Noble savages, lost cities, pristine wilderness—Amazonia has always conjured romantic myths and stereotypes. But what is the jungle really like in the 21st century? In 2011 I set out to find the answer.
My interest actually began in 2008, when I was working with an indigenous community to reforest a patch of northeastern Brazil. The youngsters in the village liked to talk about the purity of tribal life, but it was a borrowed nostalgia. Like most kids their age, they danced, drank, and played soccer. One evening they refused to take me to a party; I wasn’t dressed well enough. At that moment I realized how much our perceptions and projections can differ from reality.
After that I started to read books about Amazonia. One of them was an account of the Spanish soldier Francisco de Orellana’s voyage down the Amazon River in the 1540s—the first European exploration of the region (but not, of course, the last). I decided to follow in the footsteps of that expedition, to see what the route is like today.