Expedition Unknown

Expedition Unknown – Captain Morgan’s Lost Gold – S01E07

imageMost people would associated Captain Morgan with a rather festive tasting rum, but he was indeed a real person and by many accounts, the most successful privateer in history. And just to make the point, the difference between a pirate and a privateer is that the privateer is actually sponsored, usually by a government while the pirate is in it for the personal gain. Now that we have that distinction made, let’s see what we have going on.

Captain Henry Morgan amassed a large fortune looting gold from Spain. His main area of operation was Panama where the Spanish would load gold and transport it over to Portobello where it would set sail to Spain in Galleons. Morgan’s plan was to seize the city and nab the gold. Morgan was a good commander, but not really a good navigator. During his nautical days he sunk at least three ships. When Morgan decided to take the port of Portobello, he actually landed three miles away and took the city by foot. He held it hostage and declared he would burn it to the ground if he wasn’t paid to leave. Quite an interesting strategy, yet it worked and he was paid to leave the city alone.

This was merely the first stop on his world domination tour and soon he was down the road at San Lorenzo where the stormed the beach and lost five ships. This is where they believe his flagship Satisfaction is believe to have been wrecked. Morgan then flees on foot with his remaining crew and works his way back to Panama City.

The Satisfaction is believed to have gone down with a fortune in treasure on board. It is thought to have hundreds of treasure chests on board. Researchers have found dozens of wrecked ships in the area and are still looking for Morgan’s vessel. As you may expect, Josh hooks up with the team and explores the waters. They have made multiple discoveries of different wrecks and have pulled up a few items of note, including a large treasure chest. They take Josh out and after sweeping back and forth, they find a site worth looking into. They suit up and into the water they go.

It is indeed a wrecked ship, but turns out to be something much more modern than what they are looking for. Oh Josh you naughty tease! But wait, all is not lost. They head to another site and find something much more exciting. There are dozens of encrusted treasure chests lying on the sand floor. They’ve been there for hundreds of years and would be from the right time period as Morgan. They manage to grab a couple of small items including what looks to be a mule shoe. This would be good news as mules would have been used to transport the looted gold.

With air in their tanks running low and a storm looming on the horizon, it’s time to head out and continue in the tracks of Morgan.

Before the Panama Canal was built, Morgan would had to have used a small river which connected the two oceans. It is said he took his crew through this area in order to reach Panama City again. He took a small amount of supplies believing he could beg, borrow or steal what he needed along the way. This didn’t work out so well as he met up with local tribes who were none to willing to part with what they had. Josh speaks with some of the local tribes and their attitude toward Morgan is less than kind. It is said he pillaged, looted, killed, tortured and much worse to the natives he came across. To put it simply, he’s not held in high regard.

Josh keeps on the move and eventually heads back to Panama City. In Morgan’s final raid on the city it is actually set fire and burnt to the ground. Only one building and some rubble remain of the original city. This confirms some of the thinking that he was nothing more than a pirate.

Meanwhile, Josh links back up with the archeology team and their artifacts and help transport them over to a radiology lab where they can be scanned to see the contents. They identify two of the pieces which look to be a mule shoe and the tip of scabbard. The chest is simply too thick for them to get a scan of the contents. I’m sure we’re all thinking they should just take a crowbar to that chest and be done with it, but that’s not how saving artifacts works.

After digging deeper it doesn’t appear these relics are from Morgan or the Satisfaction, but instead from a ship called the Encarnacion which is still a ship from the 17th century and would have been used to explore the Western Hemisphere. Not a ship loaded with gold, but still a ship of historical significance.

So, not quite the treasure chests full of gold we were all hoping for, but an exciting and picturesque adventure nonetheless. Piracy took on many different forms, but it’s hard to argue that there are plenty of sunken ships in the waters of Panama. It’s also clear there is plenty of wreckage to sift through with a lot of that looking like real treasure chests. Do those chests have gold in them? Are they full of plundered trinkets and gems? It’s hard to say what mysteries they contain, but they contain something and with a bit more work and discovery these teams might soon be able to give us an answer.

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Expedition Unknown – Viking Sunstone – S01E06

imageJosh is back with an all new adventure and this time it’s to investigate the legend surrounding the ability of the Vikings to navigate the seas with nearly pinpoint accuracy hundreds of years before the invention of the magnetic compass. How were they able to travel such vast distances when the sun was hidden from view by the clouds or had disappeared from the horizon? Legend has it that King Olaf used a sunstone, a crystal with mysterious properties that allowed him locate the sun regardless of where it was.

Josh heads off to Alderney to the site where a sunstone was found in a shipwreck. It may be where the actually sunstone of King Olaf was found. It’s not long before Josh is out on the sea to visit the wreck site. They only have a few minutes to look around as the tide is quite vicious. Down at the bottom are the remains of a large boat complete with cannons. There is a lot to see and take in, but time is short and alas, no sunstone.

