Fact, Fiction and the Grey Stuff In-between
-- Delusions of Guiana
Sir Walter Raleigh is credited with the
first record of Roraima Tepuy, and also, in some sources, of Angel
Fall's itself. Both are far-fetched claims, as were his mad-cap
expeditions to find El Dorado and Lake Manoa. Once the glory-boy
of Queen Elizabeth I's court, he led two disastrous journeys to
find the mythical city of the Golden Man in the hope of restoring
Born in England in 1552, he was at once an explorer, sailor, pirate,
scientist and man of letters. His account of his trip up the Orinoco,
"The Discoverie of the large, rich and beautiful empyre of Guiana"
was published in 1596. It's an entertaining travelogue, though it
probably reveals more about the psyche of the desperate explorer
than the country he actually visited. He mentions a "mountain of
crystal" in the area of Roraima, and claims to hear "a terrible
noise and clamour, as if one thousand great bells were knocked one
against another" which could have been Angel Falls. It's more likely
he heard one of the waterfalls on the Orinoco.
Instead of finding El Dorado, Raleigh found death soon after his
return to England, having already lost his eldest son on his second
For more information about Raleigh's trip, see Charles Nicholl's
book in the bibliography section.
Arthur Conan Doyle -- From Sherlock to Challenger
Born in Scotland in 1859, Conan Doyle is the author of the world-famous
Sherlock Holmes mysteries. He was a doctor by profession and a natural
history enthusiast. He was a member of the English Royal Geographical
Society, where he first heard reports of the strange region at the
confluence of Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela. Inspired by the reports
of the Schomburgk brothers, and those of the explorers Charles Barrington
Brown and Everard ImThurn, Conan Doyle penned "The Lost
World", which was eventually published in 1912. In the
book, the protagonist Doctor Challenger leads an expedition to what
is recognisably Mount Roraima where he finds fist-sized diamonds,
prehistoric animals and a tribe of hungry cannibals. His party manage
to capture a pterodaptil which is then taken to New York, where
it promptly escapes a la King Kong. The book was later
adapted to the screen in 1925 and 1960.
Other writers to have been inspired by Roraima include William
Henry Hudson (Green Mansions), Jules Verne (The
Orinoco Suburb) and Leonidas R. Dennison (Devil
Mountain). See the bibliography section for more.
Jimmy Angel Rivers of gold
James Crawford Angel was born in Springfield, Missouri in 1899.
An avid pilot from an early age, he flew with James Lindberg's Flying
Circus in 1921, and in the same year made his first trip to Venezuelan
Guayana. His companion on the journey was one James McCracken, who
had befriended Jimmy in a bar in Panama. McCracken claimed there
was a river atop a mountain full of gold. He accepted Jimmy's astronomical
charge of 3,000 dollars to do the trip, and paid a third up front.
They landed their Bristol plane on top of a tepui, and McCracken
proceeded to fill a sack with gold nuggets. From this point, Angel's
obsession with the Lost World would consume him until his death.
He spent the next years organising various attempts to find the
river again, centred on Auyantepuy. In 1935, he recorded his sighting
of the falls which would later bear his name. In 1936, Jimmy persuaded
the explorers Cardona Puig and Gustavo Henry to attempt an ascent
of Auyantepuy. The two explorers manage this feat, finally, in 1937.
Later that year, Angel organised yet another flight to Auyantepuy,
searching for somewhere to land. His Flamingo plane, the "Rio Caroni",
became stuck in a bog. Thanks to the guidance of Gustavo Henry who
was one of the party, the group got off the mountain and arrived
in Kamarata eleven days later.
Once asked how long he would keep looking for his river of gold,
Angel replied "Until I die".
For more on Angel, see the Links
section, or the feature on Angel Falls here.
Charlie Baughan The King of The Jungle
Charlie Baughan was the man who probably did more for the promotion
of the Lost World than any other. Having kitted out the remote mining
town of Ikabaru with a cinema, laundry and newspaper, he recognised
the lake beside the Hacha Falls, now known as Canaima Lagoon, as
the perfect spot for a tourist camp as early as 1947.
Barabas & Tambara --
Diamonds are a boy's best friend
Barabas' name is synonymous in the mining world with striking it
lucky. The Barabas Diamond was the second-largest found in South
American history, weighing in at a colossal 154-carats. It was split
into three in New York, the year after it was unearthed in the Surukun
River west of Santa Elena, on the road to Ikabaru. The three miners
who found it sold it to a buyer for 60,000 dollars, which, back
in the Fifties, was a tidy sum. However, Barabas got all the glory
and ran off with most of the cash. Tambara was one of the other
miners. He ran a general store in the village of El Pauji. I was
told that he died in 1999, but I'm not sure.
Full Story here.
Fray Cesareo de Armellada -- A
Monument to Literature
Armellada was a Capuchin missionary who dedicated his life to recording
the oral literature of the Pemon of the Gran Sabana. He spent much
of his life in the missions of Kavanayen and Kamarata. He was known
to the Pemon as "the hurried one". Today, his five books are the
best source of information on their beliefs, and with the growing
westernisation of the Pemon, will no doubt prove valuable historical
texts in the future. He claimed the Pemon's literature to be a 'monument'
and argued it was among the most expansive and impressive of the
entire American continent.
Among the titles are a two volumes of stories, one about myths and
legends, a grammatical book of the Pemon language and a volume of
invocations. They are hard to find, but you can try at the Fundacion
La Salle in Caracas, and at the missions of Santa Elena de Uairen
and Kavanayen in the Gran Sabana.