Roraima: Venezuela’s Lost World
By David Joshua Jenning
Today the air is spicy with the smoke of grass fires, which rise up along the horizon, lit by the Pemon to chase snakes away from their villages.
We trek along a trail that snakes through the hills of the rolling savannah, which is nearly treeless and covered in knee-deep grass. We basically have the landscape to ourselves.
As we trek, Roraima and Kukenaam loom constantly in the distance, growing larger with each footstep.
I watch the color of the walls change with the sun’s movement, from black to ochre-pink, and become thoughtless, hypnotized by Roraima’s beauty, drifting forward much like a moth towards the irresistible glow of a bug zapper. These are truly mysterious mountains.
The first day’s hike lasts about five hours and we arrive just as the evening clouds are threading themselves between the mountains, obscuring all but the west wall of Roraima.
The camp is lively with travelers, including a large group of old French tourists heading the same way as us. They are all in name-brand mountaineering clothing, sitting in chairs, smoking cigarettes, drinking red wine.
I am wondering where all these luxuries came from when I notice the enormous band of porters that accompanies them, more than one porter per person. I notice they also have a portable bathroom, which I am informed is only for the French, who hired a porter to carry it on his back.
Before bed, I walk to the river to observe the mountains while letting icy water flood into my drinking bottle. I find myself searching for mysterious flying objects and signs of light. Roberto’s stories have gotten to me.
All that night I roll around in my tent, kept awake by bizarre dreams involving aliens.
In the morning the French, whom I now consider adversaries, simply walk from their tents, breakfast, and take off with their aluminum hiking rods clicking the ground like a brigade of praying mantises.
Their porters must break their camp, collect their trash, and rush off to overtake them so as to have the next camp prepared before they arrive.
The day begins with a river crossing. The water is waist deep and we must wear socks for traction over the slippery rocks. We hike all day across swaying fields of grass to a second, more complicated river crossing, which is deeper, wider and has a current strong enough that, if crossed without caution, it could easily whisk you downstream with all of your equipment.
I nearly slip and fall on my way across while the French are on the other side splashing around in the water, having crossed easily without the burden of heavy packs.
When we reach base camp we have many hours of sunlight to enjoy the pleasant weather and spectacular view of Roraima, with its treacherously steep walls rising above us.
Evening brings the clouds that nightly enshroud the mountains, and then rain. We huddle into a half-destroyed straw hut for dinner and, after the rain stops, rest for the arduous climb tomorrow.
Roberto recommended we repeat a little prayer at various times throughout the trek, a request to the spirits of Roraima for safe passage, which now, after another night of frightening, psychotropic dreams, I do.
“We come in peace,” I whisper. “We come in harmony. Please gives us safety and good weather. Amen.”
Today my food load is lighter and I feel the difference while trudging up the muddy trails. The trek up the wall is a steep, difficult climb through waterfall mist and up enormous boulders.
Upon reaching the summit a wave of energy hits me, that euphoria Roberto warned us about. I immediately abandon my pack and go leaping around the rocks.
The environment up top is otherworldly, similar to the apocalyptic landscape of Mordor in Lord of the Rings, with giant craggy boulders carpeted in moss, black craters and steaming fissures that stretch as far as the eye can see.
There is an ever-present, eerie fog out of which bizarre rock formations appear and disappear, shaped like mushrooms, elephants, flying turtles, cathedrals and even Fidel Castro. Everywhere are pools, trickling streams and beaches of pink sand.
Among fields of scattered crystals rise crooked, withered trees and drooping orchids. Purple carnivorous plants sprout among hundreds of miniature pastel flowers. A few yards in front of me a mohawked bird swoops to snatch up a tiny, oil-black frog.
Roger shows us to our “hotel,” a cave-like crevice underneath a wing of overhanging rock that shields out wind and rain. The fog floods the barren landscape shortly after, making it impossible to see very far. That evening, after it clears, we trek to ledge for a spectacular view of the Venezuelan Savannah just as the sun is setting.
That night in my tent, rolling back and forth on the hard cold ground, my head is full of Roberto’s stories. Outside, the summit is as quiet as a tomb and I can’t help but feel that something is coming for me.
I would like to assert that I am probably not insane, nor would I believe any story of paranormal activity without experiencing it myself, but up on top of Roraima things, as Roberto said, are downright spooky.
There is a constant feeling that you are being watched, or that you are interacting with invisible beings.
We spend our two days on the summit trudging across the rock fields behind Roger, bathing in the sparkling ice pools, huddling in caves to escape the perpetual fog and rain.
The final morning Roger takes us to the ledge above Guyana and I sit and dangle my feet above the 400 meters of air that separates me from the steamy rainforests of Guyana. Opposite me, separated by a mile or two of jungle, stands Kukenaam.
A waterfall leaps from its lip and falls in slender, slowly expanding streams until crashing back against the mountain and blowing off in puffs of steam. Roger tells us it is the fourth highest in the world. Below are four smaller waterfalls gushing out from the cloud forest and pouring into the jungle. Mist is everywhere.
I have survived Roraima without being abducted. Although I did not see any aliens, I cannot help but feel I encountered something. Even now I get goose bumps when I think of that mysterious, lost world.
David Joshua Jennings lives in Istanbul, Turkey, where he studies English and Philosophy at Boaziçi University. His short stories, travel essays, and poetry have appeared in The Windmill, Transitions Abroad, and Bradt Travel, and he has contributed to two travel guides about Colombia and Venezuela.
Read more GoNOMAD articles by David Joshua Jennings:
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