La Ciudad Blanca

The Lost City of the Monkey GodThe Lost City of the Monkey God, by Douglas Preston, was published in 2017. It is a true story.

Deep in Honduras, there is an area covering 32,000 square miles known as La Mosquitia. Ancient maps called it Portal del Infierno (Gates of Hell). It is one of the last scientifically unexplored places on earth. It is also considered one of the most dangerous places on earth.

La Mosquitia contains thick rainforests, high mountains, swamps, swift rivers, and pools of quickmud. The forest is so thick that it’s possible to become lost just ten feet from your campsite. It is populated by deadly snakes, jaguars, and catclaw vines. Also, the towns surrounding La Mosquitia are controlled by drug cartels.

According to legend, deep inside La Mosquitia is an ancient “lost city” built of white stone, named la Ciudad Blanca (the White City). It is also known as “the City of the Monkey God”.

In 2012, Douglas Preston, a writer for the American Museum of Natural History, joined a scientific expedition, lead by a film producer, to journey into the most dangerous place on the planet, on a quest to find the Lost City of the Monkey God – if the city ever really existed, that is.

The book spends many pages covering the histories and legends of past expeditions – some dubious, some outright frauds, but none were able to credibly find Ciudad Blanca. These pages also cover the history of Honduras, as well as the banana and cocaine industries.

In 2012, the team used lidar mapping – never before used to map a rainforest – to search for likely locations for the city, before beginning their expedition. Every step of their planning was met with resistance from the unstable Honduran government.

The lidar images produced promising results, but aerial mapping is discovery, not knowledge. “It’s bad archeology.” A site has to be “ground-truthed” to be of value.

On Valentine’s Day, 2015, the crew traveled in vans from Tegucigalpa to Catacamas, with a military escort, through drug cartel territory – areas with the highest murder rates in the world. Then they flew by helicopters into the Gates of Hell, where no human had touched the ground in hundreds of years.

In several ways, it was a costly expedition.

The Lost City of the Monkey God is a thrilling book. I sailed through its 300 or so pages. The story is part archaeological adventure, part survival story, and part political intrigue. (Even flying a spare part from Canada to Honduras, via the USA, became a logistical headache.) It often reads like a crime caper. (The team hired a former drug smuggler, former archaeological looter, as their “fixer”.)

More than a story of travel to an archaeological site, The Lost City of the Monkey God is a story of the state of archeology in the twenty-first century. It is an essay on the importance, and futility, of conservation.

  • A book involving travel