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I Love Adventure Stories
on January 25, 2013
I love adventure stories, especially those of an intrepid jungle explorer who is lost, tired, wet and unnerved by the presence of jaguars and snakes. Christopher S. Stewart's "Jungleland" hits all the right notes. Stewart, whose typical expedition seems to be a trip to his local Starbucks in Brooklyn, decides to spend a month in darkest Honduras, searching for the fabled "lost city" of "Ciudad Blanco," or "White City." He follows in the footsteps of Theodore Morde, an explorer who, in 1940, claimed to have found a vast city in ruins deep in the rainforest. Such a finding was unexpected. The common wisdom of archeologists was that the the tropical rainforest was too hostile to man to permit extensive settlements.
In what resembles an Indiana Jones story, Stewart locates Morde's notes and diaries of the earlier expedition. There are clues to the location of the lost city, but no map or coordinates. Stewart sets off to find Ciudad Blanco.
He is torn leaving his wife and daughter. He adores Sky, his daughter, and in difficult moments in his trek he imagines being reunited with her. His wife, Amy, fails to understand why he would leave on such a perilous journey. He is accompanied on his mission by Chris Begley, an archeologist, and local natives, who make his journey possible. There are also interesting encounters with locals who inhabit the poorest of villages, isolated from civilization except for radio. They have heard of the ancient city, but fear it spells death to all who enter.
Stewart's book tells, in alternating chapters, Morde's story and his own. This literary device poses some problems, as the explorers take different routes. Even with excellent maps, I found it difficult to keep track of each explorer's progress and location. Moreover, Morde's life was both complicated and fascinating. After his trek to Honduras, he enlisted as an intelligence agent for the OSS (the predecessor of today's CIA) in World War II. Morde's life and adventures tend to overshadow those of the author.
Still, it's a rousing adventure yarn and well worth reading.
Did Morde tell the truth when he claimed to have discovered Ciudad Blanco? Does Stewart find the lost city? Or will Stewart's quest be interrupted by a jaguar attack or the bite of a poisonous snake? No fair telling. Read Mr. Stewart's book to find out.