Friday, August 14, 2020

The Guianas: 'Lost World' rediscovered

guianas kaieteur falls

(CNN) — Taking time off from his Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Arthur Conan Doyle penned a tale about a remote corner of South America where dinosaurs and other colossal creatures stilled roamed the earth.

Most readers thought "The Lost World" was entirely fiction. But Conan Doyle's far-fetched saga was inspired by reports that explorers were bringing back from three small European colonies that border Brazil at the top end of South America: British Guiana, Dutch Guiana and French Guiana.

Nowadays they're the independent nations of Guyana and Suriname, and the French territory of Guyane (French Guiana).

For most of the past century -- since "The Lost World" was published in 1912 -- they've been little more than geographical trivia. Cricket legend Clive Lloyd hails from Guyana, and Guyane is famed for its Ariane rocket launches. But for the most part, the region has long flown beneath the radar of global awareness.

However, all three are finally stepping out from the shadows as their natural, historical and cultural wonders are discovered by travelers questing new worlds to explore.

While there may not be dinosaurs, the Amazon rainforest that covers around 80% of the three countries does harbor very large wildlife: giant river otters and giant anteaters, anacondas that can reach 28 feet (8.5 meters) in length, spiders as big as your hand, and a huge carnivorous river fish called the arapaima that makes piranhas seem like puppy dogs.

Giant anteaters roam the Rupununi savannah in Guyana.

The region also boasts an incredible cultural melting pot.

"Guyana" or "Guiana" is an Amerindian word that means "Land of Many Waters." But given how history unfolded, it could just was easily mean land of many peoples or languages.

With English spoken in Guyana, Dutch the lingua franca of Suriname and French the mother tongue in Guyane, they are the only countries in South America were Spanish or Portuguese are not the official language.

After two centuries as a Dutch colony, Guyana was handed over to Britain in 1814 at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The Dutch managed to retain control of an adjacent colony that centered around the Suriname River. Apparently it was 17th-century Italians who first settled the Guyane coast, but it was the French who soon claimed a territory that would one day harbor their most notorious prison.

Guyana gained its independence in 1966, Suriname in 1975, while Guyane morphed from French colony to overseas department in 1946 (and later voted against independence from France). But the die had already been cast in terms of their cultural identity and ethnic variety.

The colonial empires imported slaves and indentured servants to work the plantations, people from as far away as Java, India and West Africa. Together with the indigenous Amerindians and descendants of European settlers, they comprise one of the world's most diverse populations. And by extension, one of the most varied culinary destinations.

As a lifelong fan of Conan Doyle -- and the Jurassic Park stories that his writing inspired -- I decided to discover South America's lost world for myself.

Guyana Forest. 

There  are only four places left on the planet with pristine, primary rainforest -- New Guinea, central Africa, part of the Brazilian Amazon and here in Guyana," British adventure guide Ian Craddock tells me over drinks in Georgetown, the coastal capital city.

The next morning I'm on a small plane headed into that huge green wilderness.

First stop: Kaieteur Falls. Although largely unknown outside Guyana, it's actually the world's largest single-drop waterfall -- 741 feet (226 meters) without interruption. Twice as tall as Victoria Falls and more than four times higher than Niagara.

There's a double rainbow over the falls as I peer into the gorge from the edge of a lofty rock ledge near the national park lodge and landing strip. I'm not usually acrophobic, but it's an awful long way down. Away from the falls, the jungle is filled with marvelous creatures like the golden tree frog and the cock-of-the-rock bird with its bright red feathers.

Guyana's Amazon region isn't just trees. There are also vast tropical savannahs like the Rupununi, my next stop in the journey south. An early morning drive from Waikin Lodge ends with my first sighting of a giant anteater, a massive creature with immense claws that's said to be the only animal that can take on (and defeat) a jaguar.

Reaching Yupukari, an indigenous settlement on the southern edge of the Rupununi, I rendezvous with Ashley Holland, a veteran wildlife guide who's leading a small group of us up the Mapari River.

There's plenty to see along the way: black caiman (an alligator relative) snoozing on the sandy banks, giant river otters giving us a quick look-see before disappearing into the depths again, and three-foot (one-meter) electric eels that allegedly emit enough juice to electrocute a person. (Holland says that isn't quite true).

