Ciudad Blanca, “the White City”
A couple of years ago, I read a review of Douglas Preston’s, “The Lost City of the Monkey God.” Since I had studied archaeology, and even taught it, I wanted to read about the new archaeological find in Honduras. The book sold for about $25 and I usually don’t spend that much money on books, so I ordered it from the library. But I was 150th on the list to read it. Of course, I gave up, but I saved a clipping of the review.
Recently I went online to find the book again and “low and behold” it sold for about $3.00 on Amazon. This was right in my price range. I promised myself that I would read the book while Tom was practicing guitar at the Pinetop Perkins Workshop in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
The story of discovering and then plotting this archaeological dig using Lidar technology was fascinating. Lidar technology is used by our military for a variety of secret missions. It can penetrate/see through anything on the earth’s surface to several feet below.
Mosquitia is an area in Honduras that has been lost for at least 500 years. (The locals believed in a legend of a huge lost white city in the jungle.) It is so remote that when the scientists began to explore it, they found no human beings. Animals were not even afraid of the team, presumably because they had never seen humans.
This book is full of adventure that keeps you spellbound. Preston describes the thickness of the jungle, their primitive make-shift sleeping arrangements, and details of attempting to chart what Lidar had uncovered. His descriptions are more than marvelous. The group did find a million-dollar cache of artifacts that are now housed in Honduras.
As I followed Preston and all the Ph.D. specialists, Honduran military, politicians, scientists, and more, I began having flashbacks. I experienced many of the same things they had experienced on my first trip abroad to Sierra Leone, West Africa when I was 21 years old. The trip was a way for me to scout Africa to determine if I would take a job offer.
Preston painstakingly describes machetes cutting holes in the overgrowth that looked like green tunnels. He said that it was like night inside of these pathways. On a safari in Sierra Leone, my hosts did the same thing.
I did not even understand what the word “safari” meant. I thought we were just going into the bush.
As the locals cut through the cane and huge vines in Sierra Leone, we came to a small clearing. We looked up to hear and see Colobus monkeys (white-faced monkeys) screaching down at us.
Preston describes similar white-faced monkeys that circled their camp. The animals were gorgeous. All of a sudden, I heard a pop and one of them fell to the ground. I screamed! What is happening? The locals told me that they were hunting meat for the tribe. I will never forget those monkeys falling from the trees. They hit the ground with great thuds and looked like humans as they lay their writhing in pain. I was sick!
The jungle is dangerous.
I was told not to step on any green snake because its venom would go through my shoes. Preston describes meeting a fer-de-lance (supposedly one of the most- deadly snakes on earth). It can shoot its venom six feet and burn through snake guards on your legs. In the jungle, it is highly unlikely a person could be saved, even with anti-venom.
I did not step on a green mamba, but I came within inches of three Puff Adders or Cobras. I was walking back (by myself, how silly) from the local village and wanted to see what was in the valley. As I stepped toward the edge of the path, I heard hissing, and looked down to see three Cobras ready to strike. My heart beat so fast, I could not breathe. I stepped back slowly and stayed away from that side of the path.
At the end of the book, Preston describes how almost everyone came down with a potentially fatal and disabling parasitic disease. It seems that they had been bitten by sand fleas that deposited the parasites in them. The book goes into detail about how millions of people have this disease and it has made its way into the United States. Gone untreated, it can disfigure and eventually kill a person. But treatment can cost into the tens of thousands of dollars which most people cannot afford.
All of the archaeological team developed skin ulcers that would not heal, and after much research it was discovered that they had a rare form of leishmaniasis. Leish, like malaria, is a disease that you will have for the rest of your life. It can go dormant, but in times of stress, it can return and devastate a person. Preston has the disease and was able to go through the grueling medical therapy needed to attack it. It is dormant now, but he has to get checked every year to determine if it has returned. Others were not so lucky.
When I went on the safari, I was not told to wear protective gear or clothing. I wore open-toed sandals and shorts. At the end of the trek, my arms and legs were full of bites. I do not remember anyone sharing Deet spray with me in the 1970’s. I also developed ulcers on my legs. I don’t know if they were parasites or not, but it took about a year for the problems to go away.
Africa was known as the “White Man’s Graveyard.”
Before Jimmy Carter’s administration changed the rules, the CDC required everyone traveling to countries in Africa to be immunized. Today the CDC can only recommend. Back then, you could not return to the United States without the following shots: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, yellow fever, rabies, meningitis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis)and more. I spent about six months traveling all over Ohio finding places that would give me the shots. Today the CDC recommends even more immunizations. I think these shots protected me? No one should leave the country without consulting and following CDC guidelines! It might save a life!
Like Preston, I had to take quinine tablets while in Africa. When we could find it, I also drank quinine water. I was lucky because I did not contract Malaria, even though I had many, many mosquito bites.
Preston, tells his story, like a child in a new world.
When I visited Sierra Leone for the first time, I could not believe my eyes. People lived in straw and mud huts and I stayed in them. While the jungle was thick, parts of Sierra Leone were green and lush, other parts had no grass at all. There were no roadside stops on the way to the interior. The roads had to be managed by huge trucks. There were no bridges over the rivers. Like Preston, I had never seen a monsoon rain come across a valley. It was so thick you could not see through it.
As I traveled in Sierra Leone, the sound of drums followed us everywhere we went. Women were naked from the waist up and men bathed and defecated in very dirty streams. Downstream piranha feasted on dead animals while the Rhinos sunned themselves. None of the locals wore shoes. Wild animals beat at the barred windows where I stayed every night. And nights were very long because we only had one hour of light created by a gas generator.
I was raised by parents who talked about white and black people. In Sierra Leone, in a market in Freetown, I saw hundreds of shades of color. The people were so beautiful, beyond any humans that I had ever seen!
I was a child in a new world too!
As always this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge
Most of the images were taken from the net. National Geographic has good articles online about this archaeological adventure. But, the book is more than about archaeology, it describes big business and how Honduras was torn apart by wealthy men in the United States who did not want to abide by the rules of any government. It is a sad story and a story that keeps unfolding at our borders today. In a very real way, WE the United States, created the immigration problems that have devastated Central America. Read his opinions!