To the jungle
The next morning my good friend and guide, Fernando Rivera, picked me up from my hostel in Paucartambo and we began our decent down into the jungle. It’s an incredibly long drive, however, this time it would go by a lot faster than I previously remembered. The road was dangerous. It was a one lane dirt road that winds around hillsides before entering into the Amazon. I was to later find out that a day or two prior there was a group of armed bandits holding up people as they were trying to enter into the Madre de Dios along this very same road. They held up around 60 people, stealing their valuables before fleeing into the night never to be caught.
Fernando Rivera is one of the few people whom I would trust with my life. He stays completely calm, collective and carefully assess the dangers before proceeding. He has a true gift of intuition and of being able to read the forest in much like many of the indigenous people can. The following year he had been taken up lead expedition team director when his friend Diego Cortijo returned from his home in Spain to film a short documentary show on their expeditions into the region. They had gone through about 8 expeditions together previously and had come across some amazing archaeological sites.
That evening we finally arrived in Salvacion, the only large town before entering into the rural villages. My body was already starting to feel the heat, which was something you could not escape. I took an ice-cold shower and even immediately after my body began to sweat profusely. Things had changed within the last 4 years since I visited the town…everyone seemed to have phones and there were a few small internet cafes. Needless to say, a lot of things still remained pretty much the same. When I walked over to use the internet in a nearby cafe the power in the entire village went out. Apparently, the power goes out nightly for about an hour as they transfer electricity from a different power grid from another nearby town. When power was restored I realized how incredibly slow the internet was. It seemed like they were technologically improving however, the means by which to push for the implementation of those technologies were still lacking. It was definitely a unique experience, using the internet, in the jungle.
The plan for the next 8-9 days was simple. We would travel up and then down the Madre de Dios River and visit with rural indigenous communities and gather up any information regarding the lost city of Paititi. We would first travel up to the furthest community and then begin coming back down towards the Andes.
The following morning we made our way to Nuevo Eden, before we were take a boat across the Madre de Dios River to the native village of Shipetiari. We were taking a lot of supplies for the week and half and ended up filling two small canoe-like boats. The beautiful scenery made me very nostalgic from my previous expedition. I quickly thought back to my wife who accompanied me the last time and how I wish she was here with me now.
When we arrived, we were greeted by a local named Angel. He helped us get settled in and quickly ran off to his nearby post where he had to check-in. This was the edge of civilization. Two years prior the ‘uncontacted’ Mashco-Piro tribe had raided the village and killed the leaders’s eldest son. As a result, a few kilometers away, the government set up an outpost staffed with anthropologists who would begin helping the Maschos by providing them with food. Angel, who works for Fenamad (Native Federation of the Madre de Dios), a nonprofit group which helps toward the support and development of natives within the Madre de Dios, has a very important job within the village of Shipetiari. He works closely with the anthropologists from the Ministry of Culture at the nearby outpost. His job is to patrol the outer perimeter of the village twice daily when anybody visits the village to ensure their safety and to report back Mashco-Piro movements nearby.
In talking with Angel, he showed us video clips he took of the Mashco-Piro not too long ago. According to him, there are 3-4 main groups of Mashcos, 3 of which are friendly and one of which is extremely violent. The anthropologists are very careful how they approach each of the tribal groups. At 6am every morning they appear on the shore of the river and ask for food, to which they are usually given bananas and other fruit to eat. They are careful not to give them anything else and want to prevent further interaction by outsiders who can carry diseases that can easily wipe them out.
The next few days within the village were incredibly hot. The rain would leave everything drenched and the hot moisture would just rise up from everything sticking to your clothes. There was no way of escaping it. It was like being stuck inside a hot sauna all day while wearing all your clothes. You could shower or change your clothes, but it will just get wet within a few minutes. My body especially did not take to the heat very well, it was like turning on a faucet that you could never stop. My body would not stop sweating, it would just pour out every inch of my body. Showers were extremely cold and were a little hard to adjust to, but with the extreme heat it was definitely a way to relieve your body of the sweat build up.
