The search for Paititi, City of Gold

from the Artsology series The Arts Adventurer

I watched an episode of "Expedition Unknown" on Netflix last night, featuring host Josh Gates on a trek high into the Andes with explorer Gregory Deyermenjian. The men and their crew were searching for the legendary lost Inca city of Paititi, believed to be rich in gold, silver and jewels.

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This was my first time watching this series, and this episode certainly qualified as an "arts adventure," with research related to a 400 year-document found in the Vatican archives in 2001, ancient maps, dangerous hikes, crossing raging river waters, and much more. The episode definitely had the qualities of an Indiana Jones-like adventure, and I was hooked.

Josh Gates and Expedition Unknown for the Travel Channel

If you haven't seen this show, I'll give you a spoiler alert here, in case you want to stop reading and watch the episode first.

They do a good job laying the groundwork for the expedition: interviews with historians, other explorers, a look at Peruvian culture, Spanish and Inca history, and so forth. They assemble the crew and start on their journey, first driving as far as they can go on roads, many of which weave through the mountains with no guard rails and dangerous drop-offs reaching thousands of feet. As you can see, they get the camera low and next to the wheel for the full dramatic effect!

When they run out of road, they get out and start hiking, making camps and taking days to go higher in search of the lost city. They encounter danger in numerous places, including having to cross dangerous rivers (with host Josh Gates seen crossing the waters in the picture at the top of the page), and accidentally stepping on a wasps' nest, incurring countless stings and misery. As they continue on, they're dealing primarily with altitude issues, but still making progress.

the search for Paititi with Josh Gates

At one point, they discover some rock art and other clues "that seem to validate the legend" of Paititi. They proceed and find a walled area and even an ancient artifact, as you can see in the pictures below. Josh gets to reach in and grab the artifact, and pulls it closer to the edge where they can see it has head-like features, with the two eyes and nose markings as you can see at below right. At this point they say they're discovered "something that's been neglected for 500 years" and something "not yet documented." The tension is building ... we're on our way to Paititi for sure!

finding artifacts on the search for Paititi

But at this point, I see the time for the show is running out ... how are they going to resolve this? They're so close, or so they want you to believe. So what are they going to do to wrap this up in time?

They announce they're running low on supplies, that they need more resources, and "it's so tempting to push further, but that's exactly why we can't." Huh? And with that, they turn around and abandon the expedition!

It was such an anticlimactic finish that both my son and I said "you've got to be kidding me!" There's mention of trying again later, but that's about it. It's not like I truly expected a major archeological discovery to be made in a neat-and-clean 45 minutes, but there's got to be a better way to finish the show. But ... scroll down for a post-show update.

Josh Gates and his Expedition Unknown crew turn around and go home

Update: despite the anticlimactic finish, I'm still glad I watched the show. It sparked my curiosity to learn more about this story, and there's definitely some interesting updates. The episode was filmed in 2014; meanwhile, French explorer Thierry Jamin has made over 20 trips to the area since 1998, and is planning another one for the summer of 2016! (you can get a historical listing of expeditions and the various attempts to find Paititi near the end of this article) He's trying to raise funds to have a helicopter expedition that would include a team of archeologists, divers, and even roving robots to collect data, with a specific target location found via satellite photos. Jamin describes the target location as "a very strange mountain of square shape, one thousand meters aside. We would say a cube, in the heart of the forest."

Another update: Check out our own follow-up with a satellite search for the "square shaped" mountain here.

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