We spend four nights sleeping in hammocks and bathing in the river at Holland's remote -- but surprisingly comfortable -- jungle camp in the upper reaches of the Mapari watershed. Days are spent on jungle hikes or slowly cruising the river in search of wildlife.

Our most astounding finds are a fist-sized Goliath bird-eating spider (world's largest arachnid), a huge Gladiator tree frog, a pair of tapirs (South America's largest mammal) swimming across the river right in front of our boat, and a very rare sighting of the world's most powerful raptor -- a mother harpy eagle and her fluffy feathered chick.

Heading down the river and back to civilization, I think to myself maybe there are no dinosaurs, but this is close as I'm ever going to come to a real-life Jurassic Park.

Suriname: Coat of many cultures

From Georgetown it's about a two-hour flight to Paramaribo, Suriname's bustling little capital. And because we're landing at the old aerodrome near the city center rather than the new international airport 33 miles (54 kilometers) out of town, clearing customs and immigration takes all of five minutes.

I've arranged for guide Desmond Budhan to meet me on arrival, but rather than head straight for my hotel overlooking the Paramaribo River, Budhan -- who describes himself as a third generation Hindustani-Surinamese -- wants to show me straight away how diverse his hometown is.

We pay our respects at an ornate Hindu temple, drive down a street with ethnic Chinese shops adorned with songbirds in wooden cages, and wind up at the Javanese Market, where locals clad in traditional Indonesian fashion are haggling over batik fabric or munching barbecued satay slathered in peanut sauce. I've gotta keep reminding myself that I'm not in Asia. 

Historic Fort Zeelandia was the start of Suriname's capital,

Suriname's melting pot derives from the Dutch having a global empire comprising an incredible range of religions, languages and ethnic groups, a colonial realm that once included present-day nations such as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and South Africa.

Many of those who wound up in Suriname were either forcibly relocated from other parts of the Dutch empire or voluntarily immigrated to this remote South American shore in search of better lives than back home.

The Dutch also have a legacy, an inner city filled with 17th and 18th-century colonial buildings that now house museums, restaurants and handicraft shops.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, the old town revolves around Fort Zeelandia, an amazingly well-preserved Dutch citadel with exhibits on Suriname history, art and ethnic groups.

Compact and easy to get around on foot, I spent several days wandering old Paramaribo. Wherever I roamed, the city's coat of many cultures was on display.

At Neveh Shalom Synagogue I walked barefoot across the sandy floor of a shrine built in the 1720s by Sephardim fleeing the Inquisition in Europe. Along a new promenade in the Palm Garden, I met Amerindians selling traditional foods, handicrafts and holistic cosmetics made from ingredients found in the Suriname Amazon.    

The Suriname-Guyane frontier lies about a two-hour drive east of Paramaribo through a region populated by the Marron people -- the descendants of African slaves who escaped the Dutch plantations and fled into the jungle. 
Produce sellers create a makeshift market located on the shore in Saint-Laurent du Maroni, Guyane. Jody Amiet/AFP/Getty Images

Guyane: Escaping an infamous past

At the end of the road in Suriname is Albina, a sleepy river port where ferries depart for the French territory on the other side of the water. Climbing into an outboard-powered dugout canoe, I cruised over to Saint-Laurent du Maroni, Guyane's second largest city.

Just like that I'm in the Eurozone -- many of the cars are Peugeots and everyone is speaking French. The steeple of a red brick Catholic church rises above the old town. I find a great little Vietnamese restaurant for lunch and contemplate what this laid-back town is most known for: its infamous Camp de la Transportation.

France began shipping political prisoners to French Guiana during the revolution of the 1790s. By the late 1800s, the bulk of deportees were men and women found guilty of murder and other serious crimes.

However, the prison camps never occupied more than a small portion of the colony. French Guiana also had its sawmills, gold mines and tropical plantations.

Camp de la Transportation in Saint-Laurent du Maroni was an infamous prison. Joe Yogerst

Devil's Island, the offshore portion of the penal colony, gets all the props. But the sprawling camp in Maroni is where the most devilish deeds took place. It was here that prisoners were inducted into the French penal colony system, where they were often incarcerated for years or even decades, and where many were dispatched via the guillotine.

