When asked to conjure up a typical Brazilian landscape, the images that flood most people's minds are inevitably of the tropical coastline carpeted in lush Mata Atântica , the parched, desert-like Caatinga  of the Northeastern interior, the cayman-infested wetlands of the Pantanal , or the vast river-veined canopy of the Amazon Forest . Rarely anyone ever thinks of - or, for that matter, has even heard of - the Cerrado , - and yet, this unsung ecosystem is Brazil's second largest (after the Amazon), covering approximately 23 percent of the country's vast territory.
Spread across the highland plains of Brazil's Central-West region that stretches north and west from Minas Gerais , the Cerrado is the world's most biologically rich savanna. It's impressive that, of its more than 10,000 plant species, 45 percent are exclusive to the area. More frightening is the fact that, unlike more talked about environmental activist darlings such as the Amazon and the Mata Atlântica, whose natural treasures (or what's left of them) are at least somewhat preserved within the boundaries of private and government nature reserves, less than 3 percent of the Cerrado is currently protected. Since the 1960s, when the Central-West began to experience large-scale development as a result of the inauguration of the nation's brand new capital of Brasília, more than half of the region's native Cerrado has been partially or totally destroyed.
Growing up, I spent two years living in East Africa and the contrast of rich red earth and scrubby brush against an impossibly luminous blue sky was very reminiscent of the scene that whipped by the windows of the bus that Luíz and I took as we traveled from Uberlândia  (known as the "Gateway to the Cerrado") to his hometown of Araguari, some 30km away.
Luiz wasn't even really aware that he had grown up in the Cerrado, but when I started manically dashing up and down the aisles of the almost empty bus in order to take high speed photos of the tableau of tawny grasses, thorny bushes, and thick-barked trees that was rushing by, he developed a sudden latent pride in his boyhood biome. He began regaling me with childhood tales of him and his pals hunting for typical Cerrado delights such tatu (armadillos) and tamanduá (anteaters), which they caught with traps and then skinned, cleaned, and roasted over fires. (In order not to completely lose face, I told Luiz about my boyhood memories of catching Oscar Meyer weiners as my father flipped them off the backyard barbecue).
Today, both giant armadillos, which weigh up to 28 kilos (60 pounds), and giant anteaters measuring 2 meters (7 feet), whose tongues can stretch to lengths of 60cm (2 feet) and suck up ants at a rate of 150 tongue flicks a minute are on the endangered species list as are other Cerrado residents such as the Cerrado fox, maned wolf, jaguar, Brazilian tapir, and Pampas deer. This is less the fault of Luiz and his pals than of the spread of large-scale farming and agro-industrial activities that have encroached upon an estimated 90 percent of previously untamed scrub, grasslands, and trees, which range from primitive-looking buriti palms to ipês, easily recognizable by their branches exploding in yellow blossoms, and pequi trees, whose orange fruit is used in local cooking.
Although much of western Minas contains Cerrado, the state that is most synonymous with this biome is Goías , where you'll still find expanses of this unique natural eco-system, particularly in preserved areas such as the stunning Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros .
Meanwhile, back in Minas, by the time we got to Araguari, Luiz – who can rarely visit a place without contemplating the purchase of a plot of land (in the country) or an apartment (in the city) – was already planning on buying a little patch of Cerrado for himself in the near future. I hope he actually follows through with the plan so that I can come visit.