Steve Elkins is a cinematographer and explorer whose discovery of and expedition to a legendary settlement in the rainforest of Honduras is chronicled in The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston.
[All featured photos by Ryan Hartford of Ecliptic Media]
What We Discuss with Steve Elkins:
- How did Steve and his team manage to only recently discover a legendary city in the Honduran rainforest that had been aggressively — and fruitlessly — sought out by disappointed locals and explorers for half a millennium?
- The countless natural and manmade dangers of exploring the mosquito-infested region of Honduras known locally as “The Gates of Hell” — from venom-spitting snakes to quicksand to drug cartels.
- Why knowing an unhinged guy with a gun can come in handy when your producer needs to leave the expedition early and return to civilization for a business emergency.
- The logistics, legal considerations, and politics that go into being outsiders exploring the cultural heritage of another country.
- The details of what Steve and his team discovered, and what this discovery has brought to light beyond the mere satisfaction of archaeological curiosity.
- And much more…
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Rumors of a lost city in the jungles of Honduras were known for generations among the locals, and adventurous explorers since the age of the conquistadors who went in search of it always returned empty-handed — if they returned at all. But thanks to modern technology, it was finally discovered recently by today’s guest and real-life Indiana Jones, Steve Elkins.
On this episode we talk to Steve about his adventures, as chronicled in Douglas Preston’s bestseller The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story. Here, we learn the logistics of embarking on a jungle adventure in terrain so treacherous it’s known by the locals as The Gates of Hell, what Steve and his team actually discovered once they got there, and how this journey helped bring to light the severity of illegal deforestation in the region. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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[All featured photos by Ryan Hartford of Ecliptic Media]
THANKS, STEVE ELKINS!
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Resources from This Episode:
- The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston
- La Ciudad Blanca, Wikipedia
- Chasing the Lost City by Steve Elkins, TEDxPasadena
- The Lost City Of The Monkey God Film Teaser
- Legend of the Monkey God, National Geographic
- Deep in the Honduran Rain Forest, an Ecological Swat Team Explores a Lost World by Douglas Preston, The New Yorker
- The El Dorado Machine by Douglas Preston, The New Yorker
- The Lost City by Douglas Preston, The New Yorker
- Kaha Kamasa Foundation
- Theodore Morde, Wikipedia
- Bothrops Atrox (Fer de Lance), Young People’s Trust for the Environment
- What It’s Like to Get Stung by the World’s Most Painful Insect, Esquire
- The Lost City of the Monkey God Character List, Book Companion
- Bruce Edward Heinicke’s Obituary, Palm Downtown Mortuary & Cemetery
- Effects of Hurricane Mitch in Honduras, Wikipedia
- Honduras Profile Timeline, BBC News
- The Basics of LiDAR — Light Detection and Ranging — Remote Sensing, The National Ecological Observatory Network
- Benenson Productions
- Conservation International
Transcript for Steve Elkins | Finding the Lost City of the Monkey God (Episode 299)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with producer Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most brilliant and interesting people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. I want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave. I want you to become a better thinker that strengthens your life. It strengthens your career. It strengthens our democracy, not to go too deep down that rabbit hole. If you're new to the show, we've got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, public speaking, body language, persuasion, and more. So if you're smart and you like to learn and improve, you'll be at home right here with us.
[00:00:46] Today's conversation is just a crazy one. It's an incredible story. It's a real-life Indiana Jones-type scenario. Decades ago, Steve Elkins heard murmurs, legends, rumors of a Lost City in the jungle of Honduras. Most people thought he was crazy, including, as I understand it, his wife and even his own expeditions to the area, they didn't yield much until he managed to get his hands on LiDAR, which is a technology that uses a laser to map the ground and other things. He soon found something incredible and embarked on a journey into one of the most hostile environments anywhere on earth. And he made one of the most important archeological discoveries of the century, him and his team. The story, the discovery all are just epic in scope. And I had the pleasure of sitting down with Steve in his house and doing the show amongst artifacts from his travels all over the world.
[00:01:37] I mean, you'd be sitting there and there'd be a statue of like some Papua New Guinea tribe mask and another statue on the ground. What's that? You know, all of this I got from a person who brought it out home from rural Indonesia. Just crazy stuff everywhere. It's like being in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen scotch room, library. It's just unbelievable. I think you're really going to enjoy the conversation and we had an absolute blast recording it, seeing all the photos and the treasures that Steve has in his house before, during, and after the show. In fact, if you're curious, post show, go check out the video of this interview on YouTube. We'll also post some of the photos in the show notes we took Steve's collection. The show notes are at jordanharbinger.com. We got photos of a lot of artifacts, art and all this amazing stuff that was given to him on his travels. I want to note that he didn't just steal all this stuff after discovering it. They were given to him by tribesmen or traded or from other explorers that have been in the collection for decades and decades. Just an incredible, incredible story on an amazing guy. A great guy to be around it, to be the, I like to call him a friend. He's just an amazing, incredible guy. I really enjoyed this conversation.
[00:02:45] If you want to know how I get people like Steve into my life, into my orbit, check out our free course, Six-Minute Networking. It's about creating and maintaining relationships and utilizing your network. It's a free course. It's over at jordanharbinger.com/course and by the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribed to the course and the newsletter. So come join us, you'll be in great company. And without further ado, here's Steve Elkins.
[00:03:11] So how did you get interested in the Lost City in the first place? Because it sounds fake, right? If I heard about it, I would go, that's not real.
Steve Elkins: [00:03:19] Well, I'll try and make it as brief as possible. In 1993, I was working in the television production business. I was a cameraman, and that was also partners in a company that rented out camera systems and edit systems. So we were at the time, I would say contract producers. So if you came to me with the money and an idea, you would hire my company to do all the work behind the scenes. It was a lucrative business, but I wanted to do something a little more creative. Plus, I originally had an academic background in the sciences and actually studied archeology and geosciences and wanted to do something more along that vein in television. So I put the word out -- does anybody have a good idea? I've got the crew, I got the equipment. I could produce a show on my own. Well, a director friend of mine introduced me to a guy named Captain Steve Morgan.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:07] Captain Morgan,
Steve Elkins: [00:04:07] Well, he called himself Captain Morgan and he was a lifelong adventurer, explorer, treasure hunter, raconteur, nice guy, really pretty smart. And I met him and he said, "Oh, here's a little synopsis of 50 stories of places I've gone to or places I want to go. Why don't you look at them and see if any of these appeal to you? And maybe I can make arrangements and we can do it." So I read them. It only took a very short time. And I read about this Lost City in Honduras called Ciudad Blanca White City. And I said, "Oh, that's a cool thing." And Morgan said, "You know, it's really cheap to do production in Honduras. And my best friend, my best childhood friend, this guy named Bruce Heinicke," who was a real character, "he's living down there, he's married to a Honduran woman and he can arrange whatever government permits we need and blah, blah, blah." Because I had no idea. And I said, "Great, give me a budget." Well, the budget was really cheap. And I said, "Let's go!" And I actually got one of my production clients, which was the German broadcaster who went partners with me. And then 1994 we headed out to Honduras for an unknown adventure looking for the Lost City.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:15] It just sounds so crazy to me that I don't know if I would have the guts to do it. I've been to North Korea. I've gone to other countries and gone hiking and done all these kinds of things. Something about going to find something that you're not sure is as even there you find it exciting, but for me, I would be like, "Oh man, there's a good chance we're going to end up walking around in the middle of the jungle and not find anything."
Steve Elkins: [00:05:39] You're absolutely correct. I mean, there's a very good chance we wouldn't find anything. And in fact, we were gone a couple of weeks and we had great adventures, but we didn't find the Lost City. However, we did find a lot of enigmatic artifacts, and I did know enough about archeology and I had actually even worked part time after college in paleoclimatology research at the University of Wisconsin. So I knew that environment's changed and everything. Well, anyway, one of the days when we were out in the jungle, walking around and we're up high up in the mountains, far away from any human habitation. We'd come across as boulder next to a river. On this boulder, there was carved this wonderful, a petroglyph of a man with some kind of a mask or a headdress on. It looked like a stick, maybe a digging stick or a wand, or I don't know a sack what looks like seeds coming out of it. We had a government archeologist with us. That's what he told us it was. He said, "Oh yeah, they were farming here." I didn't see how are they farming here? We're in the jungle. You can't see from here too, 10 feet away. But I knew from my paleoclimate time of doing research., that environments change all the time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:46] So like that might not have been a jungle.
