Meseta de Ichúm Paragua River Expedition Report for Explorers Club

March 2013 Paragua River Expedition

Explorers Club Flag (#60) Report

Penetration into The Meseta de Ichúm (aka Ichún) of Venezuela

Report and Photographs (unless otherwise noted) by Jeff Shea MN ‘92

There is a thin line between the preposterous and the extraordinary.

Meseta De Ichúm – satellite image 464_MRSID1

In March of 2013, I made my first attempt to penetrate into the Meseta de Ichúm, an oval-shaped landform in southern Venezuela.

[† This report reflects my knowledge in 2013. I did a follow-up expedition in February-March of 2014. The symbol † is used to indicate places where the 2014 report will have updated information that may clarify or contradict the information in this report. I note that while the usage “Ichúm” is also used, I have chosen to use “Ichúm,” as this was used by the geologist explorer Cándido Montoya Lirola in his 1958 book on the Expedicion Nacional “Alto Paragua.” March 2001 government maps use “Ichúm.”]

To Santiago
Who brought us to the Meseta




CIA map2 of Venezuela, with overlay of satellite images
464_MRSID, 564_MRSID and 664_MRSID3, shows area of expedition.

The 2013 Paragua River Expedition carried flag #60 into the Meseta de Ichúm. I had identified this area as a target for exploration for reasons illuminated below. My originally stated objectives were, “To trace the source of the Paragua River in the unexplored Meseta de Ichúm (one of Venezuela’s largest and least explored Tepuis*) and return via the river below Salto de Ichúm to Lake Guri.” [*I note that the Meseta may not be a tepui proper as I had originally cited in my application. Its geographic nature, not typical of a tepui, is discussed on page 19.]

The results of the expedition were as follows:

  1. The Ichúm River was explored above Ichúm Falls, but still approximately 50 kilometers shy of its
    source (as the crow flies).
  2. I have determined that the Meseta, an area of approximately 3000 square kilometers enclosed by a raised oval rim, is virtually unexplored; what few possible exceptions are discussed under Previous Exploration. (See page 13.)
  3. Possible evidence of (European) expedition (circa 1600) by galleon on the Paragua River further south from its confluence with the Ichúm has been found.
  4. Photographed seven species of flora found inside the Meseta that a group of four Shiriana men (the tribe closest to the Meseta) confirmed they had not seen before.
  5. Identified thirty Shiriana names for flora and fauna.
  6. Found evidence of jaguars and wild pigs and spotted a tapir within the Meseta.
  7. Recorded stories of a lost village named Wanapa inside the inner north rim of the Meseta.
  8. Identified means of overcoming challenges to further exploration south into the Meseta de Ichúm.
  9. Identified the Meseta as a probable source and excellent candidate area for the discovery of species not known to science.

The expedition started up the Paragua River from the town of La Paragua on March 2, 2013 and returned on March 20, 2013.




Why the Meseta De Ichúm?

The seed of this expedition started three decades ago when I walked out of the Highlands of New Guinea. Having had my Western ideas thoroughly challenged by experiences with the wantok system and admiration for the fitness of the Papuans, I developed not only a love for the forest, but the notion: how nice it would be for mankind to preserve its untouched surfaces for our descendants, so that they could forever see the world in its nascent state. So, this year, I finally did what I’d been thinking about for 30 years. I incorporated World Parks, Inc., a non-profit, public benefit company, to promote the idea of establishing vast preserves, one on each continent. I want to walk in those areas that I believe could be candidates for becoming a World Park.


World Parks

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”  – Albert Einstein

My vision of World Parks, presented by orange ovals, one on each continent and one in Oceana, eight in all.

One such area was the northern Amazon of South America. Putting scale to paper on my map of Venezuela5, I measured off 700 kilometers from west to east and about the same from north to south with nary a road to be seen.

When I considered the awesomeness of traveling across it by myself, I was both inspired and terrified. The Meseta as a goal initially caught my notice because it is a large, distinct geographic feature well inside this vast untouched wilderness, and I could find virtually no information about it.

The Route

Venezuela, route map of expedition with World Park overlay5

The illustration above shows:

  1. The Meseta de Ichúm, outlined in yellow.
  2. The green lines depict Plan A as submitted to the club. [Plan A: Fly into Asiaito, Mahigia or Manquire strips east of Meseta de Ichúm by about 10 to 20 kilometers. Hike up into Meseta to find source of {the Ichúm tributary of the} Paragua river.] This plan was abandoned when pilots said these airstrips, although shown on the map, did not exist. That, coupled with my newly-gained knowledge that the Paragua was navigable to the Ichúm, made plan B an easy choice. [Plan B: Arrange local transportation from Lake Guri as far up Paragua as possible, then try to reach Meseta de Ichúm on foot, look for source of {the Ichúm tributary of the} Paragua, then retrace to river and return by river.
  3. The red lines represent the as-yet-unattained route to the headwaters of the Ichúm. This is the part of the intended route that was not reached on the 2013 expedition. (As I write, I am planning a return journey in January 2014. See Conclusion on page 57 for more information.)
  4. The actual as-performed route is depicted in blue, up the Paragua River and into the Meseta.


Expedition Birth

Fascinated by the prospect of an expedition in southern Venezuela, in 2010, I visited Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela, a known hub for hire of private planes. I attempted to contract with pilots to fly over the tepui of Sarisariñama and the Meseta de Ichúm. This attempt was aborted due to cost.  Pilots informed me that the area was impassable on foot except in the dry months from January to March.

Intimidated, I veered south for solo expeditions in 2010 (across the Altiplano on foot) and 2012 (across the Atacama Desert on foot) (using a cart on both trips to haul water). (In 2012, I was accompanied by writer John H. Richardson for the first half of the walk.)

In January 2013, not knowing how to proceed to access the Meseta and concerned about the possibility of governmental restrictions, I went to the Venezuelan consulate in San Francisco. A staff person said, “You should speak to Guayana. Maybe she can introduce you to Emilio Perez.” Guayana, a long-haired woman, who had written, “Institutional and Legal Framework for Protected Areas Management in Venezuela – Assessment of Strategic Opportunities for the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to Support Conservation in the Venezuelan Amazon,” happened to be standing next to me. “I am named after the region you are inquiring about. It is where I was born,” she said. Later, I checked my map of Venezuela. The word GUAYANA was pasted in letters larger than the state name of Bolivar, spreading from the Sierra de Maigualida to the Paragua River.

Days later, she forwarded me a message she’d received from Emilio, a cartographer familiar with southern Venezuela (copied verbatim below).

“The Meseta de Ichúm is a large platteu different to the rest of most known tepuis in Venezuela: it is lower and densely forrested on the summit. Very few expeditions (botanical, mainly) has been conducted there, and the whole mountain remain almost unexplore.

There are not anything (that i know) like airstrip on the “meseta”, and i have only fly in helicopter in the area (some 2 hrs west from from Santa Elena in a Bell Ranger).

On the Paragua river, it is however possible, to navigate up to Salto Ichúm (Ichúm waterfall). After this point i don’t know, but it seems you will have to negotiate many rapids…

The whole area is under the control of the Shiriano, Yekuana and Pemon people.  I would just deal with the indians of the particular region…

Reaching the headwaters of the Ichúm or Paragua river is something difficult that would require a helicopter, so it can be expensive… otherwise, he will be limitated by gasoline and transit on the indigenous “boats and miners!”


Expedition Team

Less than two months later, I met Emilio at the airport in Caracas.  In Ciudad Bolivar, Emilio introduced me to Carlucho Nuñez, a man who knew the Shiriana. Through Carlucho, in turn, I met Janeiro, Parato and Rafael, the Shiriana we were to travel with.

