Venezuela may not have the historic draw of Peru or the adventurous treks of Patagonia, but the country lets itself down with its lack of touristic invitation. It has not had any form of tourist campaign in over 20 years, which is a shame because it holds some of the most “out of this world” places on the planet. I was lucky enough to hike up one.
The sacred Roraima was recently used by Disney/Pixar for their new children’s movie "Up!," and once you make it to the top it is not hard to imagine why. The fictional name in the movie is “Paradise Falls,” and as I looked out from the top of the table mountain, it is clear how they came up with the name. In fact, it is quite unimaginative, as this could easily be paradise and the falls that topple off the surrounding mountain tops are as beautiful as any snow-capped peak.
In addition to this, Roraima is where Arthur Conan Doyle, when he wasn't writing about Sherlock Holmes, placed his 1912 story "The Lost World," about scientists attacked by dinosaurs and ape men in a land cut off from the rest of the world. This flat-topped mountain, 9,200 feet tall, is encircled by cliffs that shoot straight up 1,300 feet or more. In Doyle's book, nothing can climb to the top, and nothing can climb down.
With Marisol as our guide we proved him wrong. After three grueling days hiking to the top, the reward was immediate: a strange, misshapen, eerie world. After only one night’s rest, we were taking a walk across the maze of rocks and barren land to find some of the treasures that are hidden in this unique landscape. The trek to the top runs along a fairly well cut and marked path, but once you clamber over the final ridge, the landscape becomes something completely unfamiliar and for that reason all visitors must have an experienced guide.
Our group set off at eight a.m. with a minimum of a nine hour walk ahead. The walk was fast-paced, and we were clambering over boulders and jumping from rock to rock. It was quite fun and exciting, but very, very tiring – not a trip for the unfit! After only about an hour I was exhausted! We saw the famous rock formations; legend has it that only those who have gone crazy from the isolation at the top can see them. I must be a poco loco because I saw everything clearly - from the boot, to the heart, to the camel.
In addition to this, the isolation of the area has created an abundance of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Our first encounter was a tiny black frog so primitive that it hasn't yet learned to hop but, when threatened, baffles its enemies by turning itself into a ball and rolling off the rocks. There are also flowers that can't get enough nourishment from the thin soil, so they entice insects to sip their nectar, then trap and devour them.
As I continued on the journey to the other side of the mountain, I was struck by how much blackness there was – black earth, black bogs, and of course the wee black frogs! There was even a black hole – of silence.