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David Grann, Author of ‘The Lost City of Z’ Reflects on Venturing into the Amazon

Nicknamed the "Green Hell,” the Amazonian rainforest in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil has long been a place of mystique thanks to British explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared there in 1925 in search of the ancient lost city he simply named, “Z.”

In his 2005 article for The New Yorker, author David Grann attempts to retrace Fawcett’s footsteps, setting out for two months with very little communication with his wife and their newborn child. His research became the bestselling book, The Lost City of Z, detailing Fawcett and company’s journey through the “last great blank space.” With the recent adaptation of Z to the screen, Grann reflects on his time in the Amazon all those years ago, from getting separated from his guide to eating lots of grilled piranha, and explains how you too can journey into the wilderness (just watch out for mosquitoes).

David GrannIllustration by Chantel Delulio

On April 14, the film adaption of Grann’s book starring Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett will hit the big screen.

You, Too, Can Venture Into the Amazon

“If an out-of-shape, half-blind, city person like me can trek through the Amazon, then anybody can. It helps to have a good guide when venturing into the wilderness. And the most important thing before going into these areas is getting the proper inoculations, such as for yellow fever. The greatest danger in the Amazon isn’t big predators; it’s the mosquitoes bearing diseases.”

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The beginning of the journey in James Gray’s THE LOST CITY OF Z, an Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street release.Aidan Monaghan / Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

Indigenous People of the Amazon

“For me, the most interesting part [of researching the book] was having a chance to meet with some of the Amazonian tribes, including the Kuikuro and the Kalapalo. They were extremely welcoming, and they shared with me a good deal of information not only about what happened to Fawcett but also if there really was an ancient civilization in the jungle.”

Getting Swallowed Up by the Green Hell

“The worst thing that happened to me was when one day I got separated from my guide. I had no food or water and found myself wandering in the jungle, alone and scared. Eventually a group of young Kuikuro found me and led me to safety. In general, my expedition was easy compared to Fawcett’s, but that moment gave me a glimpse of the kind of terror he routinely experienced on his journeys.”

Making Sacrifices

“My wife was very understanding, but I know it was not easy. I was gone for more than two months, with very little communication, and we had a newborn child at the time. One of the things I try to show in the book, and which I think the movie captures extremely well, is the toll that these obsessive adventures can take on families. When Fawcett went on many of his expeditions, he would leave his family behind for two to three years, and they would not know if he had survived until he emerged from the forest.”

Charlie Hunnam stars as Percy Fawcett in director James Gray’s THE LOST CITY OF Z, an Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street release. Aidan Monaghan / Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

The Mato Grosso Jungle Today

“Sadly, because of deforestation, much of Mato Grasso looks radically different. In vast areas, the trees and brambles are gone; in their place are endless soybean farms. The territory that remains under indigenous control, however, has preserved much of its natural environment, and if you’re not familiar with the terrain you can indeed get lost, as I did on my trip.”

The crew, on location, work on setting up a river scene for director James Gray’s THE LOST CITY OF Z, an Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street release.Aidan Monaghan / Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

The Mystery Continues…

“There are still remarkable archeological discoveries being made in the Amazon, and scientific explorers are uncovering them. These findings are transforming not only our understanding of Fawcett but also what the Americas looked like before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.”

David Grann

The Lost City of NYC: A Hidden Metropolis in Grann’s Own City

“I don’t know if there are forgotten places, but I am the type who gets lost on my way to work. One of the most interesting realms of New York is the labyrinth of cavernous tunnels underneath the city. I was once able to explore them for a story I was doing on the water supply. These tunnels are like a hidden metropolis.”

On Watching Fawcett’s Journey Unfold Onscreen

“I am a writer and love books, but there is something visceral about watching a scene in three dimensions. Of course, I kept thinking, ‘What kind of person would be so foolish to go looking for a lost city in the jungle?’” 

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