All in all, it was an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to talk with the elected president, Gregorio Perez, where he shared an amazing story on how he slayed a jaguar. One day he was chased down by a jaguar and he escaped into his house, which sits upon an elevated platform. From there he could see the jaguar staring back at him from in between the floorboards. He quickly grabbed his arrows and jumped off and managed to slay the massive jaguar. To this day he keeps it’s skull nearby. After telling us the story, he later invited us to eat traditional food with his family which was a delightful experience. Everyone there was incredibly friendly and I felt very welcomed. But I wasn’t just there to enjoy the natural beauty of the jungle, I was there to gather information regarding the lost city.
People didn’t have much to say regarding the rumors or legends of the lost city. Most of them would simply reply that it lays deep within the jungles of Manu nearby. That was, until we met a gentleman who wished to remain anonymous. I set up my camera and began recording his story. He worked within the neighboring indigenous reserve and where he heard of a man who had reached the lost city. As soon as he mentioned his name, Fernando’s ears perked up, he knew exactly who he was. He was known as a rouge gold miner, who was infamous for exploring the jungles weeks at a time by himself without the aid of maps and would come across archaeological sites rather frequently. He had supposedly claimed to have come across a large citadel within a particular region and took pictures of it. As soon as the park ranger mentioned its location I immediately pulled out my maps and pointed to the area I had already marked with the help of Manuel, I showed it to him, “was it around here?” “Yes!” he replied, “that’s where he claimed the city was.” That only validated our search for the lost city within the same area. The park ranger further claimed to have found many Incan bronze and stone tools along that very same river, which also validated professor Sheila Aikman’s research with whom had come across similar objects while conducting her field research in the 1980’s.
Why was this rouge miner’s discovery so carefully guarded? Fernando knew exactly why. A few years ago, he had come across another archaeological site and when he returned to the village of Puerto Luz he told the locals, and they then held him against his will, they wanted to get to this site but had no money to do so. That’s when the villagers of Puerto Luz had called up Fernando to gather up funds for the expedition. Fernando was oblivious as to what was really happening. He managed to call up his friend from Spain who helped wire him the money. With that they all departed from Puerto Luz and continued to the site. That’s when Fernando met the rouge miner and realized the full intentions of the people. Once they reached the site they began scavenging for gold. Even though they did not find anything, the rouge miner after that decided to keep his lips shut. He is now very well accepted among the Harakmbut, however, to this day he will not say what he comes across during his week-long expeditions.
On the fourth day, we decided to head back down the river. There was a camera crew who had also arrived to the village a day after we did to film some interviews regarding the technology used in the village. They have satellite internet which was incredibly slow, and also, could only be used in the night or early morning due to overheating of the modems. They asked if me and Fernando would be willing to agree to give a quick interview, which we did. And as soon as Fernando wrapped up his interview a giant puma leaped out from behind the bushes and ran into the village. We could hear the kids inside the village screaming ‘gato, gato!’ That was very exhilarating and incredibly rare to see. We returned back to gather up our gear and begun our half mile walk back to the river. I took the lead with the two camera crew guys following closely behind. Somewhere after a quarter mile I saw what the locals call a chuchupe, aka Bushmaster, the deadliest snake in South America and largest pit viper in the world. If you get too close, they are known to chase people down and bite using their 1-2.5 inch long fangs…which could easily pierce my Australian anti-snake protective gaitors. Without thinking I immediately threw myself backwards and gave a loud yell. We stood around staring at it as it began to emerge from the side of our trail. It was so massive we couldn’t believe it was a bushmaster, but alas the entire body emerged as thick as a boa and crossed our trail before heading into the forest. In Matsigenka/Harakmbut tradition when the bushmaster crosses your path it’s extremely back luck and means you will never return back to this place.
