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The Ecuador Chronicles - 2011-12

El Dorado - The Search for Gold Through the Ages;
                                  A Gold Town in the South of Ecuador;
                                                          And Live Well Ecuador Adventurers
Live Well Ecuador Principal Mathieu Guillory is back with us this week with the first of a two part series from the Gold town of Zaruma.  Matt and his buddies are out for adventure - and a good time.  Take it away Matt!
by Mathieu Charles Guillory

The Mystique of Gold - From the Incas to Today 


Everyone knows that the gold (Au) craze is serious business these days.  The per ounce price of gold price has risen to over $1,400 and some predict it will reach over $2,000 this year.  But here at Live Well Ecuador….we do not consider ourselves financial prognosticators, but we do like a good adventure.  Therefore…what better way to engross oneself in the idea of owning gold than to search for El Dorado in Ecuador.  “El Dorado”….that famous city the Incas told the Spanish about – the city of gold.  Some say it is Machu Pichu, Peru; others some lake outside of Bogota, Colombia; some say it was never found…and others say it is in Zaruma, Ecuador.


Regardless whether it is El Dorado or not, the most historical as well as picturesque place for gold in Ecuador is a charming Colonial town called Zaruma, nestled in the South of Ecuador halfway between the coast and the Andes.  The Conquistadores arrived in 1536 from Peru and this became Latin America´s first serious gold mine worked by the Spanish.  Archeologists claim that the Incas were mining gold some 50 years before the Spanish arrived.  In 1595 the Conquistadores sent a large gold nugget to Felipe II who was duly impressed.  The King named the site “Villa de San Antonio de Zerro de Oro de Zaruma”.  More importantly for the Conquistadors, Felipe changed the tax that was normally “one fifth” of all income to “one sixth”.  And so, the Conquistadores named this now famous mine to “El Sexmo”…or “one sixth”.


Joining me on this grand adventure were one of LWE's biggest enthusiasts, Mike Roeder from Ft. Myers, Florida, and my neighbor at the finca, Fernando Borja.  We started our journey with a one hour flight from Quito to the Santa Rosa airport, which is only one year old.  As you can see…it is very modern but not much traffic yet.  The area around the airport on the coast is known for banana plantations and shrimp farming.  But Zaruma is a 90 minute drive away and almost 4,000 feet above sea level, which provides for perfect spring like weather year round.  This province named El Oro (the gold) borders on Peru and until the airport opened a year ago was cut off from easy access to the modern world.  Which as you will see not only adds to its charm but to the gold mining mystique as well.


Our Plane from Quito to Zaruma



The New Santa Rosa Airport



Arrival and Planning 


In my many years of traveling in Europe and Latin America (LWE did not exist in those days)…the first place I always visit in a new town, city or village is the main square…often called “Plaza Grande” in Latin America.  Sure enough…upon our arrival around 8:00 PM….we headed for the Plaza soon quickly met Tito…(not Michael Jackson´s older brother) who would become the man for our adventure.  Tito quickly gave us the run down on the gold situation in Zaruma and contrary to Lonely Planet….the mines are still operating and very active.  Our “crash” course was quite amazing!  We signed up for a half day tour in the morning and made plans to meet him at his office.  After a late dinner of local fare….we returned to our hotel for the night.


Plaza Grande in Zaruma



Zaruma - A Pretty Town


Our Main Man Tito - Explaining the Situation


This is What We are Looking For......


........And This.....Tito Knows how to Tempt



A Serious Strategy Session - Seeking Gold and Glory (and Fortification)


Going for the Gold


We started the day with a brief city tour of the town and its spectacular views and impressive, well preserved 19th Century architecture.  When one walks through the streets of Zamura…one cannot help but get the feeling of Doc Holiday in Dodge City.  After this brief tour….we started on our trip for gold. Our first stop was the original ancient mine “El Sexmo” which until 8 years ago…was still open to miners who wanted to search for gold using “artisinal” methods (we will explain this later).  The site has is nicely set up for tourists and explains very well the history of the miners.  Of course…American mining companies showed up around the turn of the 20th century and things really started to pick up.  One can still see the influence of Americans here….lighter hair and clear eyes in the locals.



Sunrise from our Hotel - Thars's Gold in Them Thar Hills


Historic Zaruma



Beautiful Town, Great Weather



Kinda has the Feel of a Gold Town from the Wild West......



With a Lot of.........


Come on boys - We Need to get Serious about Gold!



Dressed for Success and Ready for Action




Stay tuned next week as we seek El Dorado…….



Can't Wait Until Next Week


Matt, the town itself is a real find - an El Dorado in its own way - even if you don't find gold.  Zaruma looks like great fun for a family adventure.  I am looking forward to next week.



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