Chapter 21.

The flight from Cusco to Manu.

They took the plane back to Cusco, waited and then embarked for another plane for their destination, Manu. The flight took half an hour followed by a boat ride that would lead them to the gateway of the park near a town called Boca Manu. As independent travellers they were not permitted to enter the restricted zones but the map indicated precisely that it was there they had to go.

They entered the jungle, a place of high heat and humidity where danger lurks at every corner. All sorts of animals were ready to devour them, from jaguars to ants. Yet the map was clear; it was in the reserved zone that they must go for there was the gold. Or so they were led to believe.

They entered the reserved zone by the Manu River as it meanders through it but it had to be done at night as the entry was controlled by guards. Their destination was the oxbow lake called Cocha Salvador, a body of water that has been cut-off from the main river. The map clearly indicated that the gold was near that lake. They were following a jungle trail and mosquitoes were a constant nuisance. They had brought food and water plus a few tents and of course some shovels. Walking in the early morning as they were they had to be careful about encountering large animals along the way. The stars were shining brightly and only a quarter of the moon was present. The jungle was alive with layers of noise. Cicadas were croaking while large aquatic animals such as caimans were splashing around. They walked past gigantic trees called plywood trees as well as palm trees called Moriches. They cross paths with leaf cutter ants busy transporting small bits of leafs on their back that were well guarded by soldier ants who were five times the size of the other ants. The jungle was active day and night.

“All right, let’s hurry up and get to the lake.” said Maria. She was wearing a small backpack. The shovels were on the back of Jorge, while Pedro was in front leading the way while Jake Pierce was closing the group. “Make sure we are on the right trail Pedro,” she asked.

“Don’t worry Maria, we are. Look at the map, it shows only a main trail going straight to the lake. And there, under that palm tree the gold should be located.”

Of course, all of them expected to find a lot of gold. But Sara had done a good job; the map was clear for anyone to see, but the gold they would obtain would be very modest. Just enough to content them but not enough for them to justify another expedition. And the result of this was that they were led away from the main area, the Machu Pichu area where the sacred stream was. And that was all that was wanted by Sara and the Nine, to protect the sacred stream. They were walking slowly in a single file, with Pedro leading. And suddenly they saw the lake, shimmering in the first light of dawn. The screams of howler monkeys were deafening.

“Look, here it is.” said Pedro as he was advancing towards the body of water, map in hand. “The tree is on the far right, near some rock formations.” Sure enough there was a rather large tree near some rocks. There was a mad rush by the others as all were stricken by the gold bug and shovels began to appear in hands.

“Wait, let’s be careful as all this could be a trap and it might appear more dangerous than we think. Let’s exercise caution,” Maria said, always the voice of reason.

“She’s right, better be careful and advance slowly towards the tree, one at a time.” Pedro said, looking at the others.

They advanced cautiously and finally arrived at the tree and encircled it. Jorge produced a shovel and began slowly to dig around the base. Suddenly their shovels made a dull sound as it hit a metallic object.

“We hit something. Quick, let’s dig it out.” cried Jorge. Pedro looked avidly at the scene, with his hand on his revolver and ready to pounce.

They dug around the object and finally found that it was a small metal box and not heavy as Jorge alone was able to lift it up for all to see. A few knocks on the front of the box and it sprang open. Dismay and disappointment was on everyone’s faces at what was seen inside; only one small brown cloth bag the size of a child’s fist. Pierce took it in his hand and opened the bag for all to see.

“What only that?” exclaimed Pedro. Jorge was too shocked to talk. Pierce looked dismayed as well while Maria had an expression of surprise on her face.

“Well Mr. Pierce, this seems to be a pitiful amount to hide considering the time we spent trying to locate it. Why didn’t your grandfather take it with him when he left? It doesn’t make sense to me.” Maria was shaking her head.

“I understand your surprise. I am astonished. This can’t be, there has to be more hidden somewhere. This can’t be all there is.” Jake Pierce looked like a wounded bear, clutching his head in his hands while he walked away from the scene. Pedro still had his hand on his revolver but at the sight of the gold he loosened his grip and tried to recompose himself. This was not the great treasure that he had expected and he would not kill anyone for a few gold nuggets worth 1000 dollars perhaps. Jorge looked at him, waiting for a signal but he could see that plan B would not be implemented.

They thought that no one had seen them approach the lake but it was not so, the eyes of the Nine were everywhere. Soon, one of the spies reported back the good news.

 

 

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