Fluent in French, Dutch, English and Marron patois, Gilbert Samson guided me around the prison, many of the cells still outfitted with rusty iron shackles and the gray coral-stone walls scarred by graffiti made by long-ago inmates. One of the grassy quads is flanked by death row and the spot where the camp guillotine once stood.

Samson shows me a solitary confinement cell (No. 47) with the name "Papillon" is scratched in the stone floor. That was the nickname of renowned convict Henri Charrière, sentenced to life and hard labor at the prison colony in the early 1930s when he was convicted of murder.

He staged numerous daring escapes -- by sea and by jungle -- and later described his trials and tribulations in a best-selling book that was made into two movies.

Whether or not this particular cell is where the legendary escapee-author was actually jailed is beside the point: the hideous events portrayed in his autobiography really did take place in an around Saint-Laurent du Maroni.

Criticized for its extreme brutality and inhumane conditions, the penal colony closed in 1946. Less than two decades later, Guyane became the site of Europe's version of Cape Canaveral. Nowadays, the Centre Spatial Guyanais in Kourou with its Ariane launches is the territory's number one tourist attraction. How ironic that those rockets blast off into another largely mysterious place -- outer space -- every bit as fascinating as the lost world of the three Guianas.

( Please contact us for our 3 Guianas tour package


Sunday, December 29, 2019

Briton, 21, becomes first woman in the world to climb 2,000ft sheer 'wall' of mountain in Guyana rainforest

Anna Taylor, 21, has completed one of the toughest climbing challenges in the world by climbing the daunting walls of Mount Roraima in the rainforests of GuyanaThey took two weeks to climb the daunting 2,000ft-high prow – sleeping in special hanging tents with a perilous drop beneath them.
We did it: The team at the summit after the gruelling climb. Mr Houlding's team did not have to climb back down again after reaching the summit earlier this month. Instead they were carried from the plateau by helicopter
The flat-topped summit of the 9,000ft mountain is said to have influenced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World – where dinosaurs roam the area – and the 2009 animated movie Up where characters arrive in a house floating with the help of thousands of balloons.

Miss Taylor, from Windermere, Cumbria, was the youngest member of the team on the month-long expedition facing venomous spiders, snakes, scorpions and swamps led by fellow Briton Leo Houlding, 39. Their climb on the new route on the prow – labelled the 'wall' – saw them roped in at all times on the vertical face.

 Now back home, Miss Taylor said: 'It was the most incredible experience of my life. 'The whole wall is really steep and it's very physically challenging to tackle. We slept in 'portaledges' up there – essentially special hanging tents for rock climbers that you attach to the side of the cliff.

t is a tepui – flat-top mountain – that sits on the border between Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela in the Amazon basin. Nicknamed the Floating Island, scientists say it has a unique eco-system with many plants only found there.

It has a 20 square mile flat summit, surrounded by cliffs on all sides. Mr Houlding's team did not have to climb back down again after reaching the summit earlier this month. Instead, they were carried from the plateau by helicopter.


Sunday, November 03, 2019

Leo Houlding to lead expedition to free-climb Amazonian 'lost world' Roraima

Mount Roraima. Photo: Martin Harvey/Alamy
Roraima is often sheathed in cloud. Photo: Waldo Etherington
Climber and explorer Leo Houlding will brave venomous snakes, mud and mosquitos in a trek to summit a South American ‘lost world’.

The Cumbrian adventurer hopes to help two local Amerindians to the summit of the 2,810m flat-topped tepui Mount Roraima. Joining his team next month will be fellow Cumbrian climber Anna Taylor, who will be taking part in her first major expedition.

The six-strong group hopes to post a first route on the 600m continually overhanging prow of the Guyanan mountain. 
Trad climber Taylor, 21, is the latest to join outdoors brand Berghaus’s team of athletes, which includes Houlding. The company is sponsoring the expedition to the tepui, in the rainforest on the borders of Brazil, Venezuela and Guyana.

A Berghaus spokesperson said: “It is the location that inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic work of fiction The Lost World and more recently the Disney animated movie Up.

“The main objective of the expedition is to free-climb a new route on the prow of Roraima, which lies in Guyana, a former British colony that gained independence in 1966. The country has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world and is 80 per cent covered in forest.