Carlucho Nuñez  –  Venezuelan, the only non-indigenous team member besides me

Janeiro – Shiriana man living in the indigenous village of Kavai Makén

Jeff Shea –  American (Organizer, Photographer, Videographer)

Parato – Half-Sape, half-Shiriana man living in the indigenous village of Kavai Makén

Rafael – Shiriana man living in the indigenous village of Ichúm

Honorio – Shiriana man living in the indigenous village of Ichúm (turned back after four days into the Meseta)

Support Team

Emilio Perez – Venezuelan cartographer, introduced me to Carlucho and the pilot Octavio; traveled as far as Ichúm Falls with expedition team

Octavio Colson – Venezuelan, pilot, flew Emilio and I in a reconnaissance over Ichúm Falls from Boca de Carun; traveled as far as Ichúm Falls with expedition team

Santiago – Shirian boatman who took us from the town of La Paragua to Ichúm Falls

Sylvester – Shirian man, Santiago’s helper

Support Team

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Carlucho Nuñez (covered with foam from the Ichúm river)

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Jeff Shea

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Previous Exploration

Only known literature

I have found only one case of documentation of any type whatsoever that mentions the Meseta de Ichúm. (See item 4 below.)

The only evidence I have of prior visits past Ichúm Falls is listed here:

  1. Parato said that when he was a boy, his mother told him that his grandfather once lived in a village  called Wanapa, now lost and abandoned, said to be located near the inner north rim.
  2. Emilio said that he once landed on a helicopter pad on one of the high points of the Meseta where the Venezuelan hydroelectric company had erected a tower to monitor rainfall. (The Ichúm contributes to the water flowing into Guri dam, hundreds of kilometers to the north.) According to Emilio, there was no evidence of travel beyond the immediate environment of the pad. The location of where he landed is unknown to me.
  3. On Google Earth in 2013, there were two photos shown in the Meseta, but their placement within the Meseta was in error. One was labeled as being from the Canaima area and the other from the Sucre area, both hundreds of kilometers to the north.
  4. A 1956 magazine article about a military exploration (written in Spanish by Montoya, August 1956). (See Appendix B1.) [Douglas Pridham said that Montoya only went as far as Ichúm Falls, but not into the Meseta. {See Appendix C1.}]

I “Googled” the Search tab for “Meseta de Ichúm” on October 25, 2013. There were twenty-one search results. Twenty pertained to fishing. None pertained to the Meseta de Ichúm (or Ichúm). The twenty-one results were linked to only three websites:, and

When I “Googled” the Images tab for “Meseta de Ichúm,” there were sixty results. Fifty-three of them pertained to fishing on the Paragua (or Caura) river ( Six images were from None of them pertained to the Meseta de Ichúm (or Ichúm). The remaining one was from my own website (, where I posted a blog entry about the “Meseta de Ichúm.” Other than my own website, I found no entries with information on the Meseta de Ichúm (or Ichúm).

Granted, I did not search at that time for “Meseta de Ichúm.” Accordingly, on January 24, 2015, I Googled the Search tab for “Meseta de Ichúm” (versus Ichúm). There were entries related to my expeditions of 2013 and 2014.  A cursory examination of the other entries did not reveal any other expeditions into the Meseta, but an article by Charles Brewer-Carías stated, “…due to the fact that together with the great botanist Julian Steyermark, we had collected plants and animals in the Cerro Ichúm in 1961.” I contacted Brewer-Carías and asked him to clarify the circumstances of this statement. He wrote, “ I led  the Expedicion Universitaria al Alto Paragua in December 1961 to Jan 1962 and we collected plants and bats at the top of the waterfall named Ichúm-prarara (Montoya) or also named Salto María Espuma (Montoya).” In summary, there are stories of visiting the north rim, but I have no evidence of exploration beyond that.

There have been expeditions up the Paragua River, which flows to the east of Meseta. Douglas Pridham, whom I met through Carlucho, led an expedition up the Paragua to near the border with Brazil. They portaged inflatable rafts through the forest for days to the Caura watershed southeast of the Meseta, then traveled down the Merevani and Caura rivers.

The Galleon – Cannons At Boca De Carun

When Emilio and I went to visit Octavio Colson at his office outside Caracas, he said that there was a sunken Spanish galleon up the Paragua River to the east of the Ichúm. He said he had heard that cannons, taken from the galleon, were in Boca De Carún, downriver from the Ichúm. Neither Emilio nor I believed his story. It seemed preposterous.

As the expedition traveled upriver from the town of La Paragua, Octavio flew into Boca De Carún, which has the closest airstrip to the Meseta. We met him there. He traveled to Ichúm Falls with us, then returned to Boca De Carún.

After the Paragua River expedition, I met Octavio. He related how, upon returning downriver to his airplane at Boca De Carún, he had persuaded the people there, by meeting a demand for cash, to see the cannons. He said he had taken photographs of them. I used my camera to take photographs of the images on his iPhone.

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Cannons purportedly removed from galleon on upper Paragua, as shown to me on Octavio Colson’s iPhone, Venezuela, 2013, image DSC 60876

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Cannons closeup, image DSC_60837

Since I did not see the cannons in Boca De Carún, I cannot verify that the photographs were taken there. Furthermore, even if there were cannons in Boca De Carún, admittedly, it would not be proof that they came from a Spanish galleon upriver. However, having spent some time with Octavio Colson, including visiting his printing business outside Caracas, flying with him over the Meseta, traveling together to Ichúm Falls by canoe, meeting his family in Uruyen and flying over Auyan Tepui and other tepuis in the vicinity of Canaima National Park with him, I believe that he did take those photographs in Boca De Carún. (Boca De Carún is more than 150 kilometers upriver from the town of La Paragua.)

My diary of March 5th from just below Ichúm Falls recorded the supposed whereabouts of the sunken galleon:

“One has to go four more hours upriver and then has to cross some rapids (or a small falls) and then it is one hour past that. Apparently the mast and the prow are sticking out of the water but the rest of it has been plundered completely. There is a legend of an Indian that was sometimes seen wearing a conquistador’s helmet and body shield. I tried to help {Octavio to go there}, but it was a problem of fuel.

My diary entry from Uruyen on March 25th recorded additional folklore:

“I was amazed when Octavio informed me that after he had left Ichúm and went to Boca De Carún, they had actually shown him the cannons from the Spanish galleon (that had sailed up the Paragua River in the 1600s). (He said that at first they had said they didn’t exist, then that they did not have the cannons, then that they had them but he could not see them and finally, for a fee, they let him take photographs.) He even showed me photographs of them that he had taken with his iPhone. (He said he had paid 18,000 Bolivares for the photos.)  I asked him if I could take photographs later of his photographs, and he said Yes. 

“He also told me an incredible story about how an American had scuba dived and taken everything off of the galleon, including muskets and helmets. 

“Not only that, he told me that further up the river, the Spanish had built a fort! There was a church there and the church had a bell. The bell was later brought to the church in La Paragua. An acquaintance of Octavio’s went to the church priest and asked him if he could get the bell and bring it to Caracas to have it carbon dated. The priest refused. [The acquaintance] returned with an assistant and a truck, tied a rope around the bell and drove off with it and the church bell tower fell over in the process. A few days later in Caracas, the ** of *** came to [the acquaintance’s] house and said, “Give me the bell or you will go to jail.” [The acquaintance] refused. The ** said, “Give me the bell or you will disappear.” The bell was turned over to the **. From that point, the bell was never seen again….”

** Title omitted
*** Jurisdiction omitted

(I note that the story about the bell is rather wild and acknowledge that it may not be true. I have included it in this report for only one reason: to give all the information I have regarding the account that it is alleged a Spanish fort existed in the upper Paragua.)

I found this on a website about Charles Brewer-Carías (see page 105):

When he located a 17th century French shipwreck, the government froze his team out of the salvage, he said. He will wait for an “honest government” before launching an expedition to El Dorado: a real place which spawned the legend of a city of gold.

Early European Activity in the Region

I found the following entry that refers to the geographic area of the upper Paragua at

However, for centuries El Dorado had already been appearing on maps, though quite far from the lower Xingu. Instead most antique maps place El Dorado far to the north, on an island in the midst of a vase [sic] saline lake between the lower Orinoco River and the northern Amazon tributaries.

