Rolling up the Rio Tapajós, one of the major tributaries of the Amazon River, is a peaceful yet monotonous journey. After passing the bustling city of Santarém at the river’s mouth, there is precious little else to see. To the west is the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve (known locally as Resex), while the Tapajós National Forest (Flona) lies to the east. The lower Tapajós basin is so wide that it’s rare to be able to see both of its banks at the same time. While the dense rainforest is visually striking, after the first hundred kilometers it does start to get repetitive.
Twelve hours into the trip, however, the banks narrow and the clear waters of the Tapajós meander westward. And as if out of nowhere, a large water tower emerges from over the horizon, marked with the faded lettering of the Ford Motor Company. Approaching ever closer, the forest gives way to factory buildings, warehouses, and an old church. This is Fordlândia: a decaying monument to American industrialism, right in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon.
As unlikely as it may sound, Fordlândia was built in 1928 by notorious American industrialist Henry Ford, who had the daring idea of buying millions of acres of land from the Brazilian government and transforming them into a rubber plantation, hoping to serve as a source of the material for the Ford Motor Company back in the United States.