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Discovering the ‘Lost World’ in Venezuela

Discovering the ‘Lost World’ in Venezuela

Posted by Juan Gavasa on February 23, 2015

Desolate and otherworldly, the mystical Mount Roraima draws thousands of visitors each year – but at a price.

Once impenetrable to all but the Pemon indigenous people, several thousand hikers a year now make the three-day trek across savannah, through rivers, under a waterfall and along a narrow path scaling the cliffs of Mount Roraima – a flat-topped mountain on the Venezuela-Brazil border that perplexed early explorers and inspiredThe Lost World novel.

While the throngs are a boon to Venezuela’s tottering tourism industry, they also scatter a prehistoric landscape with unwanted litter and strain a delicate ecosystem.

Standing at more than 2,800m, Roraima is sacred ground for the Pemons and a spiritual symbol for many other Venezuelans. “It used to be more solitary and inhospitable,” recalls Felix Medina, a 59-year-old guide who has been taking people up the mountain for more than a decade.

“I still love it, but there are too many people,” says Medina, his calves aching after leading two groups up and down Roraima with the local Akanan tour agency. “It’s chaotic sometimes.”

Discovery: Porters travelling on the path heading towards Mount Roraima, located on the Venezuela-Brazil border. – Reuters

Between 3,000 and 4,000 people climb the mountain each year, up from hundreds a few years ago. That creates queues during peak times over Christmas and Easter, and sometimes leaves the few sheltered coves at the top crammed with tents. Helicopters bring wealthy foreign tourists, especially from Japan, to the summit.

“It’s an exotic, faraway destination so it’s both very costly and very attractive,” says retired Japanese diplomat Edo Muneo, 68, who like other compatriots, had to pass a physical test before leaving Japan for Roraima.

“Houses of the Gods”

In Pemon language, the flat-topped mountains across southeastern Venezuela are known as tepuis, which means “houses of the gods.” Standing majestically next to Roraima is Kukenan, another tepui, infamous among the Pemons as a site where their ancestors once jumped off and committed suicide.

Out of season, both mountains have the peaceful aura appropriate to one of the Earth’s most ancient formations.

A view of Mount Roraima (right) and its neighbouring mountain, Kukenan, against a starry sky. – Reuters

On Roraima’s vast plateau, strange and gnarled rocks, formed when the African and American continents scraped apart, play with the mind, humorous in the sun, ghostly in the mist.

In British author Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 classic The Lost World, dinosaurs attack a group of explorers amid the rocks and swamps of that fantasy landscape.

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