This may explain motivation for early exploration in the area.

Available virtually without restrictions for re-use at, “The Project Gutenberg EBook of Equinoctial Regions of America, Volume 3, by Alexander von Humboldt, (a) personal narrative of travels to the equinoctial regions of America during the years 1799-1804” discusses the area as it was over 200 years ago.

The missions of the Catalonian Capuchins, which in 1804 contained at least sixty thousand head of cattle grazing in the savannahs, extend from the eastern banks of the Carony and the Paragua as far as the banks of the Imataca, the Curumu, and the Cuyuni; at the south-east they border on English Guiana, or the colony of Essequibo; and toward the south, in going up the desert banks of the Paragua and the Paraguamasi, and crossing the Cordillera of Pacaraimo, they touch the Portuguese settlements on the Rio Branco. The whole of this country is open, full of fine savannahs, and no way resembling that through which we passed on the Upper Orinoco. The forests become impenetrable only on advancing toward the south; on the north are meadows intersected  with woody hills.


The Montoya Expedition

After the 2013 expedition, Carlucho Nuñez sent me some of the pages from a 1956 magazine article about the Expedicion Nacional “Alto Paragua”, which he had gotten from Douglas Pridham. The article is written in Spanish. I was told it is over 60 pages in length. It deals mostly with the upper Paragua River. It appears that exploration was done near Ichúm Falls. (See Appendix B1.)

If in fact the Meseta has not yet been explored, the following conditions may lend an explanation:

  1. Remoteness
  2. No “reason” to go there.
  3. Difficulty of access, particularly in the rainy season.
  4. Lack of food.

It is my belief, based on the geography (a raised concentric oval rim of mountains isolating its depressed interior), its remoteness and difficulty of access, coupled with the fact that there are no known scientific studies, that the Meseta de Ichúm’s interior contains species of flora and fauna new to science.

I welcome any information that will supplement that given above.

Searching The Explorers Club Map Room

In preparation, in 2010, I visited the Explorers Club Map Room in New York. I searched for maps of Venezuela.

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Three Venezuelan maps combined:

  1. Explorers Club Map Room, (Paris, 1876), right
  2. Explorers Club Map Room,  hand-notated west Venezuelan watershed map, (not dated or credited), left
  3. Shea 2013 Paragua River Expedition route (tan center)

The two main maps of interest that I found in the Explorers Club Map Room are shown above with an overlay of my route map. The 1876 map of Venezuela (“Mapa Fisico y Politico de los Estados Unidos de Venezuela, Paris”) is shown on the right. Not surprisingly, the features do not match more modern maps. The hand notations on the map of western Venezuela (shown on the left) depict detailed studies of the mountains, rivers, rapids and watersheds. At first, I thought the jagged wandering line across the bottom showed an expedition route across part of the vast wilderness that I sought to explore. But later, I noticed these lines were labeled “WATERSHED,” so I concluded it was a study of the mountains and to what side of them rainwater flowed. Mostly, it seemed to focus on the watershed contributing to the Orinoco, the large river that the Caura and Paragua flow into.

The map5 in the middle shows my route up the Paragua and into the Meseta de Ichúm.

I did not find any evidence in the Map Room of expeditions in the area of Meseta de Ichúm.


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Paragua River area
Satellite images 464_MRSID, 465_MRSID and 466_MRSID8

The Meseta has a unique appearance from outer space. It is similar to a tepui, but – in the vicinity of Ichúm Falls – its oval rim lies only about 250 meters above the surrounding forest. Our first camp on the river was at an elevation of 437 meters, about 163 meters below the rim we had just climbed over.

According to the map5, the Meseta’s high point is Colorado Queipa, standing at 1706 meters. [I question the altitude and location of Queipa until I see the topographic tile for its alleged coordinates: approximately latitude N 4° 33’ / longitude W 63° 20’. The topographic map on page 31 is from tile “Salto Ichúm 7530-III.” That tile shows ridges with an altitude as high as 920 meters. The information for Queipa may be on the adjacent tile to the south, 7529-IV.] On the Meseta’s west rim, Colorado Uquia is shown on the map5 as being 1435 meters in altitude. If true, these high points mirror those of other tepuis in the region. [† See 2014 report for clarification about the high point of the Meseta.]

Most of the rainfall run-off in the approximately 3000 square kilometer interior of the Meseta de Ichúm

flows out of Ichúm Falls, approximately 40 meters wide.

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Meseta de Ichúm
Satellite image 464_MRSID9
Graphics by Jeff Shea
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela



The Ichúm River has its source somewhere in the south of the 70-kilometer-long Meseta. It is my dream to reach there. The approach of the 2013 expedition was from the north, over Ichúm Falls.

The March 2013 expedition penetrated approximately 10 kilometers south (as the crow flies) into its interior from Salto Ichúm, the Spanish name for Ichúm Falls. (See “Point Reached March 2013” in yellow in the illustration on the previous page.)

Since 70 kilometers in our modern world, little more than 40 miles, can be covered in less than an hour on a modern freeway, the feat of penetrating deep into the Meseta may seem trivial.

The challenges of accessing the interior of the Meseta include not only carrying enough food, but also diplomacy and psychology, respecting the locals, paying tribute to the tribe, and trying to keep from getting looted of gear.

Progress amounted to about two kilometers a day. The Shiriana cut a trail through dense vegetation with machetes.   We all carried supplies, the main bulk and weight of which was food. Sometimes gear was left behind while they cut, only to have to go back to retrieve it.

The Approach to the Meseta

Ichúm Falls is accessible by motorized canoe from the small town of La Paragua, two hundred kilometers downstream as the crow flies and probably more than 300 kilometers on the ground. Once leaving La Paragua, I entered into a different world, where few people, want of gasoline, illegal mining camps guarded by government forces and the laws of nature meant that you had better travel with friends. Carlucho was one such person. He knew the Shiriana and led me to Parato, Rafael, and Janeiro, who, along with Carlucho and I, formed the core of the team.

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We pulled the emptied canoe over the rapids.
Left to right: Janeiro, Carlucho, Santiago, Sylvester.

On March 3, 2013, Emilio, Carlucho, Santiago (the Shiriana boatman), Janeiro, several other Shiriana and I departed from the town of La Paragua. On the way upriver, shortly after leaving La Paragua, all of the gear was taken out of the canoe at a rapid. Using poles made from saplings, ropes and many men, the canoe was hoisted to the calm water upstream.

Diary March 3, 2013   Slept in Anaima

Our first full day up the river. 

We had to go upriver through rapids. Later, we came to a very rough area. This, I was told, was impossible to pass. We pulled off to the shore. Janeiro hoisted the motor up on his shoulders and carried it over and up the rocks. Santiago placed logs across the rocks for the bottom of the canoe to slide up. 

I held the rope and pulled, submerged half in the water. At one point I lost my hold and was concerned I might get carried away by the water. I hoisted and pulled and grunted. It was tough going. 

We finally got it up above the rapids and rocks. 

On March 4, we passed the colossal and mesmerizingly beautiful tepui of Guaiquinima (Why-Ki-Ni-Ma) on our left as we wound our way south upriver.

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Guaiquinima Tepui

Diary March 4, 2013    [Flight over the Ichúm Falls]    Slept in Kavai Makén, Shiriana Village

The ride upriver was exciting as we traveled on the river around Guaiquinima, a massive tepui. 

We continued upriver. I fell asleep. When I woke, we were already in Boca De Carún. We met Octavio and his brother, who had flown in. We took off on the short runway. Soon we were looking out over a vast dense rainforest. It was rather incredibly large, and it appeared mysterious. 

We passed the beautiful falls. Then we were flying over the top of the Meseta. There was no summit, but rather a ridge going off to the east and south. Below was a black river, the Ichúm. It meandered in the bowl of the mountain. We flew over a ravine that looked wild, with water crashing. It was long and dangerous, then the Falls. 

I was told that the airspace we were flying over was restricted and was under the control of the military. This may further explain lack of information about the Meseta.

