National Geographic October 2015, Part 2

Lifeblood, by Robert Draper, photographs by Pascal Maitre

In this article, Draper and Maitre take the Congo River from Mbandaka to Kisangani (interestingly, Firefox’s spell-check likes “Kisangani.”).  This is not where the journey was supposed to start.  It was supposed to start in Kinshasa, at the lower edge of the navigable Congo River.  However, the first boat they had paid to take, the Kwame Express, ended up not working out (to say the least) so Draper and Maitre arranged alternative transportation on a barge, which required that they fly from Kinshasa to Mbandaka (my fingers totally don’t want to type “Mbandaka.” I think it’s the “Mb.”).

We meet some of the people on the barge and see their motivations for traveling this way and watch people along the river take smaller boats, called pirogues, out to the barge to buy goods, some of which are declared, but much of which is black market merchandise.

When they arrive in Kisangani, Draper and Maitre take a day trip up the Lomami River, one of the tributaries of the Congo.

It is hard to see the passage of time in this article, unfortunately, but at the beginning of the journey, Draper tells us that it is February, and they spend the day on the Lomami in November, so the trip took eight months (a number verified by a confusingly worded caption on a photograph of the Kwame Express).

I know that I said once that I want to go “everywhere,” but after reading this article, I think that traveling up the Congo River on a barge has now been moved pretty close to the bottom of the list.  If I end up with the time and money to do this after pretty much everywhere else (including most of Africa), I’ll consider it.

Lure of the Lost City, by Douglas Preston, photographs by Dave Yoder

The “Lost City” of the title is a reference to the Ciudad Blanca, a mythical city that is rumored to have once existed somewhere in the Mosquitia region of Honduras.  For a long time, the consensus of historians and archaeologists was that there were no cities at all in that region.  However, the imaging technique known as LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) showed that there was an area in the rainforest that was consistent with the markings of an ancient city.  The city that they found was a large one, with terraced fields in its outskirts and ten public plazas within the city.

And what the archaeologists found was amazing.  Apparently when the city was abandoned, no one ever disturbed it again.  Most of the buildings had been biodegradable and they are gone now, but there are a large number of stone artifacts that were found in near perfect condition.  And, to archaeologists, more important than the artifacts is the context — the location where the artifacts were found and how that location relates to the locations of other artifacts.  If I am reading this article correctly, the context of these artifacts is perfect.