This is # 8 and the final installment of Don Beni
What do you do when you are offered kilos of gold by a confessed murderer while sitting in a terrorist controlled jungle?
I figured that the thing to do was turn the offer down as politely as possible. The writer agreed and with the German ethnohistorian we decided to talk to Don B alone. The following morning the 4 of us went to the river by ourselves under the guise of shooting more portraits.
We had 2 concerns. 1 is that carrying gold out of the jungle the way we were headed seemed a suicidally bad idea.
2 that word of Don B's cache would get around and his life would be in danger. The first concern was pretty valid. But thinking back now, Don Beni hacked his way into the jungle and existed just fine there for years without our help it was a little presumptuous of us to think that he needed our help. In any event as I shot a new set of portraits we talked about what to do with him.
Eventually we decided to take back the assay and the German would help make some decisions about how to turn the gold into money that Don B could use. That decision allayed my fears, made Don B happy so the next day we packed to go.
The walk out was blissfully easy. 2 or 3 days walk along the Rio Verde. The terrorists, if they even were terrorists, were all very nice to us. With the end of the trip in sight even the porter's mood improved.
I got back to the US without incident. Got stuck in Chachapoyos for a bit, then had to fight the magazine tooth and nail to get them to pay the pittance that they had promised -par for the course with magazines.
It was such an amazing experience. Walking through the jungle day after day in search of a legend and then finding him. Don Beni was a diminutive yet larger than life character. What a privilege to meet him.