Rating: 4 Stars ★★★★☆
Deep in Honduras, in a region called La Mosquitia, lie some of the last unexplored places on earth.
Since the days of conquistador Hernán Cortés, rumours have circulated about a lost city of immense wealth hidden deep in the Honduran interior. Indigenous tribes speak of ancestors who fled there to escape the Spanish invaders, and warn the legendary city is cursed: to enter it is a death sentence. They call it the Lost City of the Monkey God.
Bestselling author Doug Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking new quest. In 2012 he climbed aboard a single-engine plane carrying a highly advanced, classified technology that could map the terrain under the densest rainforest canopy. In an unexplored valley ringed by steep mountains, that flight revealed the unmistakable image of a sprawling metropolis, tantalizing evidence of not just an undiscovered city but a lost civilization.
To confirm the discovery, Preston and the team battled torrential rains, quickmud, plagues of insects, jaguars, and deadly snakes. They emerged from the jungle with proof of the legend… and the curse.
The stories about a lost city in the jungle have resonated with Hondurans, travellers and adventurers for hundreds of years. Yet for a long time, they remained stories.
Until one team of obsessed people used modern lidar technology to find not only one city in one of the deepest jungles of the world, but a huge conglomerate of stories. Finding it and getting to it, are different stories however.
There was once a great city in the mountains struck down by a series of catastrophes, after which the people decided the gods were angry and left, leaving behind their possessions. Thereafter it was shunned as a cursed place, forbidden, visiting death on those who dared enter.
And this one is a true tale of adventure. It reads in part like a novel by Conan Doyle or Jules Vernes. The jungle in Mosquitia is thick, remote and really dangerous.
Deluged with over ten feet of rain a year, the terrain is regularly swept by flash floods and landslides. It has pools of quickmud that can swallow a person alive. The understory is infested with deadly snakes, jaguars, and thickets of catclaw vines with hooked thorns that tear at flesh and clothing.
This book brings the jungle and its dangers to life. Those fer-de-lance snakes creeped me out. And if you’ve got a queasy stomach, it’s better if you don’t google the effects their venom has on flesh.
But this book also looks at the culture of Mesoamerica and the people who built the city. It is a shame so little is known about the culture. It doesn’t even have a name. All that is known is that people not only lived but prospered in the middle of a hostile environment.
Then, an unknown disaster struck and the city was abandoned. The disaster was probably diseases brought over from the Old World. Reading about how they ravaged the population was heartbreaking. 90-95% of the native population was killed by different epidemics.
The Black Death in Europe at its worst carried off 30 to 60 percent of the population. That was devastating enough. But the mortality rate wasn’t high enough to destroy European civilization. A 90 percent mortality rate is high enough: It does not just kill people; it annihilates societies; it destroys languages, religions, histories and cultures. It chokes off the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next.
Those numbers are difficult to imagine. We think of the plague in Europe and how many people it killed but it is nothing compared to what happened in America.
It was such a deep cut, such a terrible catastrophe and so much about the past was lost. I just hope that we get to know more about the culture of Mosquitia and the people who built the city.
It’s also a story of diseases. The ones that killed off so many people in America and those that threaten its inhabitants today. And it’s really really scary to read about leishmaniasis and how little can be done today – and how little incentive big pharma companies have to do anything about it since it mainly affects people too poor to pay for expensive drugs.
A fascinating story of archaeology, a lost city, the dangers of the jungle and of diseases.