Sunday, August 05, 2018

Treasure Quest - Season Three

Last Sunday (July 29), I blundered into the reruns of Season Two of Treasure Quest – Snake Island. In the last broadcast of the night, they were diving near a waterfall with a series of holes worn in the rock. As we left the team, they emerged with several artifacts, one seeming a gold sunburst of Inca design and several small, metallic llamas. Since llamas weren’t native to that area of South America, the conclusion drawn was that this showed that someone from Peru had been there at some point in the past. This was part of the treasure for which they had searched for two seasons… or at the very least, hints that it was near. They might have found the Treasure of the Trinity, and the only thing stopping them now were their permits from the government that were about to expire. They’d be back.

And now we learn that Season Three will premiere on Discovery on August 24 at 9 p.m. (EDT, 8 CDT and who knows for MDT and PDT). So, we would learn if they had actually found remnants of the Treasure of the Trinity or were they just being led astray by random artifacts that had no real anchor in that area.

But new season this isn’t really Treasure Quest of old, because they’re no longer looking for the Treasure of the Trinity and it is not the same team as the first two seasons. According to the Discovery press release (and who doesn’t trust the accuracy of a press release?), “This season, veteran treasure hunter Shawn Cowles, tech specialist Jeremy Whalen, and demolitions expert Jack Peters set out to Bolivia in search of the biggest land find [yes, that’s what it said] treasure in history – the legendary Sacambaya Treasure [emphasis added], reportedly worth two billion dollars.”

So, now I’m wondering what happened to most of other team and what happened to those amazing discoveries they had made at the end of Season Two that suggested they were close to the Treasure of the Trinity? I mean, it seemed they had found their elusive treasure and it was only a matter of extending their licenses and permits so that they could finish their work. It’s been nearly two years since the last episode aired and I thought the program had been cancelled.

The Highway of Death
Well, that seems to have been the case, sort of. There is a new crew and they’re after a different treasure. The Snake Island part has been dropped, probably because they were never going back there anyway, and they’re off to Bolivia, where the big news is they are going to driving along the Yungas Road, which if I remember my other Discovery shows right is also known as The Highway of Death. They actually mention this in the press release so that you know that they’re serious about it.

Okay, I’ve made enough fun of the press release. What else do we know? Well, they tell us, “Over the last three centuries, many explorers from all around the world have made the journey to unearth this billion-dollar treasure, but have been met with misfortune and death. The last man alive to have hunted for this fortune, Johnny Irwin, provides the TREASURE QUEST team with a crucial lead from his own expedition – after years of research, he has a new theory about the treasure’s whereabouts.”

The press release adds, “This season’s quest begins with a lead that points the treasure hunting team to an old and long-abandoned Jesuit monastery.”

Given that, we are led to Jesuits, who somehow, got their hands on the ransom paid by the Inca to recover their leader, according to some sources. The Spanish took the gold and killed the guy anyway, so the Inca took back the ransom. Now the treasure is called, “Sacambaya.”

Or maybe not…

Some writers who claim to be quoting the work of Cecil Herbert Prodgers tell us that the Jesuits used slave labor to dig a cave (treasure vault?) near the Sacambaya mission. Once it was done, the Jesuits killed the natives and then fled to Vatican City. The Jesuits were imprisoned there and all but one executed. You have to have one guy left to tell the tale or we wouldn’t have a show. There is always that one lucky survivor.

That lone Jesuit eventually made it back to Bolivia where he had a daughter by his mistress… because you don’t have a good story unless there is a little sex in it and a son or daughter to inherit the map or directions to find the massive treasure worth some two billion dollars. Without them, you’d just be wandering around the place with no real purpose.

But that isn’t exactly what we learn from the press release, and isn’t what I learned when I dug a little deeper. According to a book, Adventures in Bolivia, written by Prodgers, this treasure had nothing much to do with the Inca. He wrote that he had talked with Dona Corina San Roman, the daughter of an early president of Peru, who had an original document that had been given to his brother by Father San Roman. This was eventually given to her father, that is Dona Corina San Roman’s father, who finally gave it to her. This document told the tale of the treasure hidden by the Jesuits. She gave Prodgers a copy of the document, though I’m not sure where she got it or how it was copied. While it didn’t have specifics, according to Prodgers, it did mention that the treasure was hidden on the banks of the River Sacambaja, which is close to the current spelling. It then said:

