Dorado was a mythical
land in South America where the streets were paved with gold.
search for this myth
has cost thousands of lives!
search started on a
sweltering February morning in 1540 when Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of
the governor of Peru, led 350 Spaniards plus 4,000 chained native
slaves out of Quito (Peru) toward the east.
knew where EI
Dorado lay. Native chiefs may have invented the story in the hope of
getting the Spaniards to leave.
EI Dorado was
the name given to the king of a fabulous city, Manoa, believed to be on
the Amazon River. The king was said to be covered in oil and powdered
with gold dust. The name of this mythical king came to be applied to
his equally mythical domain.
Spain and England (including two by Sir Walter Raleigh) attempted to
find this territory. None succeeded.
helped defeat the Incas and conquer Peru in the 1530s. His EI Dorado
expedition, however, was a fiasco. All 4,000 natives died and only 90
of the Spaniards returned.
of hogs were
taken along to provide meat. Two thousand dogs were taken to hunt game
as well as runaway natives.
natives began to die
when the snow line of the Cordilleras was reached. Hundreds more died
as they headed down into the jungle. An earthquake opened a huge
crevasse into which fell and perished hundreds more natives.
and diseases took
more lives as they hacked their way into the endless jungle. They
camped in the valley of Zumaco 170 km from Quito. Exhausted Spaniards
and natives were tormented by leeches and insects.
the main body and
the horses behind, Pizarro with 80 men reconnoitered on foot. Some
Indians encountered were burned alive or torn apart by dogs for not
knowing the way to EI Dorado. Others said it lay a few days march
at Zumaco was
summoned to catch up and the whole expedition marched 100 km
downstream. The heat and rain rotted their clothing and destroyed their
provisions. All the native bearers were now dead.
Spaniards got busy building a boat. They melted horse shoes to make
nails and sealed the boat surface with resin from trees.
men led by
second-in-command Orellana went down-river on the boat and eventually
reached the mouth of the Amazon.
and the remaining
160 followed the Napo River to its confluence with the Amazon. Their
firearms were rusted, their food gone, hostile natives surrounded them
and they were 1,500 km from Quito!
was no way out but
back to Quito. Boa constrictors, exhaustion, wild animals, eating
poisonous toads and berries, natives and fever all took a toll.
into the Andes
they went and more died from cold. A year after the expedition to El
Dorado started, ninety emaciated survivors staggered back into Quito.
(1552-1618) led expeditions in search of EI Dorado between stints in
first expedition in
1595 took him to the Orinoco River and failed after much suffering. The
second in 1616, again to the Orinoco, led to the death of his son
during a skirmish with the Spanish followed by his own arrest after
returning to England and execution.
Dorado is simply one
of numerous myths and fantasies in pursuit of which humans have wasted
their resources, their health and their lives.