The expedition begins.
The expedition was finally ready to depart after Maria had presented to Pierce the three other members; Luis Soro, Jorge Vasquez and Pedro Coronado. Handshakes and goodwill had permeated the initial gathering and now was the time to begin. They had no idea where exactly the digging was to occur except that it was near Machu Picchu. But even this was vague as there were numerous ruins in that area. In any case, they would follow largely in the footsteps of the explorer with which the uncle of Pierce had ventured. But at some point Uncle Stephen had stopped exploring with Bingham and had gone solo, but at what point?
They did have a rough map that Uncle Stephen had made that showed the ruins of Cusco and several towns such as Arequipa as well as others, but nothing concrete. The possibility was that it was somewhere in the Sacred Valley between Machu Picchu and Cusco. The map also showed other areas visited by the famed explorer and the uncle, but only on the map were there markings indicating where they dug, and the markings indicated that they had dug at Cusco but also elsewhere. One clear thing said by Stevens to Pierce was that the Uncle had specified that the two sticks had to be placed on a high ground that was sacred to the Incas but in two different areas. One of these was the Temple of the Sun and at the highest point, the sun at the solstice would go through the crystals located in the top of the stick and indicate where more gold was to be found. The other point was called the Intihuatana, also called the hitching post of the sun. The two rays that would be produced when the sun hit the crystals would make them intersect somewhere on the ground, pointing the direction to dig. It was really at that intersection that Maria and Pierce would be concentrating. All the rest of the markings could be on the map just to distract would-be explorers. The sticks were the key to everything. Machu Pichu was really the most important site, the real beginning of everything, or the end of their dreams.
This Temple of the Sun was famous for being the most sumptuous temple of the Incas and more than 4000 high-ranking priests had lived there at one point. It was dedicated to the sun and it literally shone with hundreds of gold panels lining the temple, life sized solid-gold altars and a huge golden disc. It was ransacked by the Spanish after the conquest but it was rumored that not all the gold had been taken. It seems probable that the priests had hidden some of the smaller pieces away when the fall seemed inevitable and perhaps such gold items were found by Pierce‘s uncle. And it seemed possible that gold might be found underneath other cities of the Incas hidden somewhere in caves.
Maria had decided to go straight to Machu Picchu, but not in the usual way the tourists go as she didn’t want to attract attention. Instead they would go to the nearest town near the area and depart from there. The plan was to center on Machu Picchu and focus on the Temple of the Sun, then follow where the intersecting lights might direct them to search. There were plenty of ruins in the area and perhaps what they were looking for was farther away from the main site than one could expect.
They were going to the Sacred Valley, an area where the ruins of Cusco as well as Machu Picchu were located and where a river called the Rio Urumbamba passes through. It is true that Bingham the explorer had not gone by that route, but the ruins were not far and as long as they were in the valley they knew that maybe the gold was not far as well.
They decided to rent a bigger car than Maria had as they had to accommodate five people as well as the material they had for digging. They opted for a Toyota 4×4 as it was more rugged than Maria’s car. She decided to travel to Ayacucho, a city that is located 363 miles from Lima. For obvious reasons they decided not to buy the mules of Pedro but to buy them at Ayacucho itself and Pedro would be in charge of haggling for them. At least he was happy that he had saved his mules from this adventure, and Maria was happy to have saved money at the beginning. The mules would still have to be bought but the price would be lower.
Ayacucho is called “City of Blood” or also “City of the Dead” as numerous battles occurred there. It is a fascinating city, known for its colonial churches but also known for a terrorist group called the” shining path”. The city is also well known for its artisans. They decided to stay at the Hostal San Blas, an inexpensive place to stay for a short while. The inn was located at the intersections of the streets Choro and Grau, not too far from the main square called Plaza Mayor. The plan was to stay at Ayacucho overnight, rest and prepare for the next morning to go to Cusco taking the S3 road.
At a restaurant they ate the popular roasted chicken, a speciality of the house. The restaurant was located in a more upscale area but they would eat and then take a walk around Plaza Mayor.
“Well let’s eat I am famished.” declared Pierce.
“Mr. Pierce, may I ask you how you came about to decide to explore these Inca lands for artefacts?” asked Luis. Pierce was about to respond but Maria chimed in. Maria had said to Luis and Jorge that Pierce was an archaeologist as that would be a good cover.
“Luis, I told you, no questions related to the affairs of Mr. Pierce. It is personal and strictly business as well as scientific of course, am I right Mr. Pierce?”
“Why yes, it is mostly science related but…” Maria was staring at him in a fierce way. She had warned him about talking too much to the others in the group and here he was about to spill the beans to strangers.
“Its business, that’s all.” Pierce said in an uncomfortable way, looking down at his half-devoured chicken.
Pedro wanted to have more information about the next events, and thought that the moment was ripe to intervene. “Maria, what is the plan for tomorrow, how will we proceed?”
“Well, if Mr. Pierce agrees the plan is to take the road to Cusco, and then buy the mules there. Then we can enter the Sacred Valley all the way to a town called Aguas Calientes. Not all of us will go there. Mr. Pierce will go with Pedro, and Luis and Jorge will be with me. I will be lower in the valley. I will explain later the details.” Maria did not want to explain everything immediately. She did not want them to know about the two artefacts, the sticks that Pierce had. The less said the better as they were the key that could lead them to untold treasures. However, they had to be set up at a high point, on the Temple of the Sun as the map indicated.
The next morning they awoke early and began the journey towards Cusco. Taking the S3 highway it would take about 26 hours to go there so no doubt they would rest somewhere in between. Maria decided first to travel in stages, and the first stage would be from Ayacucho to Andahuaylas, a total of 261 kilometers. Then, from Andahuaylas to Abancay, 138 kilometers. Then finally, from Abancay to the Sacred Valley and Cusco.