Lost cities are a popular myth throughout the world. Shangri-La and El Dorado are two well known ones. The idea of a place unknown, and hidden civilisations is tempting, and usually reflect what the people telling the story want most. Shangri-La is a land of peace in the middle of war. El Dorado is a source of endless supplies of gold.
A few years ago, I read David Grann’s The Lost City of Z, which was recently turned into a movie. This was more typical of the ‘searching for a lost city’ stories, in that it was set in 1925, where an intrepid British explorer, Percy Fawcett, disappeared into the jungles of the Amazon, along with his son and another companion, and none were ever heard from again, despite follow-up expeditions trying to find them.
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston, however, is set in the last decade. Instead of striking out into the jungle based on legends, they used Lidar, a plane mounted laser system, to search for the lost city of Ciudad Blanca through technological methods, and when not one, but *two* unknown sets of ruins were found, an expedition was sent in by helicopter to find out just what the Lidar had seen.
Based on that, you might think that the excitement wouldn’t be there, but you would be wrong. All of the excitement of discovery is there.
The book covers a lot of territory, beyond just the expedition. We get the history of the various searches for Ciudad Blanca (aka the lost city) through the last century in the Mosquitia Coast of Honduras (a very unsafe area). Then we get the Lidar expedition that found the evidence of the city. There’s Honduran politics, the ground expedition, colonial history, academic controversy, and medical fallout from the expedition.
Preston’s return to the site at the very end of the book made me a little melancholy, and it was clear that it was the same for him. The valley where the ruins were found is no longer the same pristine condition as when they first went in, and it’s kind of a shame, even though it wouldn’t have stayed that way much longer.
I did wonder if Lidar would be able to find the Lost City of Z that Fawcett disappeared while hunting for, though.