Guiana Highlands, an unexplored region of the earth
La Guaira, Venezuela
I find myself muttering, “I’ve never seen anything like this…” It is hard to believe that I am witnessing the Guiana Highlands from above at that very moment, but this is truly the place known as the “last unexplored region of the earth.” Down below is the endless dark green jungle, and in front are the rugged rocky mountains. While the prospect of encountering an unknown land is exciting, it is also intimidating to realize that you have arrived in a place far beyond your imagination. This is a journey to the Guiana Highlands of South America, a place where the earth as it was 1.8 billion years ago still remains, and where we will encounter the unknown.
Canaima National Park, a World Natural Heritage Site
The aircraft arrives at Canaima National Park in Venezuela> This is the centerpiece of the vast Guiana Highlands, which span six countries and territories. With no time to relax, we quickly make our way through the jungle to Lake Canaima. The surface of the lake reflects the blue sky like a screen. But at your feet, the water itself is reddish brown, but transparent not muddy. This is due to the tannin contained in the plants indigenous to this area dissolving in the water. The Guiana Highlands are located in a tropical region near the equator, and frequent squalls caused by well-developed rain clouds flow over the land and are carried to the lakes and rivers.
Hearing that waterfalls pour into Canaima Lake, we head there by boat. As we get closer, we hear the roar of the powerful waterfalls, and then they appear! The sheer volume of water is so large that it seems to wash everything away. The word “Guiana” means “land of water,” and the abundance of water that lives up to this name has produced the table-shaped mountains that rise above the waterfalls, Tepuy. The cliffs of Tepuy, seen from the sky earlier, are the result of strata created 1.8 billion years ago that have remained over the years as strong rain and winds have chipped away at them. Hearing that there are as many as 100 Tepuys, created over an uncanny period of time, you can understand how large a scale the Guiana Highlands are.
Toward the Mountain where the Gods Reside
At dawn, a spectacular sunrise envelops the Guiana Highlands. Today we will visit Auyan Tepui, the largest rocky peak in the park, and Angel Falls, a 1,000-meter waterfall that flows from it. Riding up the river in an uncovered boat make us feel like explorers! We are greeted by the majestic nature that makes up the Guiana Highlands, with its massive rocky mountains, waterfalls, rivers, forests, and wetlands. Colorful birds we don’t know the names of fly out of the jungle, and plants and trees bloom with unique flowers we have never seen before. The sights you see will surprise you, and the fact that you are still only part of the Guiana Highlands will stir your inner adventurous spirit.
We get off the boat and enjoy trekking. The rugged paths near the shallows can be challenging, but we are encouraged by the sight of the Tepui, which is gradually getting closer and closer as we move forward over the ancient land. The Auyan Tepui we head toward has a circumference of 650 kilometers and is the size of the city of Tokyo. The summit plateau is home to plants and animals that live in this environment isolated from the world below, and our curiosity is piqued. After walking for a while, someone said, “Look!”. Ahead of us were the towering cliffs of Auyan Tepui and the Angel Falls emanating from its peak. It was a divine sight that required no more words.
An Astonishing Waterfall, the Fleeting Moment of Transience
Light shining through the clouds illuminates the Tepui. Tepui means “mountain where the gods reside,” and looking up from below, it really looks mysterious and spiritual. The dynamism of the cascading waterfalls makes one’s body tremble. Wanting to see the waterfall more closely, we head for the observation platform directly below, but could not find the waterfall basin. Because of the 1,000-meter drop, the water from the falls becomes mist and disappears. The large volume of water released into the air from the precipitous cliffs dissipates into mist and moistens the Guiana Highlands without leaving any trace of its appearance until the very end. We cannot capture the ephemeral, slow-motion scene of the waterfall.
A rocky mountain that transcends everything, the highest waterfall in the world… I thought that after reaching a place that seemed so unexplored I would get a certain sense of accomplishment, but that did not happen. What came to my mind was a growing desire for what I had not yet seen. I would like to visit Mount Roraima, which takes a week to climb on foot, and I would like to see with my own eyes a new species of creature that is said to inhabit the summit of the Tepui. The Guiana Highlands were a place full of romance that stirred my spirit of adventure. There are still places on earth that I don’t know about, places that I can’t reach. That is why I set out on this journey. As the boat headed back, we watched the Tepui and waterfalls gradually get smaller and smaller, and vowed to return once again to the Guiana Highlands.
PHOTO：PEACEBOAT, Mizumoto Shunya, shutterstock.com