Ichúm Falls

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Aerial, Meseta de Ichúm, northwest rim with Ichúm River in foreground (Ichúm Falls hidden in rim), looking west-southwest

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Ichúm Falls from the air

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Aerial, Meseta De Ichúm, northeast rim with Ichúm River in foreground (Ichúm Falls hidden in rim) and Paragua River left, looking east

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The Ichúm River just above Ichúm Falls

We flew back to Boca De Carún and continued upriver. Pilot Octavio and his brother joined us in

the canoe to Kavai Makén, the first of two Shiriana villages we were to visit.

Diary March 5, 2013    Slept at a beach below the waterfall, Salto Ichúm, near Rio Paragua

[In Kavai Makén] Carlucho went to find Parato. I was told he did not hesitate even a fraction of a second, but agreed readily to join our expedition. 

[On the way upriver] Octavio told stories of a legend, the Salvajes, a savage half-man half-monkey in the northern parts of Amazonas state. He also told stories of a human-like creature seven feet tall, in the upper Caura River to the west of the Ichúm. 

As we approached the falls, the river was full of tea-colored foam. Ichúm Falls! A goal reached at last. Emilio estimated them to be 70 meters high. They were voluminous. The river widened to the shape of a lake, a body of water full of foam.  The river water was a dark, dark amber color, beautiful in the sunlight, and fit to drink.

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Ichúm Falls, the gateway to the Meseta

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Below Ichúm Falls – water the color of tea

In the middle of the night there was the strangest sound, maybe the most strange and moving I had ever heard. It was monkeys. It was a deep sound of whooping and making a clamor. I thought I heard dogs barking. It conjured up images of the untouched … earth and an unimaginable scene deep in the forest.

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Insect discovered by Carlucho on the beach below Salto Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC_0959

Diary March 6, 2013   Slept at a beach below the waterfall, Salto Ichúm, near Rio Paragua

Carlucho found an incredible caterpillar that he declared was very dangerous based on the fact it looked like a much bigger creature he’d almost had an encounter of death with by near-asphyxiation.

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Frontal closeup of insect discovered by Carlucho on the beach below Salto Ichúm. It was approximately two inches long.
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC_0962

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Angled view of insect discovered by Carlucho on the beach below Salto Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC_0980

At 2 a.m. in the morning the howling monkeys did it again and I had fortunately prepared to record them. And I did. It is one of the most amazing things I ever heard. 

Paragua River Expedition Log

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Topographic map showing route on foot

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This map shows the walking portion of the expedition camp by camp (noted in yellow on the log above).

Day 1 in the Meseta

I refer to the first day of the walk as Day 1. (It was the 6th day of the expedition.)

Before departing from the sandy beach camp on the river below Ichúm Falls, using the map as a visual aid, I had shown my team members that the best route into the Meseta was a straight line through the forest to a point far above the Falls. But without any announcement, on the first morning of our foray into the Meseta, the Shiriana, ignoring my logic, loaded all of our gear into Santiago’s canoe. To my chagrin, we motored the canoe back down to the Paragua River! Carlucho insisted that I must trust their “internal GPS.” It would have been pointless to argue.

Upon reaching a small inlet on the Paragua, we unloaded our gear. We proceded on foot to the southwest into the Meseta. Santiago and Sylvester returned to Ichúm village in the canoe.

After climbing up the outer rim, we had a view of a thin waterfall some kilometers distant flowing out of the inner rim. We descended. We came to an area that was rather strange, as the jungle floor had pits that were an average of about ten feet across and three feet deep. They speculated it was a natural formation.

The first night was spent in the inner trough between the Meseta’s northern concentric oval rings. We made camp on a flat area on a small peninsula formed by a creek turning 180 degrees.

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Night photograph of Camp 1
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

Day 2 in the Meseta

The next morning, we walked past a muddy area frequented by wild pigs.

After the expedition was over, Carlucho and Janeiro, who had returned early, spent another night at Camp 1. Carlucho told me that at dusk, they had been surrounded on three sides by a sounder of about fifty wild pigs. He said they were grunting and seemed restless. Carlucho and Janeiro feared for their lives. Carlucho took off his sandals and slapped them together briskly. Hearing the sound, they fled. When I asked Janeiro how many pigs he had seen, he said, “One hundred.”

Shortly after leaving camp, we came to a tributary of the Ichúm, surrounded by dense forest. Janeiro felled a tree, cutting it in such a way as to make it fall across the water nearly to the other side. Honorio bettered his effort, cutting a larger tree and making it fall so as to cross the first. Parato and Rafael tied branches vertically to the sides of the horizontal logs, lashing them with vine, then stringing vine at a height of several feet to make a railing to hold on to. We traversed the stream one by one.

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We crossed the bridge made by felled trees.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

On the other side, there was a debate. It seemed they didn’t know which way to go. They started west and I said we needed to go east. We went south.


We ascended part of the way up the inner rim’s outer side. We decided to set up camp next to a tea-colored stream. Up to this point, there had been evidence of prior travel, presumably for the purposes of hunting, marked by saplings that had been cut with machetes that were now in a state of decay. But beyond this point, the Shiriana said, they had no experience.

Being early in the day, Janeiro, Parato, and Rafael made a reconnaissance up the incline adjacent to camp.  Honorio and I later went up the hill to see what was happening.  We climbed up the rim and came to a stream. There was an unusual plant. Its very small flower-like clusters so fascinated me that I spent time photographing them. After the expedition, I was informed that I had photographed carnivorous plants called Drosera, or sundews.

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Drosera found on the outside of the inner north rim of Meseta de Ichúm
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

Day 3

The day was very hot.  Moving south, we ascended the steep slope of the Meseta’s inner rim. As we began to descend the rim’s south side into the Meseta proper, we came to an area of flat, sloping rock on which no trees grew. Water erosion had carved small, tepui-like raised protrusions.

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Rocky terrain
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

Emilio’s earlier speculation that the red markings on the satellite images were rock outcroppings was confirmed.

Rafael, Honorio and Janeiro dropped their packs. They headed off to the east towards the Ichúm River.

[Note: Their form of backpack is made of a curved wood frame to which all is tied with plastic cord. It must be uncomfortable.]

We waited more than an hour. During this time, I filmed Parato relating the tale of Wanapa. He told a story about how there was a problem between people and how a man had made a poison smoke. Nearly everyone in the house (or village) had died, except that his grandfather was not there at the time, so he survived.  Others may have gone off too, and Parato suggested the possibility that they may still be living within the Meseta. He mentioned other languages and that he could understand them, and that if we met others, he might be able to speak with them. Or so I understood.

Parato, Carlucho and I continued on. We followed the route of our companions, which was marked by the saplings they had cut with their machetes just an hour or so before. We found water on the way and filled our water bottles and drank. I photographed insects, including a remarkable exoskeleton of a spider.

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Spider exoskeleton found on inner north rim of Meseta De Ichúm
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

We finally came to another small tea-colored stream, where we made camp. Janeiro, Honorio and Rafael arrived  from the east, saying they had reached the Ichúm River. While they went back to retrieve their packs up on the rocky rim of the Meseta, I walked down the little stream and photographed more of the strange and remarkable Drosera.

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Drosera found on inner north rim of Meseta De Ichúm
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013


Reaching The River Again

Day 4 in the Meseta

We reached the river. We were far above Ichúm Falls and the flat trough between the two concentric northern rims and clearly well within the Meseta. We camped. Since there was plenty of daylight left, some of us went further south upriver.

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Looking south upriver from Camp 4, the first camp on the River
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

I photographed a purple flower. After the expedition, when reviewing my photographs, I noticed that this flower, and even its leaves, when comparing it to the Drosera, had similar-looking clear tentacles with sticky secretions, making me question if this was also carnivorous.

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Purple flower with glandular sticky tentacles
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

We reached a waterfall of about two meters in height.

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First waterfall above Camp 4
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

That night, I heard a frog by the river. I fetched my camera.

