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The expedition of Pedro de Candia, first explorer of Antisuyo

The Peruvian department of Madre de Dios, the ancient Antisuyo, is still today one of the most mysterious, wild, little-known and uncontaminated territories on the planet. Its virgin forests have been declared "intangible" territory (access is prohibited, as well as any mining, water or forestry exploitation), precisely to preserve the enormous biodiversity present there.

Over the five centuries that separate us from the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Peru, the Madre de Dios was also the objective of many expeditions of explorers and adventurers who were looking for the lost city of Paititi, the last outpost where the Inca priests would have hidden immense riches and ancient knowledge, fleeing from the terrible advance of the Spaniards led by Pizarro.

In reality, already around 1537 some rumors spread in Cusco of very rich lands located towards the east, where anyone could get rich and live in opulence. It must be considered, however, that the indigenous vision of wealth was very different from the European one: for theIncas, gold had no intrinsic value, but was a sacred object that was used to get closer to the Divinity, while instead it was the coca leaf that had a very high value.

The first explorer who traveled the valleys east of Cusco and a good part of today's Madre de Dios was not a Spaniard, but an Italian, born in Crete in 1484, called Pedro de Candia. His parents, who owned land on the Greek island, were exterminated during an attack by the Ottoman Turks. The young Pedro was thus moved to Italy and was raised by his maternal uncle, in the town of Castel Nuovo.

His restless and enterprising nature led him, at a very young age, to enlist in the army of the Spanish empire, in fact, already in 1509, at the age of 25, he participated in the sieges of Oran and Tripoli, where the Spaniards fought against their Ottoman rivals. After other battles, such as that of Pavia in 1525, he traveled to America, following the new governor of Panama, Pedro de los Ríos, where he arrived in 1526.

In 1527 Pedro de Candia met Francisco Pizarro, in the estuary of the Rio San Juan, territory now part of the Colombian department of Chocò.

After various vicissitudes, during which the expedition for the conquest of Peru was being organised, Pedro de Candia took part in the famous episode of the 13 of the Gallo Island, in which Pizarro appointed his lieutenants and swore to complete the undertaking of conquest. In the following year Pedro de Candia explored the current coasts of the Colombian department of Nariño and Ecuador, reaching the indigenous village of Tumbes, where he was welcomed with benevolence by the natives.

He then traveled to Spain, together with commander Francisco Pizarro, with the aim of requesting authorization and sufficient means to undertake the conquest of Peru. He was appointed artilleryman of the kingdom and was granted an annual salary of 60,000 maravedis.

In 1532 he set out to conquer Peru, under the orders of Francisco Pizarro. At the end of the year, following the sack of Cajamarca, where 168 men defeated a much larger army and imprisoned the Inca king Atahualpa, Francisco Pizarro obtained a huge treasure (6 tons of gold and 11 of silver). Pedro de Candia received 9,909 gold pesos and 407.2 silver marks. (about 44 kilos of gold and 87 of silver).

In February 1534, Pedro de Candia was sent in advance together with Hernando de Soto and Diego de Aguero, with the aim of reaching Cusco, the capital of Peru.

He was appointed the first mayor of Spanish Cusco, and had a love affair with a beautiful Inca princess, with whom he had a son.

In 1536 he distinguished himself in the defense of Cusco, when Manco Capac besieged it, attempting to re-establish the dominion of the Incas.

In April 1538, when there was a battle between Pizarro's faction and that loyal to Captain Almagro, Pedro de Candia sided with the commander of the expedition and contributed to the final victory.

At this point, Pizarro's brother, Hernando, seeing that many captains were without a job in Cusco, thought of granting authorizations to conquer other territories. This decision, probably taken on the orders of his brother Francisco Pizarro, was due to the fact that idleness and boredom would have played against the commander, favoring revolts and conspiracies.