When we arrived to the shore it was already getting dark but we managed to load up all our gear onto a small boat. The boat was loaded way beyond capacity and any wrong movement could cause it to take on water. We rode off into the night along the beautiful Rio Madre de Dios and could see storm clouds brewing in the distance illuminating the sky with purple and blue hues of lightning. As we continued, I remembered the Mashcos who lived close by and who recently attacked several passing boats with arrows. In this case the darkness of night worked toward our benefit. This was a magical place, full of mystery that would be best left untouched. It sadden me to think about the nearby illegal loggers which is ultimately leading towards destruction of such a pristine landscape…a place so pure, so clean, and so untouched.
We got picked up in a truck and we left back down the road. We stayed overnight in a nice little hostel that had yet to be completed and the entire village was without power which made the storm clouds and fireflies vividly illuminate the forest with colors I’ve never before seen. The following morning, we got up extremely early to go watch an array of parrots eating along a salt clay lick.
We finally arrived in Shintuya a little before afternoon and began to look for a place to stay for the night. Shintuya was on the edge of the Amarakareri reserve and was populated by Harakmbut indigenous people who were later incorporated into ‘modern society’ by Dominican Missionaries between 1940-1970. Ancestrally, they occupied other nearby rivers, deep within that area of the jungle before slowly coming to the small village built around the mission. About half occupied the area around Shintuya while the other half (from another part of the jungle) occupied the villages along the Colorado River. The Harakmbut of Shintuya are very friendly and open people and view their relatives along the Rio Colorado as very aggressive (constantly fighting among themselves and being very gold-hungry). It was here that I met Yuri, a local elder and shaman who was on his way to catch some fish at their family fishing pond. These man-made ponds help sustain the various families in the village and have to be carefully maintained.
The fish they grow are called Bocachico, a type of piranha, which grows rather large. The local boys jumped into the water and with a large net began sweeping the entire pond until they gather together all the fish into a small area. There they only select 10-20 of the largest fish and move on to the next pond. Yuri was very well-spoken and had a lot of incredible stories to tell. We later sat down with him and his family to exchange stories and legends regarding a possible Incan presence within the area. His son was very interested in our research, however, already had plans of his own to go for three weeks within the jungle to search for other possible archaeological sites. To them, Paititi was something for them to discover and brought a sense of pride, working with outsiders to help find it was something they weren’t too fond of. But regardless, they were very open in sharing their thoughts and helped in any way they could.
That night we slept in a small hostel on the edge of the village, named Wandari Wachinokeri, which was run by two brothers, Nehemias and Elias Arbildo. Elias had recently left to live in Rome, while his younger brother Nehemias stayed behind to take care of their hostel. In talking with Nehemias he had a strong interest in creating an eco-based business from literally nothing. The two brothers had a small plot of land and decided to utilize it to the best of their abilities. They started growing a botanical garden and filling in what was once a deforested area back into a beautiful scenic ecological area. They also built small bungalows for tourists to stay in as well as small areas for people to hang out and cook. Nehemias told me that finding work is extremely limited and economic opportunities are scarce to the point where they had to look into viable alternatives. They began to create something that was unheard of, but they used what they could learn from other nearby ecological hostels and began to build their own. The hope is that by creating an ecological interest for tourists they can help bring in an economy, not only for them but for their community. In other words, protect the forest, attract interested ecological-based tourism and ultimately help the village.
From Shintuya we headed to Salvacion once again and then to Pilcopata, the last town before the road heads up towards the Andes. The plan was to stay for a few days in the village of Santa Rosa Huacaria, however, the small living quarters were being renovated and we had no choice but to stay in Pilcopata. There in Pilcopata we had the opportunity to stay in an incredibly beautiful place called Gallito de las Rocas Lodge (Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge, named after the national bird of Peru). Inside my room I was beyond amazed to see actual hot running water, which was nonexistent in the Amazon and was the first hot shower in almost a week. The following day we traveled to the native village of Santa Rosa Huacaria which consists largely of Matsigenka indigenous, however, as of recently, many individuals from the native Amarakaeri village of Qeros on the opposite end of the river began coming to the village. It was an incredibly beautiful village and when we arrived with a visiting group of Spanish tourists, the kids greeted us in traditional clothes and had us join them for traditional dances. I’m usually very against villagers putting on performances or changing into traditional clothes to impress visiting tourists, however, this was done specifically to raise money for their schools which had been gradually fallen in disrepair. This village in general was known to attract a lot of ayahuasca tourists due to shaman/tribal leader of Huacaria Alberto Manqueriapa. Alberto is an incredibly high-respected ayahuasca shaman and plant expert who has traveled the world imparting his spiritual wisdom.
