CONQUISTA RIVER TREASURE SITE
REDISCOVERED BY STAN GRIST
One of the greatest treasure hunting books I have ever read in my life is entitled, The Treasure Hunter. It was ghost written for Howard Jennings by the famous author, Robin Moore. It is the biography of many of Howard's adventures, gold and treasure recoveries over the years.
To be honest, the book was so good, that it was a bit difficult for me to believe. I knew that the moment I finished reading the book, I would have to determine its authenticity (or not) for myself. I never could have imagined back then, that I would actually spend many years of my life and thousands of dollars tracing nearly every footstep of Howard Jennings as described in all of the chapters.
That book ended up taking me to Honduras, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and more. In upcoming blogposts (chapters), I'll be filling you in on more of my adventures that were born from Howard's book.
This week, I would like to share Chapter 8 of The Treasure Hunter. It is entitled, "Coaque, The Golden City". As a courtesy for those who do not have this book, I have created a special .pdf copy of the chapter for you. It is available for free and immediate download.
In chapter 8, "Coaque, The Golden City", Howard Jennings documented his discovery of the very important, pre-Columbian, lost city of Coaque on the coastal equator of Ecuador. Howard went on to describe his excavations, discoveries and side trips throughout the Coaque Mountains region. This is really an exciting story of modern-day adventure and discovery.
The single most important side trip mentioned in this chapter was to a site called the Conquista River. At the Conquista River, Howard met an old man who had been discovering large numbers of gold artifacts eroding out of the hillsides all around his home. The old man's name was Moifus (it was actually "Moises" or Moses in English) Conforme. Please read more about this story in the .pdf I have provided for you. I don't have the space or time to repeat the story here.
I had been researching this Conquista River treasure story for quite some time. Finally, a few years ago, I decided to attempt a recon expedition into the area to see if I could discover the site. A few weeks later, my buddy Jim and I drove to Pedernales on the coast to set up the trip.
I decided to first visit my old friend Atahualpa in Coaque to see what he knew about the Conquista River. I first met Atahualpa nearly 25 years ago when I made my first visit to the ancient site of Coaque.
Back then, Coaque was very remote and difficult to reach. My first visit there was a major adventure for me. It was a very small village in the Coaque River valley of about 10 rustic huts built of bamboo and thatched rooves. Today, Coaque is accessed on a modern asphalt road. It has grown into a small community. There is even a telephone in the village now.
Atahualpa had worked as Howard Jennings' assistant and guide back in the early 1970's during Howard's two expeditions. Atahualpa has shared many experiences he had with Howard that are not mentioned in the book. I have been able to gain a much greater insight into what Howard Jennings was like through spending dozens of hours with Atahualpa.
It was so great to see Atahualpa again after several years since my last visit to Coaque. He had aged since my previous visit. But then, so had I. His wife passed away from a heart attack three months before my last visit. Atahualpa looked very lonely. We pulled up some plastic chairs and began catching up with each other.
Unexpectedly, Atahualpa told me that it was he who had originally taken Howard into the Conquista River, as it was one of his relatives who had passed along the story about Moifus Conforme's gold artifact discoveries. I nearly fainted with excitement when Atahualpa told me that he thought he could still find his way into the Conquista River valley after all these years.
Howard's map of the Coaque Mountain region is fairly vague and out of proportion. I had spent weeks comparing it to modern topographic maps without much luck. And, the Conquista River is nowhere to be found on current topo maps, even at a scale of 1:25,000. The actual Conquista treasure site location had really been a mystery for me up until five days before that chat with Atahualpa.
We planned to get started early the next morning. Jim and I returned to our hotel in Pedernales for a wonderful dinner of fresh shrimp as we watched the sun set and the surfers make their last rides of the day.
Early the next morning we were in front of Atahualpa's house knocking on the door. He was ready to go and had a huge smile on his face. It seemed as though he was quite happy to be reliving those days of over 35 years before when he rode out of town with Howard on horseback.
Soon we were bouncing down dusty 4-wheel drive tracks, consulting out-of-date, erroneous Ecuadorian topographic maps, GPS'ing waypoints, and asking local campesinos on mule back if they had ever heard of the Conquista River before. Most of them simply stared back at us with blank looks as if we had just stepped off a UFO.
The countryside has changed dramatically in the last 35 years.
Fortunately, Atahualpa got us started in the right direction for the first hour or so. But after that he was mostly lost and disoriented. What had once been a virgin, coastal, green, jungle forest was now brown, dry, dusty and "cut down". We did get a brief glimpse of a wild mountain cat of some sort, crossing our path. I wondered how it could survive in such a desolate environment.
Finally, several long hours to the south, one older, local guy responded to our well-rehearsed list of questions with a most interesting question.
He said, "What's up, are you guys looking for gold or something?"
He knew the whole story about Moifus Conforme's gold discoveries so many years before. We were close. He gave us directions and we were on site about a half-hour later.
The Conforme family no longer lives on or owns the property. One Conforme great-grandson does live nearby. The new owner is a rich man who lives in a large city and employs a family to live in and run the present ranching operation.
Obviously the employed family could not give us permission to walk through the property. After all, who is going to trust freshly landed aliens to invade their boss' space? They wouldn't go so far as to give us their boss' name or phone number, even with a fresh $10 bill up for grabs. What loyalty (or fear)!
We had to track down the next-door neighbors five miles away to finally get a name and phone number of the landowner. That only took another hour of convincing.
So, there I sat after returning back to Quito with a name and a phone number to call soon. I worked hard on a convincing sales pitch for the landowner. Would he allow me in there with my metal detector? Would he want a share?
I finally worked up the courage to make the call. The landowner wasn't home, so I left a message.
Waiting and waiting...
Finally one evening about a week later, I was working at my computer when the phone rang. Unexpectedly, it was the land owner of the Conquista River treasure site we had visited. He was a little curious and a tad bit suspicious about who I was and what I wanted.
I had been expecting to deal with a rather wealthy and distrustful man who would be very difficult to convince to let me search his property, the old Moifus Conforme homestead. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by a friendly gentleman who very much looks forward to meeting with me.
Unfortunately, we were each quite busy with projects at the time. However, he told me to call him back in a few weeks or so. That was a few years ago. I do keep in touch with him periodically and we are still looking forward to visiting his special property together.
I look forward to learning what this man knows of the Conforme discoveries so many years ago. I do know that he knows a lot. I can't wait to tell you how the meeting goes and if I get permission to get back to the Conquista River site before time runs out.
Many times I wish I could multiply myself. So many projects and too little time!
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