Glorious adventure—in the library, on foot, and in the mind—in pursuit of gold hidden deep in the jungle.
Far in the Ecuadorian highlands, legend has it, lies a hoard of gold, silver, and gems accumulated as ransom to save the life of the Inca’s last ruler, Atahualpa. After his execution, the treasure was hidden away in a cave—and not just any old cave, but one lost in the punched and crumpled Andes, home of bogs and bugs, freezing white fog, skewering bamboo, endless rain, bears and lions. Guidebooks and maps, though cryptic and contradictory, claimed to offer sightings of this wealth, and occasional artifacts (which may or may not have been the fruits of the hoard) suggested there was at least a glint of truth to it all. While researching malaria (The Fever Trail, 2002), British journalist and historian Honigsbaum heard tell of the treasure and set out to gather all the information he could concerning its whereabouts. His enthralling work begins with sleuthing in the archives, then moves on to make contact with various characters (shady and otherwise) who have had loot on their minds for years, while also tracing a history of the various expeditions launched to recover the trove. Essaying the Sherlock Holmes style, Honigsbaum tries to decipher the more arcane clues: “ ‘Look for a cross and 4 to L,’ I translated. ‘Yes, but not only that. He said one of the sailors had also mentioned something about a sleeping woman.’ ” He even indulges in a bit of gratifying skullduggery (“first I had to convince him that I wasn’t there to wheedle information out of him, which of course I was”) before launching his own expedition on a shoestring . . . and unearthing little more than a bootlace.
The perfect fireside guide to the ages-old desire to find something hidden, perilous, and fabulous.