In 2015, a group of archaeologists and researchers mounted an expedition into a long uninhabited region of Honduras in search of the legendary “White City” – also known locally as, “The City of the Monkey God.” The city has been rumored to exist for centuries, abandoned abruptly, according to legend, when the city fell under a curse. Using the latest technology, they surveyed and mapped the region that once held a people who were entirely independent from the Mayan civilization of the same region. In fact, so little is known about the group of people who lived in what was then a fabled city that they don’t even have a name.
Their efforts paid off, however, as they nearly stumbled across the protruding stone jaguar head. Soon, they found a number of other artifacts indicating that the large statue wasn’t an anomaly – there was, in fact, an entire city surrounding them in the dense Honduran jungle. Excavations started immediately, and now a large portion of the city has been freed from its dirt-born grave.
Soon, another expedition was mounted in order to excavate more of this mysterious city and its surrounding area. The team of archaeologists were accompanied by bestselling novelist Douglas Preston, in a move that seems almost like they knew that one day somebody was probably going to want to make a movie about their trip, but they likely couldn’t have guessed why.
“This is clearly one of the most undisturbed rainforests in Central America,” said one expedition member and a Harvard ethnobotanist. “The importance of this place cannot be overestimated.”
“I just thought that if I were a king, this would be the perfect place to hide my kingdom,” said Steve Elkins, a film producer that accompanied the expedition.
The ruins of the city are thought to have been abandoned for between 1,000 and 1,500 years, and although extensive excavation, overseen by the Honduran government, has unearthed a vast wealth of artifacts, laser mapping technology has revealed more settlements in the area that have yet to be uncovered.
For the better part of the expedition, the greatest challenges the team faced were maneuvering through the dense jungle and the occasional venomous snake. In the jungle, land navigation becomes treacherous just a few feet off the beaten trail, where the jungle seems to swallow up any sign of the direction and engulf a person in a blanket of green same-ness. Courage and determination are required to pursue one’s work into the unforgiving jungles of Central America – but sometimes, long dead legends have a funny way of coming back.
The team reported having a lot of trouble traversing the terrain, in large part because they had to use machetes to cut their way through it, but eventually they stumbled across some previously undiscovered ruins – ones they hadn’t even expected to find.
The team set about attempting to excavate the area, but found the challenge to be too great for the equipment and personnel they had brought with them. Eventually, the decision was made that they would mark their locations and return to civilization where they would request assistance from the Honduran government in getting a larger team together to uncover their latest discovery. They reluctantly re-packed their gear and started the long hike back out of the jungle.
Upon their arrival, however, the team was met with an unexpected surprise. More than half of the expedition had been infected with a rare parasitic disease, believed to be transferred by sand flies, that is known for literally eating the face off of its host.
“The parasite migrates to the mucous membranes of your mouth and your nose, and basically eats them away,” Mr. Preston told CBS News. “Your nose falls off, your lips fall off, and eventually your face becomes a gigantic, open sore. It’s just too dangerous. Getting in and out of the jungle is dangerous.”
The disease proved so difficult to treat that the National Institute for Health stepped in to assist. Treatment went well for some, but others were plagued by large, oozing sores on their faces that would not heal and proved quite drug resistant. Although the ailment can be fatal, none of the team’s members lost their lives to the disease.
The complete story of Douglas Preston’s numerous trips to the Honduran jungle in search of this lost city and its treasures can be found in Preston’s latest book, “The Lost City of the Monkey God,” wherein Preston offers his insights into the people who used to live in the mysterious region, as well as a number of downright thrilling stories about his encounters with dangerous wildlife – often being saved by a former British commando in his party.
Just wash your hands after you’re done reading it.
I spent some time visiting excavated and as-yet unexcavated Mayan ruins in Honduras and Southern Mexico a few years ago – and personal experience tells me that they likely had their work cut out for them simply trying to hack their way through the forests. Superstitious as it may sound, you won’t find me looking for the source of any Honduran curses anytime soon.
Images courtesy of National Geographic