Travel warnings about Venezuela do not deter us from an opportunity to take a 6-day trek to the top of magical Mt. Roraima in South America. “We’re just sneaking in to a remote, southeastern corner of the country for a week or so,” my wife, Mare, says. “We’ll be in the boonies.”
Avoiding the chaos of the colossal city of Caracas, we fly to Manaus, Brazil and zoom down a narrow road through the Amazon Jungle to the town of Boa Vista. Sitting inside of a freezing tube with headlights, our hammocks finally become useful…as blankets. Locals know to bring heavy blankets, because much like a refrigerated truck, buses in Brazil have a “cool” switch that is either on or off.
For about US$30 ($21 Brazilian Real), a three-hour taxi ride takes us from Boa Vista, Brazil to the small Venezuelan town of Santa Elena de Uairen, a hub for adventure tours into the Gran Sabana.
Disappointed that our trekking group attracts 17 people, most half our age, we sign waivers that release “Backpacker Tours” from all liability. During a four-wheel drive, three-hour ride to the trailhead, we learn that fellow travelers represent 10 different nations: Germany, UK, Poland, Austria, Spain, France, Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela. We are the only travelers from the USA.
The first day’s seven-mile (11 Kilometers) hike ascends rolling hills and vast grasslands through the Gran Sabana. Rain pours during most of the hike, protecting us from the Equatorial sun. My waterproof hiking boots work efficiently – holding all water inside and not leaking any of it. We fill water bottles from the same rivers and streams in which we bathe, as the area is void of agriculture and livestock.
Around camp at night, folks tell stories in Spanish, English and German, but laughter is universal as we pass around a bottle of rum. Marisol, our guide from Guyana, fries fritters and eggs in the morning. Tourism provides much needed employment opportunities in this region.
“The river’s low enough to cross,” She says. “Remove your shoes because socks give a better grip on the rocks.” We hold onto a rope during a second crossing, and the cool current flows chest high.
During a heart-pumping hike up steep grades, the Savannah’s grasses transform to ferns. At the second night’s camp, our group seeks shelter from a downpour by huddling under a palm-thatched roof above straw flooring, surrounded by knee-deep mud. We fondly nickname this base camp “The Pig Farm.” Nobody complains. Quite the contrary, a magical bond forms.
“I was a workaholic,” a Venezuelan woman shares. “One day I was working on my laptop while on a plane. A woman next to me asked, ‘Are you a human being or a human doing?’ That statement changed my life.”
She quit her job as a petroleum consultant, and began to travel the world. She consults privately at her own pace, careful not to relapse into “human doing.”
Rain beats our tents the entire night. Pig Farm lives up to its name in the morning as we slip in the mud and hay while Marisol explains the day’s perils.
“Be careful where you place your hands during this final, two-mile climb.” She smiles. “We have two poisonous snakes, the coral, and the deadly macagua. A hiker was bit last week ago, and is still in the hospital. Luckily, only one fang penetrated.”
We place our hands wherever we can grab a grip, while climbing the rain-slickened clay. It is impossible to see where our hands land. Rain mixes with sweat as we pass through a few dense jungles patches. Soon we scramble on all fours while water spills from a cliff and pulsates upon our back.
Exhausted and exhilarated, we feel alive as we bath in a pool of cool water at the top. This environment inspired the setting for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World.”
Bizarre rock formations resemble Dinosaurs, the “Marlborough Man” and a bust of my Aunt Sue…whatever your imagination can conjure. Porters pitch tents on ledges, while the rest of us frolic on the rocks and in the caverns.
With the new dawn, we enjoy an entire day exploring the top of this tepuis, which is a table-mountain formed by the warping of continental plates over 2 billion years ago. Marisol identifies the carnivorous plants which are endemic to the region, as are the tiny black frogs (Oreophrynella) that crawl instead of hop.
Crystals gleam at random and we are reminded that nothing is permitted to be taken from the mountain, as bags will be searched at the end of the hike. This lost world is home to hundreds of endemic flora and fauna species.
Back at camp, macaroni mixed with carrots never tasted so good. A rare break in the clouds rejuvenates us. Despite our exhaustion, we race to the top of a mesa with hopes of catching a glimpse of sunset. The moon shines almost full. We reach a rare window view through the storm clouds and look over the massive Gran Sabana below from which we have come. Mt. Kukenan looms to the west.
Along our two-day descent we greet climbing trekkers with encouragement. They come from Denmark, Russia, Canada, Chile, Sweden and Haiti. One of our group strips to his boxer shorts to cross a river. “I’m not getting my last pair of pants totally soaked.” We laugh when the water is only shin deep. Still, we are grateful for an overcast day.
This challenging trek evokes legendary stories ranging from mystical energy to UFO’s hovering above the 9,000 foot (2743 meters) top. I cannot verify the mystic or harmonic vortex phenomenon. However, the bond we form with our international friends provides a magical experience of “Humans Being” at their best in the Lost World of Mt. Roriama.
Post article note: The “Roraima Dream Team,” which we named our group, continues to stay in touch via Facebook and email.
If You Go
The rainy season runs from December to April, but it usually rains on the mountain. Be prepared for cold, hot and wet weather. Guides in the Gran Sabana are mandatory. We had great luck with: www.backpacker-tours.com (Venezuela)
About the Author
Ron Mitchell’s travel articles, profiles and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers. His novel, Broken Collar, was recently published by Bottom Dog Press. Please visit his website at: www.ronmitchelladventure.com
Hello! Thanks for the great post. I was wondering if you recommended Backpacker tours to anyone going to Roraima! Thanks!
Makes Escondido seem very tame and very luxurious. Nice going guys!
Thanks for all of your kind words! Truly, the people and the setting is what made this article so fun.
Thanks Ron ! It was a great trip.
Thanks Ron ! This trek was great.
Ma & Pa
This is a great story, well written with great photos…. keep up the good work you two!!
Great article Ron! And great photo from the luxury tent Mare!
Susana Perez Ortega
Thanks Ron for such a good memories, it really was a magical trip.
Great article, great e-zine.