Sunday, 21 August 2011

Some strange country of nightmares...

Mount Roraima is a gigantic sandstone plateau that rises some 2,800 metres above sea level. It was made famous in 1912 when Arthur Conan Doyle published his classic novel ‘The Lost World’, in which the intrepid adventurer Professor Challenger scaled a South American plateau to uncover a mysterious prehistoric land of dinosaurs, ape men and a lost human civilization.

Conan Doyle was inspired by the British botanist Everard Im Thurn, who in December 1884 became the first person to reach Roraima’s summit, describing it as “some strange country of nightmares”. This was my own inspiration to travel to Venezuela and discover a lost world that has remained unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs.

After two days of trekking through the rolling hills of the fire-scorched Gran Sabana you reach the foot of Roraima’s daunting cliff-face, which appears to tower far into the heavens and beyond. Our Pemon guides explained the legends behind Roraima and the other ‘tepuis’, which they believed were the home of the gods, and canaimas, their evil spirits. It is easy to see why, as the clouds often mask the summit, allowing your imagination to run wild.

The climb itself is tiring, yet spectacular. For a little over four hours you walk through cloud forest, clamber over tripping roots and scramble up rocky slopes. At one point you need to cross a cascading waterfall, which marks the start of the steepest point of the climb – it was incredible to witness the speed at which our Pemon guides climbed up this section carrying backpacks twice their size, wearing Manchester United shirts 
and a colourful combination of wellington boots and croc sandals.

When you finally reach the summit you are met with a sight that simply takes your breath away - bizarre rock formations carved by millions of years of relentless rain and wind, towering stone labyrinths, an entire valley layered with beautiful quartz crystals and dark chasms that drop hundreds of feet, one slip leading to certain death. Oh, and water, lots and lots of water – after all this is the wettest destination on the planet.

The summit could easily be mistaken for some weird alien landscape, or the ideal setting for the next Hollywood blockbuster. It is a hostile environment, which we spent four days exploring and marvelling at how any species could live on this cold, damp summit, let alone thrive. Scorpions, tarantulas, amphibians and carnivorous pitcher-plants were found in every nook and cranny – some were even described as ‘living fossils’ because they hadn’t changed in seventy million years.

On the final day we climbed Roraima’s highest peak - aptly named ‘The Maverick’ - which provided the perfect setting to reflect on a journey that takes you back in time. The incredible view of the sun setting over the Gran Sabana will stay with me forever, as will the uniqueness and wonder of this ancient world – you are almost left disappointed when you don’t see pterodactyls flying away into the horizon. 

To book your ticket to the Premiere of The Lost World, introduced by Michael Palin at the Royal Geographical Society on Tuesday 13th September 2011 please visit

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