Tuesday 21 July 2009

The Lost World Part Three

This is Autana Tepui in Venezuela's Lost World, a plateau sacred to the Pemons who consider it the stump of their tree of life. It's pierced by a cave-tunnel through which the sun's rays shine. I went to the Lost World in 1993 and 1995 and wish I could go back. So here I am instead trawling the web for images.

It's hard to think that I climbed Mount Roraima below in 1995. There's a 'ramp' I scrambled up on the other side. It was really hard for me to do this but once I'd dreamt of being up there sitting over the edge with my legs dangling into space I had to do it.

I flew low over the great plateau Auyantepuy once, it took ages as it's so vast. I think it's the closest I've come to visiting another planet, the terrain was so otherworldly, with its criss cross of canyons and gullies, its quartz valleys and cities of columns, its jasper creeks. I often dream I'm living up there and am so sorry to wake up and find I'm not.

So what was it like on one of those sky-islands? I felt like an intruder. The first thing that hits you is the quiet, and the way your voice bounces off the prehistoric rock formations then seems to echo out into space over the Gran Sabana and riverine jungles below, a line of cliff-bordered plateaus rising out of the mist. The surface is made up of the oldest rocks on the earth, eroded and twisted into monsters. There's cushions of carnivorous plants bordered by pink quartz sand, and rockpools inside rockpools, concentric circles of them. I bathed in one alone, away from the group, while they went searching for the oilbird cave, led by Pemon guides who got lost in the labyrinths and quagmires and had to return as the mother of all storms started up. Night was spent in 'El Hotel', tents pitched under an overhang, but it was impossible to sleep with the dinosaurs running rampage (their roars and lightning tongues). According to the Pemon we had talked too loudly on their 'Mother of all Waters' and stirred up the local dragon.

I've tried to write about the experience in my first collection Heart of a Deer (Enitharmon, 1998) which is out of print though there are some copies on amazon.com and at the Poetry Book Society. As usual I'm not satisfied with the results. I'm writing a novel now, part set in Paris, part in the Lost World. Which has plunged me back into this hard-to-capture-in-words landscape.