Of course you can’t go travelling without taking in the local cuisine which appears to be many forms of herring. Oh yeah, and there’s some beer. Five kinds of herring on the same plate seems a touch excessive if you asked me, but the rotting fish dish might be just a little over the top. But you at least have to try these things.

But not to be discouraged, Josh is off to Trondheim, Norway where Olaf set in motion an absolutely fantastic cathedral which is still under construction hundreds of years later. It is said that Olaf’s remains are buried under the church, but because there are so many tombs down there, they have no idea which one is his. Josh heads down to have a look and it’s a massive catacomb with tunnels leading out in all directions. It’s exactly what you’d expect, dark, creepy and loaded with skeletons.

They end up at the crypt where it’s believed Olaf is entombed, but all they can do is pay respects as there is no intention of disturbing any of the bodies. There is also rumor that Olaf’s original sunstone is buried with him. Clearly, they’re not going to get it back.

With that in mind, it’s off to Oslo to actually mine for sunstone. Turns out it’s a form of calcite crystal and there just happens to be a mine Josh can visit. And like all mine’s Josh end up in, this one is scary and full of perils. Josh makes an amazing but utterly frightening descent down. He uses an "elevator" that is a couple hundred years old and then repels down some sheer drops to get to the crystals he’s looking for. And with the gentle tap of the hammer, his guide Christian removes a fine piece of crystal.

Josh takes this to a man named "Guida" who is a master craftsman and can most likely build the Twilight Board and Shadow Stick that are needed in conjunction with the sunstone to help with navigation. These other two pieces help point the way once the sunstone is able to find the sun.

The man is an imposing figure, but his Viking Hall is a amazing and his skills are nothing short of impressive. After getting Josh dressed accordingly and showing off some of the Viking skills such as archery, he sets to work to make the board and stick. Within a few minutes he has both complete and they are exact replicas of the blueprints he was given. And no, there were no mechanical tools used in the making of the board.

They all agree to try out the process and head aboard a replica Viking ship under extremely cloudy conditions. The story goes that the crystal will show 2 images and you turn it so the images line up. You take two readings and the intersection points the way to the sun. From there you take the twilight board and shadow stick which give you an actual direction. Amazingly, they’re able to get a reading and point a direction for North. The pull out a magnetic compass to check their work and the 2 directions are almost identical. Since Josh isn’t know for his maritime skills, we’ll allow for a margin of error.

So how cool is that? Using these simple devices they were able to locate the sun and point themselves in the proper direction. And all of these tools and technologies are hundreds of years old. Sure, it might be a little slower than GPS, but you have to marvel at the use of it. This now proves the stone is not only real, but worked exactly as the legend said it did. The Vikings were able to navigate in a far superior way during that time. Sometimes the simple ways are best.

There you have it, sometimes you can prove a myth. And even if he didn’t the scenery, the food and the people were certainly worth the trip.

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Expedition Unknown – City of Gold – S01E05

imageFor this adventure we are heading out to Peru to look for the Incan Lost City of Gold. Back in 1532 Spanish Conquistadors cut and slashed their way through the Incan empire looking for gold and silver, lead by Francisco Pizarro. He wanted to fill rooms with gold and would stop at nothing to make it a reality. Hearing of his thirst for blood and gold, the Incas disappeared into the mountains and took their precious metals with them. But the question remains, is the City of Gold a myth, nothing more than the stuff of legend or is there really an ancient city out there in the mountains with vast stores of gold?

As with any good adventure you need to hit the market and stock up on supplies. And as with any good market there are some unusual things to try. Josh samples something which looks to be related to the guinea pig. No no, no need to take the meat off the bone and make it look presentable, just cook the rascal whole, leave the head on and eat it with your bare hands. Gadzooks, it looks shocking! Can’t say I would do it.

After the market, Josh meets up with Greg Deyermenjian, who’s been looking for Incan ruins for the past 30 years. He’s documented multiple previously undiscovered sites and firmly believes there are still many more to uncover. Greg has assembled a team and they will follow the ancient footpaths the Incas left behind. These paths extend up into Ecuador and down into Chile, nearly 10,000 miles of roads to follow.

While Greg puts together his team, Josh makes a side trip to the mysterious ruins of Machu Pichu. Unlike other explorations, he takes a luxurious train ride up to the site. It’s a glorious train with catered meals, fine dining and a wonderful observation car. Too bad getting to ruined cities can always be like that. He does however go back to his roots and in the market samples one of the local soups, a spicy blend of meats that includes bull penis.

But that’s not all you can get in the market. In order to scale the mountain and handle the thin air, they need to buy bags of coca leaves. These are the same leaves that make up the chief ingredient of cocaine. It is still used as stimulant and the team is going to need it.

