IN THE LOST WORLD
Photo © Jerome Bernard-Abou
in the Lost World can be as difficult as it is rewarding.
Attempting to see the region independently requires
time, effort and decent walking boots. Oh yes, and patience
and good waterproofs.
Check out the
point and click MAP for the best introduction to the Gran Sabana and Canaima
or see this list
The Gran Sabana is
still a remote and sparsely populated part of the planet. It is
arguably one of the last great frontiers. Only about 50,000 people
live in an area the size of Belgium, while much of this area is
only familiar to the Pemon who have historically inhabited Wekta,
Land of Mountains and Tei Pun, the Great Plain.
Until the 1980s, the main highway connecting
southern Venezuela and northern Brazil wasn't paved. It could take
days to reach Santa Elena de Uairen from El Dorado and Kilometro
88 to the north. The early settlers in El Pauji, 70kms west of Santa
Elena often used to be cut off due to the impassable dirt road (they
were again in 1999!), or else had to travel in convoys to reach
town. It seems incredible that missions were established in the
region in such remote locations as Kamarata and Wonken as early
as the 1950s. The fevered goldminers who flocked to the region as
far back as the 1940s took huge risks in their search for gold and
diamonds in such an isolated region.
The Gran Sabana is still,
in many ways, a Lost World.
Discovering the Gran Sabana today isn't like it used to be, the early
settlers will tell you. Regular bus services run along the slick
highway, planes come and go, jeeps buzz about. There are shops,
lodges, park wardens, tour operators, telephones and three-star
accomodation. You can get to most places without too much trouble.
But it's also true to say that if you
want to explore, to walk all day long and not see a soul or sit
by a waterfall undisturbed for hours, the Gran Sabana has many,
many secrets to uncover. As soon as you leave the immediate vicinity
of the highway, you are back in time a hundred years or more.
This site, however, is not here to
promote tourism, although there are details of where to go and how.
This site aims to enrich our experience of this land, and as a result
come to respect it all the more. Until the present tourist infrastructure
for the region is improved, it would be irresponsible to encourage
thousands of people to go there. If the volume of tourists to the
Gran Sabana does increase, as it has done over the last two decades,
it is essential they be sensitized to
the environment -- both human and natural -- they're entering. This
is what the Lost World site is about, please take your time to explore
If you need more of the nitty-gritty
of where to go, how and how much it costs, please buy a guidebook
such as the Traveler's
Venezuela Companion, Lonely Planet, Footprint, Bradt, or The
South American Handbook. If you would like to contribute to this
site with information, photos or stories, please
see the contacts section.
The only tourist
guide currently available to the region is Roberto Marrero's Guia de la Gran Sabana which recently appeared in
English. You can find it in some bookshops in Caracas, Ciudad Bolivar,
and at shops and stops in the Gran Sabana itself. He has also published
various maps, which are great to get a better idea
of the region, despite being somewhat confusing... His latest map
records the sightings of extra-terrestrial activity, a subject very
dear to Marrero's heart. Rightly or wrongly, he has been criticised
from many quarters for this latest publication. You can make your
own mind up...
The latest book to be published is The Ecological Guide to the Gran Sabana, published
by The Nature Conservancy, in English and Spanish (Huber, O., G.
Febres & H. Arnal, eds. 2001. Ecological Guide to the Gran Sabana,
Canaima National Park , Venezuela. The Nature Conservancy, Caracas,
Venezuela. 192 pp. ISBN: 980-07-7987-6).
It makes an invaluable companion for
those interested in the region's fauna and flora. It also contains
practical details of how to enjoy the park's wonders. For more information,
contact: The Nature Conservancy, Marie Christine Martin firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another addition to the literature
of the region is the Traveller's Reference Guide-Map of Mount Roraima.
It's published by Emilio Perez and Adrian Warren. It's a great work,
with excellent detailed maps of Roraima and Kukenan, as well as
lots of background information on the mountains' history, and their
flora, fauna and climate. You can find out more and order a copy
Please note that the epistomology of
the Gran Sabana is highly confusing. Due to the three different sub-groups
of the Pemon (Kamakoto, Arekuna and Taurepan), early British and
German explorers and later Venezuelan colonisation, many places
in the region have several types of spelling, and even different
names altogether. Matawi Tepuy is the original Pemon name for Kukenan
(also spelt as Cuquenan, Kukenam...). However, since its waterfall
is the source of the river Kukenan, the name has been corrupted.
Roraima should be [roroima] since this means blue-green in Pemon.
Also, according to the Pemon, the letter [c] doesn't exist in the
written form of language they've devised. Thus Canaima, Cavac and
Camarata should all be spelt with a [k]. This is all part of the
evolution of the region, but confusing nonetheless...
On a preaching note, it goes
without saying that the cliché "Take only photos and
leave only footprints" applies to the Gran Sabana.
Unfortunately, even footprints cause damage. Anyone trekking to
Roraima will know what I'm talking about. Erosion due to four-wheel
drive vehicles in the region is also considerable. My advice if
travelling by hire-car is to stick to the existing roads, and not
be tempted by short-cuts around holes which only cause more destruction.
When walking or trekking, stay on the paths and don't trample adjacent
vegetation. Damage inflicted to Roraima Tepuy over the last decade
or so has been criminal. People have pick-axed
crystal rocks to take home, torn down vegetation for firewood and
defecated all over the place. Tepuis should be revered as sacred,
spiritual places, and are not playgrounds for our infantile stimulation.
Please encourage eco-awareness and contact groups listed in the links and contacts section
of this site to make a postive contribution this unique and fragile
part of our planet. Enough preaching...
to take when travelling to the region
Find out about Dominic Hamilton's
in the Lost World book...