Steve Elkins: [00:06:47] That might have been a jungle in the past. And I went, "You know what? This petroglyph would not be here if something wasn't going on in the past. So maybe there's some truth to this legend." That was an epiphany moment for me and I became convinced that there was some real truth to the legend and I became obsessed with trying to prove or disprove it. I kind of felt that it was something to it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:11] Can you explain the legend of the Lost City here? Because I think a lot of people are going to go, "If someone tells me there's a city in the jungle, I'm not necessarily going to buy into it." There's obviously some legend around it that the local people know something about this.
Steve Elkins: [00:07:23] The legend of Ciudad Blanca or White City in English goes back probably 500 years to the best of my knowledge. The conquistador Hernan Cortes in 1526 when he first came to which now Honduras, the local people told him, they said, "Oh, there's this great city out in this vast jungle. It's very rich and you should go there and blah, blah, blah." And of course, did they tell him that to get rid of them or is it part of their legend? But from that moment on -- that's 500 years ago -- people have believed that there is this civilization out there and the local indigenous people have their own legends. It has about five different names of which I can't pronounce about this culture, this civilization that lived out in the jungle at one time.
[00:08:05] One of the other monikers for the city in current times is Lost City of the Monkey God because according to the legend, the buildings there were built out of white stone, which is probably because there's a lot of limestones there. It's easy to carve and it has a whitish cast to it. So, okay, that's why it was White City. And you can see white cliffs of stone and then worshiping of monkey god is not unusual in tropical areas. It's done forever, all the time. So these things were certainly possible.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:34] So the Spanish at that point gone in there and done it. Is there any evidence for it or is it just legend, purely legend at this point?
Steve Elkins: [00:08:42] I mean, I've heard and read accounts that they've been trying to look for it, but they didn't find anything. So it's all legend and in Honduras, it's iconic legends even taught in the schools. It's partly cultural history. The Mosquitia Jungle where it's located in the eastern third of Honduras is one of the toughest jungles in the world, and by accidents of geography and history, it's remained pretty much unexplored until recently. Now, people have gone in there and they have found enigmatic artifacts. They found samples of things, but no one ever found a large settlement, what archeologists would classify as a city. And nobody really knew the culture, it was just haphazard.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:21] So they're not necessarily any evidence that you're going to find anything. And I read the book, the Lost City of the Monkey God, there's this explorer who claims to have seen it or found it, and the only evidence is like this cryptic walking stick. You know about this? Tell us about this.
Steve Elkins: [00:09:35] Yeah. Well, there's a lot of people who've gone looking for it. Some went in and some never came back. I mean, there's a whole litany of people. In fact, the Smithsonian in the 1930s sent three expeditions, well-funded, and they did not find it, but everybody comes back with something. The person you're referring to is named Theodore Morde. He was an American adventure. He actually was a spy in World War II, but he went there in 1940 with a friend of his and was funded by the precursor to the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, and he went looking for it. He did not find it, but he said he did, and it was a big article in the New York Times. He was darling of the press and they made up all kinds of pictures. You brought back tons of artifacts, which are to this day in the archives of the Smithsonian in Sweetland, Maryland. I went to see them, hundreds of them. It was a con.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:23] Really?
Steve Elkins: [00:10:24] We found out -- Doug Preston the writer of the book and I -- we got a hold of Theodore Morde's diary, handwritten diary that we got from a relative of his, and I guess nobody ever really read it until we read it. And actually, Doug is the one who compared to handwriting and stuff and said, "You know what? It says very plainly, he didn't even believe there was a Lost City." He really went there looking for gold. He took a geologist friend of his with him, and they set up a gold mine that got wiped out, I think by a bad storm or hurricane. They had to go back, but he was funded by Theodore Hay from the Museum of the American Indian, and he had to come back with something. So, he went to the coast and he paid people for artifacts. So we paid them to go dig up stuff, and he brought them all back and made up a whole story that he found it. And of course, he said, you know, he can't go back and he never could say exactly where it was because he didn't really find any. Everyone believed that up until we uncovered the real truth.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:22] You guys were interviewing adventurers and smugglers and things like that to see if any of these guys had found anything because those are probably the only guys kind of hanging out. Describe the area of Honduras where this was like the nearby people in towns.
Steve Elkins: [00:11:36] Well, the jungle itself is very sparsely populated. In fact, the city, we found the closest villages, is inhabited today was 45 air kilometers away by helicopter. So you could calculate how many miles that might be. And the villages there are very, very small. So there are no roads, there's no infrastructure, there's no nothing. It's wilderness in the truest sense, true jungle wilderness. Now to give you an idea of how difficult the area is, I came across an exploration geologist named Sam Glassmire who's written about in the book. In 1959, he was there prospecting for gold because there are gold deposits in the Mosquitia and he had heard the legends. Being an adventure, he decided, "Hey, I'm going to take some time out and go look." He told his family who I know quite well that he'd be gone maybe two, three weeks. I think he was gone a couple of months and he did find a city or a very large settlement. And being an exploration geologist, he drew a great map, which I got from him before he passed away, a different place than what I found. He said he'd been in jungles all over the world, and this was the roughest one he has ever seen the hardest to navigate. So that's when I say by accident of geography in history is too tough of a place in recent memory for people to navigate
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:49] The terrain in the book is, it's sloping. There are ravines, there are mud pits that you can fall in and essentially sink in and die. There are landslides. The jungle is so thick. What is it like every one mile takes about 10 hours to get through it or something like that?
Steve Elkins: [00:13:06] In parts of it, that's absolutely true.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:08] Think about one mile in 10 hours, I can walk a mile and I don't know 15, 20 minutes depending on my pace if I'm walking on the street.
Steve Elkins: [00:13:16] Correct. The other thing too is a lot of traveling in the jungle is by river. So if you take a canoe and you go by river, that's okay. You can make a lot of distance. However, here's what happens in the rivers. They get a lot of heavy rain. It's a rainforest. Trees fall down and you get these huge mahogany logs floating down the river at high speed. If you're in your canoe and either you get blocked by one, so that means you've got to get out of the canoe and portage, or if you have a chainsaw with you or an ax, you got to cut away the blockage that takes a long time. Or you get rammed by one of these things and there goes you in the canoe. In fact, you can't really go in an aluminum canoe or even, you know, now some people take Zodiacs, but you're at risk. So traditionally the people use dugout canoes, which weigh about five million pounds, but you're safe.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:02] Yeah, because they're so hard and --
Steve Elkins: [00:14:05] They're made out of the very trees that make the log jam.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:08] So you don't take an aluminum canoe because it'll get plowed into.
Steve Elkins: [00:14:11] And more than likely it's going to get a ding and be no good after a while.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:14] Oh yeah. I didn't even think about that. They're not durable enough. So you're talking to these smugglers, these adventures, did they yield anything or are they kind of like, it's not real? I mean, these guys are traipsing through the jungle.
Steve Elkins: [00:14:24] No, I mean, there are people that have spent lifetimes looking for it. Everybody would probably find some enigmatic artifact in isolation, which would make them believe that there's something there and rightly so, but they could never find the city. Nobody would've been able to do that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:40] The place is called Portal del Infierno, so the Gates of Hell. This is what the locals call it. This isn't something that you guys made up or that Westerners made up. It's such a rough area. They actually named it.
Steve Elkins: [00:14:53] No. In fact, if you want, I have a map that my wife got me when I first started this made by the British in the 1850s and on that map, it says Portal del Infierno, over that part of the jungle. It was not well mapped. Nobody really knew it was there. They just knew it was really difficult. People went in, they didn't always come out, and it was called the Gates of Hell because the terrain was so tough.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:14] What kind of animals are in here? Because the book and some of your talks were evolved in part around this snake called Fer de Lance, and I've heard of that, but of course only in Indiana Jones movies or something like that, very apropos of this conversation. What are these things? These are nasty, like biblical serpents, basically.
Steve Elkins: [00:15:33] I don't know what a biblical serpent is.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:35] Just like the gnarliest stuff of nightmares and fairytales.
Steve Elkins: [00:15:39] The Fer de Lance is probably the most dangerous snake in the Western hemisphere. It can be quite large and not like an Anaconda, but these six, seven, maybe eight feet tops, but it has the biggest fangs. They are an inch and a quarter long, and its venom is very debilitating. If it doesn't kill you, if you're able to survive that, you'll probably lose the limb that got bitten on, and there's a lot of them there. It's also a pretty aggressive snake and sort of bites and then ask questions later. So you want to try and avoid them as best you can. We saw them almost every day. We had one close encounter. Doug, the author of the book, had the close -- well, he had a close encounter as well did one of the women who was an archeologist with us on our second expedition there. She had a close encounter with one, but fortunately, nobody got struck.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:26] These things are nasty if you Google Fer de Lance -- and you can spell it wrong and Google knows what you mean -- if you Google Fer de Lance's snakebite, it's like zombie kind of stuff. You see someone who has a normal body and then their lower leg where they got bit is like black, brown, dead.
