The Lost City of the Monkey God, written by National Geographic correspondent Douglas Preston, is a story of exploration into an unexplored territory in Honduras, as a special team set out in search of a lost indigenous city. No one even knew if it really existed but everyone believed that no one would ever return if they did find it. It was believed to be somewhere deep in the densest part of the rain forest.
For centuries, explorers had tried to find this lost city. The difference this time was a cutting-edge technology called LIDAR: laser pulses that measure a range of distance. The technology was so new that when it broke and they called the company, the engineer troubleshooted the equipment and decided that the motherboard had to be replaced. Only two existed in the world and cost $100,000. The engineer boarded a commercial plane to Honduras to hand deliver the part… only to have the airline lose his luggage!
Preston and the team encountered more than even they expected:
- Venomous 5 to 6-foot fer-de-lance snakes that easily camouflage themselves on the ground and in trees. Some attack by falling out of trees.
- Sandflies that bite hard and deposit parasites under your skin. In Venezuela, I saw similar parasites removed with a chewing tobacco called chimo, which was heated, applied to the skin and then torn off quickly.
Other threats were drug traffickers and jaguars.
“We were in a place that did not want us and where we did not belong”
| The author Douglas Preston says |
Malaria was not a problem since it is spread by mosquitos between humans, and there hadn’t been humans in this area for 500 years.
The book also looks at how disease caused this civilization to quickly vanish, a common theme in Central America. Cortez’ army of 500, which defeated over a million Aztecs, had a lot of help from small pox. Many times throughout the Caribbean and Central America, Spanish explorers and invaders discovered cities full of decomposing bodies.
The final sections of the book talk about the parasite Leishmaniasis, which affects the poorest billion people all over the world. The author was invaded by this parasite without hope of recovery.
Preston talks about the irony of how so many indigenous Americans died because they did not have any immunity against European diseases, and how a parasite from the Americas invaded him and everyone else on his team. Only the Honduran team member was able to fight off the parasite without any medical treatment.
Now, leishmaniasis is spreading into the United States and Europe. Due to global warming, the host sandflies have greater range.
I have always loved the magazine (which I read in Spanish growing up) but I never understood what went into some of these explorations.
Preston returned to the Honduran rain forest, this time with a National Geographic photographer. He asked his colleague why he came, having seen the dangers here. The photographer told him that his job was to capture these images, despite the dangers.
For a brief taste of this book, you can read Preston’s National Geographic article, which was breaking news at the time, published before his book had been written.
Of course, the book is much more enjoyable. You’ll hear the wild stories of danger, bravery and skill, you’ll learn that the first thing to do if your LIDAR technology dies on you…. is to unplug it and plug it back in! You’ll read about Harrison Ford’s conservation push in Honduras. You’ll start to piece together this group of indigenous people and understand their relationships to the Maya and other nearby groups.
If this type of book interests you, Preston’s style of reportage will not disappoint. Try the (non-affiliate) links below, or just Google: The Lost City of the Monkey God.