Mount Roraima: a floating island shrouded in clouds
Deep in the rainforests of Venezuela, mysterious highlands rise to more than 2,700 meters above sea level, but seen from above they look like islands floating on a sea of clouds. They are the tepuis, which in the native Pemón language means “the house of gods”, and the most popular of which is called Monte Roraima.
Mount Roraima is surrounded by three different countries (Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana) whose borderlines intersect on the massive shelf, with all four sides being sheer 400-meter high cliffs. Mount Roraima, part of Venezuela’s 30000-square-kilometer Canaima National Park, is the site of the highest peak of the country of Guyana’s Highland Range.
Once impenetrable to all, except for the indigenous Pemón, Mount Roraima was truly a lost world: the highlands already existed when South America was still united with Africa, to form the super-continent Gondwana. The tepuis were formed perhaps between 400 and 250 million years ago, even if mountains of this range are considered to be some of the oldest geological formations known, some dating back to two billion years ago, and the current appearance of the region is probably similar to that of about 20 million years ago.
The tepuis are so unique in their conformation, that they have fascinated explorers and writers for centuries, included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: in his book The Lost World, 1912, he told the story of a group of explorers who, having reached the top of Mount Roraima, they found themselves in a place left out of time, with dinosaurs and other creatures believed to be extinct, still alive on the remote plateaus. Even today some people think that this is a real possibility.
The highlands are such a distant and unique place that it was probably not difficult for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to imagine a world inhabited by prehistoric plants and dinosaurs. The writer was fascinated by the tales of the British explorer/botanist Everard Im Thurn, who climbed to the top of Mount Roraima in December 1884.
These solitary plateaus, thanks to their isolation, provide a living representation of the processes of evolution of flora and fauna, and “at least half of the species among about 10,000 plants, live only on the tepuis and in the surrounding highlands. New species are still being discovered.”(Uwe George, 1989).
Although all the tepuis have been visited, only a few have been widely explored. Could this mean that some supposedly extinct species, including dinosaurs, can still live on the high rocky plateaus of the Venezuelan highlands?German explorer Uwe George, who climbed Mount Roraima in 1989 for the National Geographic Society, wrote: “None of us who followed in the footsteps of Im Thurn on Roraima found primordial creatures or their fossil remains there, but the terrain is so difficult that only a part of the tepui, of 44 square miles, has been explored so far.”
From that moment until today, many other studies have been conducted on Mount Roraima and, of course, no traces of dinosaurs have been found.
Culturally, the mountain has long held significance to the indigenous people of the area and features prominently in their myths and folklore. Before the arrival of the Europeans, the natives of Venezuela attributed to the tepuis a mythical meaning and revered Mount Roraima as a regional symbol, referring to it as the “axis mundi”. According to the Pemón Indians, Mount Roraima is the stump of a portentous tree, which once produced all the tuberous fruits and vegetables of the world, but then was felled by one of their ancestors, unleashing a terrible flood.
The Pemón also believed anyone who climbed to the top of the tepuis would not come back alive.
Climbing to the top of the tepuis is extremely difficult, also due to the frequent rains, which make the rocky paths slippery and muddy. The first European explorer to describe the highlands was Sir Walter Raleigh, in 1595. He wrote about a mountain of crystal covered with diamonds (probably the Valley of crystals of Mount Roraima, covered with quartz), and waterfalls, probably the Salto Angel, which descends from the Auyantepui tepui.
Today’s travelers, even if do not run the risk of running into dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, can see other oddities like black frogs or tarantulas that do not live anywhere else on the planet, and Its near daily rains have also created a unique ecosystem which includes other endemic species, such as a unique carnivorous pitcher plant, and some of the highest waterfalls in the world, including the dramatic waterfalls that inspired the 2009 Pixar film “Up”, dubbed “Paradise Falls” in the movie.
Images from web.