With each twist in our odyssey, we became more removed from the modern world. When we off-
An hour later, we arrived at the river and were glad to find one of the local Indians on the riverbanks with a curiara. Hildilada was his name, a young man of 18 years and grandson of Anselmo, whose family had tended this river since the days that local legends were fashioned. Hildilada took us 20 kilometers upstream to a small sandbar on the east side. Passing small Indian camps of families fishing, cooking, and tending crops, we must have seemed like an odd spectacle in their remote and tranquil world. We hit the sandbar and parted ways with Hildilada as the rain continued to fall and the night was coming. With a steep mountain range and 15 kilometers of jungle to traverse, we found ourselves hiking most of it by the light of our headlamps.
The rain had subsided and it was quite late by the time we reached the village of Canaima. It had been a long day, and we were glad to find an open restaurant and a room for the night. Aside from being the primary launching point for Angel Salto, Canaima is an isolated and special place: The only way to get there is by boat or plane (or to trek your way in like we did), and there are only single-level thatched-roof hotels and three vehicles in the entire town. This put it high on our list of cool places to visit.
The morning found us on another curiara, another river and the last 45 kilometers before reaching the falls. Rio Carreo was initially smooth and calm like Rio Caroni. But upriver, several rapids required portage, and areas of strong currents and house-sized boulders required careful navigation by our guide.
Illegal private mining (the Venezuelan government owns ALL mineral rights) is quite preval
Hildilada was the grandson of Anselmo, an old Pemon Indian whose family had tended this ri
A five-pound hammer and Crescent wrench: these are not the kind of tools you want to see i
El Dorado, Jimmy Angel, And The House Of The Devil
Flat-topped tapuis, sandstone formations of the pre-Cambrian period, towered thousands of feet above the horizon in all quadrants. Resisting the erosional forces of a thousand millennia, they stood alone as monuments to the ages, individual massifs rather than part of a mountain range. Due to the geographical isolation of their peaks, botanists suggest that the tapuis are home to thousands of endemic species, known only to their windblown and rainswept heights. Rising precipitously from the steamy jungle below, most tapuis are rarely ascended. For centuries, the Pemon peoples believed that the tapuis were home of mawari, or spirits, and ascending their heights was a bad omen. And the Pemon name given to Angel Falls, Auyan Tapui, is said to translate to "house of the Devil." We were told its other name is Kerepakupai-meru, or "waterfall of the deepest place" in Pemon.
After deboarding our first curiara, we trekked over a dozen kilometers of abandoned trail
Jose, a 1,000th-generation Pemon Indian from Canaima, was our guide to Angel Falls. When w
Although slippery when wet, the base of Angel Falls is a great place to go boulder-hopping
Drawn by tales of mythical cities of gold, the El Dorado, Spanish conquistadors touched this region in the late 1500s. Unsuccessful but undeterred for almost 300 years, prospectors and adventurers were drawn to the Gran Sabana, discovering its indigenous people, the Pemon, and geologically unique landforms. So intriguing were the tales of these isolated pockets of non-evolution, they eventually became the impetus for Sir Arthur Canon Doyle's 1912 novel, The Lost World: The tale of a land that time forgot, where dinosaurs and humanlike ape-men still roamed.
Auyantepui, standing 1,500 meters over the jungle floor, is home to Salto Angel (Angel Fal
Twentieth-century aviator and prospector Jimmy Angel was the first modern-day explorer to set foot on Auyan Tepui, also in search of hidden riches of the Gran Sabana. Angel, who had landed and collected gold on an unknown tapui in 1924 with an Alaskan prospector named McCracken, set his single-engine Flamingo monoplane down on Auyan Tepui's mesa top in 1937. Becoming mired in the soft mud, he, his wife and two friends spent 11 days hiking out to civilization. His plane stayed there until 1970, and his surname has since replaced Auyan Tepui for eternity.
Reaching the river camp, a steep hike through twisting vines and mystified jungle put us face-to-face with one of the grandest sites we had seen. Heavy rains of the previous day had left the river and creeks swollen and running heavy. From the base of the falls, a seemingly endless sheet of fresh water cascaded from its heights. The rains had subsided and the late afternoon skies were clearing as we soaked in a large pool at the base of the 979-meter Angle Falls.
It had been seven days since we left Caracas. We had seen monkeys for sale in roadside stands and drank fresh coconut milk from the source, hunted caimans from a dugout canoe, and dined with the Pemon Indians of El Tigre. And, we had wheeled through some of the densest jungle we have seen. While all things had not gone as planned, we did learn some valuable lessons, befriended some wonderful people, experienced some awesome four-wheeling, and ultimately reached our destination: The tallest waterfall known to man.