The rat squeaked and hid in the farthest corner under the table. Mateo tiptoed in that direction. The rat watched him with beady eyes as it tucked its plump grey body behind the rice sack. Mateo lowered himself with his cheek almost touching the ground. All of a sudden, the rat collided with his nose and ran past him in the blink of an eye.
Mateo fell flat on the floor holding his nose as the door to his hut flew open. Rosa stood with a fruit tray in her hands and an expression of surprise in her face. She suppressed a laugh and kept the tray on the table. Rosa was a young girl from the Pemon tribe in Venezuela. Her olive-skinned face was dotted with tattoos and her jet-black straight hair hung loose. She had enchanting black eyes and she wore beaded jewelry.
She was followed by her big brother Carlos who handled a small tours and travels business in the CanaimaNational Park in Venezuela. He assisted people who came to explore the Angel falls, the highest waterfall in the world. Another man accompanied him.
“Is it the rat again?” Carlos smirked.
Mateo got up and nodded his head.
“Meet Rajesh Joshi, our fellow hiker” Carlos introduced the man to him.
“Rajesh is a newspaper reporter of… some famous newspaper…”
“Daily Gazette…” Rajesh added with enthusiasm.
“It seems our Gran Sabana land has enthralled him too!”
“You’re right Carlos. I am here to write an article on this awe-inspiring waterfall, the exotic flora and fauna of this park and the life of the indigenous people of the Pemon tribe who live here for centuries” said Rajesh and stole a glance at Rosa who was busy tidying up the room.
Rajesh kept to himself the fact that he was on the verge of losing his job due to his incapability in bringing any interesting story to the newspaper. He came here to take a break and indulge in some adventure to overcome his depression. If he got a good story, then that would be a cherry on the cake.
“This is Mateo Rodriguez who is on a trip here. You both will be sharing this room,” Carlos said.
Mateo and Rajesh shake their hands.
The weather was humid. The sky was overcast with clouds. The chirping of birds and light breeze filled the misty air. Rajesh and Mateo waited at the bank of the Churun river. The motorized canoe arranged by Carlos was yet to arrive. It was the only way to reach the falls. Pemon people knew every inch of this land. Exploring the place without their guidance could prove dangerous so Rosa and Carlos were to accompany them. Rajesh spotted some exotic birds and got busy clicking pictures.
“My Abuela…” Mateo said while caressing a metal pot tightly covered with a lid.
“Your what?” Rajesh asked.
“My grandmother… She belonged to the Pemon tribe. She fell in love with my grandfather when he had come hiking to these parts. When they planned to get married, the tribe outcasted her. She left this place never to return. The tribe forbids outside marriages. But home is after all home. All her life my Abuela longed to visit her birthplace but couldn’t. I grew up listening to her stories about the magnanimity of Angel falls, the canyons, the tabletop mountains called Tepuis which are home to the Mawaris, the spirit of the dead. She believed there is magic in this place and a tremendous amount of untapped energy!” Mateo smiled, reminiscing about his grandmother.
“We loved to solve puzzles together. When she died, my mother sent this pot with her ashes and a piece of puzzle for me. My Abuela’s last wish was for me to spread her ashes in the location pointed by this puzzle.”
Mateo took out a piece of paper and showed it to Rajesh. Four pictures were drawn on it.
A pair of white wings
A tree half drowned in water
The only puzzles Rajesh solved till now were the weekly Sudoku in his newspaper. This real-life puzzle fascinated him.
“Wings symbolize an angel. First clue is “Angel falls!” Rajesh’s eyes popped out in excitement.
“Bingo… Now you know why I’m here” Mateo smiled while Rajesh concentrated on the next clues.
“Now I understand your obsession with rats” Rajesh winked seeing the picture of the rat.
“Hmm… I’m tired of running after rats here. There are so many of them. I fail to understand what she meant by this picture. At times I get a creepy feeling that the rats are following me and not the other way around!” Mateo sighed and Rajesh burst out laughing.
The crew got drenched with occasional splashes of water as Carlos sailed the canoe effortlessly twisting and turning through the lagoons and rapids. The deep jade-colored jungles on both sides of the river brought in a sense of peace and tranquility. As they sailed forward, the Tepuis came into view. The majestic flat topped sandstone mountains which dated back to centuries looked ethereal.
After a few hours of sailing, the view in front of Rajesh’s eyes took his breath away.
A cloud of white water cascaded down a towering tabletop mountain. Puffy clouds surrounded the falls forming a colorful rainbow.
“Is this heaven?” Mateo’s eyes sparkled.
“This place is worth falling in love…” said Rosa in a whisper. Rajesh heard her talk for the first time. Her voice sounded like sugar to his ears.
“The stories of my Abuela are coming alive! Has there been a flood in this area, Rosa?” Mateo moved next to her and helped her arrange the foodstuffs.
“Not sure…” she said, offering him a sandwich.
Carlos said and all turned to look at him.
“Means’ ‘The Devil’s Mountain’’ Carlos’s eyes flickered and the tattoo above his eyebrow moved as he sailed the canoe.
“I know about a flood but that’s folklore. The story of the Tree of Life. It was a magical tree loaded with a variety of fruits and vegetables and it fed all mankind and animals. One day a spirit chopped that tree and all hell broke loose. A flood emerged from the stump of the tree and it washed away everything with it. It is said that the Devil’s Mountain is that remaining stump. It’s the home of the spirit of our ancestors called Mawariand the devil lurks in there. It’s a forbidden place.” Carlos pointed towards the farthest tip of the Angel falls, the edge from where it spills down.
Mateo leapt and went straight to Carlos and held both his hands.
“That’s what my Abuela drew! You have to take me there!”
