It was ""a time of quests,"" so it was not so strange to explore new lands to look for a king rich enough to coat his skin with gold dust once a year only to wash it off in a river. First the Spaniards (Balboa, Pizarro), then the Germans (through Emperor Charles V), and also the English (Cabot, Sir Walter Raleigh) searched for El Hombre Dorado--the Gilded Man; the name was shortened, the legend grew, and the location shifted. Thousands endured tremendous hardships, often for years, and found no pesos d'oro (literally, weights of gold) for their troubles. Few died rich, most died young, and almost all overlooked the vast wealth of spices and minerals by-passed in their single-minded search. Some (Quesada, Raleigh) attempted to befriend the natives; others practiced a ""casual brutality"" on the natives and their own companions, as they all faced the uncertainty and treachery of an unknown continent. And when they found El Dorado (three unrelated parties converged on Cundinamarca in the same month) they refused to recognize it because the story had been so distorted. Diamonds were probably veins of rock crystals, and the gilding ceremony may have been intended to duplicate the fiery descent of a meteorite. A treasure house of information and, unlike the search for El Dorado, not at all elusive, altogether rewarding.