Later that afternoon, I had the opportunity to interview Alberto one on one upon returning to Pilcopata. Though I had the opportunity to try ayahuasca with the world expert, I decided against it, I was there for the lost city…maybe another time. I asked him regarding the story of priest Juan Carlos Polentini, who was based in Lares for many years and had obsessed with the lost city of Paititi. Polentini had gone to Huacaria many times and traveled up river to an area known as Mameria. He had recruited Alberto to go with him as well, whereby he was promised to get paid. Polentini, before his death, made several statements claiming that President Fujimori, before fleeing the country, ransacked the lost city of Paititi within Mameria and took with him all the gold and valuables before heading to Japan. Over the years I’ve heard several stories that attest to this version of events. For example, many locals around the region recall seeing helicopters going back and forth to this area, that was until one of the helicopters crashed. Several days passed (presumably to clean up the evidence) before the government made the crash known publicly. To cover up their tracks, it is believed that government officials blew up the mountainside where the city was situated to prevent further access. Alberto told me as honestly as he could that the priest was full of bull…and he never found anything. And his ‘payment’ was in the form of helping the catholic church in doing ‘god’s work’. Alberto asked me, “do you know what Mameria means? In our language it means ‘over here there’s nothing’.” And so, with that Alberto put an end to all the rumors.
The last day we spent in the area we decided to track down some petroglyphs in search of more clues within a place called Hinkiori. At Hinkiori there were large boulders, which looked very much out of place, but were inscribed with sacred petroglyphs. For the Amarakaeri locals these stones were ancient sacred relics of a time long since forgotten. It was here that one of the symbols caught my attention. It looked rather similar to other drawings dating back to the 1600’s of Paititi. The petroglyph showed a large mountain peak with snake winding river around it and at the very top this mysterious symbol that believe represents the lost city. For the purpose of this public blog I will leave out details, but I do believe there are several clues that may show the direction of where the city lays. There was much more to explore. Access, fortunately for us, is made more accessible due to the encroachment of illegal deforestation into the land. The rough location we had previously obtained from Manuel, from the topographer who flew over by helicopter, is rather close to these sacred stones. It’s just a matter of mapping out our clear intentions and following through with a professional team.
There seems to be a want to go back to the traditional ways of living, however, they want to bring back some of the comforts and basic needs that western ‘civilization’ has to offer, in terms of medicine, etc. Because of lack of work and other means of financial gain, many struggle to find alternative means of survival, and so, they make do with what they have. Rumors travel fast within this part of the world, almost like an internal survival instinct. The people of this region have a harsh history dating back to the rubber boom when many of them would be enslaved by rubber barons. Or even in recent memory, as late as the 1960’s when many people began entering this isolated region bringing with them superficial necessities and countless diseases. Words travel fast, and rumors even faster. From here on we need to proceed with extreme caution. There are many whose lives are in real danger should word spread of our research. Many are desperate for any income, and if illegal gold mining destroyed a vast majority of the environment within the Madre de Dios, I can only imagine what rumors of a lost city could potentially do. Similar stories have already spread like wildfire, and many have begun ransacking archaeological sites within this region. Many of the indigenous locals are dead set to protect these sites from looters and have been trying to track down as many of these sites as possible. Every once and a while they come across a new site, however, almost nothing remains after people have sacked the site. But for now, the city will remain, untouched as it has for the last 500 years just waiting for a sincere seeker to stumble across its mystery.