True Story: Explorers Discover Ancient 'City of the Monkey God,' Unleash Face Eating Parasites


Natives fled the disease-cursed city in the 16th century and it was reclaimed by the jungle. It was named for rumors that a giant monkey statue was buried in its ruins. For years, a group of American and Honduran explorers have been searching the jungles of Honduras for the “City of the Monkey God.”


They found it.  They may have found the curse as well.

The expedition was documented by author Douglas Preston (The Relic, Tyrannosaur Canyon, The Codex) which is fitting because the adventure apparently unfolded like one of his adventure novels. The true story is told in Preston’s newly released book: The Lost City of the Monkey God. The press reports about the book make it sound more like a summer blockbuster than a true story.

Legend has it that the locals fled Honduras’ City of the Monkey God in the 16th century fearing that it had been cursed with disease.

Five-hundred years later, a group of explorers excavating the lost city became the latest victims to incur the wrath of the monkey god when they nearly lost their faces to a flesh-eating parasite.

These people learned nothing from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Ancient artifacts will melt your face.

Actually it was a disease called Leishmaniasis that sounds pretty horrible.

After spending years searching, the team found the city’s ruins in the 32,000 km Mosquitia rain forest — with a stroke of good fortune. Searching through the thick vegetation with the assistance of a laser mapping system proved unsuccessful until the city was found when crew members noticed stone structures barely sticking out of the ground.

Preston told CBS News that months after leaving the jungle, he noticed a bug bite that simply wouldn’t go away. And so did half his team members. Eventually, the National Institutes of Health diagnosed them with Leishmaniasis — a parasitic disease — and the team was forced to undergo treatment.

The disease was contracted from sand fly bites. Once bitten, the parasites within the bugs can enter the human blood stream and begin eating away at the immune cells that normally kill bugs. Initial symptoms include fever and vomiting. If left untreated, Leishmania can result in horrible disfigurement.


Oh, in addition to the face eating bugs the place is infested with snakes. Bad ones. (Again, Raiders is a cautionary tale.)

But long before they were infected with Leishmaniasis, the explorers nearly fell victim to the lethally poisonous snakes infesting the area. When a pit viper called the fer de lance made its way into their camp under the cover of darkness, a jungle warfare expert snapped into action.

“He pinned the snake,” Steve Elkins, one of the explorers, told CBS News. “But the snake exploded at that point into an absolute fury of striking everywhere, squirting venom, streams of venom across the night air.”

Between the thick cover of vegetation, disease and venomous snakes, it would seem the monkey god was striking back at the outsiders for their attempts to find the long-lost city.

And just like in the movies, explorers can’t take a hint. Preston sounds like he learned his lesson though.

Preston knows there are more secrets held within the White City’s ruins but after nearly losing his face, he doubts that it’s possible to go back and continue the excavation.

“It’s just too dangerous,” he said. “And just getting in and out is dangerous.”

Stories about discovering ancient lost cities are fascinating, but I’m content to read about them from the comfort of my living room. My face isn’t much to look at but I’m kind of attached to it.



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