"It’s June, the start of burning season in the Amazon. Fires are beginning to rage all over the forest, the final stage of clearing land for pasture. The smoke gets so thick it’s visible from space, and hard to breathe down here on the ground. But from where I sit, in a dented pick-up headed south, I can barely see through a storm of dust.
I’m on a highway called BR-163, a rutted road from hell that has been in some state of construction since Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship 40 years ago. I’m deep in the northern state of Pará — 1,500 miles from the Atlantic coast, and a three-day drive to Rio de Janeiro. For the past two hours we’ve been navigating potholes the size of moon craters and swerving around a caravan of tractor-trailers. Winding south through the Xingu basin, BR-163 starts in Santarém, a muggy port city on an Amazon tributary, and ends 1,000 miles south, in Brazil’s breadbasket, the state of Mato Grosso. Literally translated as “thick jungle,” Mato Grosso is where Colonel Fawcett disappeared looking for the Lost City of Z. Now almost entirely denuded, a lot of it looks like Kansas. "