In 2001 Mario Polia, Italian archaeologist, investigating in the archives of the Vatican finds a fundamental letter to resurrect the secret of the incas: "El Dorado". It was a manuscript of the mid-sixteenth century of the Spanish Jesuit Andrés López. This letter recounts a 10-day walking trip that the Incas made between Cuzco and Paititi, a kingdom or a city where there was more gold than in Cuzco.
Along with this manuscript was the papal authorization to evangelize Paititi on the part of the Jesuits, although these never gave more clues of the exact location to avoid the "gold fever".
When the Admiral Christopher Columbus first approached the coast of South America, he believed that he had come to the place where the sun rose on the day of the creation. The earth, he wrote, was like a "round ball, and on one part of it something like a woman´s breast" rose up toward heaven. The Earthly Paradise was located on the nipple of this breast, and the breast itself was to be found on the equator of the South American continent. Columbus was also convinced that the tribe of Amazon warrior women of classical antiquity lived somewhere in this same region.
Although the Admiral´s mind had certainly come somewhat unhinged at the time that he wrote about these matters, his ideas did not seem all that fantastic to most Europeans. So many true wonders were soon reported by the explorers and conquerors of the Americas that the line between reality and fantasy was completely blurred. Large land iguanas were confused with medieval dragons, and underwater manatees with breasts merged into mythical mermaids. The innocent natives, "as naked as the day they were born" , were certain proof that the Garden of Eden was to be found in the vicinity. And the fierce women warriors of the Carib tribes were obviously related to the Amazons. However, although such marvels were caused for speculation, they held no intrinsic interest for the conquered Aztec and Inca Earthly Paradise took on another dimension.
If such empires existed, why should there not be another golden city hidden somewhere in the vast rainforests of South America? If the Terrestial Paradise consisted of something more than lost innocence ans spiritual serenity - if it happened to also contain untold riches - it became something worth discovering. And, of course, conquering.
Thus the Garden of Eden - located, according to Columbus, on the nipple of the breast of the world - was the teat at which a strange., semi-mythical golden heast was dergo many incarnations and be responsible for the deaths of thousands of men and women. In the 16th century it would be transformed into a chimera, known as "El Dorado", "The Golden One". By the 17th century it would become Paititi, the secret of the Incas who had taken with them all of the gold they had hidden from the Spaniards. And in the late 1900´s it would merge with Vilcabamba, the city which the rebellious Incas had actually occupied and which had been "lost" since its conquest by the Spaniards in 1571. Today the golden beast, in its manifestation as Paititi, still haunts the fevered imaginations of the explorers of South America - particularly in Peru. In the course of the search for it, hundreds of minor "lost cities" have been found, but the beast itself continues to elude its seekers. And it continues to devour the lives of those who would hunt it.
The golden beast, however, is only semi-mythical, and not all of its mutations have been chimerial. In 1536 the Incas rebelled against the Spaniards and then withdrew to Vilcabamba in the jungles to the northeast of Cuzco. There they remained for 35 years before they were finally defeated. Vilcabamba itself was rapidly consumed by the forest, but as such it became one of the beast´s real manifestations - known as "The Lost City of the Incas".
There was little interest in discovering the whereabouts of Vilcabamba until the latter half of the 19th century when there was a revival of enthusiasm for American archaeology; and it was this beast that Hiram Bingham was tracking when he "discovered" the lost city of Machu Picchu. Bingham and his party left the Inca village of Ollantaytambo on mule - back one morning in 1911 and, following a recently dynamited road down the Urubamba canyon, they arrived in the evening at a small hut. Bingham was told by the owner. Melchor Arteaga took him up a path where he met two farmers who had been cultivating the Inca terraces. A photo taken at the time even shows the famous Intihuatana Stone in the midst of a cornfield! The entire demanding journey had lasted just one and a half days.
To give Bingham credit, he did continue on to find many other Inca sites under far more arduous circumstances. He even came across some ruins in a place called Espíritu Pampa, but he did not bother to investigate. In the 1960´s, however, another American explorer, Gene Savoy, did explore the area and declared this site to be the true Vilcabamba. The most convincing evidence to support his claim is the existence of piles of roof tiles - since a 16th-century chronicle affirms that the Incas roofed one of the Vilcabamba palaces with tiles in imitation os Spanish architecture.