Steve Elkins: [00:16:45] Right the tissue dies. It becomes necrotic.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:48] Yeah. So it's pretty disgusting. And you can't just grab on to any branch you want. You can't just hop over this log that's in your way because you don't know if one of these things is underneath it and there's nothing you can really wear that's going to protect you from these things.
Steve Elkins: [00:17:00] Well, we did wear snake gaiters, which are kind of like Kevlar shields you wrap around your legs. And so if the snake is on the ground and he strikes you -- you hope that's where he'll strike -- and that the snake gaiter will prevent the fangs from going through. But the snake doesn't necessarily have to be on the ground. It could be in a tree, and there are other vipers beside the Fer de Lance that are pretty nasty too. So there are snakes and trees or snakes on the ground, but there's more than snakes. There are also insects that can be very painful and debilitating. For example, there are these ants called bullet ants like giant red ants. If you sit and they crawl up to you, you're in dire pain. They call them bullet ants because their bite feels like you were shot with a bullet. You're not going to die, but you're going to maybe wish you did.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:43] Oh man, and you can get lost in the jungle, as you said you can't even see if 10, 15 feet in front of you. So this is kind of nightmare field because at night you can't just say, "Hey, kick the lights on. I got to go to the bathroom." I mean, actually, how did you do that? When you're camping, how do you do that?
Steve Elkins: [00:17:57] It's interesting you say, actually my greatest fear was getting lost in the jungle because literally you could move 10, 15 feet away from your group and you can't see them. And if they move on, and if it's raining and there's a lot of vegetation, the sounds good muffle, it's really easy to get lost and you have no idea where you're at. So we all wore whistles actually. So if that happened, we could whistle and we could try and zero in that. One of the things we did for the ground expedition is we hired three British SAS jungle warfare experts. Why? Because these guys spent all of their lives in places like this. They know jungle craft. They know how to survive, and we thought it a prudent idea that we have them with us to make sure we come back. They did an excellent job of that. They were very good. But they even told us this was the most virgin, most incredible jungle they had been anywhere in the world. They said they never saw so many animals. They were totally unafraid of people
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:51] Because they'd never seen people before.
Steve Elkins: [00:18:52] Right, people who had not been there. So they would come in our camp at night and walk around as though we weren't there. I remember setting up my tent the first day, and there's a whole troop of monkeys in the tree above me, sort of squawking, trying to figure out who I am. So I laid down on a cot and I looked at them for an hour or two and they looked at me when eventually we parted ways.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:11] That's so interesting. They weren't aggressive. They were just curious about what this weird bald monkey with no fangs and staring at them from the ground.
Steve Elkins: [00:19:21] That's right. A funny story and monkeys do these kinds of things. Later on, after we made the discovery and on another time we went out there, the president of Honduras went with an entourage -- to sort of kick off the formal excavations -- and the troop of monkeys was there and they started throwing shit at everybody.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:40] Yeah. I wondered if that was going to happen. That's funny. They decided to wait for the president to show up.
Steve Elkins: [00:19:45] We thought that was hilarious. He even laughed too. That's what monkeys do.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:49] Sure. Yeah. I guess they voted for the other guy.
Steve Elkins: [00:19:52] Maybe.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:53] So I know the SAS guys had caught -- this is right before you'd arrived on your flight a couple of days before. They caught this huge Fer de Lance snake and had to kill it, and it was spraying venom because it cannot just bite you, but it can spray the venom out somehow as well.
Steve Elkins: [00:20:10] Well, what happened actually was on the first night out, the advanced team went out and they're sitting up camp and Doug went on the advanced team, the writer because they wanted him to be able to note everything for the book. And they were sitting around the camp and he decided that he had to go get his notepad from his tent. He walked away and didn't realize before he knew what he was lost and he was freaking out. But fortunately, he saw one of the other tents, and as he's walking back, all of a sudden there was this huge Fer de Lance coiled up in striking position. And so he yelled out for the SAS guys. "Come on, help me. What do I do?" So Woody who was the chief of the SAS guys came out with a big stick and we didn't want to kill anything, he just wanted to move it. But as he went to do that, the snake was so powerful and got so aggressive. It just got away and it was ripping all over the place and venom was coming out.
[00:21:01] Some of the venom got on Woody's forearm, and I guess there's an enzyme in there. It's kind of a digestive enzyme. So it started to bubble his skin a little bit and he had to wash it off.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:11] It's like a burn, like a chemical burn.
Steve Elkins: [00:21:12] Yeah, almost like that, I guess. I give Woody a lot of credit. He just grabbed his knife and went again at the snake and pinned it down and cut its head off, and we felt bad about having to kill the shake, but it was out of control. And then his most famous comment was -- I can't do a good British accent -- "Nothing like that to concentrate the mind, is there?"
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:31] Yeah, I bet. I mean, there's a photo of him somewhere. We'll grab it if we can't. He's holding it up and it's like six feet long. This is not a garden snake with fangs.
Steve Elkins: [00:21:43] No, this is a, you know --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:44] A beast.
Steve Elkins: [00:21:45] –a big snake.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:45] A beast with a skin-boiling venom. I mean, it's just unbelievable. Yeah, nothing like that to concentrate the mind, I guess it's kind of, "Hey, by the way, just in case you forgot, these things are all over the place, so be careful."
Steve Elkins: [00:21:59] Right, exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:00] Dang. So you kind of have this crew of misfits. You got you down there, you've got the writer, you've got the SAS guys, you've got this guy, Heinicke. Tell us about Heinicke. This guy's just absolutely --
Steve Elkins: [00:22:12] First of all, some of them are misfits. We also brought 11 PhD scientists. They were not misfits, but they were all adventuresome and they were game to do it which is pretty impressive. And there were two women too, and most of us were older, so it was kind of an AARP group. So that proves something. You don't have to be 25 years old and full of vim and vigor to do this stuff. Just have to have the guts and think about how you're going to make it work. Sorry, I forgot your question.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:39] It was a Heinicke.
Steve Elkins: [00:22:41] Bruce Heinicke. Now, he did not go in the jungle with us. Actually, at the time we actually went in the jungle, he had already passed away. And he could not have gone anyway because he was in bad health. We had many trips. So it's easy when you're not a participant to get the timeline script. Bruce was very much involved in the LiDAR portion in 2012. He arranged almost everything for us down there, and he participated with us. But that was easy because we stayed at a nice resort on Roatan Island. We flew in an airplane or helicopter. It didn't require much physical abilities at all. It was really an engineering expedition and political. Early on back in the ‘90s when I first went, Bruce actually never went in the jungle with us at any time he had done so in the past.
[00:23:26] The time that I first met him in the ‘90s he was no longer jungle-able because of his size or his health. But he would arrange everything. Now prior to that, Bruce was a very interesting guy. He had worked as a treasure hunter in God knows what, but he was also, what I would say, kind of like a double agent. Before he had married the current wife during the latter part of him. He had married a number of times. He had an affair with the daughter of someone who was very high up in the Colombian cartel years ago, and Bruce was doing all kinds of activities. I mean, he lived in a big mansion. He had servants. He lived in the high life, charter jets. You can use your imagination. That's probably true.
[00:24:09] Well, anyway, one day he got caught by the DEA and his get-out-of-jail card was turning over some Colombians, a rather precarious position. And what he tells me -- I mean I wasn't there so I'm just relying on what he told me -- that he made some kind of deal and they turned over some lower-level Colombians that they didn't really care about and that satisfied the DEA kept him out of jail and they probably kept him on a lease because I know when I would go down to Honduras when we'd come back and land in Houston, I would go through immigration in two seconds and he'd be there for an hour. They take him into a room. So they were probably debriefing him or interrogate. Anyway, so he wound up becoming an agent for the DEA and the Colombians all at the same time. As I said, he's no longer here.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:57] And this guy is, he's straight out of, like you said before, the show central casting.
Steve Elkins: [00:25:00] Well, big guy, gold chain, big pinky ring, carried a .45 in an ankle holster, wine, and pineapple shirts, right out of a movie.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:09] Yeah. That sounds about right. Wasn't one of the German producers about to miss the plane? I mean, this was like the thing that cinched it for me, and I was like, "I've got to meet this guy if he's still around!" What was that all about?