Precisely in that period Pedro de Candia had obtained some information from an indigenous concubine who had described to him a very rich land called Ambaya, located east of the Andes, in an immense forest territory.

The Antisuyo area (today Madre de Dios) had been explored about a century earlier by the Inca emperor Pachacutec, who had traveled along the Amarumayo river (or river of snakes, todayRio Madre de Dios ), and returned in Andean plateau with lots of gold, coca, precious medicinal plants and exotic fruits.

Pedro de Candia invested almost all of his assets in the enterprise, in which he recruited around 50 knights and 250 infantry, with the aim of setting off to conquer Antisuyo.

Below is a passage from the book Historia general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las islas y tierra firme del Mar Oceano by the Spanish writer Antonio de Herrera, where the preparations for the expedition are described:

Since in that period there were more than one thousand six hundred soldiers in Cusco, Hernando Pizarro decided to get rid of so many idle people anxious to undertake any adventure... and Pedro de Candia began to organize for the departure and invested eighty-five thousand gold pesos and furthermore he got into debt, and armed an army of three hundred soldiers who, seeing that he spent and invested so much, were convinced to follow him and that perhaps they were going to get rich and even if nothing was found they would not lose anything and for this reason they decided to go with him…Pedro de Candia walked to the valley of Paqual, ten leagues from Cusco, and only five leagues from the Andes mountains and stopped there a month and a half to organize himself.

Pedro de Candia remained for about a month in the Paqual valley, which probably corresponds to the current valley of the Mapacho river (called Yavero further downstream, a tributary of the Urubamba). During this long stop he acquired important information on the valleys, totally unknown to Europeans, which are located east of the Andes, already in the basin of the current Rio Madre de Dios. Here is the continuation of the narration by the writer Antonio de Herrera:

Pedro de Candia headed towards the mountain range which is commonly called the Andes, with the intention of crossing it. This mountain range has in this area, as its northern limit, the Opotari river and, as its southern limit, the Cochabamba valley, where the Mojos live, and finally crossed the said cordillera entering the Tono river valley and near Opotari it entered a large village and populated. Opotari is located three leagues from Tono and thirty from Cusco, and as he continued he found such rugged terrain, with treacherous swamps, rushing rivers to cross and woods so thick and thorny, that the horses had difficulty in moving forward and the men injured themselves by falling into the cliffs and their wounds swelled, and with all this they continued to advance...

With these great difficulties, seeing such rugged mountains and very dense forests where the sun's rays barely entered, and it almost always rained heavily and violent winds blew, Pedro de Candia he was uncertain what to do, whether to go back or continue moving forward, everyone was confused because continuing the journey was almost impossible and trying to go back along the same route taken was extremely complicated.

However, they decided to continue and reached the torrid lands of Abisca, where they stopped and looked for food. While they rested, the captain sent some of his lieutenants further ahead to see what was there, but when they returned after a few days they said that the forest was increasingly tangled and that it was impossible to continue. Here the discontent grew for having placed themselves in such harsh, torrid and malarial lands.

However, it was decided to continue and after four days of walking they encountered cannibalistic natives who used poisoned arrows. All these Indians united to give battle to the Castilians and attacked them from the rear and sheltered themselves with thick tapir skins which made the swords of the foreigners ineffective. So the Spaniards fired their arquebuses to disperse said Indians and one of them fell prisoner and asking him with the interpreter: what land was that and how many days were needed to get out of said tangle, he replied: that there was nothing else other than mountains and forest, forest and mountains, equal to those already crossed and asking him for news of his tribe he said: that they had nothing other than small huts covered with branches and that their weapons were those bows and arrows and that they ate cassava which they planted and that thus they lived happily thinking that they would never see bearded men and that in those woods there were monkeys and big cats that they killed with poisoned arrows and various tapirs, and told the foreigners not to go any further because they would all get lost. Not following what the Indian said they continued to advance, walking a league a day, the men suffering from wounds that rotted and swelled due to the insects and thorns that stuck in their feet and legs. It was torture to see those men full of sores and festering wounds crossing unhealthy swamps and also suffering from hunger so much that they were forced to eat the horses that could no longer move forward. The rivers were increasingly wider and deeper and it was increasingly difficult to cut wood to build bridges. Pedro de Candia was perplexed and with the support of the majority he ordered them to go back but walking towards the south-east and God Our Lord allowed them to set off into a valley where in a few days they managed to get out of such a fearsome and dark forest where they remained for three months and where no Castilian lost his life, and so they went up towards the Collao (plateau) near various villages that had been entrusted to the Canarian Alonso de Mesa and Lucas de Martin where they received help and rest.

