Talking travel with David Grann

David Grann, author of the now New York Times Bestselling book “The Lost City of Z” and contributor to various publications such as The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, and Boston Globe, was gracious enough to set aside some precious time to correspond with me via email to talk travel and his latest travel and writing endeavors. This correspondence took place a few weeks ago, but I’ve only just now had the opportunity to post this Q&A.

BY: Thanks for taking time away from your busy book tour to correspond with Gadling. Where are you now, and what are your travel plans (both book and non-book related) for the coming year?
DG: I’ve been working on an article for The New Yorker that has led me to Texas and Oklahoma, two places I’ve never spent much time. I don’t yet know where my next destination will be, as I tend go wherever each new story leads me.

BY: Can you briefly describe for our Gadling readers the kind of traveler you are? How often do you travel? Where is your dream destination? What is your preferred mode of travel?

DG: As I describe in “The Lost City of Z,” I’m not an explorer or an adventurer. I don’t climb mountains or like to camp. But while I’m working on stories, I tend to go places and do things I never would otherwise. I’ve chased giant squid in a violent storm off the coast of New Zealand, crawled through tunnels thousands of feet beneath the street of Manhattan, and searched for a lost city in the middle of the Amazon. I never think of any of these places as my dream destination, but perhaps that is partly why I’m so drawn to them: they transport me into an unfamiliar world.
BY: Based on all of the failed missions to the Amazon to uncover the truth behind the Lost City of Z, why did you feel so compelled to embark on an expedition of your own?
DG: When I first started researching what has been described as “the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century,” I never thought that I would venture into the jungle. My intention was simply to write about Fawcett and the countless numbers who had perished trying to find evidence of his missing party and the City of Z. But one day, in the house of a Fawcett descendent, I uncovered a hidden trove of Fawcett’s diaries and logbooks. These held new clues about his fate and the whereabouts of Z. It was only then that I decided to do something totally out of character and head into the jungle.

BY: How would you qualify “The Lost City of Z” as a traveler’s tale?

DG: The book is partly a travelogue about a little known part of the world; it is also a biography of a once legendary explorer who has since been largely forgotten, and a guide to some of the archeological research that is exploding our perceptions about what the Americas really looked like before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

BY: What did you learn about yourself as a writer/traveler? Would you do anything differently if you had another opportunity to travel in a similar fashion?
DG: I learned a lot about the nature of obsession. I had read about biographers who had been driven slightly mad by their subjects, and that’s how I sometimes felt chasing the specter of Fawcett. And if I could go back in time, the one thing I know I would do differently is make sure that I never became separated from my guide and got lost in the wilderness.

BY: The opening of your book describes an experience you had in the jungle when you felt you were in over your head. You asked yourself, “What am I doing here?” This is something nearly every traveler thinks at least once in their lives. Despite the fears and anxieties one might feel abroad, do you feel traveling is an essential part of the human experience? How so?

DG: I think that the desire to venture to distant places, and to hear stories about such journeys, are deeply ingrained in us. There is a reason why quests are so central to ancient myths and fairy tales, and why people for centuries have made journeys even at the risk of their own lives.

BY: What do you hope readers and travelers will learn from reading “The Lost City of Z”?

DG: I hope that they will learn not only about Fawcett, who was one of most daring and eccentric explorers ever to set foot in the Americas, but also about the Amazon-a wilderness area virtually the size of the continental United States. Even today, the Brazilian government estimates that there are more than sixty Amazonian tribes that have never been contacted by outsiders. Sydney Possuelo, who was in charge of the Brazilian department set up to protect Indian tribes, has said of these groups, “No one knows for sure who they are, where they are, how many they are, and what languages they speak.” In recent years, archeologists, using satellite imagery and ground penetrating radars to pinpoint buried artifacts, have begun to make discoveries that are overturning virtually everything that was once believed about the Amazon and its early inhabitants.

BY: What will be your next project? Has this book made you more or less ambitious to explore other parts or histories in the world?

DG: I’m still not sure what will be my next book. As with “The City of Z,” I often don’t realize I’m fully in the grip of a story, until I’m doing something I never thought I would, like following in the footsteps of an explorer who disappeared in the jungle some eighty years earlier. Yet researching the book-including studying the Victorian era and staying with many of the same Amazonian tribes that Fawcett had on his fateful journey–has only deepened my curiosity about the world.

Mr. Grann’s latest news and events can be found HERE. You can read my review of “The Lost City of Z” HERE. I would like to thank Mr. Grann taking time from his busy book tour and writing schedule to correspond with me, and look forward to his next installment.