Steve Elkins: [00:25:19] Well, the head of this German media company came with us. He helped finance the first expedition and he brought along actually an early satellite phone. It came in a briefcase and we're in the jungle. We had to look for a clearing and then he'd unfold his briefcase. We put up this -- looked like these lights right here -- and try and find a satellite, and he'd call back to Germany to find out how things were back at the office while we're in the middle of nowhere. It was pretty cool, but apparently, there was some kind of ruckus back in Germany and he had to leave early. So we radioed Bruce because there were no cell phones at the time and you still can't use a cell phone there. And we said, "We need to get this guy back to Germany post haste." He said, "Okay, I'll arrange an airplane to be at this village on such and such date. You got like a day or two days to get there." So we go with him, plane lands. The plane is full of people. There are no seats. I know this isn't going to work. So Bruce comes over to the plane, he pulls out his .45 and waves it around, and I was there. My jaw dropped. I couldn't believe it. Like, this was right out of a movie, but this was real life. And he goes, "You, off the plane," in Spanish of course. The guy leaves. What's he going to do? And he says, "Okay, Mr. German producer, here's your seat."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:32] So he kicks a guy off the plane at gunpoint.
Steve Elkins: [00:26:34] Right. He probably had to wait a week for another flight. I don't know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:38] Somewhere there's some guy telling a story about how he got kicked off a Honduran plane at gunpoint by some crazy.
Steve Elkins: [00:26:43] And this is a plane that is overloaded, to begin with. They got people with suitcases or animals in their lap standing up. I mean, it's amazing the plane took off.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:52] I'd like to say things are different now, but maybe it depends on what country you're in, I suppose. So you're going upriver mostly by boat to find this --
Steve Elkins: [00:27:00] Combination. We start off by boat first, we went in motorized canoes. Then we went in canoes and we had a pole because motors don't work. It would become very shallow, then become very deep. We'd have to get out, push the canoe, and then it becomes too deep for us. We jumped back in the canoe. These are these big wooden dugout canoes. It's basically a log and it weighs a ton and we would push these upstream until we couldn't do it anymore. It was too narrow and then we just put everything in our backs and walked. We hired a lot of indigenous people from the coastal areas that went with us and we carried everything and started walking.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:34] What were they thinking? Were they thinking of like, "Hey, we shouldn't be doing this?"
Steve Elkins: [00:27:37] They were great actually. I mean, they were happy to get the money because there was not much economic opportunity for them, but you know that some of them were superstitious. One time. I know early on when we were in the canoes and we were just pushing him, they said, "Oh, there's some Jaguars tracking us." And he would be in the back where the rifle. We did see tracks, so we believed them, but sometimes I thought maybe he just didn't want to push, so he'd be in the back of the canoe with the rifle.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:02] Right. He's like, "I need a break. I'll hold the gun and look backwards. What justification do I have?"
Steve Elkins: [00:28:07] These green goes. What do they know?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:09] Yeah. I'll tell him there's Jaguars coming at us.
Steve Elkins: [00:28:10] But we did see tracks, so it's quite possible. That was true.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:14] That's scary.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:28:17] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Steve Elkins. We'll be right back.
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Jason DeFillippo: [00:29:57] The Great Garbage Patch.
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Jason DeFillippo: [00:32:53] Thanks for listening and supporting the show and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. Don't forget we have a worksheet for today's episode, so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Steve Elkins. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means that you get all of the latest episodes downloaded automatically to your podcast player so you don't miss a single thing. And now back to our show with Steve Elkins.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:30] How did you end up getting permission to go into the jungle in the first place? Because it seems like the kind of place -- Honduras is pretty bad now. I assume it was even worse than at that time.
Steve Elkins: [00:33:40] Well, that was Bruce's expertise. Bruce was the ultimate Latin-American fixer. Whatever you needed to be done, as long as you could come up with the money, Bruce could make it happen. So he was able to get all the permits. If you wanted a Baskin Robbins rocky road ice cream delivered in the jungle at two o'clock in the afternoon, you had the money, there'd be a helicopter that would make a drop. That was the kind of guy he was. As crazy a person and may be as bad a person that he was for some of the things he did, he was also a superb fixer.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:12] I mean, Honduras, just to give people an idea of this, and you know this better than I do. Hurricane Mitch took the economy back 50 years, which isn't really even saying much because the place was already kind of a shambles. They've had -- is it over three hundred either Civil Wars coups or other surprise changes in governments? Something like literally three hundred whirlwind messes have gone on down there.
Steve Elkins: [00:34:35] Well, there's no question. I don't know the numbers. I'm not that up on Honduran modern history, but I can tell you I've been going there since 1994, so 25 years. And Honduras, yes, it was a very troubled country. They've had many problems. And probably the worst thing in recent years has been the rise of the narco-traffickers. And that's throughout Central America In many places in the world, it's really been a cancer on the country. But I can also tell you that Honduras is a very beautiful country. It has a lot of great resources and wonderful natural and cultural patrimony. And in all my years there, I personally never had a problem. People have always been really wonderful, and I do know a lot of people in the various administrations that have been in operation since I've been there. And yeah, there are always bad apples and there's always, you know, it's a country of -- we don't always understand the things that people have to do there. They work both sides of the fence, but there's a lot of really good people in there trying to lift themselves out and make a better future.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:31] I think that's important to know because it's really easy to. Look at a country like that and say, "Oh, they're screwing everything up." It's a bunch of narco-traffickers. And then in the same sense, talk about how we're going to find this Lost City there as if we built the thing ourselves. And I think a lot of people have given you a little bit of grief about that. Like, "Oh, look at these white guys coming in from California in the United States and Germany and they're going to go in here and dig everything up and leave us with jack squat."
Steve Elkins: [00:35:57] Well, first of all, we can't do that because all the patrimony belongs to the country. We never took a thing. None of us have anything that came from there and we could only do it in partnership with Honduras. So the government has always been a partner from the very beginning. We can't do it without their permission. They helped us in a very big way. They provide a logistical support. They provided military support, they supplied archeologists. It's not just a bunch of guys from the US coming in there. No, this was a joint effort from the get-go. I may have come up with the idea and raised the money to make it happen, but in the end, Honduras has actually put up quite a bit of money. Once we discovered it and the excavation started, and now they're running the whole show.
[00:36:38] So when people criticize us for that, I kind of have to laugh because they're talking about things they know nothing about. Even the indigenous people. Like we were criticized for not including indigenous people, which was totally erroneous. It was said by people who didn't know because they weren't there. We had an anthropologist with us, part of our team. A woman who was the curator for Latin America at the Smithsonian for 23 years. She came with and she went and talked to indigenous people. We flew her out to indigenous -- well, the Hondurans did in their military helicopters -- flew her out to indigenous villages to meet with people to understand.
[00:37:14] People told us they didn't really know where the place was or anything, and we got a lot of grief about that. Other people said, "Oh, the indigenous people, they all know where this place is, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." Well, about eight or nine months ago, the head indigenous leader for the group that lives in that part of the jungle, they call them Cacique de Cacique, the King of Kings. The government brought them out to the site. And it's on video on a website for our foundation down there and the government website, he is in tears talking with some government officials and archeologists and saying part in his native language and part in Spanish. He never thought that he would live to see the date to be at this place. He hadn't heard about it from his grandparents. Everybody had heard about it, but no one knew where it was. And there he was and he was beside himself. So for me, that was the greatest moment of vindication that sort of put an end to that argument.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:06] That must feel so good to have discovered something like that and have even the local people finally kind of put an end to the nonsense. I'm reading about this and it's like archeologists are saying, you're not really doing archeology because you're using LiDAR -- and I'll ask about that in a second. The local people are, "Oh, they must be so mad." But it's all these sort of armchair quarterbacks from some fancy university who've never gone in and done anything.
Steve Elkins: [00:38:28] Many times that's the case. Although there are some people who have been in the jungle and they know the jungle and they criticized us -- and I know one of them. In my opinion, I mean, I don't really talk to the guy. It was jealousy. They weren't involved in it. If someone makes a really great discovery or basically unveiled a virtually unknown culture and they're not an archeologist -- I was a film guy but I just had an idea and I pursued it and how I was able to do something that they weren't able to do. So they felt bad and even know I knew of them, I did not include them because they didn't have the skill set that I needed. For example, after we did the LiDAR, we didn't have any archeologists with us. I just went on my own hunches and picked out target areas and then the engineers analyze the data. And lo and behold, it was obvious to anyone that these were ruins. Then I looked for the best archeologist at the time that could understand LiDAR images, which there were very, very few people. These are the people I brought on board.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:25] Let's talk about LiDAR. This is like this ground scan, radar technology. How does this work? What is it?