Analyzing this interesting description it is clear that Pedro de Candia's troop entered, in June 1538, the Madre de Dios basin right in the valley of the Rio Tono, a river that flows into the Rio Pilcopata (which in turn, joining the Piñi Piñi, forms the 'alto Madre de Dios), near today's town of the same name.

They probably continued along the Rio Alto Madre de Dios until they reached the village of Opotari, perhaps identifiable in today's town of Shintuya.

Since it is known from the descriptions of other writers that the troop returned to the plateau by going up the Rio San Gaban, which is a tributary of the Iñabari, it can be thought that Pedro de Candia advanced in a south-eastern direction. In this expedition Pedro de Candia did not have the luck of Cortes or Pizarro and did not find territories rich in gold (in reality there is gold in every river of the Madre de Dios, but it is difficult to extract it). So he had to clash with dangerous cannibalistic natives and wisely decided to return to the Andean plateau.

According to other writers of the time, Pedro de Candia returned to the plateau because some natives had revealed to him that the gold-rich territory was the country of the Chuncos east of the Rio Carabaya (now called Rio Tambopata, Peruvian department of Puno, on the border with Bolivia).

At this point, Hernando Pizarro, who had learned, after receiving some letters from the expedition, that one of Candia's men, Alonso de Mesa, wanted to return to Cusco and try to free Almagro, headed to the place where the men were camped. men from Candia, probably the villages of Corani or Macusani, in today's department of Puno.

Hernando Pizarro took Alonso de Mesa and Pedro de Candia prisoner on charges of treason. At the same time he granted Captain Pedro Anzures Henríquez de Campo Redondo (known as Peranzurez) authorization to explore the territory of the Carabaya or country of the Chuncos.

In the following days while Alonso Mesa was beheaded, because it was proven that he had really plotted against Pizarro, Pedro de Candia was freed, because it was ascertained that he had nothing to do with the conspiracy, but was only interested in finding the fabulous Ambaya or territories rich in gold without wanting to create their own personal dominion, but always submitting to the power of the king and the Pizarros.

Pedro de Candia with his men thus set off towards the Rio Carabaya (Tambopata), following in the footsteps of Peranzurez, who probably reached the confluence of the Tambopata with the Pablobamba, where today the village of Putina Punco stands.

The two commanders met in that area in August 1538 and established their headquarters right where the village of San Juan del Oro was founded two years later.

The area was very rich in gold which was found both in the tributaries of the Tampopata and in some veins in the surrounding mountains. It is not known whether overall Pedro de Candia managed to recoup the enormous sum he had invested in the failed expedition to the legendary Ambaya, but it is certain that his relationship with the Pizarro brothers had deteriorated and therefore he joined the rebel faction of Almagro el Mozo. In 1542, however, Pedro de Candia was killed by Almagro el Mozo himself, who accused him of treason while attempting to get closer to the royalist forces of Cristobal Vaca de Castro.

Pedro de Candia was the first of a long series of adventurers and explorers who set out in the following years in search of the very rich lands of Paititi. He had the merit of being the first to enter the forests of the Madre de Dios basin and return to the Andean plateau, thus being able to give news to the world of the mysteriousAmazonian primary forest.


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