“It was first climbed with extensive aid in 1973, by a team of British climbing legends, including Hamish MacInnes, Don Whillans and Joe Brown, and in a BBC documentary. 
“Access to Mount Roraima involves a 53km trek through pristine, untracked jungle from the closest airstrip in the Amerindian community of Philipi.”


Leo braves tropical nasties for first ascent on Amazon 'lost world'

A belay on the Cerro Autana climb. Photo: Alastair Lee
One of Britain’s top climbers has followed in the footsteps of Sir Arthur Conan’s Doyle’s adventure heroes with an ascent to a South American ‘lost world’.

Leo Houlding’s climb of the Cerro Autana, the 1,400m table mountain which towers above the Venezuelan rainforest was filmed by cinematographer Alistair Lee for a movie to be released later this year.

Cumbria-based Houlding has just returned from the trip during which, in contrast to his Baffin Island climb for the Asgard Project, saw him endure 35C heat, 100 per cent humidity and torrential rain.

Cerro Autana is a spectacular quartzite-sandstone tepuy – a table mountain similar to the one supposedly still inhabited by dinosaurs in the Conan-Doyle book – situated deep in the jungle in the state of Amazonas in eastern Venezuela.

The starting point for the expedition was the frontier town of Puerto Ayacucho, easily reached from Caracas by car or plane. From there, the team made their way to the Piaroa community of Ceguera by an eight-hour boat ride up the Orinoco and its tributary Rio Autana.

“There were so many unknowns and hazards, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and unforgettable moments. If it were not for their extremely inaccessible location, the Autana Caves would surely be known as one of the wonders of the world and the top of Cerro Autana was an amazing place.

The local Piaroa Indians revere it as the stump of the tree of life, from which all life grew. Due to its sacred status and close proximity to the porous Colombian border, access to Autana is prohibited and extremely difficult to secure on both a national and local level.


Monday, September 02, 2019

Discovering Angel Falls on “Devil Mountain”

Discovering Angel Falls on “Devil Mountain”
Angel Falls - Venezuela

CANAIMA, VENEZUELA, November 29, 2014 – If ever there was an ideal made-for-Hollywood adventure it would be the discovery of Angel Falls in Venezuela. The blur between reality and myth in the life of Jimmie Angel is a screenwriter’s nirvana that would do Indiana Jones proud.

Born in Missouri in 1899, Jimmie Angel was an adventure lover with a passion for flying. Following World War I, he contemplated the idea of becoming a commercial airline pilot but decided the job would be too confining to suit his personality.

For a while, he worked as a barnstormer, test pilot, stunt pilot and flight instructor before heading south to Mexico, Central America and South America in the 1920s. Intrigued by the idea of exploring remote, unexplored territories, Angel became especially fond of Venezuela.

Over time, the celebrated folklore surrounding Jimmie Angel made it difficult to separate myth from reality. Unverified stories that he taught himself fly when he was 14, that he was a Royal British Flying Corps Ace in World War I, that he created an air force for a Chinese warlord in the Gobi Desert or that he worked as an aviation scout for Lawrence of Arabia all became part of the legend.

Among the accounts, which intensifies the mystery, involves an American geologist known only as McCracken who met Angel in a smoke-filled bar in Panama in the early 1920s. For a fee of $5,000, a hefty sum at that time, Angel agreed to fly McCracken to a river of gold flowing through an unknown tepui (plateau) in the Gran Sabana of southeastern Venezuela.  Some say that part of McCracken’s deal did not allow Angel to use instruments so the pilot could not return by himself later.

Using only hand signals, the mysterious stranger directed Angel to the river where they removed as much gold as possible and still be able to take-off.

Jimmie Angel's historic plane, El Rio Camino, Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela  (wikipedia)
Jimmie Angel's historic plane, El Rio Camino, Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela
McCracken never returned to Venezuela. He died in the United States and Angel spent the remainder of his life searching for the lost river of gold. It is uncertain whether the story is true, but Angel told it often and his obsessive search for the river may have been an indication of its validity.

In November 1933, while flying a solo flight in the canyons of Venezuela’s Gran Sabana, Angel claimed to have sighted a “mile-high waterfall.” Understandably, with other “tales” from Jimmie’s past, there were serious doubts about its authenticity.

