The Tayos caves of Ecuador are a legendary vast natural underground network of caves spanning many kilometers, very little of which has been officially explored.
The Tayos caves (Cueva de los Tayos) reached worldwide attention in 1973 when Erich von Däniken released his bestselling and controversial book The Gold of the Gods, in which he claimed that Argentinean-Hungarian entrepreneur Juan Moricz discovered gold, unusual sculptures, and a library of metal tablets in a series of artificial tunnels within the caves.
Tayos was also mentioned as the location of Father Crespi's collection of mysterious golden artifacts, given to him by the indigenous people of Ecuador.
truth behind the Tayos caves has remained out-of-reach, so last
month we carried out an expedition to the caves to see
just what lay within this enigmatic subterranean world.
The caves sit within
Shuar territory and is one of the reasons why it has rarely been
explored - the Shuar decide who is allowed access to their sacred
Numerous archaeological items of ancient origin were recovered in the caves, but nothing that matched the description of the treasures of von Däniken's book.
The Shuar people
stated they had investigated the wrong cave, and the location of the
treasures was secret.
Some features, such as straight edges
and geometric shapes, suggest human intervention
Preparing for the
Very little information is available about the caves, and the Ecuadorian government does not get involved, since the caves lie within Shuar territory.
The Shuar people are members of the Jivaroan peoples, who are Amazon tribes living between the upper mountains of the Andes, and the tropical rainforests and savannas of the Amazonian lowlands, in Ecuador extending to Peru.
At least 40,000 Shuar people remain in
We were disappointed that such organizations represented the Shuar people as 'savages' and warned that our lives would be in danger if we went without their guidance.
Their advice could not have been further from the truth.
Ignoring the advice of the above mentioned
'experts', a small team of us - Ioannis Syrigos,
Gary Manners and Christian Aguilar -
started on our journey from
Cuenca to North West Ecuador, near the
city of Macas.
To our surprise we were told that none was
required, apart from a verbal permission from the indigenous owner
of the land. This information was in opposition to the information
provided by tourist offices.
She told us that her 7-year-old son,
Miguel, would guide us one hour through the forest to one of the Shuar communities, where her father would help us with guidance in
the Tayos caves.
preparing to leave for the forest
Miguel's grandfather, Luis, the patriarch of the camp, invited us to stay in his little lodge for visitors. He would provide us with all the information and guidance we needed for the next 4 days.
had the opportunity to interview Luis about the Tayos caves, a video
that will be released shortly.
with kids playing happily
chickens roaming freely
The community provided us with freshly made local
traditional food every day as well, as the famous Andean Chicha
drink made from fermented maize.
We started our day early with a local breakfast and then packed up our equipment and headed out to explore our first cave. The jungle is very thick, so finding the caves without a guide would have been a difficult task. Luis provided us with 3 guides - including him, to guide us through the caves.
The first cave was hidden
behind thick vegetation with a rather steep entrance.
including Luis (second from
In one section of the cave, only one of our team members
managed to squeeze through the gap.
Luis going through a narrow path
We had a nice warm dinner and then headed to our lodge for discussions into the night. Luis explained to us about the legends and myths behind the caves, including the story of Father Crespi and how gold and artifacts were indeed taken from the caves to be given to Father Crespi.
While most accounts say that Father Crespi was given the artifacts in gratitude for his work with orphaned children in Ecuador, Luis referred to Father Crespi as a 'thief', even if in reality he never set foot in Tayos.
Luis said that helicopters came and carried gold from the
caves back to Crespi, and he claimed that the gold in the central
cathedral of Cuenca, were Crespi resided, is from the Tayos caves.
According to Luis,
the gold found within the central cathedral in Cuenca,
originally came from the Tayos caves.
Left: The central cathedral of Cuenca ( Erik de Leon / flickr ).
Right: Inside the cathedral ( Wikipedia)
We headed off to explore another entrance into the caves, where we would have to rappel our way down a 45-meter drop, through an entrance on the top of a hill.
the entrances to Tayos caves involve the need to abseil down a large
drop and this is another reason it is rarely explored).
Chris rappelling down into the cave
One of these paths was 'prohibited' because as Luis explained to us, they had discovered footprints there one day that had disappeared by the following day.
The Shuar believed these footprints belonged to the spirits and that therefore they should not enter. They were, however, happy for us to enter, while they stayed behind.
As it happened, the path was too narrow for all of us to proceed, so Gary went alone, crawling on his stomach through a gap until he reached a dead end.
Nothing could be found,
but there was a strange sound from an animal that was nowhere to be
Gary exploring the 'forbidden' path
This was our last day of exploring the caves and this time we headed to the river Pastaza, mentioned by Stan Hall in his book Tayos Gold as the real location of the metal library and the artifacts of Father Crespi.
According to the book, the entrance
is from the river and you have to dive underwater to find it.
But just 1km into the cave, the guides refused to go further due to the high level of water.
Ioannis and Gary decided to move on and explore the rest of the cave. This took us another kilometer into the cave until we reached a section that was blocked from rocks sliding into the tunnel.
We could not go any
and Gary with two of the guides.
The Shuar have been exploited numerous times, so protecting their land and their history is of great importance. Our expedition was just a tiny taste of a vast and almost never-ending network, and we only scratched the surface.
Fortunately, we built
strong relationships with the Shuar, who have invited us back for