Even before you learn about the flower wars or heart-removing rituals to appease bloodthirsty gods, there’s something innately cool about the artifacts and history of the people who dominated Central America before the Europeans turned up and ruined it. But why do so many of us decide to climb up to Macchu Picchu or trek to Chichen Itza? We were indoctrinated as kids, that’s why.
And it began with the greatest cartoon of our youth:
You’re still searching for the Mysterious Cities of Gold
Children of the Sun, see your time has just begun... the theme song is lodged in your mind for all time, but you still haven’t realised how much the adventures of Esteban the foundling, Mendoza the antihero and Zia the kidnapped Incan girl have shaped you as a human. Rediscover all the excitement (and the Condor!) before this series disappears from SBS On Demand. Seriously, cancel your weekend plans and marathon this thing. Someday we will find the cities of goooooold...
PS. They have a historical segment at the end of each episode with real actors. It’s so great.
Monsters In My Pocket unlocked the mysteries of Coatlicue
Maybe you haven’t thought about these brightly coloured beasties since Mum threw them out while you were at school and made you cry, but among the vampires, werewolves and mummies was the most mysterious monster of all – Coatlicue. Looking a lot like a wall with two heads, this was a guy whose name you definitely weren’t pronouncing correctly as you learnt it “eats dirt, then breathes it as a weapon”. Oh, and it isn’t even a guy. She’s the goddess who gave birth to the moon and stars.
Sid Meier’s Colonization put you in the pointy helmet of Pizarro
A spin-off from the Civilization juggernaut, Colonization put you in charge of conquering the New World. Choosing to play the Spanish meant a hefty bonus on attempts to convert the natives to Christianity when you attacked them...meaning they’d flock to your new settlements as indentured workers. It’s realpolitik through game design, and that’s before you discovered one of the seven Cities of Gold that would boost your nation’s coffers.
Gold Cliff gave you the skills to climb crumbling ruins
Most people who remember Nintendo’s Game & Watch series wax lyrical about Donkey Kong, but Gold Cliff was a true gem. You played an explorer who had to leap from platform to platform as the ground disappeared out from under him, trying to grab keys, open treasure chambers and avoid the deadly crab that lurked below. Uhhh, crabs are definitely a core component of Aztec lore, right?
Dungeons & Dragons opened your mind to other fantasy lands
You really wanted that Forgotten Realms box set for Christmas, but Nana got you Maztica instead. After swallowing your disappointment at the lack of information on Elminster’s stats, you discovered a mysterious land of snakey rainbow dragons, jaguar knights and natives being decimated by diseases and war brought by invaders from across the sea. In short, plenty of adventures to be had, even if the whole “feather magic” thing was pretty weird. And technically it’s part of the Forgotten Realms, you supposed.
Paganitzu was the shareware game that made you want to explore
Your dad brought home one of those computer mags with the disk taped to the front, which was full of boring programs for making office work easier and a bunch of shareware games. This time, the highlight was Paganitzu, starring the familiarly named Alabama Smith as an intrepid archaeologist who explores an ancient Aztec pyramid in search of treasure. Despite your begging, Dad never paid for the next two chapters, leaving you with a nameless yearning.
Watch Mysterious Cities of Gold every morning with your corn flakes at 6am every weekday on NITV. You can watch it while eating other meals with the show streaming anytime at SBS On Demand: