The ancient church tower casts its shadow across the main square of Puerto Diaz. Built by conquistadors and their slaves, its bell has marked the passage of time for over three hundred years. Its stone was hewn from ancient quarries to the south of the town and patches of rock show through the faded whitewash on its walls where tropical storms have eroded the surface. The tower had been a symbol of wealth, a reminder to the people of the power of Spain and the Catholic Church. It had been blessed by Jesuit priests and Cardinal Fernandez Ramon in an elaborate ceremony watched by a hushed crowd of perhaps two thousand - the majority of the town’s inhabitants. They had seen the church built over two generations and there were only a few still left alive who could remember the imposing figure of Francisco Ortega Diaz who had given his name to this outpost if the New World. Drawn by tales of wealth beyond imagination, he had come with two crews drawn from the backstreets of Cadiz in wide bodied ships. They had traveled across the strange countryside on the rivers into the rainforest of the interior. The local people had been subjugated by those traveling before them but there was still resistance and the promised gold had eluded them. The disease - ravaged remnants of the original adventurers had found it easier to stop traveling and fighting and start instead to farm and fish. The first village on this site was little more than a collection of wooden shacks built in an uneasy truce alongside a Machiguenga village on the banks of the Urubamba river. The life was hard and the settlers nicknamed their village “Infierno” after half their number were killed by fever. Many left for the coast and returned to Europe, but there were other groups of travellers who swelled the population of the small trading post on the river. After a century, the next major influx of outsiders arrived seeking either material rewards, in the form of rubber and timber from the trees, or spiritual wealth in the form of men’s souls. The Salesian mission was built and the chicleros set off along local rivers to find the trees oozing the white gold, latex. It was a rubber plantation that brought the wealth, together with some small scale farming and logging. The river bank became extended by jetties, and traders set up shops and a bank. Puerto Diaz, the town, had emerged from the shacks and scrubby jungle.
A century later, increased size meant that a road was built linking the town via Puerto Inuya to Pucallpa in the north - west and towards Puerto Maldonado in the south east. The small airstrip was enlarged to take modern jets and trucks brought in electrical goods and carried away timber. The place itself was not unusual. It shared a similar development with countless Amazonian towns and trading posts but then there was a discovery that would make the area unique. The bell that had tolled for the funerals of the Diaz family and cardinal Ramon was drowned out by the cacophony of chainsaws and helicopters. The church tower, still the tallest building in Puerto Diaz, shook, as it had in countless earth tremors, but this time because of man - made explosions. Prospectors arrived in trucks and by air to carve wide avenues through the forest so that passengers arriving at the airport would see the town as the hub of a giant wheel with the spoke - like swathes cutting twenty kilometres into the jungle. At intervals along these verdant trenches were placed seismic charges. Deep beneath the town was layer upon layer of sedimentary rock. The gold which the Spanish had first sought was only present as shimmering flakes amongst the black sand in the rivers but a far greater wealth was hidden deep underground. Near the village of Camisea, just eight kilometres from the old church in the Plaza de Armas, the prospecting company found oil - bearing rocks. There was great interest, and much relief, at the find but this turned to astonishment as further tests were carried out. Initial estimates put the reserves at millions of barrels of oil but it seemed that the gas field associated with it was even larger. The state - run company that had commissioned the investigation announced that there was twelve trillion cubic feet of natural gas and several hundred million barrels of liquid natural gas. It was largest gas field in the world. At a conservative estimate there was enough fuel to supply the capital city, two hundred miles away on the coast, for a century.
The yellow trucks and tankers with “PERUGAS” on their sides roll through the Plaza de Armas, the church tower trembles imperceptibly and the sound of the midday bell is drowned out by the buzzing and roaring of Chinook helicopters which cast their fast - moving shadows across the city rooftops.