Steve Elkins: [00:39:32] Well, LiDAR, it's like sonar or radar, but he uses pulses of laser beams. At the time, we used it, it used the 100,000 pulses a second. Now, it's over a million pulses. It gets better all the time. It was originally developed as a navigation aid for the space program in the ‘60s but it's evolved for many uses in this. Now the mapping program de jure. Everywhere in the world, everybody is mapping, making new maps with what they call airborne LiDAR. You put a LiDAR on machine in an airplane, the drone or helicopter, and you scan an area. You sent out these millions of pulses of laser beams of which most of them bounce back to the airplane. If it hits the top of a leaf or it hits some gold to the ground and come back, each one of those data points gives you a little bit of information about where that beam went and you put it together and what they call a point-cloud computer programs that interpret it and you can then see everything in great detail. You can filter out the vegetation so you can see what's on the ground. Or if you want to look at vegetation, you could just look at the treetops. Whatever you want to do. It's a whole new ballgame. It's being used everywhere now.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:36] This whole lighter thing is amazing because essentially I thought, well how can you map jungle ground when there's triple canopy jungle? And the answer is that there are little tiny pinhole size straight lines that go through all the vegetation and the LiDAR can find those little holes because it's hitting everything, and it can find the ground. So the resolution -- I can't remember the exact thing -- but with no vegetation, it's like three feet and then before that with sound and whatever it was back then, it was like 90 feet. So you can actually map underneath all this thick vegetation, thickest jungle in the world and still see what the ground looks like.
Steve Elkins: [00:41:09] Right, as long as sunlight can reach the ground, the LiDAR can reach the ground. And so you get, obviously, you get less data points the thicker the jungle. And when we went, it's a triple canopy, so it's the tallest canopy is 50 meters, 150 feet. Then you have other canopy below it, and the engineers didn't think it would even work. So it was a big gamble for us. But it'll work better than everyone thought. And I had the LiDAR people scan it multiple times from different angles, so we would have the greatest possibility of getting data points, and we got enough to make pretty good resolution images.
[00:41:42] Now, just to correct one of your statements, if it's an open area, you'll get a resolution of two centimeters, which is like less than an inch. But in the jungle at the time, we got a resolution of about, I think, it was 18 inches, maybe two feet, which was considered great because I did a satellite survey in the ‘90s with the Jet Propulsion Lab and we were looking at 30 or 40 feet of resolution.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:07] I must have read some old tech. I mean it's just incredible.
Steve Elkins: [00:42:10] And now with the new LiDAR, which has 10 times the resolution, I'm sure that if we did it again, we'd even get better images.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:18] You got to rent this LiDAR machine. That's what top-secret military use only or something?
Steve Elkins: [00:42:22] Well. It's not top secret anymore. In fact, we did have LiDAR in our new cars for accident avoidance. They'll be able to tell about to get hit, but at the time we went -- it's not that the LiDAR was top secret, it was being used in many applications -- but it had in the airborne LiDAR, it had a guidance device. They call it an IMU, inertial measurement unit. And that's the same thing they use in guided missiles to guide them. So in order to take it out of the United States, you had to get a special permit from the state department. You know, they wanted to make sure that this wasn't going to fall in the hands of nefarious people, narco-traffickers or terrorists or whatever.
[00:43:01] For example, one of the requirements we had is we had to provide 24/7 armed guards of the aircraft at the time. I think now it's not quite as heavily controlled because it's proliferated but back then it was really controlled.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:15] So you send the pilot out to map this jungle and you're just kind of thinking, all right, every day we'll analyze what he comes back with and hopefully this isn't a big waste of time.
Steve Elkins: [00:43:25] Exactly. I mean, I had target areas. In the book, like even the site we found, we called it T1. It was basically target one. You know, people said, "Well, you got to come up with a better name." I said, "I'm not going to call it like Elkins Ville." You don't want to be generic. It's target, target one, and the archeologists can come up with a name after they figure out what it is. So we had several targets, places that I thought were likely places that had never been explored. Places the topography was correct. And it seems these would be likely candidates and the first one, T1 -- bingo, it worked.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:57] How excited were you when you saw -- what did you say, first of all?
Steve Elkins: [00:44:01] Well, you are correct in saying that every day, the pilot and the LiDAR engineer because it's a small plane, we would go in the plane and we'd free plan a flight plan, figure out what they're going to scan, and they'd go out and they'd spend eight hours flying around in this little plane. Come back, and then other engineers at the resort where we stayed at Roatan, they would process the data. And then hopefully by the morning, we'd have some kind of imagery. They would also upload the data to the University of Houston where their colleagues were. And so there were a number of people working on the data simultaneously.
[00:44:30] Well, one day, and I think the third day. Doug and I, the author and I are having breakfast and the LiDAR engineer who was analyzing the data comes running to us and saying, "There's something in the valley." "What's in the valley?" "I don't know. You got to come look." So obviously, we're really excited and we run over there and they're plain as day or all these geometric shapes in this valley. You could see a pyramid, you could see giant plazas, you could see foundations of other things. You could see water irrigation works in terracing. I mean, you had to be an idiot not to see it. Obviously, if you've never seen these things, you wouldn't know but he'd once pointed out, it's quite obvious. And then we knew we had made it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:09] Wow, just incredible. How excited were you when you first saw that? Because finally, you could say, "Look, friends, look, wife, I'm not a complete kook.
Steve Elkins: [00:45:18] Exactly, and also my partner who paid for a lot of it. So yeah, it was a great moment of vindication, and I was jumping up and down. I think I went out, they had a little bar on the beach and we went to the bar and had a couple of beers and we all toasted each other and feel pretty happy.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:34] I bet. Because a lot of people are probably asking, all right, you're adventurous. You're not archeologists. What do you think you're looking for? And you find this LiDAR evidence of these huge sites. You must have wanted to go out there right away, right?
Steve Elkins: [00:45:45] Of course. But you know, there's a lot of things involved. You just can't just -- first of all, you got to get a helicopter to go there and we didn't have a helicopter available and you just don't fly there you, there's no place to land. And then you have to be prepared to survive in the jungle and you have to have a team of archeologists with you and you have to have government permission. We knew that and that took three years to organize. It cost a ton of money. It took a long time to get the permits and to pre-assemble the proper team. Because if you're going to go through all this effort, you're just not going to take every yahoo you run across and say let's go. No, that's not a scientific expedition. You want to have the team with the right people, the right expertise to take advantage of every moment you're there.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:22] You guys had a few setbacks. There was the LiDAR machine broke at one point, and I guess some guy had to fly out from Canada with a circuit board. It's just proof that like the tiniest thing can derail something like this.
Steve Elkins: [00:46:34] Well, actually, if this was an episodic television show, that would've been one episode in itself, because right in the beginning, the LiDAR machine breaks after the first or second day and we're going, "Oh my God, it's costing us $20,000 a day to run this operation, and now we're dead in the water." Well, at that time, there's not a lot of these units around in the world. And we called everywhere. I spent two days on the phone and an email all over the world trying to find a spare part for this machine. There were a couple around, but nobody wanted to give him up no matter what the cost was. And finally through the people at the University of Houston, the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, who we contracted to do the actual survey, they knew the president of the company that manufactured the LiDAR unit, which was in Canada. And he was really nice and he offered, he said, "We have one of these circuit cards left and we will send it to you." So it's a great, well now you've got to get it to Honduras. If we had unlimited amounts of money, I guess, we would get charter jet, but we were operating on a budget. They said, "We're sending an engineer with the part. He'll be there within one or two days."
[00:47:41] Well, they sent a Pakistani National, and this is in 2012. There's still a lot of this terrorist stuff going around and people are doing homeland security stuff, and he's told, don't put this part in your baggage. Keep it on you. Well, his commercial flight stopped in Washington DC overnight. He was afraid to have this circuit card on him because being Pakistani maybe they'd arrest him or something. He put it in his luggage. His luggage got lost. So he arrives, but no part. I have a heart attack. I mean, I had a full head of hair before that. I can't tell you how many hours with the airlines, with everyone I knew in all these different countries trying to trace this. The airline couldn't find it. Finally, by hook or by crook, we were able to trace where it was. And we got it on a flight to Salvador. They said it's in Salvador. They're putting on a plane to go to Honduras. So I go to the airport in Honduras to pick up the part with one of my friends in Honduras who was in the government. And we go show up and they say, "Oh, we don't see it. Plane's here, but we don't see the part." Well, it's Honduras. My friend who's with the government pulls out the presidential card, like a card from the president, sort of like a get-out-of-jail card. All of a sudden, they found the part.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:03] Oh, interesting.