If you find a steep hill all covered with dense forest, the top of which is flat, with long grass growing, from where you can see the River Sacambaja on three sides, you will discover on the top of it, in the middle of the long grass, a large stone shaped like an egg, so big that it took 500 Indians to place it there. If you dig down underneath this stone for five yards, you will find the roof of a large cave, which took 500 men two and a half years to hollow out. The roof is seventy yards long, and there are two compartments and a long narrow passage leading from the room on the east side to the main entrance two hundred yards away. On reaching the door, you must exercise great care in opening. The door is a large iron one, and inside to the right near the wall you will find an image made of pure gold three feet high, the eyes of which are two large diamonds; this image was placed here for the good of mankind. If you proceed along the passage, you will find in the first room thirty-seven heaps of gold, and many gold and silver ornaments and precious stones. On entering the second room, you will find in the right-hand corner a large box, clamped with three iron bars; inside the box is $90,000 in silver money and thirty-seven heaps of gold. Distributed in the hollow on either side of the tunnel and the two rooms altogether a hundred and sixty-three heaps of gold, of which the value has been estimated at $60,000,000. Great care must be taken on entering these rooms, as enough strong poison to kill a regiment has been laid about. The walls of the two rooms have been strengthened by large blocks of granite; from the roof downwards is the distance is five yards more. The top of the roof is portioned off into three distinct esplanades, and the whole has been well covered over for a depth of five yards with earth and stones. When you come to a place twenty feet high, with a wall so wide that two men can easily ride abreast, cross the river, and you will find the church monastery, and other buildings.
According to Corina San Roman, the Jesuits built the monastery in 1635 and left it in 1785. The treasure was accumulated over eleven years of mining in the region. The Jesuits used 2000 Indians. There were nine Jesuits. It is difficult to tell from Prodger’s work if seven of them died there of disease, or if eight of them did. Father San Roman was the survivor or one of the two survivors. It was also noted that of the 500 Indians “employed,” 288 of them died from disease during the last three months of the work.

The original document, given to her father, was given to her before he died, and she hid it in a book. After he died, she couldn’t find it, but there was that copy I mentioned, the one given to the brother, I think. The writing is a little confusing. Anyway, Prodgers wrote that he did see the copy… which had to be handwritten given the timing of all this.

Starting about the turn of the last century, there have been a series of “expeditions” into the area to search for the treasure. One of these was sent by the President of Bolivia, Malgarejo, and a second outfitted in Valparaiso in 1895. Both failed. Then in 1905, Prodgers set off to find the treasure.

Prodgers’ tale becomes a rambling travelogue of his attempts to locate the treasure. Supposedly, he found the cave but somehow failed to gather any treasure or proof of his adventure. Late in the year he was driven from the area by the rainy season. He came back the next year, 1906, but seemed to get diverted with all sorts of nonsense. With his workers, he began to:

…uncover the top of the hill… Exactly fifteen feet I came to a solid mason work, one big square stone and then a slab of stone; this formation went on for twelve feet down. Then I came on a stone cobble path, which I concluded was the bottom of the cave, but there was no sign of any door, so I decided to drill a hole between two blocks of stones… We drilled a hole for three feet and a half, and then pushed a thin bamboo twelve feet long through; it appeared to touch nothing except in one corner where it seemed to prod something soft.
Suddenly a very powerful smell began, so strong that it made us all feel bad; it smelt like oxide of metal of some sort… I got over it in a few hours.
This wasn’t his only misfortune that year. Prodgers told of four locals who joined him in the excavations. Then, one morning, they had disappeared. Prodgers tried to follow them but found only the remains of their uneaten dinner from the night before, which worried him greatly. His fingernails turned blue and he found that he had been poisoned. He was able to counteract the poison and survived.

Although he tried to mount subsequent expeditions, he either failed to do so or to find the treasure, and sold the information in 1920 to a Russian who had been born in Switzerland and was living in England, which I mention only to add another dimension of international flavor to the tale.

In the meantime, the information found its way to William Tredinnick, who had been working with the descendants of the original Jesuit survivor. Apparently, he gave up looking for the treasure, but then his reputation wasn’t all that great having committed a series of crimes in Bolivia. He passed the information on to Percy Harrison Fawcett who didn’t think much of the attempts to find the treasure, or that the treasure was buried in the location that Prodgers had found. Fawcett, it seems, disappeared in Brazil some years later searching for the lost city of “Z”, which was inhabited by people who dressed in a European style. I’m not sure what the importance that bit has, but thought it interesting.

This seems to be a theme throughout these lost treasure tales. A treasure or mine is located and then lost. Somehow a single person has knowledge of it but doesn’t manage to exploit that knowledge for him or herself. Instead, they share it with someone else who then attempts to find the treasure, often comes close but, in the end, fails. We have Oak Island. El Dorado. Treasure of the Trinity. The Lost Adams. The Lost Dutchman. Doc Noss and Victorio Peak. In none of these cases has the treasure been found, but many of them have been exploited to gain money from “investors.”

Which brings us back to what is now known as Treasure Quest. No Snake Island, and the crew from the first two seasons are nowhere to be found except for Whalen. This isn’t going to be the same show. They are no longer searching for the original treasure which must mean they didn’t find it; if they had, we’d have read about it somewhere. Just hints to the public that something big was coming… in the next episode or in the next season.

At the end of this latest season, there will be no treasure found. Why do I say that? Well, in the 1960s, more than half a century ago, two others from England, Mark Howell and Tony Morrison tried to locate the treasure using what for them was probably state-of-the-art equipment, but failed when the monsoons arrived. They were forced to go home.

According to their book, Steps to Fortune (for which I can find no reference other than in a magazine article), they were assisted by Juan Oroya. They asked him about the stories of the treasure, but Juan was less than impressed. He told them, “It’s a Gringo treasure.”


He meant, simply, that it was a tale for the Norte Americanos. Apparently, those who live in the region know better than to waste their time searching for a nonexistent treasure.

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