“Deep in Honduras, in a region called La Mosquitia, lie some of the last unexplored places on earth.” That’s the first line of a non-fiction book, The Lost City of the Monkey God. It’s written by Douglas Preston, who is best known for his thrillers co-authored with Lincoln Child. Preston has also written several other non-fiction books, including The Monster of Florence.
Mosquitia covers 32,000 square miles of mostly dense jungle and is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to travel. It’s also the home of a fascinating legend of a lost city called Ciudad Blanca or the “White City,” which is sometimes referred to as the Lost City of the Monkey God. The legend of a magnificent city, built by an unknown civilization, includes a curse. Those who enter the city and taste its “forbidden fruit” will be struck down, and possibly that is one reason that has kept treasure hunters from finding the ruins.
In 2015, Preston joined a team of archaeologists and other scientists to explore a site that had been discovered through satellite images and lidar, a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to detect hidden structures. Amazingly, two lost cities were found in a hidden valley in Mosquitia, both built by an unknown culture that lived near and traded with the Mayan civilization to the north. Preston and the others arrived by helicopter to spend a week exploring the hidden ruins that were buried in a pristine rain forest untouched by humans for hundreds of years.
Two thirds of the book is a fascinating description of the adventure and the discovery of a cache of astonishing artifacts that is combined with tales of previous attempts to find the White City. The rest of the book is about what happened after the expedition. That’s when the ‘curse’ took effect and half of the members of the expedition, including Preston came away with a deadly disease with no cure called leishmaniasis. There are three strains of leish, the worst being one that can eat away at a person’s lips and nose and palate ultimately causing the face to collapse if the disease goes untreated. Preston and the expedition were infected with this most serious strain.
Never heard of leishmania? Neither had I. This disease, though almost unknown in the western world, has been around for centuries, predominantly in the Third World. Its transmitted to humans by a sand flea that has bitten an infected rodent or other animal. The reason no cure has been found is that nearly all of those infected are poor. In other words, there’s no money to be made in a cure. Fortunately, there are treatments to slow the progress of the disease and send it into remission. That is what happened to Preston. He is cured, but uncertain whether or not the nasty lesion on his arm will reappear. It’s a continuing story.
Anyone care to take an adventure tour to Mosquitia?