One reason for the scepticism was the seasonal nature of many waterfalls, and the Auyántepui rising from the neighbouring Kamarata Valley was uncharted at the time. It was believed that the indigenous Kamarakotos Pemón tribe knew of it, but regarded the tepui as an evil spirit so they feared to talk about it.

Finally, in the spring of 1935, Angel convinced three other explorers to fly an expedition into the canyon to verify his claim and take pictures.
L.P. Dennison published the adventure in 1942 in a book titled Devil Mountain. Wrote Dennison, “’ Now I will show you my waterfall!’ shouted Jimmie with glee!”

When he spotted the falls himself, Dennison was in awe. “I could only stare in amazement. It looked like an immense rope hanging over the canyon wall, and it fell for all of 3,000 feet, possibly more, without interruption until it spread out into a billowy cloud of fine, fluffy mist.”

Now vindicated, Angel and his wife, Marie, flew his beloved Flamingo aeroplane, named El Rio Caroni, returned to the falls on several occasions between 1935 and 1937. The Caroni River was the primary visual navigational tool Angel used to find his way back to the waterfall.

Still seeking his “golden river” in 1937, Angel intended to land on Auyántepui for some exploration on foot. Though the landing went smoothly at first, El Rio Caroni hit soft ground and nose-dived into a layer of mud causing a broken fuel line.

Fortunately, in anticipation of problems, Angel had parachuted supplies to the area before attempting the landing. Despite being well equipped, the trip back to civilization required an arduous 11-day trek by the four-person expedition.

Jimmie Angel died in 1956 at the age of 57 from a cerebral haemorrhage resulting from the complications of a head injury when loose cargo struck him while landing earlier in the year.

Seven years earlier, in 1949, World War II correspondent and photojournalist, Ruth Robertson led the first successful land expedition to Angel Falls. The falls were then declared the tallest in the world at 3,212 feet and Robertson’s story is documented in the November 1949 edition of National Geographic titled “Jungle Journey to the World’s Highest Waterfall.”

In 1964, the Venezuelan government declared El Rio Caroni a national monument. It was dismantled by the Venezuelan Air Force in 1970 and partially restored and reassembled by the Aviation Museum in Maracay.

Though the airport in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela is small, it is the gateway for excursions to view Jimmie Angel’s magnificent waterfall. Meanwhile, tiny El Rio Camino sits proudly on the lawn in front of the terminal paying homage to the Devil Mountain discovered by an Angel.


Sunday, September 01, 2019

KAIETEUR FALLS is home to the world’s widest single drop waterfall.

Kaieteur Falls - Guyana
An eco-tourism hotspot, English speaking Guyana is one of the few remaining unexplored destinations in South America.

You will trek through wildlife-rich virgin rainforests, cross mountain streams and walk across jungle bridges to the isolated Kaieteur Falls, which are seen by only a handful of visitors each year.

Considered to be the highest single-drop waterfall in the world, it is protected within a National Park, standing spectacularly as a monolith amid the lush green Amazon jungle.

While it may not be as famous as some waterfalls around the world, at 226 metres the waterfall in Guyana is about twice the height of the Victoria Falls and four times higher than the Niagara Falls.

Alexander Von Humbolt


Filled with a thirst for exploration and knowledge that would never be quenched during his long and extraordinary career, Berlin-born scientist Alexander von Humboldt always wanted to travel to the Tropic. He fulfilled his dream as an adult, in a Spanish colony that was about to set out on a violent process of change: the General Captaincy of Venezuela.

The trip Humboldt made in 1799 would change his life and the history of science, leaving a lasting mark in the country.

Humboldt and his expedition partner, the French botanist Aimé Bonpland, arrived in Cumaná, Eastern Venezuela, on July 16th, 1799, and they remained here until November 24th, 1800, when they sailed to Cuba. They stayed in the island for about three months and travelled to Cartagena, where they arrived in March 1801; then they went to Bogota and explored the Andes down to Quito, following to Cajamarca (Peru), eventually reaching Acapulco. In August 1804, they returned to Europe and, in Paris, they started writing.

Five years of travelling through America were enough to collect abundant scientific material to write an essential book: “Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America,” published between 1816 and 1831, in thirteen volumes.

