December 29, 2012
The Treasure Hunter, and how one thing leads to another
This isn't totally scuba-related, but it's close enough. And it's another interesting example how one thing can lead to another and then to another. Like when I went to the local One Dollar store to pick up a couple of things and there found this interesting looking book that turned out to be about underwater archaeology. Which then led me to search for several more books on underwater archaeology that I ended up buying on Amazon from who turned out to be the first woman to visit the Titanic. And which also led me to go on eBay to buy a piece of antique Vietnamese porcelain that had rested at the bottom of the ocean for 600 years and was the subject of the story of the book from the One Dollar store.
I am not quite sure yet where a more recent experience may lead, but so far it's been an interesting chain of events also. So I am in Roatan at CoCo View resort, listening to resident expert Doc Radawski's most interesting lecture on Roatan's history, politics and general dynamics. That included a chapter on treasure hunting, which is always a fascinating subject. It wasn't quite clear to what extent Doc had been involved in such endeavors, but he did mention a book on a real life treasure hunter by the name of Howard Jennings. Jennings, with fellow adventurer Robin Moore, had looked for treasure on Roatan in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Doc had apparently met the man and described him as one of the most obnoxious characters ever.
Well, thanks to the miracles of modern technology I managed to locate a used copy of the book ("The Treasure Hunter") on my iPad on Amazon while still listening to Doc's lecture, and ordered it on the spot. It cost me ten cents plus US$3.99 shipping. The book was waiting for me when I got back to the States and our home in California and it turned out to be interesting reading.
"The Treasure Hunter" isn't about diving (though Jennings does some of that in one of his adventures) and it's also not exclusively about Roatan, though several chapters deal with Roatan and Jennings apparently even lived at Port Royal for a couple or three years, together with a female companion (of which Jennings was quite fond). The book turned out to be a thoroughly entertaining read with the writing alternating between author Robin Moore and Jennings himself, a Texan, World War II bomber pilot, German POW. The events described took place during the 1960s and it all reads like a mix between Indiana Jones (Jennings claimed to be a geologist) and early James Bond (there are quite a few fights). The style is 60-ish, too, with lots of drinking, womanizing and the kind of worldly colonial gentleman style that now looks quaint and very much politically incorrect.
Jennings' adventures include searching for treasure and gold not only on Roatan, but the Honduran mainland, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. Use of metal detector technology, plenty of research and preparation, a cocky, winning can-do attitude, wide-ranging contacts, world-class persuasion skills, and often a good dose of luck enabled Jennings to retrieve and take across borders a good deal of loot in an era where no one could have dreamed of the search and scanner technologies used in airports today.
The book was so entertaining that I went back on Amazon to see if there were other writings by or about the intrepid Howard Jennings. Nada. But there was something else that caught my eye: "Roatan Odyssey" by Anne Jennings Brown. Huh? Well, Jennings Brown apparently was Howard's wife who built a house with him on Roatan, at Port Royal. And it was published in 2007, 35 years after "The Treasure Hunter." "But plans so neatly made in the UK begin to fall apart as soon as they land and it becomes clear that Anne's funds are tied up by Howard, whose intentions are not what they first seemed," it says on the roatanodyssey.com website.
Interesting, and I had to read it. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, and while "The Treasure Hunter" cost me just ten cents, the cheapest used copy of Jennings Brown's book was US$44.52. Fortunately, a much more reasonably priced Kindle version was available, and that is now sitting on my iPad.
And I read Anne's book. It painted, predictably, a very different story, one that while following the same general path, presented facts rather differently. Yes, the treasure hunter was charming, endearing, winning and fascinating, but he had a dark side, a very dark one. And I had not known that he died in a fiery plane crash only a few years after his book had been published.
Anne's book details many of the trials and tribulations she'd had with the suave but flawed treasure hunter, but that was only half the book. The other half was of her life in the house they had built at Fort Fredrick in Port Royal. She had returned there after Howard had been deported from Roatan, all by herself, and reading what it'd been like for her, in the early and mid-1970s, was a total treat. Both an informative one and also one that was a bit different as it involved a good deal of supernatural matters. Overall, a ton of wonderful historic information of how Roatan used to be some 40 years ago.
I just had to let Anne, now 80, know how much I appreciated her book, and I did through her website. Surprisingly, she quickly responded with a brief note, though sadly not to a note with a couple of follow-up questions.
But books lead to books and so that wasn't the end. Howard Jennings had closed "The Treasure Hunter" with a number of very practical recommendations on exploring, and also a discussion of other treasures out there. The biggest of them all, he said, was the mystery of Oak Island off Nova Scotia, and so I had to buy "The Secret Treasure of Oak Island" by D'Arcy O'Connor. Very interesting reading of a 200+ year quest to figure out what lies at the bottom of a possibly huge, yet vexingly booby-trapped supposed treasure.
And, of course, I also had to get "Historical Geography of the Bay Islands, Honduras" by William V. Davidson. That one was published back in 1973, and Anne Jennings Brown had mentioned it in her book as a great source of dwellings and locales on Roatan. While the title of the 1973-published work is a bit dry, that's because it was really based on the author's doctoral dissertation and turned out to be a great and broadly informative account of the Bay Island's history and status, with an emphasis on Roatan as the chain's largest island.
While reading those books I googled for maps and other sources, of which I eventually found quite a few (Google ain't what it used to be as a serious search tool). Davidson's book alone contains hundreds of references, and it all brought back memories of my distant academic past where even seemingly well-defined areas of study quickly mushroomed into massive projects. That won't happen here, and I am not interested in treasure, but it it's a nice example of how one thing enjoyingly leads to another and another.