The Lost Cities of the Rainforest

A few years after conquering the Aztecs, conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in Trujillo and began searching for a lost city of gold called Hueitapalan. He heard tales of a city of white stones hidden deep in the jungle, though he never found it. Decades later, in 1544, the Bishop of Honduras Cristóbal de Pedraza wrote the King of Spain describing a white city in unexplored territory where, as his guides explained to him, the people ate on plates of gold.

The site is mentioned in ancient Toltec and Mayan texts as the origin of the deity Quetzalcoatl, who was said to have come from a race of white-skinned people and likely stood in northeastern Honduras, in what is now La Mosquitia. So far, no one has given any defining evidence or proof of the city existing, though dozens of pilots, Ewan McGregor, and other adventurers have gone searching. Some have even claimed to have found it -- without proof -- in the past century.

While Ciudad Blanca has remained elusive, hundreds of stone ruins have been uncovered across what is now the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve. Most of the sites have been only glanced over by archeologists, and most agree there are hundreds if not thousands more sites yet to be discovered. The Walpaulban Sirpi petroglyphs, carved in rocks in the middle of the Río Plátano and dating back more than 1,000 years, are the most famous attraction thus far. Meaning "small written stone" in Pech, the carving shows what appears to be a monkey or figure moving across a bridge from left to right. It was believed to have been created by the ancestors of the Pech tribe, though no one has been able to say for sure.

Other petroglyphs, such as at Piedra Floreada and Walpaulban Tara, also reveal a mix of geometric shapes and figures, while some locations are made up of small mounds or cave dwellings. While archeologists are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of some of the tribes and civilizations that inhabited the jungles of La Mosquitia, the inaccessibility of the region has resulted in few significant studies and great stretches of the imagination.

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