The Ideas for Tepui

A TepuiThe ideas for Tepui came to me in 1999 when I was working in Venezuela.  I liked the country so much that I asked my wife to join me there for a few weeks of vacation.  One of the places we stayed was in Canaima National Park, a huge preserve that includes much of the “tepui country.”

Tepui is the Pemón Indian word for mountain and is now generally applied to the flat-topped, sheer-sided mountains of southern Venezuela.  Tepuis are erosional remnants of a landscape hundreds of millions of years old.  Because of their near-vertical sides, tepuis are difficult to scale, and their tops are as inaccessible and ecologically isolated as small islands in the Pacific.  Many of the species that live atop tepuis exist nowhere else.

This raised two possibilities in my mind.  What if there were a plant up there that had flourished in ancient times but was now thought to be extinct?  A living fossil.  And what if there were a remnant population of people whose civilization was thought to have been wiped out by Spanish conquistadors?

The living fossil idea gave me my hero, a botanist.  The conquistador idea gave me all sorts of possibilities for the kinds of indigenous people who might have successfully escaped the Spanish Conquest.  Add in the fact that early explorers in South America were searching for gold, diamonds, and exotic spices, and you have the beginnings of a story.

For an excellent article on tepuis, see National Geographic magazine, v. 175, n. 5, May 1989.

A Note about The Lost World

I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes (and a former member of the Baker Street Irregulars), but I had never read Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel, The Lost World, until I was about halfway through writing Tepui.  You can imagine my surprise at the similarities — not in detail, but in the broad concept of exploring a tepui and finding plants, animals, and people thought previously to be extinct.  There are, however, major differences between Doyle’s Victorian-era ideas and the ideas I express in Tepui.  Mine, I think, are much more plausible — and a lot more fun.

A View from the Air

While in Canaima, my wife and I rented a single-engine Cessna to fly us south into the Gran Sabana, where we would land and explore Kavac Cave (more on Kavac in another post).  The flight took us over part of tepui country, which I filmed from the co-pilot’s seat.  Unfortunately the quality of that video, shot on Super-8, is less than stellar — a lot less.  YouTube has a number of better videos, some shot over the same route we took.  But one of the best depictions I’ve seen is in the Disney-Pixar movie, Up.  The link below is to a clip from that film.