Chapter 5.

Maria Hernandez

Maria Hernandez had lived in Lima, Peru all of her life. Her family had a long history with the Incas and exploration: her grandfather had served as guide to Hiram Bingham and her own father was a guide. Except in his case, he was hired by different groups of tourists that wanted to see the famous ruins. Maria’s expertise was serving as a guide for expeditions in the Sacred Valley and nothing else. She had always been an adventurous girl, going on exploration binges sometimes alone and at other times in groups. She liked this way of living and exploration was in her blood.

She was taller than most Peruvian women were, at 5’8”, and 125 pounds. Lean and muscular but very feminine with long brown hair with a brownish complexion, she looked stunning. And intelligent as well, able to haggle prices and outfox the most evil types of gringos.

She had been contacted a few years back by a certain John P. Stevens, lawyer for the Pierce family, or more precisely Uncle Stephen. Stevens had found the name of Hernandez in the papers of the uncle and had wanted to have more information of her. Maria knew of the history of the Pierce and Hernandez families. Her grandfather had repeated the stories of El Dorado and the gold as well as her father and Stevens knew these stories as well. He contacted her a few months before the death of Stephen Pierce, at his insistence. He had asked her to be ready for a long expedition to guide the nephew, Jake Pierce and he had promised her limitless wealth if all went well.

She was a poor girl living in a poor family who lived in a poor city that itself was located in a poor country. Being poor was a way of life but when fortune knocks at the door, you make haste in opening the door. She had said yes, of course, I will do it and when the time comes, I will be ready to guide the nephew wherever he wants. Now the time had arrived, and she was ready.

She had a lot to do; first, wait for Pierce to contact her but moreover, start preparing the expedition. She knew what she needed; the essentials of course for living for several weeks on the road, but also she needed shovels and picks and other apparatus needed for dig. But the thing she needed the most was secrecy, as she did not want to attract attention. She knew about the guardians as her father and her grandfather had warned her; be careful and on the lookout for them as they will thwart any enterprises that you will start in order to find El Dorado. Remember you are not the first to look for that city of gold they had told her. Never in her wildest dreams did she think that there was something else in the valley, something more valuable than gold.

She received the call from Pierce a lazy Sunday morning. When she understood who it was and recognized the name she almost jumped out of her skin.

“Yes Senor Pierce, I was expecting your call as Mr. Stevens had warned me.” said Maria.

“I hope that you can start the preparations soon.” Pierce said.

“ Yes I can but I need money and we have to settle for a price for me being your guide. Surely Mr. Stevens had told you about all this, didn’t he?”

“In fact, I thought that Mr. Stevens would have settled that for me!” Pierce exclaimed, shocked at the idea of spending his money.

“But Mr. Pierce, you must send me some money in order to start or else I will have to wait for your arrival.” Maria was not happy. Pierce did not want to part with his money too soon, and he was wary as he knew next to nothing about her. He did not seem to understand that without some accord about the expedition she would do nothing. She knew that she was the only game in town for him. Stevens had made sure that only she was to lead him but that Pierce did not know this. Everything had been pre-arranged by Stevens and she knew it.

“Mr. Pierce the plan is simple; I want upfront 1000 dollars and then for everyday of the expedition I want 100 dollars.” said Maria. “I don’t think that my demands are unreasonable quite the contrary. We must also decide how to divide the spoils if we do achieve our goal, finding what you and I know.”

Maria did not want to talk too much over the phone. She knew that the phone system could not be trusted. She was afraid of the guardians and she knew that they were heavily present in Peru and in every sector of the local economy.

“So, do we agree Mr. Pierce?” said Maria.

Pierce finally yielded, as she had expected. Her demands were not unreasonable and the final negotiations over how to divide the spoils could be left when Pierce would arrive. Those would be the most difficult to negotiate.

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