When you’re exploring the remains of something that has been called a “cursed city” for centuries, you should expect to find evidence of how it got its name and reputation. You might also be a little cautious (OK, maybe a lot) to avoid becoming a victim of the curse yourself. Someone apparently didn’t get this memo before exploring the ruins of the cursed City of the Monkey God in Honduras.
Your nose falls off, your lips fall off, and eventually your face becomes a gigantic, open sore.
Author Douglas Preston was a member of the expedition that dug through dense jungle growth in late 2015 to reach and explore ruins of Ciudad Blanca – the White City – better known as the lost City of the Monkey God. The city was long rumored to exist but it took a new laser-mapping technology called LIDAR to help explorer and expedition leader Steve Elkins see through the jungle canopy and discover the contours of a hidden city that was speculated to be Ciudad Blanca.
The Pech and Payas indigenous groups of Honduras told tales of the cursed city while a letter written by explorer Hernando Cortes mentioned its alleged riches. The city got its nickname from stories of a monkey-worshiping civilization and rumors of a woman who mysteriously had half-human, half-monkey children. The “curse” that caused them to abandon it was believed to be a dual curse of slavery and disease brought upon the people by the Spanish invasion (way to go, Hernando).
The expedition to uncover and positively identify Ciudad Blanca is documented in Preston’s newly-released account, City of the Monkey God: A True Story. In it, he describes the artifacts dating back to 1000 ACE that created the rumors of riches. He also describes for the first time the curse that hit many members of the expedition long after they had left the jungle and returned home.
Preston and fellow explorer Chris Fisher noticed mysterious wounds that wouldn’t heal. Medical experts determined these were sand fly bites that delivered protozoan parasites to the men, infecting them with the deadly flesh-eating disease known as Leishmaniasis. They and eventually half of the members of the expedition contracted the mucocutaneous version of the disease which ulcerates and eats away at the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose. The disease is painful, disfiguring and potentially fatal, but the explorers managed to get treatment in time. However, it’s a long process and the drugs have side effects.
Did the members of this expedition to explore the cursed Lost City of the Monkey God get cursed themselves, possibly in a final retaliation for the original curse of the Spanish invasion that turned it into a lost city? Or was it the curse of desire for fame and fortune that caused these people to visit a jungle known for sand flies without proper protection?
Whatever the cause or the curse, Preston doesn’t plan to return.
It’s just too dangerous. And just getting in and out is dangerous.