The California Native International Adventures

Since 1983

From The California Native Newsletter:

Journey to the Lost World

Venezuela's Mt. Roraima By Ellen Klein

“From the side of the plateau on which we were, slopes of woodland, with occasional glades, stretched down for 5 or 6 miles to the central lake. I could see at my very feet the glade of the iguanodons, and farther off was...the swamp of the pterodactyls...I could see a number of dark holes...which I conjectured to be the mouths of the caves.”

The Lost World, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Roraima Tepuy strikes a mystical silhouette against the cloudy southeastern Venezuelan sky and after three days of hiking and climbing, we reached its top. I looked expectantly for dinosaurs and cavemen, but saw only spectacular rock formations, exotic foliage and pools of water. Some of the rocks did resemble dinosaurs, however, and I knew we had arrived at the “lost world” made famous in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel.

Tepuy is the Pemon Indian word for “tabletop mountain.” These ancient volcanic mesas dot the landscape of Venezuela’s Gran Sabana. Each tepuy has its own unique ecological system where plants and animals, at one time thought to be extinct, still exist. Much of this area is encompassed by Canaima National Park, covering 11,600 square miles of grassy plains, tropical rainforests and rivers. Its unique flora includes endemic insectivorous plants, colossal bromeliads and fabulous orchids. The area is famous for the beauty of its waterfalls which cascade down from the Tepuys, including Angel Falls, the world’s highest.

Roraima Tepuy is situated in the three-country-triangle formed by Venezuela, Guayana and Brazil. The highest of the Tepuys, at over 9700 feet, its surface measures 12 square miles. Roraima, meaning “mother of all waters” in the Pemon Indian language, was first reported by Sir Walter Raleigh when he explored the area in his search for El Dorado, the fabled land of gold. In 1884 two English explorers were the first to climb to the top of the tepuy.

Climbing Roraima was truly an adventure. We spent our first two days crossing the Gran Sabana, enjoying its landscape, and wading across the Tek and Kukenan Rivers. On the third day we left the base camp and headed up the massive walls on a rocky trail, climbing through tropical rain forests and sheer cliffs affording spectacular views. At one point we were soaked as the trail led us through a waterfall. When we reached the top, it was almost like walking on the moon—like nothing I had ever experienced before in my life. Strange formations of black igneous rock, believed to be over 1.8 million years old and eroded into all manner of strange shapes, dotted the landscape. Growing amidst the rocks were strange carnivorous plants. Cascades of water formed pools which sparkled in the bazaar landscape. Shallow caves along ledges in the eroding rock made a perfect “hotel” for pitching our tent.

Atop the tepuy the weather changes constantly, as clouds rolling over cause one minute to be grey and dark, and the next bright and sunny, then the scenery fades behind a curtain of light rain. We spent two nights in this lost world, exploring the flora and fauna, and the crystal valleys where thousands of quartz crystals cover the ground. At night the skies were spectacular.

We bathed in the “jacuzzis,” small deep pools among the rocks. Others did a more strenuous hike to “three points,” a stone that marks the point where the three national borders meet. We also climbed the “car,” a rock formation that looks very much like a Ford Fairlane, and happens to be the highest point on the tepuy, offering a spectacular view of the Gran Sabana below.

It took us two days to hike back to the trailhead in the Indian town of Paraytepui, where Pemon Indians who work for the park carefully check every bag to make sure no crystals have been taken, and that everything, including all trash, that went up the mountain came back down.

No dinosaurs at the top of Roraima but an unforgettable adventure in a lost world!

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