With the team assembled, Josh heads up the mountain in some 4×4’s. The road is treacherous and narrow with severe cliffs off to the side. The journey is slowed by the oncoming rainstorm which forces them to take shelter in a local church. It is rough accommodations, but it has a foosball table and a 12 year old hustler that beats Josh soundly. It’s always so wonderfully strange to see people open up their homes to complete strangers. Ok sure, maybe handfuls of bills trade hands behind the scenes, but let’s not let that shatter the illusion.

They follow the road to the end of the line and then go by foot. Legend says the Incas threw away a lot of their supplies so they could make better progress over the mountains. To support the legend they dig around in Lake Pumacocha and find ancient potatoes from the Incan supplies. It appears they’re on the right path and so they continue up through the heavy jungle and find an ancient set of ruins to spend the night in.

As they continue their progression in the morning, they find rock paintings of llamas that further support the Incas followed this path. As they get ready to make a dangerous river crossing, they accidentally stir up a hornets nest, literally, and get stung on the face, legs and hands. And it’s time to cross the cold waters of the river. A river that nearly sweeps Josh away. These explorations of Incan mountain top ruins are dangerous!

But they are rewarded for their effort and find several Incan buildings that look to be houses or perhaps an outpost of some sort. They are completely overgrown but they are clearly well made structures. They even find a piece of pottery or art in what looks to be a window of one of the buildings. Greg definitely believes this is part of the Incan ruins. They don’t have the right tools or enough supplies so they mark where they are and Greg works to set up a team to head out to the same site later that year.

So no treasure rooms filled with gold, but there are definitely more Incan buildings and ruins out there. And the path they are following is thousands of miles long. If there is a Lost City of Gold, it could easily hide out there in the harsh mountains, covered in moss, trees and roots. So much of that area is unexplored so who knows what’s hiding behind the next ridge. No gold bars this trip, but who knows what the next one will bring.

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Expedition Unknown – Jesse James – S01E04

imageFor our latest outing in adventure travel, we head out to Oklahoma to take a look at the legend of Jesse James and the gold he left behind. We’ve certainly all heard the name Jesse James and we may even be familiar with some of his deeds. He is famous for his gold robberies and of course the men he shot down. But there is one stash in particular that has Josh’s interest. Supposedly, there is millions of dollars worth of gold coins still buried out there.

Jesse James stole millions of dollars worth of Mexican gold, loaded it up onto 18 mules and made his way into Oklahoma. He was stopped by a blizzard and decided to bury the gold and mark it so he could return later to claim it. Before he could do that, he was killed by a member of his own gang, Robert Ford.

The gold is supposedly marked by some bullet holes he put in a tree and some other cryptic signs. With the help of some historians and treasure hunters, Josh will see what he can find. But first, it’s time to take in the local color with a spot of ribs and some fancy duds at the cowboy store. No Josh, put the chaps back where you found them.

The first stop is to visit the house where Jesse James was born and to get a bit of insight into why he became an outlaw. His father died when he was 3 and he saw plenty of violence and death and the outbreak of the civil war. Seems he had a taste for revenge and violence from the early days.

With that in mind, Josh tries to confirm if it was even possible for Jesse to make the journey with mules loaded down with gold. While it would be slow going, it is possible he made it to Oklahoma in the time allotted.

He then meets up with a treasure hunter who has been researching Jesse James for 40 years. He believes there is treasure still left behind in Robber’s Cave. He is able to show Josh markers that have been carved into the rocks that point the way to treasure. Bud Hardcastle uses dowsing rods to help locate items, but alas, all they have for their efforts on this outing is the lid to a tin can. Oh well, better luck next time. At least the scenery was nice.

Not discouraged, Josh heads to Cement, Oklahoma where another treasure hunter uses some more sophisticated equipment to find items. He meets with Jamie Dodson who says he has put together clues to the location of the treasure and he has a map outlining the area they need to search. While the legend speaks of finding "Jack", Jamie believes Jack isn’t really a person or grave marker, but a word spelled out on the ground. His photo does indeed show Jack spelled out with rocks in an area that matches a description in a note left behind by Jesse. While not giving away too much, Jamie appears to have a specific area he wants to investigate and uses a much more sophisticated metal detector to get the job done.

Josh helps with the search and they get an interesting set of beeps. Indeed, something is buried beneath the rocks. And it’s a metal bar. But Josh’s hopes of striking it rich are dashed as we learn it’s a lead bar and those are worth pretty much nothing.

So, no gold this time around, but let’s keep in mind there are indeed items still buried out there. Josh may have found lead this time, but what else is hiding out there? A California couple recently found a large stash of gold buried on their property worth a few million. So while searching for gold may seem fanciful, the loot Jesse James robbed has been found in a couple different places and it been worth a small fortune. If you happen to be down in Mexico and some guy is selling maps, don’t dismiss too quickly, there might be something to it.

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