26 March 2021 | 5 minutes.

Searching for cities in forests

Katerina Reigeluth
Compliance Officer, Accu-Track Financial Solutions

Katerina Reigeluth, Compliance Officer, Accu-Track Financial Solutions

These classic works of non-fiction explore two different expeditions searching for lost cities in the Amazonian and Honduran rainforests, emerging with similar reflections on the sustainability of our future.

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Published by Double Day, 2009, pp 352.

The Lost City of Z is the tragic story of the great British explorer Percy H. Fawcett and his lifelong quest, which turned into obsession, for finding the Lost City of Z in the Amazonian jungle, as investigated and narrated by American journalist and staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, David Grann. Fawcett was the last of the individualist explorers of the vanished age of exploration who ventured into the unknown on foot with nothing more than a machete before scientists and avaricious individuals started using and exploiting technology for various scientific discoveries and personal gains.

Fawcett’s military background, steely resolve, restless nature, physical and mental stamina and most importantly, respect for nature and indigenous tribes, contributed to the success of many expeditions he led to Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. The Amazon was his home and it deeply troubled him witnessing how Westerners were destroying the jungle in search of natural resources and taking advantage of the indigenous people by enslaving them and stripping them of their culture through conversion to Christianity; but worst of all, was the wiping out of entire tribes through the spread of Western diseases. In the end, who can blame the Native Americans for becoming so hostile towards trespassers?

Fawcett’s experiences in the South American jungle resemble the suspenseful and thrilling adventures of Indiana Jones, only his were without a Hollywood ending. His mysterious disappearance during the last expedition is the very reason for this book’s existence. Many tried to solve this mystery, only to face the same fate – death. It is estimated that at least a hundred people lost their lives in the process. David Grann on the other hand, managed to confirm the rumors already circulating about Fawcett’s disappearance. He was last seen venturing into the territory of hostile indigenous tribes accompanied by his older son, Jack, and Jack’s best childhood friend, Raleigh Rimell. No remains were ever found. Yet their death was not in vain as it is believed that the ruins unearthed at that location belong to what Fawcett thought was The Lost City of Z.

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

Published by Grand Central, 2017, pp 326.

Those who enjoyed David Grann’s The Lost City of Z will find this book just as captivating. Although each story, its characters, and their adventures are unique, one cannot help but notice some similarities.

Perhaps the most striking, upsetting and disconcerting of them is the deforestation of the rainforest at an alarmingly fast rate. Loggers have been cutting trees down since Fawcett’s expeditions in the 1900s, but the 21st century, according to what Douglas Preston witnessed in Honduras, unveiled a new trend – illegal clear-cutting of the land for cattle grazing due to an increased demand for beef imports to the United States. Obviously, our short-sighted civilization keeps repeating the calamitous mistakes of the past with no regard for the future with devastating outcomes. These include the change of the rainforest’s entire ecosystem, climate change, extinction of exotic plants and animals, as well as the uprooting and relocation of many indigenous tribes. In this book, Douglas Preston examines not only some of the current issues of modern society, but also addresses the ethical questions related to the use of technology in the field of archaeology that, until recently, used to be exclusively man-mapped.

The Lost City of the Monkey God takes place in the Honduran rainforest in a region called La Mosquitia, also known as the Gates of Hell or the White City. It is one of the most dangerous places in the world, not only because of its deadly animals and poisonous vegetation, but also because of archaeological looters, illegal loggers and narcotics traffickers who use it for their business operations. In 2012, Steve Elkins and his team of scientists went on a quest to find the legendary White City, which they achieved by utilizing a space-age technology – lidar – that has never been used before as a tool of archaeological exploration. The discovery was stunning and beyond any expectation. What they uncovered were hundreds of miles of ruins and settlements of unknown civilizations so advanced and complex for that time, that according to some archaeologists they are equivalent to the Egyptian pyramids.

Once again, we see how one man’s dream, his determination. and perseverance – even in light of life-threatening conditions – can lead to implausible discoveries. In the process, The Lost City of the Monkey God also helps to promote environmental awareness and address one of the most prominent environmental issues of our time – deforestation.