[Image: A remnant glimpse of a lost supercontinent, via the New York Times; photographer unknown. “The path in some stretches was completely overgrown with trees, reminding me how oppressively dark the jungle can be,” we read].
Incredibly, some of these “isolated mesas,” as National Geographic describes them, “are two billion years old, preserving an array of unique plant and animal life that rivals that of places like the Galápagos.”
According to the New York Times, some of the “distances involved” in flying from one mesa to the other can be so extreme that many species of bird cannot make the trip; each mesa thus acts as a kind of evolutionary island, where genetic lines develop in complete isolation over thousands of generations. Weird birds and flowering plants thrive. Studying these sites might therefore give us a glimpse into “what the world was like more than a billion years ago.”
That last quotation is from Charles Brewer-Carías, a man the New York Times says is “a Caracas-based naturalist and explorer who is an eminent expert on Auyantepui and the country’s other mesas.” He is also an “ex-dentist.”
In fact, during no fewer than “186 expeditions into Venezuela’s backlands, Mr. Brewer-Carías has discovered the world’s largest sinkholes, on a tabletop mountain called Sarisariñama, and practiced dentistry among the Yekuana tribe, whose language he speaks fluently.” And he’s still going: “Accompanied by Czech speleologists” in early 2006, Brewer-Carías “documented what may be the world’s largest quartzite cave.”
In any case, it’s the tepuis that fascinate me here; these “sandstone mountains,” Brewer-Carías explains, “are the majestic leftovers of an enormous washover of sand that came from Africa.” This makes them “a window into what once was Gondwanaland” – that is, they are laminated dunes of a lost desert – the remnant geography of a world that no longer exists.
(Vaguely – in fact, more or less not even slightly – related: Z).