El Dorado

The lust for gold seems to span all eras, races, and countries. To possess a significant amount of gold always seem to ignite an unquenchable desire to attain more. During the time when the Conquistadors were pillaging the Aztecs, and Incas, the indigenous told them about an astonishing rumor. They mentioned that deep in the jungle, was a race, whose king was completely covered in gold dust, and who bathed in a golden lake. This was the story of ‘El Dorado’ or the ‘Golden Man’. One of the first to set out to find this fancy land was a Spaniard named Jimenez de Quesada. In 1536, Quesada gathered 500 soldiers and chopped their way into the vegetation through which is now known as Columbia. Following many days of trampling through the fierce and treacherous jungle, they stumbled upon tribes of Chibcha’s, a race with copious amounts of wealth. They did not have the famous ‘El Dorado’, however they told of a special lake lying in the middle of a volcanic crater within a relatively short distance away.

The nearby body of water to which the indigenous were referring to was called Lake Guatavita. It was the location where a bizarre ritual ceremony was performed, each year the tribal king would be covered in a thin layer of mud, and sprinkled with gold dust. He would then sail on raft out to the middle of the lake with their finest treasures, and throw them overboard as an offerring to appease a god that lived underwater. Upon completion of the offerings, he would then bathe himself to remove the golden covering.

Quesada journeyed to Lake Guatavita but found no clues of the treasure. As the rumours spread throughout other Spaniards about Guatavita, the first attempt at draining the lake was in 1545. While the years passed, many different versions of the El Dorado legend began to circulate among treasure seekers. Each new expedition would plunge through the jungle, certain to find wealth, but none ever did. Although, other interesting things were found. In 1537, Francisco de Orellana, was an adventurer who sailed down the Napo River trying to locate the golden city. As he reached the end of the Napo, he noticed it branched to another river. While floating along this, his boat was attacked by a tribe of long-haired, savage female archers. He dubbed the river ‘Amazonas’, as the women who bombarded his boat with arrows reminded him of the Amazons of Sycthia in Greek legend.

Another rumour seemed to appear in 1584 where it was believed that as the Incas escaped from the Spanish aggressors, a new city of gold was created called Manoa. So in 1595 a British adventurer named Sir Walter Raleigh sought out to find Manoa and the gold specifically for Queen Elizabeth I. He also wanted to establish English presence in the Southern hemisphere to compete with the Spaniards. Sir Walter Raleigh never found El Dorado, but he was thoroughly convinced there was a spectacular golden city with massive riches, as he found gold on the riverbanks and villages. In 1617, he attempted a second expedition to find El Dorado with his son, Watt Raleigh. However, the second expedition had been an unmitigated disaster because Watt Raleigh was killed in a battle with the Spaniards. Upon returning to England, Sir Walter was beheaded on command by King James for disobeying specific orders to avoid conflict with the Spanish.

In the meantime, other Spanish had continued attempts at reaching the floor of Lake Guatavita. In 1580, a trader living in Bogota, Antonio de Sepulveda utilized 8000 indigenous men to cut a hole in the side of the lake and drain the water out. While they did manage to remove a substantial amount of water, and uncovered a substantial amount of gold. The project was abandoned not too long after, as the earth walls ended up collapsing, which killed many of the workmen around. Additional attemps at draining the lake continued well into the twentieth century, as many artifacts were found, but the vast amount of treasure embedded within the legend was never recovered.