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Frog at riverside, Camp 4
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

It started to rain. Our shelter consisted of a black plastic tarp supported by a frame of cut branches that rested across vertical posts and/or small trees. Some chose to sleep outside, but when the rain came, everyone huddled under the protection of the tarp. Rain pooled in the low points in the tarp and sometimes poured down on the unlucky person below.

Day 5 in the Meseta

We noted that the river level had risen a good 30 to 50 cm higher – maybe more. I was not surprised, given the fact that there had been rain.

In the morning, Honorio decided to return. He walked back to the village of Ichúm.

The rest of us continued upriver to the south.  We got a late start because of the necessity of drying our gear after the last night’s rain.

Even with openings cut by machetes between the saplings, there were many obstacles to deal with, as shown in the photographs below.

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Rafael crosses a fallen tree.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

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I wade through a small stream.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

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Janeiro crosses a side stream on a log.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

While working our way through the forest, there was often the urge to reach out and grab a branch for stability. This sometimes resulted in being bitten by a “Veinte-Cuatro,” a one-inch long black ant that got its nickname because the sting of its bite takes twenty-four hours to subside. I was bitten more than once, but apparently they were only partial bites, since the pain lasted only a few hours.

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A “Bullet Ant” – also known as a “Veinte-Cuatro.” Naively, in Anaima, the second night on the Paragua River, I tried to stop a “Veinte-Cuatro” with my fingers so that I could photograph it.
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

Another result of moving through the thick bush was getting a karapata in the skin.

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A Karapata, or tick, in my skin
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

It was common to find these small creatures burrowing into one’s skin, causing itchiness. Carlucho recommended using insect repellant, then waiting twenty-four hours to pull it out; otherwise, he said, the head would get stuck inside and cause infection. My 105 mm Nikkor macro lens made detail on this tick possible to see.

Parato began making a shelter early in the day. When I insisted we move on awhile longer, Parato, leading with the machete, raced on while I negotiated the thinly-cut gap between trees with my large pack and bigger bodily frame.

Soon, he was gone. I turned around. Not having a machete, it was all I could do to get through the thick growth. I went in the direction of the sound of the river and met the others. We camped near the site of the first waterfall upriver from Camp 4.

The men speculated that Parato had returned to Ichúm village with some of our food. I said to myself that I did not believe he would do that.

That evening, when I got into my hammock, it ripped. I was flung to the ground. In the process of getting up, I noticed a large black scorpion nearby.

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Black scorpion on the ground near where I fell
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

There was a substantial difference in opinion as to how dangerous the scorpion was. Carlucho said its bite was like a bee sting. The Shiriana said it was deadly.

Making A Raft

Day 6 in the Meseta

In the morning, Parato walked into our camp. We proceeded as a group along the west bank of the Ichúm until we met a wide channel of water blocking our further progress upriver.

Janeiro, Parato and Rafael immediately started hacking at trees with their machetes. Once the trees were felled, we hauled them over a hillock and down to the Ichúm river, using rollers made from cut branches and a winch made from living trees, cut branches and a rope.

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Rafael cuts down a tree. I was told they were special types of trees that would float, possibly balsa.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

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A log was then cut to a manageable size for moving.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

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Rollers were used to help move the logs forward.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

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Janeiro built a winch using living trees, cut branches and rope.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

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Closeup of winch
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

By this process, the five of us (Parato, Rafael, Janeiro, Carlucho and I) moved the logs from the three trees to the Ichúm River.

During the felling of the trees, Parato got bitten by a “Veinte-Cuatro.” With his machete, he made shavings from a stick of wood and put it in his mouth. He taught me the name of the wood: Wop Koi.

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Parato holds up Wop Koi, a medicinal wood. He made shavings from the wood and ate them, saying that “Wop Koi” reduced the pain of the bite from the Bullet Ant.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

After a day of hard labor, we made camp. The next day a raft was made using the logs.

Day 7 in the Meseta

In the morning, the logs were tied together with vine to make a raft. We used the raft to ferry our gear to the other side of the side stream of water that had blocked our path.

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Janeiro uses raft to transport gear to the other bank of the side stream.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013


Evidence of Wild Pig and Jaguar

After ferrying our gear to the other side, I was shown evidence on the ground of both jaguar and wild pig: jaguar vomit. I would not have noticed this unless the Shiriana had pointed it out to me. But once they did, it was obvious: the bristles and toenails of a pig in a dried slurry on the ground.

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Jaguar vomit
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

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Contents of jaguar vomit: hair and nails of wild boar
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

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Jaguar skin Later, in Ichúm Village, I posed next to skin to illustrate the size of a Jaguar.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

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Rafael and Janeiro go across the slow-moving Ichúm in search of Merey.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

Rafael and Janeiro used the raft to cross the Ichúm to collect Merey, the fruit of the cashew nut. I was told that the cashew fruit elsewhere was orangish and bitter. But the cashew fruit here was one of the most delicious things I ever ate. Often looking rather broken and decaying after falling out of the tall cashew trees, the fruit was nevertheless amazingly delicious and refreshing. The aroma of the fruit could be detected from a distance. All of us loved it, Parato perhaps most of all!

It was clear from their foray across the Ichúm that it was slow enough to allow travel upriver against the current.

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The fruit of the cashew, known in Spanish as Merey
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

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Parato drinking Merey mixed with water
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

While waiting for them to return, a jumping spider landed on my pack.

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Jumping Spider
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

That afternoon, we found rocks on the side of the river and made camp. The Shiriana went hunting with a rifle and brought back a wild hen. They boiled it with rice.

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Parato and Janeiro prepare hen and rice.
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

Day 8 in the Meseta

In the morning of Day 8, Janeiro and Carlucho returned to the village of Ichúm.

Rafael, Parato and I continued upriver. Parato was just ahead of me and Rafael behind. As Parato stepped forward, I saw a snake dart out and stop behind him. We all froze: Parato, me, Rafael and the viper. Parato stopped and looked back.


I asked Rafael, who had also stopped in his tracks just behind me, to get my camera out of my bag so that I could remain almost motionless, lest the snake flee or try to bite me. I cautiously photographed it.

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Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

“Do you want me to kill it ?” I asked. They both said Yes.  (They later said that where there is a small snake, there is a bigger one nearby.) I asked Rafael to hand me his machete. I held it over my head, and, fearing I would miss, I slammed it down as fast and accurately as I could. A moment later, I looked. There was no head. I held up the poisonous snake on the machete. I wanted to find the head. They said that it was dangerous to look for the head, so I abandoned the idea. We moved on.

Parato had been bitten twice by poisonous snakes. He said that although they were small, they were deadly. Both times, he had the good fortune of a helicopter coming for him and carrying him to a hospital, where he was injected with anti-venom. The problem for us was that anti-venom has to be refrigerated. It was impossible to do so on our walk. Therefore, the anti-venom that I carried was probably useless. Furthermore, anti-venom must be administered by a doctor to avoid legal complications if the victim dies.

Later that afternoon, we camped when we found a place on the riverbank with rocks. The rocks made it easy to cook and wash. I waded and swam across to the east bank of the Ichúm.

Furthest Point Reached

Day 9 in the Meseta

At first light of morning, Parato and Rafael shook me out of my slumber.

“Danto!” (Tapir!)

I looked down at the water. There, below us, about 30 meters away, was a large animal bathing in the shallows of the river. By the time I got my camera ready, it had fled.

I showed Parato and Rafael the map. There was a wide bend, I explained, and the fastest way upriver was through the forest, a clear shot directly south. I lent my compass to Rafael. They left. I followed behind, taking photographs. I met them at a stream. They said they had cut a path to another small waterfall on the Ichúm. We returned to camp.

Day 10 in the Meseta

To my disappointment, there was no tapir this morning, possibly because the river level was higher and

the shore rocks were submerged.

We retraced the path of yesterday, arriving at a waterfall, the second we’d observed on the Ichúm river above Camp 4, about two meters in height.