Still, Espíritu Pampa is only one of many Inca ruins in the region, and in 1976 the Peruvian archaeologist Edmundo Guillén claimed another site as the true Vilcabamba. Other explorers think that neither identification is correct and the real city is yet to be found. The controversy thus promises to continue for a long while - especially as more explorations turn up more ruins.
In 1985 Savoy uncovered another pre-Inca site in the jungles of northern Peru which he claims covers 120 square miles and consists of over 20,000 structures. Called Gran Vilaya, it may turn out to be the largest single complex of ruins to have been found in South America. In the same year, the University of Colorado, announced the discovery of another "lost" city - Gran Pajatén. But this time the beast had outdone itself in chicanery - for the UC scholars had failed to mention that these ruins had been described by Savoy in 1965 and that they had been excavated in 1966 by the Peruvian archaeologist Duccio Bonavía!
However, all of these are just appendages of the beast. The truly romantic explorer is still after its heart - Paititi.
With the destruction of the Inca Empire, the chameleon-like chimera underwent yet another metamorphosis, this time into Paititi- and as such the golden beast clings tenaciously to life to this day. According to the legend, a group of disafected Incas fled into the jungle, taking with them thousands of llamas loaded with gold. Anyone who enters the rainforest to the east of Cuzco will come across countless tales of Paititi. The most common is that of a peasant who follows the trail of a lost animal for several days into the cloudforest. Disoriented, he stumbles through the fog, falls asleep and awakens to find himsel in Paititi. Inevitably, one of the Incas gives him a golden ear of corn to take home with him. But he is never again able to find the site.
Is this manifestation of the beast mythical or real? According to documents from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, a son of the Inca Huayna Capac discovered a small range of mountains in the jungle, conquered its peoples and populated it. He cultivated its rich soil, mined its vast gold veins and built temples. He then sent a delegation to Cuzco to inform the Inca of the land, but because he was jealous of his holdings, he warned them to say nothing of the gold, They were to tell the Inca, "Paytiti" ("That place is just lead"). However, when they arrived in Cuzco they found the Spaniards already there. They thus returned to Paititi, taking with them many Inca nobles, gold and hundreds of llamas.
All of this could be simple legend, of course, but according to one early testimony, the Incas of Paititi had communication with Cuzco. And in 1602, when Melchor Carlos Inca (a grandson of Huayna Capac) was sent back to Spain, it was said that many Incas never before seen in Cuzco arrived from Paititi to wish him well. But if te beast is real, where is its lair? The documents indicate a wide range of habitat - as far as the forests of northern Bolivia and western Brazil - but the beast has taken most of its victims in the high jungles to the east of Cuzco.
When Hiram Bingham discovered the lost city of Machu Picchu in July 1911, he was actually searching for the ruins of Vilcabamba, the remote stronghold os the last Incas. Today we know that he almost certainly found Vilcabamba whithout realizing it, whe he visited the jungle-covered ruins of Espiritu Pampa, some 100 km (620 miles) west of Machu Picchu, two months before his spectacular find on the Urubamba gorge. But Bingham only saw a small part of Espiritu Pampa, and dismissed it as insignificant. Considering what he found later, who can blame him? Bingham was a Yale graduate, later a US Senator, who became fascinated with Inca archaeology in 1909, while in Peru studying the terrain of Bolivar´s independence struggle. He returned with the Yale Peruvian expedition in 1911, and took the narrow mule trail down the Urubamba gorge in July of that year, Melchor Arteaga, a local campesino whom he met by chance while camping on the river banks, led him to the jungle - covered ruins.
The locals called the mountain above the saddle - ridge where the ruins were located Machu Picchu - Ancient Peak; and its sister mountain was Huayna Picchu - Young Peak. But Bingham felt that the real name of these ruins should be Vilcabamba. He believed he had discovered the last refuge of the Incas. More than that, he also speculated this was Tampu Tocco, the mythical birth - place of the Ayar brothers, founding ancestors of the Incas.
Bingham´s mistake in thinking he had found the location of Vilcabamba is understandable. Who would imagine there were not one, but two lost cities in the jungle north of Cuzco? But today there is overwhelming evidence against the lost city of Machu Picchu - as - Vilcabamba hypothesis. So Bingham presented us with an enigma even deeper than he imagined.