Steve Elkins: [00:49:05] Yeah. Like in two seconds, "Oh yeah. It's over here." So we got the part and then we're driving back to the airport, and this is a time in Honduras is recent history where the narco problem was really bad, was a lot of bad things going on. There's a police blockade on our way back to our hotel. I don't know if it was legitimate or a shakedown, but they're looking at us and we got this fancy equipment and I could sense. This is not going good. My friend pulls out the presidential card. Okay, we go. They put the part in a few hours later. Everything worked great. Who can predict that kind of stuff?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:38] I mean, it's just part and parcel of doing business as usual. Finding a lost jungle city in Honduras as I guess.
Steve Elkins: [00:49:45] Probably anywhere. The unforeseen happens every day.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:51] Unbelievable. So, make your way through the jungle finally, you get the LiDAR, you map it out, you make her way through the jungle. You avoid all the snakes. Well, you kill a couple --
Steve Elkins: [00:49:58] Only one.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:59] Only one. Okay, good. Good track record. How do you know when you found the place? Sure, you get your GPS or something like that, but how do you, what's the first thing you see?
Steve Elkins: [00:50:07] Well, first of all, we have the LiDAR maps which have the coordinates on it and all that LiDAR data fit into like a look like a giant cell phone. It's a survey instrument and our chief archeologist brought with that could get a signal from the satellite because even in the jungle you can reach the satellite. It would tell us. There'd be a little cursor and so it would know exactly where we were and as you're walking through the jungle, even though you can't see 10 feet in front of you, it's telling you 50 meters to the pyramid, make a left and go 20 meters to the plaza, and it shows you the LiDAR image. So you see what is in front of you, even though with your eyes, all you see is green, but you're seeing what the LiDAR saw. And that's how we knew where we were going. When we'd get to the pyramid or we'd get to different buildings or plazas, you would see the foundations, the stones were there. And it would show you right on the cursor. It was sort of easy-peasy with the technology. Without it, I'd still be wandering around. That was pretty cool because we could see everything we saw on LiDAR. We could actually just walk to it. Now, you had a machete your way through and there were various hazards we had overcome to get there, but you could find it
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:14] incredible. What is the first thing that you saw? You saw the pyramid. How did you know you had found something that wasn't just an isolated or a natural formation or something like that? I mean, where there are artifacts? Where there are things lying around, or was it just so obvious that you'd walked into a city?
Steve Elkins: [00:51:30] No, it's not obvious at all. And the pyramid is just another hill you have to walk up. It's covered totally in vegetation and dirt, and it's only the LiDAR that tells you this is the pyramid. You could see it shaped by the LiDAR and you look at it and you go, "Okay, I guess it is." But then it'd say like, "Make a left to the plaza," and then you'd see some stone walls and then you'd see some stones that were obviously carved. So you know that the LiDAR is telling you what's there. And so it's going to take a long time to excavate that if they ever do.
[00:51:57] But fortunately for us, after a couple of days of doing this, of surveying and mapping everything the LiDAR showed us, totally by accident. And this is where serendipity always comes into play. At the end of a long day, it was raining. You're overlooking at more stone walls and we're going, "Okay, it's great. The LiDAR worked but where's the sizzle here guys?" Our camera guy or cinematographer is behind me at the end of the line and he stumbles his foot on some rocks. He goes, "Hey, there's some funny looking rocks here." I run back and lo and behold is 52 carved stone effigies and bowls made out of stone, half sticking out of the ground. I mean, that was --
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:34] He literally tripped over.
Steve Elkins: [00:52:35] He literally tripped over. We'd walk by there all day long back and forth, but at that moment he just happened to stub his toe on it or whatever it was. Because you know, it's all covered with moss. It's not very obvious unless you stand there and look at it and there it was. Everybody was pandemonium. The archeologists, everybody went nuts. And in fact, one of the first things we saw was the head of what I thought was a monkey. Well, a couple of us did, and we went, "Lost City of the Monkey God. Man, we're doing great now." Until one of my colleagues said, "Yeah, but the ears are on top of its head," and monkeys have ears like us on the side. It was really like some kind of a shamanistic jaguar human character.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:16] Wow. What was it like standing in a place that you know or that you believe hasn't been visited for -- was it 500 years? How long?
Steve Elkins: [00:53:24] Well, that's what we guess. I mean, everyone's guessing that the place was abandoned at the time of Europeans coming to the Americas, because in that first hundred years after that, the estimates are that about 95% of all indigenous people died due to diseases. So we're guessing that that's probably when it was abandoned. Now since then, that was in 2015. Recently, the Honduran archeologists that worked there, they go in and out of there all the time. They've done 11 carbon dates that I've known him so far, and the youngest carbon date they got is 1400 years ago, and the oldest is 3600 so that doesn't really, I mean, it might've been abandoned 500 years ago, but what it does show is that this place was occupied as long as 3600 years ago, and probably much longer. So was it a continuous occupation? We don't know. They probably won't figure it all out until I'm dust.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:17] Wow. That's incredible though. I mean, unbelievable that this was there, but that year thinking the environment probably wasn't thick jungle back then.
Steve Elkins: [00:54:28] My assumption is that it's probably changed over the years with climate change, and then people cut the forest down and when you have a large population, they don't live in a thick forest. They cut the trees down to make their buildings. And then who wants to be under the trees all the time? Of course, maybe nearby, but they clear the area where they're living, which goes back to that petroglyph I found in 94 of a guy probably farming. They probably cleared the trees and maybe they had terrace farms and hills there. We don't know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:55] What type of artifacts have been recovered from this, so far?
Steve Elkins: [00:54:58] Well, probably about 500 maybe 600 carved stone bowls, effigies, metates, seats, all kinds of stuff made out of stone. A few ceramic figurines have been found, and that's all I know of personally, but I don't know everything that they're finding recently.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:16] How much of it has been excavated so far?
Steve Elkins: [00:55:18] Well, none of the buildings have been excavated. The area where they were working is probably twice the size of this living room.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:25] Any idea how much for people who aren't looking at us right now at any idea --
Steve Elkins: [00:55:29] Probably, a couple of hundred square feet.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:31] So basically that scratch the tiniest bit of the surface.
Steve Elkins: [00:55:34] Yeah but they have to go down very slowly because they analyze the soil. I mean, it takes a lot of people and a lot of time it's like being an accountant. And you literally take little brushes and brush stuff off. So those of us who are not archeologists go out and you just dig it up. Well, you can, but you probably break things and you'll lose what they call the context. Like it's relationship to everything to the side of it, below it and so on and so forth. So I know as of two months ago, the archeologists in some spots had gone down almost a meter, about three feet. Another area is, maybe it's only 18 inches, but how far it goes to settlement goes down. It could go down many, many meters. So people will be working there. You'll probably be dust.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:16] Yeah. I'm thinking if it's going down several meters, if it's a city, there could be underground chambers.
Steve Elkins: [00:56:22] Who knows?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:22] There could be, and if they've only excavated a couple of living room or family rooms worth of room, and it's a city with thousands of inhabitants, it's going to take decades, if not centuries to dig all of these.
Steve Elkins: [00:56:34] Right. And the question is, will it ever really, totally be excavated because to do so you've changed the forest. It turns out that the forest is extremely important to the natural patrimony. We noticed in all our time there and flying around, that the forest was rapidly being deforested by a narco-traffickers putting in cattle ranches and so on. And we were concerned about that because there just aren't a lot of these places left anymore. So, my partner Bill Benenson and I commissioned Conservation International, which is a large conservation NGO to send 12 biologists from Honduras, other Central American countries in the United States into the jungle and do a quick survey of the flora and fauna.
[00:57:17] They were there for a couple of weeks and unfortunately, it took a long time for them to produce the report, which came out earlier this year and it turned out that the jungle was as special as the SAS guys thought, and it was a treasure in itself. There were species that were new to science, there were species they thought were extinct or now alive and well in there. It was a very healthy ecosystem. It turns out it's the most biodiverse jungle left in Central America and the heart of the wildlife corridor that connects to the Americas. So ecologically, this is a very special place and very important and very rare.