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Jeff, Rafael and Parato (L to R)
Looking upriver from the furthest point south that we reached:
N 4° 40.645’ W 63° 21.494’
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

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Rafael, Parato and Jeff (L to R)
Looking downriver from furthest point we reached,
N 4° 40.645’ W 63° 21.494’
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013

The river water level had been rising continually. They were concerned that the raft we’d left at the side stream would be gone.

We contemplated our next move.

We would have continued had there been enough food, but since there was not enough, we decided to turn back.

We made it back to the tributary before Balsa Camp that day at dusk. I swam across to fetch the raft.

Two days later we met Carlucho and Janeiro, along with Santiago, on the Paragua and continued down to civilization.


I told Parato, Rafael and Janeiro at the end of the March 2013 expedition that I would return in January 2014. Carlucho and the Shiriana agreed to try again to gain access to the far south of the Meseta. (Douglas Pridham, Carlucho’s friend, has also said he will join us.)

The goal of the next expedition is to penetrate at least 60 kilometers inland (as the crow flies), to the vicinity of the 15-kilometer wide crater-looking feature near its southern rim. I want to reach as close as possible to the source of the Ichúm in the Meseta’s southwest. (See “Source of Ichúm River” in the diagram on page 20.) This would entail traveling well over 100 kilometers along the river, up rapids and small waterfalls.

The slow progress of the 2013 expedition, which used machetes to cut through dense forest, suggests trying a different form of transportation to reach the source of the Ichúm. In preparation for the 2014 return, Carlucho conceived of a watercraft that is light-weight, can be assembled and disassembled easily and is compact enough to be carried through the forest to the calm waters of the Ichúm above the Falls.  The raft we built from logs in 2013 was pushed across the river with poles. This proved that the current was slow enough – at least in some areas – to travel upriver with something as light as a two-horsepower motor.

Our departure is scheduled for January 27, 2014. We have allotted about eight weeks for the next expedition in order to allow enough time to reach the south of the Meseta.

I believe that there is a high probability of collecting specimens of flora and fauna new to science. It would be fortunate if an entomologist or other expert in specimen collection could join the January 2014 expedition. Permission would have to be obtained to carry insect specimens out of the country (for DNA testing).

I shot over 2000 photographs between the outer rim and the inner sanctum of the Meseta, trying to capture any and all items of interest or peculiarity.

At the end of the expedition, Parato, Rafael, Janeiro, their chief, Augustine (who was not on the expedition with us), and I reviewed most of my photographs of flora and fauna taken in the Meseta. Through this means I was able to get the Shiriana name for the species they recognized.  Sometimes, they would call one spider by the same name as another spider, so I began asking them if the names were specific or generic.

Many times they all agreed they’d seen an insect or plant before. For one berry/fruit and two fungi/mushrooms, Augustine said he’d seen them but the others said they had not. For three flowers (including Drosera), one berry/fruit, two fungi/mushroom and one leaf growing from a stem, they unanimously said they had not seen them before.  The result of these interviews is shown in the Appendices A1-A4. Additional information is provided in Appendices B and C.

Appendix A1 – Shiriana Names for Identified Flora and Fauna
Appendix A2 – Flora and Fauna that I Did Not Review with Shiriana, which I List as Unidentified
Appendix A3 – Flora Unknown to Shiriana except Augustine
Appendix A4 – Flora Unknown to Shiriana
Appendix B1 – Excerpts from 1956 article by Cándido Montoya Lirola
Appendix B2 – World Waterfall Database
Appendix C1 – Douglas Pridham
Appendix C2 – El Dorado, Lake Parime, Nhamini-wi and The Lake of Milk

I note, sadly, that the boatman Santiago died in late 2013 due to an unknown disease. Carlucho who had seen him shortly before he died, told me at the time that Santiago looked sickly and extremely thin. We remember him fondly with gratitude and respect.


Shiriana Names for Identified Flora and Fauna

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A Lem Kohk (Insect Nest)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2166

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A Ras (Orange, Black, Yellow and White Butterfly)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2532

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A Rem Ko Nas (Small Fish)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2652

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A Rno Muick (Multi-Colored Berries)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2827

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A Rno Muick (Multi-Colored Berries with Ant)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2842

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Aru Meuk (Plant with Long Leaves)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1615

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Beu Ma Thot (Succulent Plant)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1543

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Beu Ma Thot (Succulent Plant)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1614

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Ha Chuk (Red Berry)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1597

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Hi Mos (Bee-Like Insect)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2629

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Hi Mos (Bee-Like Insect)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2629 CU

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Hi Mos (Black Fly)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2793

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Ho No Le (Yellow-Brown Bee)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2691

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Holo Mus Heemo (Orange Colored Nut)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2139

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Ka Ta Nas (Grass in Radial Shape)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1556

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Kata Tai In Er Ra Sha (Red and Green Berries)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2147

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Ko Me Henh (Insect Dwelling)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2863

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Mahn En (Wild Hen)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2658

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Nhe Kot Nhi Himo ((top of) Fruit)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2955

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Oh Nosh Nak (Seed of Cashew Tree)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 3047

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Nih Mani (Damsel Fly)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1672

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Nih Mani (Damsel Fly) Closeup
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1672

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Pa Hi(kh) (Guamo)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2468

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Pa Hi(kh) (Guamo)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2490

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Pa Hi(kh) (Guamo)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2491

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Peu Mo Tot Himo (Pod)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 3041

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Schwena (Moth)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2614

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Sha Ma Amok (Tree Fungus)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2997

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Sham Lep Mahi (Guama Fruit)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1860

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Shiripina (Flying Insect Nest)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1489

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Sho Ne Ai (Cashew Tree)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2554

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Sho Ne Ai (Cashew Fruit)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2421

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Sho Ne Ai (Cashew Fruit)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2422

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Tesh O Nai Nash Ki (Young Plant with Blue Berries and Red Leaves)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1449

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_076_Image_0001

Tesh O Nai Nash Ki (Plant with Blue Berries and Red Leaves)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2462

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_076_Image_0002

Tesh O Nai Nash Ki (Plant with Blue Berries and Red Leaves)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2462

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_077_Image_0001

Toh Hi (Black Scorpion)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2082

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_077_Image_0002

Toh Ri (Tick, also “Karapata”)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2902

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_078_Image_0001

Wali Che Hek (Water Spider)
(I note: it appears that the 8th leg fell off , but I am not certain.)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2989

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_078_Image_0002

War Check (Jumping Spider)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2382CU

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_079_Image_0001

We Te He On Ap (Tree Fungus)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2810



Flora and fauna that I did not review with Shiriana, which I list as Unidentified

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_080_Image_0001

Unidentified, Crimson Flower
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2092

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_080_Image_0002

Unidentified, Pink Flower
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2106

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_081_Image_0001

Unidentified, Delicate Spider (One to Two Inches Long)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2459

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_081_Image_0002

Unidentified, Delicate Spider (One to Two Inches Long)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2481

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_082_Image_0001

Unidentified, Delicate Spider (One to Two Inches Long)
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2486

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_082_Image_0002

Unidentified, Golobular Growth on Underside of Leaves
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2231

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_083_Image_0001

Unidentified, Gold/Tan Mushroom
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 3020

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_083_Image_0002

Unidentified, Green Tree Fungus
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2990

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_084_Image_0001

Unidentified, Green Tree Moss
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 3032

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_084_Image_0002

Unidentified, Molasses-Colored Fungus
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2991

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_085_Image_0001

Unidentified, Purple Tree Fungus
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 3039

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_085_Image_0002

Unidentified, White Tree Fungus
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2357

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_086_Image_0001

Unidentified, Yellow/Green Moss
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1444

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_086_Image_0002

Unidentified, Green Tree Fungus
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 3043



Flora Unknown to Shiriana except Augustine

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_087_Image_0002

Unknown To Shiriana Except Augustine
Found Within Inner North Of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2998

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_087_Image_0001

Red And White Berry
Unknown To Shiriana Except Augustine
Found Within Inner North Of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 3002

