Visiting Brasília is like leaping into the future, or at least the future as imagined in the early 1960s. Rising from the red earth of the 3,000-foot Planalto Central (Central Plateau) is one of the world's most singular cities. Its structures crawl and coil along the flat landscape and then shoot up in shafts of concrete and glass that capture the sun's rays.
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of modernity nestles the old and present Brazil—the cerrado (Brazilian savanna), intersected by sluggish rivers, now the land of soybean and sugarcane plantations and cattle ranches. Nevertheless, those who flock to the rugged yet beautiful west have their eyes on the future. The surreal collection of migrants includes opportunists with get-rich-quick schemes; frontier folk with hopes of a solid, stable tomorrow; mystics and prophets who swear by the region's spiritual energy; and dreamers who are convinced that extraterrestrials visit here regularly. For most earthly visitors, however, the high point of the west is the Pantanal, a flood plain the size of Great Britain that's home to an amazing array of wildlife and the ever-present possibilities for adventure.