[00:57:53] Unfortunately, it's under a lot of pressure. So the government has taken some really good actions. They put the military out there to train, kick people out here. We formed a foundation with the Hondurans. It's actually run by Hondurans. We brought in some other major NGOs like Wildlife Conservation Society, Global Wildlife Conservation, and they've been out there for a year and a half coming up with programs to figure out how can we save this place? How come it survive with people too? Because you can't just say, no one will ever get in there. It's not going to happen. So they've come up with great strategies, which are starting to implement right now, and I think hopefully, we'll see some pretty good progress after the beginning of the year.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:58:35] You're listening to the Jordan harbinger show with our guest Steve Elkins. We'll be right back after this.
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Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:33] When you discover this, were you worried, "Okay. We're here with Honduran Special Forces, British SAS, a bunch of biologists. People are going to know we're over here. This is going to make big news. What happens when we leave?"
Steve Elkins: [01:03:47] Well, that's a very good question. And I remember saying after we made the discovery, especially because the Honduran sent a whole like a squad of Special Forces soldiers. Originally, they were only going to send three and they sent, I think, 22. And everybody came with cell phones and cameras. And so the idea was we were going to keep the place secret, but we can't. Now, there are so many people, and you cannot go and tell all these soldiers. They're going to do what they do even if we told them they're still going to do what they do. So the word got out pretty quick and I said, you know, we've opened up Pandora's box. But on the other hand, the place was under threat even before we came. Had we not put a spotlight on it, it would be gone anyway, and no one would ever know it was there. It will quietly disappear. They'd probably be more destroyed now than it is already. And so now there are efforts to stop that and they've been fairly successful, and hopefully, that'll continue.
[01:04:41] So you have to weigh, you know, nothing is perfect. And I think in the end, by shining a light on it, we've done more good than bad. It's also changed a lot of the thinking in Honduras. It's become something that much of the population is very proud of, can wrap their arms around it. The young people are very, very protective of it, the up and coming generation. Many of the older generation are very happy about it. It's provided jobs. It's provided a positive image out of a country that desperately needs positive images.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:12] That's true. And I mean, I think I would just be worried, right? The narco-traffickers are going to go, "Hey, we got an airstrip near there. Why don't we send in some of our people and just go dig some stuff up and sell it and make some money?" Or just even illegal loggers that are nearby going, "Well, we already burned trees down near there and have cattle or whatever it is. We can just go in and take stuff." I would even be worried about the soldiers. I don't know, maybe they're really patriotic, loyal, but they also could just tag it with their GPS and hike back in there and grab a couple of things and enrich themselves. Like, well, you just don't know.
Steve Elkins: [01:05:42] Well, these things are all real risks. First of all, it's very hard to get to. You really can only get there by helicopter. So there are limited helicopters there. I mean, narcos can get them, that's no problem. And in fact, a year ago, there was a group of local people from a village that spend about six months carving a trail with donkeys. We found actually two cities. The one that we haven't spent much time at, and we found them there. They were actually killing the wildlife and looting the artifacts. So the military came in and got rid of them but that's a constant threat. And so the question is, we hope now by shining the world's attention on this and gaining a lot of support and setting the foundation and making it a good thing for the government to want to do because they look good and they get more foreign aid and so on and so forth, that there'll be enough of the right kind of pressures to protect this place. But I'm sure some things are going to be lost. I mean, it's impossible to. Save everything.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:33] Yeah, I suppose. I mean, the economic incentives to go in and mess it up are too great. And this is for people who are wondering, this is like, what five years ago or something that you did this? How long ago was this?
Steve Elkins: [01:06:44] Well, LiDAR discovery was in 2012. That's seven years ago. And then we did our first ground expedition in 2015.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:52] Okay. So this is recent because I think people, when we here discovered Lost City in the jungle, we think, okay, that must have happened in 1974 or 65 or something like that. First of all, you're not that old, but second of all, this is recent, like this is happening when we were watching Netflix or something like that, some of us. I think that makes it more amazing to think that there are still things that we haven't found in a jungle in Central America. They're still undiscovered. I mean, there's still stuff in that jungle. I'm sure you can get LiDAR in five more years and find three more cities in there probably. Who knows?
Steve Elkins: [01:07:26] I think you're absolutely correct in your assumption. I believe that the entire Mosquitia was urbanized at one time. And there are lots of things left to be discovered. In fact, in 2016, our LiDAR engineer, Juan Carlos Fernandez Diaz, who is at the University of Houston but also was from Honduras. He did the LiDAR scanning for us, and he wound up doing another project in Guatemala where they scanned the Peten Jungle, which is between all the big known Mayan sites there. Everyone thought there's not much out there, how can anybody live there. Well, the reports came out earlier this year. You can look it up on the internet. The entire Peten Jungle was urbanized in the past, and they've upped the estimates of the population of the Maya people by many millions that these big Maya Centers that you visited as a tourist, it did not exist in isolation. There were communities gone farms and towns and villages and so on, connecting all of these places. There were millions of people living there. I'm sure in the Mosquitia at some point in time was probably a similar situation.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:26] It's weird. It makes you think about the United States like 10,000 years from now. I don't know, aliens come visit us and they go, "Oh, the middle. There was nothing in the middle. It's all overgrown. Nobody could live there." And then, "Oh yeah, it turns out there was a bunch of cities in the middle, in the middle of this here. They didn't just live on the coasts. They all died from alien smallpox or whatever. That killed off the Mayan population." Speaking of weird diseases though, some of these guys, you were spared, but some of the guys that went on the trip with you brought back a pretty gross set of souvenirs.
Steve Elkins: [01:08:56] Right. In fact, after the expedition, we were sitting around toasting ourselves with a glass of beer, going it's great. You know, nobody got killed. Nobody got hurt. No one got really sick. It's amazing. Little did we know a month later. I mean, we're all covered with hundreds of bug bites you cannot eliminate that. Some people's bug bites, it would be the one bite that didn't go away and it started getting bigger and eventually became this open wound like a lesion. It turns out is this parasite called leishmaniasis. It's a protozoan, single-celled animal lives in the gut of a female sandfly and in the blood of a mammal, and actually a reptile too, but mostly mammals, not an unknown disease. It's endemic in most tropical areas and we're third world countries, been around forever, 12 million people a year get it. But we thought this was a really remote possibility. Well, apparently they're in this isolated valley or the Lost City was. There was an evolved version of this parasite we learned after a genetic study of it. Pretty bad and 60% of the people who went there contracted it or became symptomatic. We probably all were infected, including myself, but for some reason, unknown to the scientists and the doctors, some people have natural immunity, so maybe my body killed it or my body just doesn't care about it. I don't know.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:10:14] Maybe I'll end up with it and wake up one day, "What is that?"
Steve Elkins: [01:10:17] Maybe, yeah, maybe one day, but --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:10:19] Still incubating.
Steve Elkins: [01:10:21] 60 percent of the crew and quite a number of people got it. Some worse than others. Fortunately for us, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda is doing a research project on it because a lot of our soldiers are coming back with it from the wars in the mid-east where the desert version of it, kind of quiet. So they said we'll treat everybody for free if you'll be part of the research while everyone was, "Yeah, for sure," because doctors here didn't know anything. Some doctors say there was no leishmaniasis in Honduras.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:10:48] Tell that to the guy with leishmaniasis.
Steve Elkins: [01:10:50] So some of our people have gone back to Bethesda up to 13 or 14 times over the past few years where they treat them with these really horrific, very toxic drugs, which put the parasite into remission. We can't say it really kills it, but it sort of gets rid of it and gets rid of the symptoms. But the drugs often have some very serious side effects. A couple of people were really in a bad way, but everyone is still around. However, we understand that leishmaniasis, once you get it, it's like herpes. It may go into remission, but it's lurking somewhere in your body waiting for the opportune moment.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:25] Ah, scary.
Steve Elkins: [01:11:26] And I learned earlier this year from a friend of mine who's a parasitologist at Harvard medical, that they had been doing liver transplants and were perplexed because some of it recipients were developing full-blown leishmaniasis infections. And then they started investigating and find out that the donors had been exposed to leishmaniasis at some time earlier in their life, even though they were not actively symptomatic
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:48] and it's just lurking in the organ. They transplant the organisms to someday else --
Steve Elkins: [01:11:50] Right and you become immunocompromised as you would for being a recipient and it comes up and in fact, the people who got it became symptomatic are not allowed to give blood, because they could transmit it.
[01:12:03] Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:03] That's terrifying. By the way, this disease is something that eats away. There are different varieties. They're all terrifying. One eats away your face and facial bones, your nose and lips, upper jaw and teeth, so your face becomes a Halloween mask or something falls off. And then there's the one that eats away at your guts and a, what's the other one?
