I was in the bookstore a few months ago searching for an adventure book to help occupy myself through being stuck at home during COVID. As I pursued the history section, I came across the book “The Lost City of Z.” On the cover is a jungle eating the title. The subtitle is “A Tale Of Deadly Obsession In the Amazon.”
Deadly obsession and Amazon exploration, sounded right up my ally.
After purchasing the book I realized I had read another book by the author, David Grann, called “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which details the Osage murders in northern Oklahoma. I really enjoyed “Killers of the Flower Moon,” so I knew I would enjoy this book too.
And “The Lost City of Z” did not disappoint. The book tells the story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who made several trips deep into the Amazon rainforest in search of what he believed a highly sophisticated ancient civilization. The Lost City of Z is not to be confused with El Dorado. in which the quest a few centuries before lead explorers to their deaths searching for gold and great treasure.
Although the Amazon was greatly unexplored, the idea of El Dorado had become more and more doubt when Fawcett led his expeditions.
Fawcett took his first trip to the Amazon was in 1906-1907 where he mapped the border between Bolivia and Brazil for the Royal Geographic Society. The mission was said to have nearly 700 miles of impassible terrain. In addition to the terrain, there were a plethora of dangers—like cannibals, venomous snakes, piranhas, starvation, disease, and so many bugs including my favorite the botfly.
“Deep down inside me a tiny voice was calling. At first scarcely audible, it persisted until I could no longer ignore it. It was the voice of wild places, and I knew it was now part of me forever.”Percy Fawcett.
The fly’s larva becomes a parasite under its host’s skin. One of Fawcett’s men describes how he could feel the worm moving under his skin, and it caused great pain.
Just thinking of it moving under my skin is enough to turn me off.
Fawcett led a total of seven expeditions looking for his Lost City of Z. And, this is not a spoiler alert because it’s on the cover of the book, but he and his men, including his son, never returned from the last expedition in 1925. There are theories of what happened to him. And at the end of “The Lost City of Z,” the author Grann allows the reader to formulate their own hypothesis.
One thing I really enjoyed about the book is how Grann interjects his personal story of searching for Fawcett in the Amazon. Another aspect I really enjoyed about the story is that Fawcett was one of the last great explorers.
He and his men had no comforts of modern technology. They had no Gortex, Garmin InReach, or ultralight backpacking gear. They spent years deep in the wilderness. Toward the end of his life, technology was improving. Fawcett’s main rival was able to explore the area with airplanes and radios. However, not having as much funding as his rival, even Fawcett’s last trip was pretty basic.
If you are looking for an adventure-read that will help you think “it could be way worse” on your next backpacking trip, I would suggest “The Lost City of Z.” I enjoyed how much I learned about Fawcett. But I also enjoyed how much I learned about the Amazon, as well as the people who have called it home since the begging of time.
“The Lost City of Z” is also a movie starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller. It’s available on Amazon Prime, but of course, the book is way better.