The Amazon tends to evoke an Edenic vision—of a mysterious and impenetrable land, pregnant with beasts from jaguars to anacondas, rich with undiscovered flora. But parts of it are incongruous with this reputation, where big rig trucks rumble past dilapidated, grime-covered gas stations, and where land once thick with brambly trees and the promise of jungle adventure has become cattle pasture or soy field.
We are traveling on a road unimaginatively named BR-163. Pull up Google Maps and zoom in to the state of Mato Grosso, and find the thin strand of highway wending up across the state. Branching out are perpendicular brown lines, all of them unmistakably cleared land, cutting into and contrasting with the dark green forest. This highway is where agriculture and the Amazon jungle meet.