Ever since reading The Worst Journey in the World, an account written by one of the survivors of Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed expedition to the South Pole, I’ve been fascinated by explorers. Until now, I’ve read exclusively about explorers of the Antarctic. The Lost City of Z takes us to the other extreme – the Amazonian jungle.
While the polar explorers are faced with a bleak, desolate and treacherous landscape, freezing temperatures, rationing and storms, those who enter the jungle are faced with dangers that are slightly more numerous – including terrible heat, poisonous flora and fauna, potentially hostile indigenous people and armies of mosquitoes. But much like the polar explorers, those pitting themselves against the jungle share the same zeal (and in some cases mania) for conquering a hostile landscape and being the first to discover the unknown. The Lost City of Z looks at one of these individuals – Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett – a man who already had lots of experience of exploring the jungle under his belt, who in 1925 headed into the jungle in the company of his son and his son’s best friend and never returned. Since then, many missions have attempted to discover the fate of Fawcett and his party, all of which have failed, and many of which also resulted in the disappearance of the searchers.
David Grann tracks the mission of Fawcett, the searchers who followed, and his own attempt to get to the bottom of their disappearance, all while laying bare the horrors that waylay the jungle explorer, from ‘eye lickers’ – bees who attack the pupil, bringing on blindness, piranhas and candiru (fish that swim up the urethra and use barbs to lodge themselves there), to malarial fevers and hallucinations and kidnap happy tribes of indigenous people.
While there can be no real answer to the mystery of how and why Fawcett and his party met their fates, I found this to be a fascinating book nonetheless which, alongside my polar reading, has solidified my conviction that I am best suited to staying at home, safe on my sofa with a well stocked fridge and a stack of books beside me.