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_088_Image_0001

Red Parachute Fungus on Tree Trunk
Unknown To Shiriana Except Augustine
Found Within Inner North Of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2216CU



Flora Unknown to Shiriana

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_089_Image_0002

Yellow Mushroom
Unknown To Shiriana
Found Within Inner North Of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 2033

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_089_Image_0001

Possible Carnivorous Plant
Unknown To Shiriana
Found Within Inner North Of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1812CU

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_090_Image_0002

Leaves on Stem
Unknown to Shiriana
Found Within the Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DCS 2116

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_090_Image_0001

Unknown To Shiriana
Found On Inner North Rim Of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1599

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_091_Image_0001

Unknown To Shiriana
Found on Inner North Rim Of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1604

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_091_Image_0002

Unknown To Shiriana
Found on Inner North of Rim Of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1607

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_092_Image_0001

Unknown To Shiriana
Found on Inner North Rim Of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1619

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_092_Image_0002

Unknown To Shiriana
Found on Inner North Rim of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1474

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_093_Image_0001

Unknown To Shiriana
Found on Top of Inner North Rim of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1480

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_093_Image_0002

Orange Berry Attached to Red Berry
Unknown to Shiriana
Found on Top of Inner North Rim of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1454

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_094_Image_0001

Unknown To Shiriana
Found Outside of Outer North Rim of Meseta De Ichúm
Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 3143

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_094_Image_0002

Unknown To Shiriana
Found Inside Inner North Rim of Meseta De Ichúm
Meseta de Ichúm, Bolivar State, Venezuela, 2013, DSC 1632



Excepts from article by Montoya (August 1956) from unknown periodical, given to me by Carlucho Nuñez, who obtained it from Douglas Pridham

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_095_Image_0001 SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_096_Image_0001 SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_097_Image_0001 SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_098_Image_0001 SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_099_Image_0001 SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_100_Image_0001 SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_101_Image_0001 SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_102_Image_0001


World Waterfall Database, Montoya Falls

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_103_Image_0001

In October 2013, Carlucho introduced me to Douglas Pridham on the telephone. I found out that he had done an expedition up the Paragua River, almost to Brazil. Pridham had searched for Montoya Falls. The data given by the World Waterfall Database for Montoya Falls: 505 meters high (1656 feet), latitude 3.73 N / longitude 62.9 W, and its watercourse, “Rio Paragua.” This would make it the 6th highest waterfall in Venezuela.

The coordinates given place it slightly to the east of the Meseta de Ichúm. Douglas Pridham found no such waterfall at those coordinates.

There is a question as to whether Montoya Falls exists or not. The World Waterfall Database states: “This waterfall is known to exist but its stature and/or location have not yet been verified by the World Waterfall Database.”

I asked Carlucho what he thought.  He said that Montoya was sent on the 1956 expedition at the order of a dictator. Accordingly, Carlucho feels that the veracity of the claim of Montoya Falls is questionable, since Montoya may have been motivated to provide a “successful report.”

In December 2013, Carlucho told me that a woman he knows said that she had gone in search for Montoya Falls with the grandson of Montoya. He said that they had gone by helicopter and that the pilot’s name was Raul Arias. She said that they had sighted Montoya Falls. We are planning to contact Raul.

The search for the truth about Montoya Falls and the Meseta’s interior continues.

[† The 2014 report will have updated information about Montoya Falls.]


Douglas Pridham

It was not until October 2013, seven months after the expedition, that Carlucho introduced me to Douglas Pridham on the telephone, a non-native British Ugandian  that has lived in Venezuela for the last three decades. Pridham is the most informed person on the region that I have spoken with to date.  He has led more than one expedition to the upper Paragua to the east of the Meseta de Ichúm, further south upriver than its confluence with the Ichúm.

[The information below is taken from a Skype conversation I had with Douglas on December 10, 2013. I am including this because of the rich and colorful information about the area. However, I cannot confirm this information. I have not had sufficient time to research and/or there is nothing I can find on the internet on many of these subjects.]

Pridham’s early interest in the Upper Paragua

The judge of the town of La Paragua gave Douglas Pridham the Montoya report. (See excerpts from the Montoya report in Appendix B1.) Pridham developed an interest in exploring the upper Paragua river.

Looking for the Sape and Finding The Shirian

He was in the village of Boca De Carún (a Pemon village on the Paragua downriver from Ichúm) and asked if they knew anybody from the Sape tribe.  A woman named Doña Elena lived in an upriver village of “really bad Indians.”

“We went to look for the Sape and we bumped into the Shiriana. We were in the village and they looked like they were going to (kill us). My girlfriend said, ‘This is fantastic.’ I told her, ‘What will be fantastic is if we get out of here alive.’ This was 1997-98. There were no cooking pots, nothing. It was the village of Kavai Makén.”

The Miner and The Guaica

He told me that there was a miner named Octavio in the town of La Paragua. He said that the miner has been frequenting the area of the upper Paragua for forty-five years. According to Pridham, the miner said that formerly, the Shiriana nation was ten to twenty times bigger than it is today.

In the late 60s, the Shiriana would hold feasts that lasted many days. One year, over one hundred canoes gathered. After four or five days, the Guaica came in and killed the men and took the women. They had special sticks that they used to tie up the women.

Villages of the Upper Paragua

In order, upriver (south) from Boca De Carún:

  1. Kavai Makén, Shiriana village
  2. Cosoiba (the center of the Venezuelan Shiriana)
  3. “Maíja,  a set of set of seven, really dangerous, nasty rapids”
  4. A little village (where Pridham got into trouble with the chief, a man named Montorosa)
  5. The tributary named the Paramichi, which flows from the south, while the Paragua flows from the east.
  6.  Near the confluence of the Paragua and the Paramichi, there is a village Naranjál. In Naranjál, there     is an airport with wrecked planes.  That is where Parato lived when his family got yellow fever. On the other side, the river comes down into the Uriaquera (that flows to Boa Vista, Brazil). The miner Octavio says there are all sorts of machines left over from miners in Naranjál.

The Galleon

Pridham said he has been up the Paragua river yet never seen the galleon. Nevertheless, he believes it exists and lies just above Maíja.

He believes the galleon was coming down the river, not upriver, because the Maíja rapids (downriver)are impossible to pass. He said there was a movie made about a Spanish conquistador that started in Peru and came out into Brazil, hauling his galleon over the mountains, as a testament to the fact that things like that were actually done.

“That galleon there is really fascinating; the fact that they looted the galleon is (a shame). Apparently, this galleon exists, because people have told me they have seen it and those are people that don’t tell lies.”

The Waica/Guaica

“They still exist. In 2001-2002, we were coming down the Paramichi from a burial ceremony near a town called Manashquara. Suddenly they materialized with Montorosa.  They didn’t speak Spanish. It was a group of about eight, with classic bowl-cut, black hair, about 4’6”-5’0”. The chief of the Guaica took a liking to me. He would laugh his ass off when I couldn’t find the trail. He would squat and put one foot out above the fire to warm it. Luckily the Guaica were with Montorosa.  They were wearing red loincloths…. I think they don’t exist anymore in the numbers that they used to.”

“When Montoya was there (1956, see Appendix B1), they were terrified of those guys.”

Charles Brewer and Botany

[The original account of the following story as told to me by Pridham was corrected by Brewer-Carías himself, to whom I sent a draft of this report.]

Charles Brewer-Carías studied dentistry at the same university in Caracas that his father had attended. He decided to also enroll in that university’s Biology School. After reading the questions on biology Professor Volkmar Vareschi’s exam on Plant Sociology,  Brewer-Carías felt the exam was not properly written. He returned it to Professor Vareschi completely blank! Vareschi, puzzled by this reaction from his best student, and angered as well, asked Brewer-Carías why he “had acted in that childish way.” Brewer-Carías told him that he preferred a zero than to be judged unjustly as a less-than-perfect student!  A month later, Brewer-Carías was granted the opportunity to take a second, revised test. This time, he got a perfect score. Impressed by his passion for perfection, Professor Vareschi became a friend of Brewer-Carías. Subsequently, Vareschi participated  as a researcher in a 1977 expedition led by Brewer-Carías’ to the tepuis of Guayana.