Humboldt made the first known annotation about the effects of human activity on the climate, by documenting the consequences of colonial agricultural practices in Lake Valencia. He started a theory of natural equivalents that would become the first global environmental philosophy, seeing the planet as a whole.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The real Jurassic Park

In 1884, Sir Everard im Thurn and his expedition team discovered a forested ramp up to the plateau. Scaling the natural staircase, at the summit they found no pterodactyls or apemen. Instead, they discovered a rocky landscape covered with scrubby vegetation interspersed by small patches of sandy marshland — as well as many plants and animals unique to the plateau.

Tourists look down at Mt. Roraima.
Mount Roraima
In fact, around 35 per cent of the species on Mt Roraima are endemic, such as the Roraima bush toad. And 70 per cent of those found on South America’s tepuis exists only on these plateaus. Other species are like living fossils, almost identical to plants and animals that are now extinct in the rest of the world. For millions of years, life has been existing completely independently on these mist-shrouded mountaintops, away from the prying eyes of civilisation.

Welcome to Mount Roraima: The 'Floating Island' Plateau

Roraima-Tepui Wand
Roraima cliffs1
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In the 2009 Pixar film Up, the two main characters head out from the big city on a quest to Paradise Falls, a plateau somewhere in South America that looks like it floats high above a forest.

While Paradise Falls is fictional, a similar mountain really does exist in South America called Mount Roraima that juts straight out of Earth on the borders of Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana. Nicknamed the Floating Islandl, it’s so unique, scientists are still trying to understand its ecosystem.

Besides their other-worldly appearance, tepuis like Mount Roraima form differently from traditional mountains - most of which are the result of two continental plates simply smashing together.

Instead, researchers think tepuis started forming when sand settled and became rock at the bottom of the ancient oceans, some 2 billion years ago. To put that into perspective, Mount Everest only formed about 60 million years ago, and Earth itself is roughly 4.5 billion years old. So yeah, these things are ancient.

After this sandstone formed, the oceans receded and erosion took over, chiselling down the areas around the tepuis and creating a giant shelf made of super-ancient rock that looks completely out of place, given its surroundings.

While their age is mind-boggling in itself, one of the most tantalising things about Mount Roraima and other tepuis is that researchers are just now starting to understand the lifeforms that live on top of and inside them.

This mystery revolves around the fact that we know many creatures call the tops of these unique geological formations home, but how the heck did they get there?

One of the most talked-about studies on the issue was a 2012 paper that analysed the DNA of four different tree frog species from separate tepuis in South America.

The goal was to see if the frogs, which generally stick to one area for their entire lives, had common ancestors that dated back over 70 million years - when researchers think the tops of the tepuis became inaccessible by traditional means.

If the species had a common ancestor from more than 70 million years ago, it stands to reason that the frogs lived and evolved on the top of their individual tepuis. If not, the frogs likely travelled up to the tepui somehow.

The team found that all of the frogs had a common ancestor that lived about 5.3 million years ago, suggesting that there was a way for creatures to migrate to and from the mountain tops on their own.


Journey to the real Lost World: Eerie flat-topped mountain that can only be reached by three-day trek and inspired Conan Doyle's iconic novel

Helicopters bring wealthy foreign tourists, especially from Japan, to the summit to marvel at the outstanding rock formations
The mountain is becoming more and more popular, which in turn brings its own host of problems, such as littering
Japanese tourists take shelter from the rain next to a rock formation on top of Roraima Mount, near Venezuela's border with Brazil - the Mountain formed the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World
Standing at more than 9,200 feet high, Roraima is sacred ground for the Pemons and a spiritual symbol for many other Venezuelans
The mysterious table-topped mountain on the Venezuela-Brazil border that perplexed 19th century explorers is attracting ever more modern-day adventurers
A mystic, flat-topped mountain on the Venezuela-Brazil border that perplexed 19th-century explorers and inspired 'The Lost World' novel is attracting ever more modern-day adventurers.

Once impenetrable to all but the Pemon indigenous people, several thousand hikers a year now make the three-day trek across the savannah, through rivers, under a waterfall and along a narrow path scaling the cliffs of Mount Roraima.

