Report 2 - 30th July 1999
Having already recced the initial route out from the Inca stronghold of Samaipata, we set out for Angostura. Angostura is very much a frontier type of town .It lies half way between Santa Cruz, and Samaipata ,Its location fortunate, in two respects. One, it lies before the area of landslides hence avoiding any more command tasks, and two, being on the straight part of the road, you can see the on coming bus that not only wants to take his life but yours in his hands. Angostura ,far from being the accompaniment to a fine cocktail ,like is more of a flat pint of warm larger on a sunny day .Even the dirty streets in other countries might seem quaint, have an air of menace .On the initial recce the local hoods set up a road block across the main highway and demanded an arbitrary amount from the on coming traffic. At the time we had in our possession a letter from the President demanding safe passage. We handed it over to be examined by what seemed to be the entire village . It could have been one of Shakespeare's sonnets we were producing. The legalistic language of the document makes it even difficult for a fluent speaker to fathom. What was important was that the word 'Presidente ' was on it. I believe condoms in Malawi go by the same name. I wonder if they would have the same effect? A few arguments later and we were on our way. It was back to this place that we had to return to for the start of our journey into the jungle.
The mission we were to embark upon was the search of an ancient Inca lost city known only as the fort. Samaipata is like a Machupichu but on a smaller scale. A complex of temples and sacristies carved into the sandstone surround it ,with its own village further down the mountain. The theory is that if Samaipata was of such great significance ,and such a sacred place, that there must have been many villages that would have depended on it .It was the one of these that we had to find. There had been much talk of stone arrangements on top of the mountain about 20 kms from Angostura but few people had actually been up to verify if these were of any significance.
We arrived in Angostura on the night of the 21st not without some reservations. The village gathered around as I gave the nightly briefing, one eye on the map the other most defiantly on the kit. Afterwards while the group stagged on we went to see if the local mayor could provide a place to stay the night. To my horror it was the same man that had demanded money from two days before. "You're not Gringos " he belched "No" we replied "That's ok because some passed through here the other day who did not pay me. I was looking forward to settling accounts." Quick as a flash the BRITISH army id card came out."Britaincos no Gringos" one of my friends kept repeating . He said he would put us up in the school playing field. In turn we offered the services of our dentist the next morning.
We awoke surrounded by children. Surgeon Commander Mel Wingfield went to work while we waited for the other half of our group, the Bolivian archeologists from Samaipata. As teeth were being seen to and mothers encouraged their offspring to be brave our friends arrived led by the head Bolivian archeologist the mostly elusive Oswaldo Rivera. A short meeting with him followed where we were assured that everything had been taken care of, and that in essence all we needed to do was find the sight and explore.
The treck into the jungle took about four hours. A steady path up the mountain to a water source where we established our base camp. We cleared an area and set up camp ready for a good nights sleep.
The next day was indeed very productive. The group split into two, one looking for the main sight and the other going deep into the jungle to see if we could find the Inca road that might be an outlet. I went with the road group along with Tarquin, a journalist,Maru and Doorman. The latter two are very interesting characters in their own rights. Maru is a Colombian archeologist who is currently mid way through a doctorate at the Sorbonne. His father, a professor of economics at Medellin University, was one of the main founders of the ENR, a Marxist guerrilla group that is still going strong in Colombia. Under death sentence from the same people he set out to help they fled to Paris where he now studies. Doorman is through one of life's ironies the most aptly named individual I have ever met. Sultry and wide like an ox. If I was going to meet any of the mountain cats or indeed the even more aggressive mountain boar I fancied my chances having this bear by my side. We headed due south from where the main group were, Doorman crashing through the jungle like a man possessed. A routine was quickly established and we all took it in turns to pathfind and mark the trail. After four solid hours of hacking we decidede to stop at a clearing for a rest. In truth all four of us smoke and we were all gasping for a cigarette. Maru and I both threw our machetes to the ground when suddenly --clink. The sound of stone. We started to uncover the topsoil before us and presto. Rows of cobbled stone that could only mean one thing the Inca road. In archeological terms the discovery of a road is crucial as it invariably leads to two places of relative importance. We plotted its position with the GPS and returned to base camp. They too had had a good day and had established the parameters of some sort of fortification. Exited with our discoveries the group went to bed.
The next day was to prove full of surprises. The main one being that Oswaldo had decided that he was going to go home. Two days in the jungle were enough for him and his white jeans. Besides I'm sure he had better things to muse on a Saturday night. Although we had two other very capable archeologists he was the main man. The person who would know where to dig and so on. Two hours after he left, a chat with Doorman revealed that Oswaldo had promised him that we would pay him around 20 US Dollars a day for his services. Although this may not sound much considering one of our taxi drivers made just 1.75 a day this puts it into some perspective. When I told Doorman that much as I liked him there was simply not the budget for this he just left. I would have been scared to have knocked over his pint by accident let alone tell him that contrary to what Oswaldo had said we could not pay him. So on day two we were in the middle of the jungle without our main contact and without our guide. We still had thirteen days to go!
Our next few days' discoveries really kept us going. Gerry Masters an ex Sapper, and I were tasked to clear a path from one structure in the fortress to another wall. Noticing that some stones were still fairly well arranged in the shape of a room we decided to dig. Gerry a very robust, no nonsense west county man found the first piece of pottery. Within Dragoon house in Gerry's room we had our first significant find. Amazonian dating to around 1000 AD. There was much more to follow as the group discovered all told about four different types of ceramics. There was however to be a real heart breaker. In amongst Gerry's room there was a fairly large stone that we had been digging around. We called over one of the trainee archeologists that Oswaldo had left us with to ask about this rock. "Its just your simple common a garden sandstone rock "he said " Get rid of it" On his command using a shovel as leverage we threw it out of the pit we had been digging in. It landed face up but split in three places. Looking at it we could see a finely carved mortar. Pre-Inca. Broken. Dated around 900AD. Gutted. Absolutely and utterly gutted. It was however repairable and I'm told will be one of the center exhibits at the museum in Samaipata.