[† I note this scant information – which, other than the correction to this story, was all I was aware of at the time of the original writing – does injustice to the extraordinary achievements of Charles Brewer-Carías. Brewer-Carías is an important explorer and discoverer. The report on the 2014 Meseta de Ichúm expedition will provide information I learned about Brewer-Carías after the 2013 expedition.]

Expeditions were sent to the area in the early 1950s to study the botany of the tepuis. Flora of the Venezuelan Guyana is the most authoritative work.

The town of La Paragua

The “town of La Paragua formed in the 1700s is not the Paragua of today. The original town was flooded in the late 1970s when Guri Dam was built.”


He recommends Charles Nicholl’s book, “The Creature in the Map.” states:

In May 1595, a hundred Englishmen – “gentlemen, soldiers, rowers, boat-keepers, boys, and of all sorts” – rowed up a river in South America in search of the lost golden city of El Dorado. They were led by Sir Walter Raleigh, forty years old, ready to hazard his fading reputation on this doomed gamble.

“…The Creature in the Map is an effort not only to analyse but also to call into presence the lived experience of the voyage Raleigh undertook in 1595 to the Orinoco Delta in what is now Venezuela.” – Stephen Greenblatt, Times Literary Supplement

The Meseta de Ichun

(Excerpted from my conversation on December 10, 2013)

Douglas Pridham: “Maybe these wild Indians (the Guaica) are up there (in the Meseta) protecting the forbidden.”

Jeff Shea: “I can’t find any information about anyone documenting the interior of the Meseta.”

Douglas Pridham: “No, no, I agree with you. Octavio (the miner) would know. I never heard him talking about anybody that went up there. Montoya did not explore the Meseta. He went up to Ichúm Falls and turned back.”


(Excerpted from Wikipedia as noted)

El Dorado

El Dorado …  is the name of a Muisca tribal chief who covered himself with gold dust and, as an initiation rite, dived into the Guatavita Lake. Later, it became the name of a legendary “Lost City of Gold”, that fascinated explorers since the days of the Spanish Conquistadors and was supposedly located on Lake Parime in the highlands of Guyana, South America.

Lake Parime

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_107_Image_0001

Parime Lacus on a map by Hessel Gerritsz (1625)

Lake Parime is a legendary lake located in South America. It was believed that on its shores was located the city of Manõa or El Dorado. The lake was searched for by several explorers such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Alexander von Humboldt. The lake was printed on maps in the 17th century up until the 19th century. It was believed to be somewhere in Guiana for several years. Then later cartographers like Robert Schonburg and Van Huevel moved the lake more to the southeast of the Orinoco River and north of the Amazon river, often being situated south of the mountains that border Venezuela, Guiana, and Brazil.

However explorers were unable to find the magical and mythical lake, and so they declared the lake as being imaginary. [† The 2014 report will have additional information on El Dorado.]

The Nhamini-wi and the Lake of Milk

The Tukano and Piratapuias tribes of the upper Negro River tell a story of the Nhamini-wi. The Nhamini-wi was a pre-Columbian road that traveled from the mountains in the west where the house of the night was located. The trail began at axpeko-dixtara, or the lake of milk in the east. Explorer and artist Roland Stevenson found ruins north of the Negro River in the Uaupés basin that are believed to be the remnants of the Nhamini-wi.

Stevenson followed the vestiges of the extinct pre-Columbian road eastward to find the lake at its beginning and ended up in Roraima, Brazil, in the plains of Boa Vista. Upon examining the region Brazilian geologists Gert Woeltje and Frederico Guimarães Cruz along with Roland Stevenson found that on all the surrounding hillsides a horizontal line appears at a uniform level approximately 120 metres (390 ft) above sea level. This line registers the water level of an extinct lake which existed until relatively recent times. Researchers who studied it found that about 700 years ago this giant lake began to drain due to tectonic movement and slowly over the centuries dried up.

Foreign explorers who have come to the plains of Roraima to explore the area with Stevenson have included the Paititi investigator Gregory Deyermenjian, who in 1997 documented Stevenson’s finds, and the likely correctness of Stevenson’s conclusions concerning the pre-history of the region, in expedition reports filed at the Explorers Club headquarters in New York City.

The lake’s previous diameter measured 400 kilometres (250 mi) and its area 80,000 square kilometres (31,000 sq mi). It is believed by many modern searchers of El Dorado that the plains of Boa Vista may be the location of Lake Parime. … due to the drainage it was not found, and therefore considered a myth.

SHEA REPORT V35-C 013014_Page_109_Image_0001

Parime Lacus on a map by Hessel Gerritz (1625) with an overlay of Shea 2013 Paragua River Expedition route map (tan inlay on far left center)5 and arrow showing where the fabled lost city of gold – El Dorado – allegedly lay on the western shore of Lake Parime



  1. Page 1 – Three satellite images, 464_MRSID, 465_MRSID and 466_MRSID, were given to me by Emilio Perez, Venezuelan cartographer. He wrote, “Image comes from a NASA Landsat 7 ETM+ satellite sensor provided as a mosaic by GLOBAL LANDCOVER FACILITY from Maryland University.” When I type this phrase into Google, the first result directs me to the following University of Maryland website: This site states, “Use is free to all; effectively held by USGS & NASA; but ultimately held by US public.” On page 1 is 464_MRSID.
  2. Page 4 – The CIA map used as a basis for the illustration on page 4 is available on the internet; graphics by Jeff Shea.
  3. Page 4 – (Satellite insert on CIA Map, same as Footnote 1, a composite of 464_MRSID, 465_MRSID and 466_MRSID)
  4. Page 6 – World Map used as a basis for graphic of World Parks by Mighty Minds Publishing Ltd Singapore (1995); graphics by Jeff Shea
  5. Page 7 – Venezuela map used as a basis for the illustration on page 7 by ITMB Publishing, Vancouver, Canada (2000); graphics by Jeff Shea. I note that the map incorrectly states the Meseta de Ichúm’s high point is Colorado Oueipa. The correct spelling is Queipa. [† Updated information on the Meseta’s high point will appear in the 2014 report.]
  6. Page 14 – Photos of cannons on page 14 by Octavio Colson, Venezuelan
  7. Page 14 – (same as 6)
  8. Page 19 – (same as 1, a composite of 464_MRSID, 465_MRSID and 466_MRSID)
  9. Page 20 – (same as 1, tile 464_MRSID); graphics by Jeff Shea
  10. Page 31 – (same as 1, tile 464_MRSID); graphics by Jeff Shea
  11. Page 95-102 Appendix B1 – article by Cándido Montoya Lirola (August 1956) from unknown peri- dical given to me by Carlucho Nuñez, who obtained it from Douglas Pridham. Douglas Pridham said does not know the name of the periodical it came from.


(with thanks to Douglas Pridham for this list)

Brewer-Carías. Cerro La Neblina Resultados de La Expedicion 1983-1988. (1988). ISBN 9803004379.
Brewer-Carías. (2013). Desnudo en La Selva. ISBN 9789801270881.
Brewer-Carías. Lost World of Venezuela and Its Vegetation. ISBN 9802654779.
Collins. (1981). Guide to Tropical Plants. ISBN 0002191121.
Dunsterville. Las Orquideas de Venezuela. ISBN 9802160164.
Eisenberg. Mammals of the Neo Tropics, Vol 1. ISBN 0226195406.
Emmonds. Tropical Rain Forest Mammals. ISBN 0226207218.
Hilty. Birds of Venezuela. ISBN 0713664185.
Hoyos. (1987). Guia de Arboles de Venezuela. No ISBN.
Hurbert, Otto. (1992).Chimanta. ISBN 9806028163.
Lancini. (1986).Serpientes de Venezuela (2nd Edition). No ISBN.
Steyermark. Flora of the Venezuelan Guayana. ISBN 0881293133.