National Geographic : 1968 Feb
Eye on the sky, a satellite tracking station perches on bleak uplands near Cotopaxi. Beacon and distant twin summits of Illiniza frame the dish antenna, operated by the Bendix Corporation for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. About 110 technicians commute 30 miles from Quito. KODACHROME BY LORENMCINTYRE© NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY "are hardly visible in the rank jungle growth." A crew whacking with machetes cut a new trail. Fragments of the forest fell around us. Sap bled from wounded stumps. Rain washed them clean. In one whole day we advanced only half a mile. I retired at nightfall and wakened to sun rise sounds like falling water, like the ringing of little bells, like cellos and chimes. I never saw the birds, nor did any two people agree on their identity. Every five miles the crew widened the trail, opening a heliport for delivery of men and tons of gear. To chart subterranean sediments, teams bored into the muck and set off charges that made squiggles on graph paper. Texaco-Gulf teams were sounding out a possible southern extension of producing oil fields in the Colombian jungle. As reported in El Comercio, Quito's leading newspaper, Tex aco-Gulf by 1967 had spent 60 million dollars. This brought the total cost of oil search in the Oriente region to more than 100 million dollars, an amount equivalent to the whole 1960 Ecuadorian national budget. Last year, after I had left Ecuador, a news 298 dispatch reminded me of the legend of The Gilded Man. El Dorado had materialized, in a way, near the place where Gonzalo Pizarro had searched. The story read that around midnight on March 29, 1967, oil had been dis covered ten miles north of Santa Cecilia, and "roustabouts bathed exultantly in the liquid that rose to a great height." Deep beneath the rain forest, almost on the Equator, Well No. 1 had tapped a geyser of oil that surged up 10,200 feet of pipe. Some time later No. 2, then 3, struck oil. To use the oil will require a pipeline over the Andes. Along the route where Gonzalo Pizarro slogged home hollow-eyed to find his brother murdered and the land in chaos, and to come to his own death on the block, liquid treasure soon may flow through the morass, across the ravines, and up the wintry cliffs to Benalcazar's high city and beyond. The treasure, I reflected, had been there all the time. It simply had been intended to enrich neither armored plunderers on horse back nor kings of distant Spain, but instead a nation and its people-the land of the Equator itself.