The mysterious table-topped mountain on the Venezuela-Brazil border that perplexed 19th-century explorers is attracting ever more modern-day adventurers

Standing at more than 9,200 feet high, Roraima is sacred ground for the Pemons and a spiritual symbol for many other Venezuelans

Helicopters bring wealthy foreign tourists, especially from Japan, to the summit.

'It's an exotic, faraway destination so it's both very costly and very attractive,' said retired Japanese diplomat Edo Muneo, 68, who like other compatriots, had to pass a physical test before leaving Japan for Roraima. 

In Pemon language, the flat-topped mountains across southeastern Venezuela are known as 'tepuis,' which means 'houses of the gods.' Standing majestically next to Roraima is Kukenan, another tepui, infamous among the Pemons for ancestors who jumped off and committed suicide there.

Out of season, both mountains have the peaceful aura appropriate to one of the Earth's most ancient formations.

Today's travellers can see black frogs, dragonflies and tarantulas that are unique to Roraima, plus a range of endemic plants clinging to cracks and crevasses. Not surprisingly, it is also an ornithologist's paradise.

A 3,200ft waterfall and nerve-shredding cliffs: Daredevils reveal the world's most jaw-dropping climbing spots

The team spent six days at this point because the climbers made slow progress on the  overhang above
Salto Angel is a waterfall in Venezuela. It is the world's highest uninterrupted waterfall at 3,211 feet (the above image is included in the new book)
In 25 years only four ascents have been made. James and Caroline say that getting to the place is a 'tiring journey in itself'

If you've got a fear of heights, then look away now. Two daredevil climbers have revealed some of the world's most extreme climbing spots, from craggy coastlines in France to daunting 3,211 foot-high waterfalls in Venezuela.
The North Face ambassadors James Pearson, who grew up in England's Peak District, and Caroline Ciavaldini, from La Reunion island, both aged 32, have been tackling rock faces all over the world for more than a decade.

In their new tome, Climbing Beyond: The World's Greatest Rock-Climbing Adventures, the married duo gives detailed descriptions around their favorite spots to scramble up. 
A camp 250 metres below the summit - and the last to offer spacious room for climbers. Arnaud Petit took this picture as he was juggling on the rope on the last day of a 2006 ascent
What Caroline and James say: 'For the foreseeable future, climbing the Salto Angel will remain a great adventure.
'People will still have the chance to experience a climb where time seems to stop, a unique endeavor that you wish lasted more than two weeks.

'To wake up in your portaledge, cut off from the world, facing the Amazonian jungle and enjoying the rainbows, the sea of cloud at sunrise and the thousands of flickers of light that are all gifts from the waterfall is a unique experience.'


Salto Angel - Angel Falls

Angel Falls is the world's highest waterfalls and Venezuela’s number-one tourist attraction. Its total height is 979m, with an uninterrupted drop of 807m – about 16 times the height of Niagara Falls. The cascade pours off the towering Auyantepui, one of the largest of the tepuis. Salto Ángel is not named, as one might expect, for a divine creature, but for an American bush pilot Jimmy Angel, who landed his four-seater airplane atop Auyantepui in 1937 while in search of gold. In the local Pémon language, the falls are called Parakupá Vená, or 'waterfall of the highest place'.

The waterfall is in a distant, lush wilderness with no road access. The village of Canaima, about 50km northwest, is the major gateway to the falls. Canaima doesn’t have an overland link to the rest of the country either but is accessed by numerous small planes from Ciudad Bolívar and Puerto Ordaz.

A visit to Salto Ángel is normally undertaken in two stages, with Canaima as the stepping-stone. Most tourists fly into Canaima, from where they take a boat to the falls. Most visitors who visit by boat opt to stay overnight in hammocks at one of the camps near the base of the falls. The trip upriver, the surrounding area and the experience of staying at the camp are as memorable as the waterfall itself. An alternative is to take a six-seat Cessna flight over Auyantepui and the falls, which can be done in around 45 minutes from Canaima airport for around US$60 to US$80 per person. If you have time, do both, as the experiences are both unforgettably spectacular and offer very different perspectives on this most extraordinary chunk of nature.

Salto Ángel, Auyantepui, Canaima and the surrounding area lie within the boundaries of the 30,000-sq-km Parque Nacional Canaima. All visitors need to pay a US$1.50 national-park entrance fee at Canaima airport.