In the deepest rainforest of Venezuela, mysterious plateaus rise for more than 2700 mt( approx. 8860 ft). From above, they look like floating islands over a cloudy sea. These take the name of Tepuis, which in the local language of the Pemón’s population means “mountain”. The most famous one called Roraima.
Once inaccessible to anybody, apart from the indigenous Pemón, Mount Roraima was really a Lost World: the plateaus were already formed back to when Southern America and Africa were all part of the same big conglomerate, aka Gondwana. Tepuis were formed something between 400 and 250 millions years ago, and their appearance most likely didn’t change much in the last 20 millions year.
Tepuis are unique-shaped formations, for which many explorers and writers got fascinated by throughout the centuries. One of them was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: in his “The Lost World“, from 1912, he narrates the story of a group of explorers. Once arrived on the top of Mount Roraima, they find themselves in this timeless place where dinosaurs as well as other thought extinct creatures were still existing undisturbed in those hidden lands. Book aside though, there are still people nowadays believing that this scenario might be true.
Illustration from the book “The Lost World” by Arthur Conan Doyle
The plateaus are located so far and look so singular that it didn’t take much inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to associate them to a prehistoric environment, full of plants and ancient animals. The writer got so charmed by the tales of the explorer/botanist Everard Im Thurn to the point that he went all the way up to Mount Roraima himself on December 1884.
Meet up with the Iguanodons – Illustration from “The Lost World”
These plateaus, due to their isolated condition, give us a valuable representation of the flora and fauna evolution. It is estimated that more than half of the 10,000 plants present in them can only be found on tepuis and the nearby plateaus. “New species are yet to be discovered“(Uwe George, 1989). Although all tepuis have been climbed, only a few ones have been fully explored. May this suggest that some extinct species, such as
dinosaurs, could still inhabit the rocky surfaces of the Venezuelan plateau?
The German explorer Uwe George whom investigated Mount Roraima in 1989 for the National Geographic Society, said: “None of us who followed Im Thurn to Roraima have found primordial creatures or their fossil remains there, but the terrain is so difficult that only a fraction of the tepuis 44 square miles has so far been explored”. From that moment onwards many other research on Roraima have been conducted but no dinosaurs tracks have been identified.
Before the Europeans arrived, Venezuelans would associate to tepuis a mythical meaning. According to the Native American Pemón, Mount Roraima is “the stump of an extraordinary tree that once was producing all the tuberose fruits and plants you could think of “. The tale goes on “The tree was cut down by one of the ancestors, so it fell down and smashed into the ground leading to a horrible flood“(Naeem, 2011). The natives would believe that if you were to reach the top of the tepuis, you wouldn’t have come back alive.
Climbing a tepuis is a thorough challenge especially for the recurring rain which makes the rocky path rather slippery and muddy. The very first European explorer who described those plateaus was Sir Walter Raleigh, in 1595. He wrote about a mountain covered by diamonds (he was most likely talking about the valley of the crystals in Roraima, filled up with quartz stones) as well as waterfalls, who was probably referring to the Angel Falls, running through the tepui named Auyantepui.
These days travellers do not risk of bumping into scary dinosaurs or prehistoric animals, but still they can catch sign of a black frog or some tarantula that could not be found anywhere else on this planet.