When Mark Honigsbaum discovers an ancient Spanish treasure guide buried in his research notebooks, he cannot help but be drawn into the legend of Valverde, a conquistador with a treasure trail that has proven fatal for the past 400 years. Undeterred by the cursed history of the gold, Honigsbaum embarks on an epic journey into the last uncharted range in the Andes–the Llanganati Mountains of eastern Ecuador. This is the story of how the lure of gold intoxicates even the most level-headed of historians, and of how men–and women–are seized with the desire to claim treasure from one of the most inhospitable landscapes in the world. Honigsbaum battles through mountains, jungles, and conflicting stories, and, as he draws closer to the hidden cache, illuminates the allure of lost gold and the hold it has on our imagination.
Heat, madness and exotic locations, it can only be time for treasure hunting season and ready for unleashing my inner Indiana Jones, I picked up this book with excitement and two very moist hands.
The first thing I came across were quotes from Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson and then shortly after a map. My enthusiasm was sky-high already. The idea of treasure and adventures, each place on the map holding dramatic stories is possibly the most romantic thing ever conceived of.
Before any searching can be done, Honigsbaum takes his time learning about all the different historical players in this mystery from Conquistadors to mariners and it is fascinating stuff…codes hidden in a King James Bible, suspected murders and a centuries old secret, it is all explored in detail. Tales like this do get convoluted and it is an international jaunt around various countries and he deals with some real characters as well.
Eccentric is the word for these guys. The believers, who stare at the clues all night, who spend thousands of dollars on expeditions and by their sheer enthusiasm are able to pull others into their whirlpool of belief. As the authors sifts through fact and fiction, a mix of myth and history it is tantaslisingly believable. Like anybody out there the author wants to believe:
The history convinces me, the treasure hunters convinced me, and I want to believe. I yearn for the mystery of this treasure tale.
There are lots of red herrings, deception, cunning and paranoia from these aficionados who each believe they are the single person best equipped to unlock the mystery and will jealously guard their secrets. It strikes me as sad, these people need to feel part of something bigger than they are but perhaps lack the social skills or maybe they are just genuinely believing that they will find their reward. It does make you wonder whether these people use it as a means to hide away from the world or to feel like they can be their own person, obsessions dreamers do make for a fascinating case study.
The best way to approach a riddle like Atahualpa’s missing gold is to be logical and research and sometimes the tone of the book is a little dry and academic, lacking in perhaps some of the romance that books like King Solomon’s Mines and Treasure Island excel in but taking a step back and looking at the complex web that has been woven about a treasure that may not even exist lets not forget, there is something wonderful about the whole concoction. The only things that let this book down, if you don’t mind the above, were the lack of booby traps and the map was a little too small and sometimes it was hard to find places that were refered to in the text as a consequence.
Overall the book provokes a yearning for the unknown and makes it all seem so glamourous, the author doesn’t get drawn in to the complex world of bluff and misdirection too often and when he does he later recognises his mistake and becomes more discerning in his detections. Whether chasing dreams or follies, when it comes down to it…perhaps the chase is the true prize after all.