Steve Elkins: [01:12:23] Well, there's three. There's a cutaneous, which just makes these disfiguring lesions on your skin, which is the more common one, and it makes these lesions when they go away and then you have a scar. Our people got mucosal which does the lesions, and then a couple of years later it attacks your mucous membranes, so your nose, your mouth, your crotch, all that probably. You don't die from it, but you might wish you did. That's what opportunistic infections would give you in. Then the third one is called visceral, which is the worst one of all because it attacks your internal organs and if untreated is 95% fatal. So it's a tough deal. The thing that people have to realize is because of global warming and it really is true that Earth's temperature is rising. This parasite has to live in a certain temperature band of certain maximum-minimum temperatures. It's been confined to near tropical areas, but now that the Earth's temperature is rising, the parasite is moving North and South. The CDC expects climate trends to continue and it'll be as far North as Canada by 2050 or 2060 so this is a disease that's already now endemic in Texas and Oklahoma. They found some new versions of it. That's maybe coming to your backyard.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:34] White leprosy/black fever because it turns your skin black coming into a backyard near you.
Steve Elkins: [01:13:40] Possibly doing so
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:42] All right. In closing, this might sound a bit obvious and I was sort of toying with this question, but what do you get out of this? You know, a lot of people were saying, well, why did he do that as he rich now did he get a bunch of stuff? Did he sell a bunch of artifacts? I mean, do you have a giant stone jaguar head in the backyard somewhere?
Steve Elkins: [01:13:58] No, there's nothing. I've never taken anything from Honduras. I was given two artifacts that were obviously looted, but many decades before I got involved, they were already in the United States and they were given to me. One of them I have here in the living room. And I've shown it to the people in Honduras and all over the world. Anybody can come to study it. You know, one day they have a museum that it would be good to have it. I'd be happy to put it there, but they have to get it there. It's very heavy.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:21] Yeah. I'm looking at it right now. If you can't, and maybe we'll throw some, can we throw --
Steve Elkins: [01:14:26] You can take a picture of.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:27] Yeah. We'll throw some things
Steve Elkins: [01:14:28] It's not from the Lost City site from a place about probably 160 miles away but it was at one time was jungle. It was actually found by Bruce, the fixer, who died a couple of years ago, back in the '80s. And then he gave it to Steve Morgan, that original adventurer who kept it in his backyard. And Steve has now had several strokes and can't talk and can't walk. And so his wife gave it to me. So I have it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:52] So we'll throw a picture of it in the show notes. It's literally sitting in front of your fireplace right now.
Steve Elkins: [01:14:58] To your question, this is only costing me money. All the money and time I spent, this is a losing proposition, but I did it because it was of innate interest. It became a passion project and obsession. And it's a great opportunity when it especially is excited to succeed. And how often does, do any of us have an opportunity to make a great discovery and leave a legacy? And I felt that what I've started has become a legacy in Honduras. I mean, first, we proved that LiDAR could work in triple canopy jungle. We're the first ones to do it. We uncovered a civilization, a culture of which virtually nothing was known about or a little was known. We created a new ethos in the country of Honduras. In the university, they teach archeology. Not that I started those things, but the things we did promote that, and got other people involved so it became a movement.
[01:15:48] I gave a lecture there to a high school where they speak English because I'm not fluent in Spanish. They had 90 juniors and seniors. I told him the story almost every one of them after the lecture came up to me, wanting to shake my hand, and said, thank you for giving us hope. Thank you for showing us something nice about our country and giving us hope for the future. Two months ago, the foundation, the Kaha Kamasa Foundation, which is run by Hondurans, that we helped set up, they put on an exhibition called Secrets of Ciudad Blanca. They did a wonderful job. They made virtual reality games that were incredible. They made a diorama. They even set up a music group called kakau, which is the indigenous word for chocolate because chocolate grows in the jungle. It's become a big deal. They had movies. They've done all kinds of stuff. They had over a thousand people show up for this show for one day. People were thrilled about it, and they'd go down and they put me on talk shows, even though I don't speak Spanish, they have a translator. So that's my payoff.
[01:16:45] The book is in 24 languages. It's known around the world. And so to be able to have done something positive and make us increase our knowledge of the world and increased people's lives in a positive way, that's worth more than any financial gain. I don't think I'll ever make any money, although maybe I'll make a few thousand dollars when I give a talk, but that doesn't pay me back all the thousands I spent.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:07] That's right. And if the documentary ever comes out, maybe a chunk of that don't get a return.
Steve Elkins: [01:17:11] Well, we got to pay back all the money we spent. My partner spent a lot of money, so it's not a financial thing. It's just something you do because we're able to do it. I've been fortunate in life. I don't have to worry about where my next meal comes from, which had nothing to do with any of this. I was just fortunate in business and investments. That's what took advantage of the opportunity to do that.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:32] Well, thank you very much for your time and thanks for discovering a Lost City in the jungle, which I think most people never thought would ever happen again.
Steve Elkins: [01:17:38] I didn't think it would happen.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:40] The look on your face in the photo that I saw when you found out that good news, you showed it during one of your talks, says it all, and it's a mixture of "Holy crap, we were right," and "I can't wait to tell everybody that thought we were wrong," and "When can we go and look at it?" It's amazing.
Steve Elkins: [01:17:56] I think that's the picture when I'm like --
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:57] Yeah, exactly. It's pure, unadulterated joy because finally, after, I don't know, 20-plus years of probably having a lot of people snickering behind your back that you know, you are finally, finally right. And that's got to feel really good. Thank you very much.
Steve Elkins: [01:18:13] Thank you.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:16] Big thank you to Steve. The book about the expedition, it's not his book, but it's about the expedition. It's called the Lost City of the Monkey God. We'll link to that in the show notes as well. I mentioned earlier photos and some videos in the show notes of the artifacts in Steve's house. Links to stuff where you can find some resources about his foundation as well. He does have the Kaha Kamasa Foundation. There's a link to that in the show notes. That's a foundation for the protection and excavation of this archeological site. What's mind-blowing about this is it's recent. I mean, this is like five years ago. This isn't a hundred years ago. It's not 25 years ago. It's not something that happened in the '60s this is still something that's 95 percent plus unexcavated. The whole area -- not even close -- hasn't been surveyed or anything. It's just incredible to think that a Lost City could still be found in the 21st century. But that's precisely what happened. People feel the world has shrunk. We have trodden upon mapped, photographed, exploited, every place on earth to the point where it feels like we've robbed the world of its mystery. But this discovery, put some of that mystery right back. It proves we don't know everything. It shows there are still places on earth that are indifferent, hostile, inimical to human beings. Mosquitia, the place where this is located is one such place. It's just unbelievable that this exists. And that was discovered recently and put some childlike like wonder back in my heart, man, I don't want to, I don't want to lay it on too thick. I don't know how else to put it. It's really just straight out of a movie. A big thanks to Steve for letting us just crash in and take up his entire afternoon and invade his whole house.
[01:20:00] Again, there's a video of this interview on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. Links to everything in the website on the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. There are also worksheets for each episode, including this one. You can review everything you've learned here from Steve. We also have transcripts for every episode, and those can be found in the show notes as well. If you want to skip ahead to something or share with somebody who is not able to hear the audio.
[01:20:22] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free. That's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. And look, I know you're going to do it later. You got something else to do. You've got to make sure your website's up. I've got to do your kickstart. Dig the well before you get thirsty. Once you need relationships, you're too late to leverage them. You can start when you need them, but then your that guy who's, "Hey, I know, I haven't kept in touch, but I really need you to promote my crap." Don't do that. Procrastination leads to stagnation when it comes to your personal and business relationships. Dig the well before you get thirsty. The drills take a few minutes per day, hence the name Six-Minute Networking. Get off your butt, jordanharbinger.com/course and by the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter. Come join us, you'll be in smart company right where you belong. In fact, why not reach out to Steve? Tell him you enjoyed this episode of the show. Show guests love hearing from you, and you never know what might shake out of that. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and follow me. Reach out and touch me on social. @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. That just came out icky. I'm going to pretend I didn't say that. @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram.
[01:21:31] This show is created in association with PodcastOne and this episode was produced by Jen Harbinger and Jason DeFilllippo. Our engineer is Jase Sanderson. Show notes and worksheets by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola. I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. Special thanks to Brian for bringing Steve to my attention. You're awesome, dude. I really appreciate this. Our advice and opinions and those of our guests are their own, and yeah, I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer and I'm sure as heck not a doctor or a therapist, so do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. I can barely hold my own life together sometimes, just like anybody else. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. That's for sure for this episode, come on. So she the show with those you love and even those you don't. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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