“Are you sure about this?” Rajesh asked, rubbing his chin.
“I’m an experienced climber, Rajesh. I’m worried more about you” Mateo chuckled.
“Well… I’m trained… and I craved some adventure in my life…so here it is!” Rajesh convinced himself and gazed at the approximately 979 meters drop of the falls.
Mateo succeeded in convincing Carlos to guide them in climbing the Devil’s Mountain. He couldn’t say no due to the money offered by Mateo and of course the emotional quotient.
The rocks were steep and rough. The climb became even more challenging when they became slippery due to rain. Carlos guided him. The huge waterfall roaring just beside him gave Rajesh the jitters of a lifetime. Yet, it satiated his hunger for adventure. Santos was better off than Rajesh. His zeal was astonishing.
It was all worth the effort. The view from the top was mesmerizing.
“It’s a lifetime experience for me, I feel liberated!” Rajesh screamed in jubilation.
“Mateo stood like a statue as tears rolled down his cheeks. He started sobbing with his face in his palms.
Rajesh was surprised at his unexpected outburst. Rosa looked pained.
“There are rocks and stones as far as the eyes can see… which is the one Abuela drew in the paper?” He cried in despair. Rajesh tried to console him.
Carlos and Rosa exchanged glances.
They decided to spend the night in Tepui. The howling noises of the wind and the rain beating on the tent broke Rajesh’s sleep. He switched on his torch and his heart skipped a beat when Mateo was nowhere to be found. He woke up Carlos.
When Carlos noticed that Mateo was missing, he rushed and tugged Rosa’s arm with force and looked at her with accusing eyes. Rosa trembled like a thief caught red-handed. He pushed her on the floor with disgust.
The rain took the form of a storm. The sound of water hitting the rough terrain was deafening. Rosa and Carlos rushed through the thick foliage followed by Rajesh. He had an inkling that something bad was about to happen, or by the expression of Carlos, had already happened. They reached a clearing where under a tree, Rajesh saw a shrine of some sort.
All stared at Mateo in horror as he stood there clutching a red colored stone in one hand and the metal pot in another. Upon seeing them, he clicked open the lid of the pot with one finger and turned it upside down.
“Here goes my Abuela!”
An object fell from the pot with a thud. Mateo picked it up and pointed it towards them.
A shriek escaped Rosa’s mouth as she saw the metal gun in his hand. Rajesh stared in disbelief as Mateo’s loud mean laugh competed with the thundering clouds.
“This stone will make me the strongest person in the world!” His eyes gleamed with pure evil.
“Sorry Abuela! I believed in your story so I had to end your life to steal the secret code” His maniac laugh echoed in the deep dark valleys of the Tepui.
“Bow before me I’m God!” Mateo hollered as if possessed by a demon.
Rajesh witnessed this scene unfold with fear and wounded trust.
All of a sudden Mateo was struck by a beam of lightning. The stone flew from his hands with a jerk and his whole body burnt due to the high voltage.
All were blinded by the light and the sheer power of it. They watched in bewilderment as his shrieks filled the sky. In the midst of it, Rajesh could swear he saw the gigantic shadow of a rat on the shrine before the light subsided.
“The devil killed Mateo!” Rosa wailed and fell on her knees.
“No Rosa… Mateo was killed by the spirits of our ancestors who reside in these mountains. They wanted to protect our sacred stone,” Carlos comforted her sister.
“It’s all my fault! I shouldn’t have told him about the location of the sacred stone!” She wept in regret.
“I can understand why you did that my naive sister…” Fresh new tears streamed down the tattooed cheeks of Rosa.
They both picked up the stone from where it had fallen and placed it back on the holy shrine mumbling a prayer all the while.
Everything felt surreal to Rajesh.
“Mateo tried to steal our sacred stone. The possessor of it is bestowed with immense power but owning it has its own repercussions, as you saw it. I hope you will respect our tradition and privacy. This place is untouched and pure. We worship the powers of nature and never exploit it. If the outside world knows about it, the sanctity of this place will be ruined.” said Carlos.
“I can understand. You can trust me.” assured Rajesh.
It was reported that Mateo slipped and fell while climbing the Tepui.
During his journey back home, Rajesh couldn’t help but imagine the accolades he would have earned by publishing this story. But he knew he could never be deceitful like Mateo.
He kept the whole incident safe in his memory to remind himself of the magic in nature still beyond the understanding of mankind.
But the sight of a rat gives him shivers till this day…
Angel Falls: The world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall, located in Venezuela.
Pemon: The indigenous people who inhabit the Gran Sabana.in Venezuela.
Gran Sabana: A city in Bolivar, Venezuela. It has many popular attractions, including Angel Falls, Canaima National Park and Mount Roraima
Canaima National Park: This National Park encompasses 3 million hectares in southeastern Venezuela, where the country borders Brazil and Guyana. It’s distinguished by its numerous tepuis, massive flat-topped mountains that rise from grassy savanna and are often covered in mist.
Tepui: It is a table-top mountain or mesa found in South America, especially in Venezuela and western Guyana. The word tepui means “House of the Gods” in the native tongue of the Pemon.
Churun River: A river in Venezuela, part of the Orinoco River basin. It is located in Canaima National Park and its tributary comes from the Angel Falls.
Abuela: Grandmother in Spanish
Mawari: The Tepuis are inhabited by the Spirit of Death called Mawari according to Pemon beliefs.
Ayuan Tepui: The Angel Fall spills from the edge of this flat-topped mountain. It is one of the largest Tepui in Bolivar state, Venezuela.
- Name: News Reporter
- Place: Angel Falls, Venezuela
- Animal: Rat
- Thing: A Flood