to the present day.
The numerous mythologies of the different cultures of our world often hold as many similarities as differences. It is not at all uncommon, for example, to find extremely similar creation stories between African and Amerindian tribes. Some of these similarities can be explained by the concept that Joseph Campbell called "basic truths."
In other words, some ideas are simply so much a part of our own humanity that they simply find a way to emerge, no matter when or where on our planet the culture happened to arise. Other similarities or identical ideas, legends, language and iconography are less easily explained. Some may be pure coincidence. Sometimes, however, the sheer number of coincidences are so amazing as to make one wonder if they might be something else.
Beginning with the second half of the 20th century, there has been an increasing amount of speculation by scholars that ancient times saw far more contact between distant cultures and continents that has been hitherto accepted as factual, and subsequently recorded as history. Expeditions by explorers like Percy Fawcett, Thor Heyerdahl, and Gene Savoy often have had this theme as part of their motivation. Artifacts have been found during several legitimate archaeological digs all around the world, including the Americas, that are unexplainably out of place. The discovery of America, more and more, would appear to have been only the latest of several discoveries throughout earlier history of the two continents.
The premise of this novel is entirely a work of fiction, drawn from such speculation. With the exception of historical figures and documented explorers referenced in this novel, all characters and events are fictional, and are not intended to represent any actual persons or events. You have, however, heard the expression "Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction." If you want a really mind-boggling experience, check out the actual facts of history, archaeology and linguistics behind this tale of adventure.
To use a well-known cliché, "It could happen."
Sometimes history, be it truth, perspective or pure fiction, is all in the translation.