Author Douglas Preston does quite a bit of adventuring when he is not writing the bestselling FBI agent Pendergast novels with Lincoln Child, or critically acclaimed non-fiction books like "The Monster of Florence."
In his latest non-fiction work, "The Lost City of the Monkey God," Preston recounts his incredible exploits with a team of scientists and archaeologists working to discover a lost civilization in the jungles of Honduras.
Preston's journey began 20 years ago when he met an explorer named Steve Elkins, who wanted to use NASA technology to hunt for a mythical "White City" in the jungles of Mosquitia.
"To be honest with you, I was about 95 percent sure that Steve wasn't going to find a damn thing," says Preston. "I mean, the idea of finding a lost city somewhere on the surface of the Earth in the 21st century just sounded impossible."
However, the more Preston looked into Elkins' research, including riveting accounts from previous explorers who tried and failed to find the city, the more he began to believe that there might be something undiscovered in those thick, unexplored jungles. "I mean, why not?" says Preston. "There are lost cities all through Central America and this is only 200 miles from CopÃ¡n, which is one of the greatest ancient cities of Central America. That's why I persisted with it."
In 2012, after years of planning, Preston, Elkins and their team borrowed an incredibly expensive piece of equipment called LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) from NASA, attached it to a Cessna airplane, and discovered the city with an area LiDAR survey run.
"It was a huge shock to me and to everybody," says Preston. "We thought they might find some archaeological site, but there was an unmistakable city. There were pyramids, there were rectangular house mounds and very huge plazas carved out of these hills, terracing, canals, reservoirs. This was an extraordinary city not much smaller than CopÃ¡n. So, we were very excited about going in on a ground expedition."
In 2015, the team hired three former British Special Air Service jungle warfare experts to lead a ground expedition - and keep them alive.
"Survival in the jungle is really tricky," explains Preston. "It's one of the most challenging and dangerous areas in the world. These guys gave us a briefing before we went into the jungle to let us know about the dangersâ€¦ Well, when we got into the jungle, I realized that it was even far more dangerous than they had made it out to be, or even realize."
Because the animals in the uncharted jungle had never seen people before, Preston and his team had many close encounters with jaguars, pumas and monkeys. One harrowing showdown with a deadly fer-de-lance will leave you quoting another famous explorer when you ask yourself, "Snakes. Why does it always have to be snakes?"
Preston and his team discovered hundreds of ruins and artifacts, including pyramids, sculptures and altars - a wealth of objects in just a 200-square-foot area of a square-mile city. However, their success came with a price.
Like most ancient ruins that are steeped in myth and legend, the "City of the Monkey God" carries an alleged curse for anyone who sets foot in it. Two-thirds of the team, including Preston, contracted a rare incurable parasite called Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis, also known as "white leprosy." The parasite eats away at the membrane of the victim's nose and lips, leaving a horrible open sore. Preston doesn't recommend Googling images of it.
Preston has undergone successful treatment for the disease to keep it dormant and has no regrets about his jungle quest.
"I still have a hunger for adventure," says Preston. "I kind of consider myself lucky. As a journalist I've done a lot of things and taken risks that were a lot more dangerous than going into the jungle of Honduras, so I think if leishmaniasis is the worst thing that's going to happen to me, then I think I'm probably ahead of the game."
Preston continues, "In fact, I feel fortunate that I got to be a part of this incredible discovery and to go to a place that hadn't seen human entry, that was untouched by human beings for 500 years and to participate in this incredible discovery. Frankly, I'd do it all over again."
Book: "The Lost City of the Monkey God"
When: 9 a.m. Feb. 17
Where: Savannah Theatre, 222 Bull St.