2/17/01 Roxton Camp, Maple White Plateau
I woke up early as usual. I have had a hard time sleeping since we got to Brazil. I guess I like it cool at night and it is hot and humid. Back at the lodge they have air conditioning, but of course you cannot air condition a tent. Evelyn was still sleeping and I heard something that must have come to the river to drink in the morning. It sounded big and heavy. I pulled on my shirt, pants, and sandals and grabbed by camera but by the time I got to the water there was nothing to film. I am not sure what kind of animals we would get coming to drink. The Orinoco is slow and particularly muddy on this stretch and I am a little surprised that any animal can drink from it.
The Plateau is still about two hour's drive by jeep over what they call roads here. It probably would have taken the Challenger expedition something like three days to travel the distance, but they were on foot for this last part. Even so it is going to take a while. And the trip through the jungle on that road, though not really boring, is lacking in a lot of variety. Any animal who hears the jeep engine is long gone by the time we drive by so the best we can hope for is seeing a few birds, and then we have to look really quick. I imagine back in Challenger's time there was a lot more to see.
A lot of nasty things come out of this jungle. We are just a little way east of the Rio Negro. Ever read "Leiningen versus the Ants" by Carl Stephenson? I haven't seen any big ants, actually, but you do see smaller ones swarming over trees. I don't know if they ever really get army ant swarms like the ones Stephenson wrote about. Also the mosquitoes can be pretty bad.
Breakfast was scrambled eggs and fruit. There were a few pieces of toast, but they were burnt. They eggs were watery. Even the fruit which was good the last few days seemed a little overripe and mushy. But still I was looking forward to the day. I mean this is really the centerpiece of the whole trip. It doesn't matter how many times you have seen pictures and films of live dinosaurs, it is nothing like seeing the real things in front of you. And we get only one day. Actually with the jeep ride to and from the plateau and the cable ride up and down half the day is taken up with that. Evelyn was saying that the Brazilian government was going to build a small dormitory for travelers on the top of the plateau, but the conservation people decided to protest and the plans were quickly cancelled. Probably for the best. There is only one Maple White Plateau. Only one place that we can really see dinosaurs in their natural habitat left alive. I don't want to see anything happen to them. We were done and ready to go at 8:00, but the jeeps were late. Gil won't be going with us. I guess he has seen the top and he doesn't want to pay the ticket for a ride up and down. We pay only one fee for the whole trip so do not see how much of it goes for the trip up the plateau, but I take it the Brazilian government gets a hefty chunk of change for everyone who goes up to the plateau.
At about 8:20 the two jeeps pulled up and Gil packed three of us in the back of each. There is a seat next to the driver, but I guess they don't want to share the front with a tourist. Evelyn and I got one jeep and Jim joined us. One of the couples has to be split up for the trip. I guess Jim doesn't mind. Actually since I will be working on my log it wouldn't bother me too much to be split up from Evelyn. You might wonder how I can write in my log on these--I hate to use the word "road"--wet sand traps. With a palmtop the shaking doesn't stop my typing.
Anyway, I we have an Indian driving. We sit in the back. It is not really comfortable, but we didn't come to Brazil for comfort. I am going to see dinosaurs. Jeez. Just the thought of it. Actually it shouldn't be so hard to see them. I mean if the Brazil government would cooperate, they could clone them or something. Of course that would end their monopoly. I guess when you discover something like the Maple White Plateau in your own country you want to milk as much from it as you can. Brazil does not have that many big moneymaker industries. I guess let them benefit as much as they can from the one thing they have that nobody else in the world has.
The drive through the jungle was long and hot and dull. It was about 10:15 when Evelyn tapped my leg. Just over the trees you could see the Maple White Plateau. It looked like a lot of rock and not much green at he top. I was hoping to see a pterodactyl or two flying over. No such luck. It just looked like a lot of rock. I have to try and find out why this rock is like this. I mean geologically. It all looked like it was one piece from here. Actually it was all one piece at one time in its past. The Summerlee Column broke off as cleavage at one point. It looks like the only place that the rock was climbable and it broke off. That was how Challenger got up. He climbed Summerlee Column and used a tree to cross over to the main part of the plateau. That was also how he got stuck up there. I guess it is kind of pointless looking for where the tree fell. Everything is just so big.
I asked the driver if we would be seeing "Curupuri." He thought that it was very funny that I used that word and he didn't tell me anything. Everybody back home knows the dinosaurs are called Curupuri and that is what the Indians call them. This guy had never even heard of the name. If the Indians don't call them Curupuri, who does? Where did we get that name for them? It is hard to know how much of this is publicity and how much is real. Anyway now the driver thinks that I am some sort of a jerk. Honestly, Curupuri is supposed to be the Indian name for the dinosaurs. I don't think the drivers think very much of the tourists.
There is a road around the base of the plateau. The jungle ends as you get near the plateau and then it is sandy up to the rock. There is a road around the base of the plateau. None of this is paved, you understand, but it is marginally easier to drive on than to go straight across country. We got on the road and drove around. I got a better look at the Summerlee column. Somehow from a distance I could not get a good picture because the jungle was in the way. Now if I take a picture, I cannot get enough in the frame to make it look interesting. We pass a marker for James Colver Point. I don't know what it is or why they labeled it. Nobody is telling us about it, but somebody thought it was worth labeling. Evelyn says Colver doesn't sound like a Portuguese or Indian name.
As we drove around the base we start to see a little camp. Actually it looks like one tent and one shack. And there is a wooden structure that is the base of the cable car. The jeeps go around to the wooden structure. The drivers get out and talk to someone from the shack. Evelyn, Jim and I get out to stretch our legs. Jim goes over to talk to Ellen. The two Toms seem to have come through the trip OK. Now the six of us are standing around talking. I am writing some notes into my palmtop. OK, now I am caught up to where we are. It is now just a minute after 11.
Okay, it is now almost 9PM. We are back at Roxton Camp. So what was it like?
The guy who runs the cable car came over to us and told us to go ahead to the cable structure. A car takes four people and we can split up any way we want over two cars. The two Toms come with Evelyn and me. Ellen and Jim got the other car to themselves. We got in. We talked and watched the ground drop away under us. I suppose I am a little afraid of heights. Particularly when you just have that cable holding you up and the ground is so far beneath. If you fall you just hit the side of the plateau a long way down. We talked to the Toms about Broadway plays of all things. Here we are in Brazil about to see dinosaurs and we are talking about Peter Schaffer and Bob Fosse and The Phantom of the Opera.
It seemed like a long time we were going up, but it probably wasn't more than 25 minutes. As long as we were talking I could keep my mind off of how high we really were. When the wind came up the car swung a little and I could feel it in my stomach. Anyway we got to the top. There are three men up at the top. If there were more I didn't see them. All of the people running the lift were Brazilian. I mean Portuguese-Brazilian. I was expecting to see some of the aborigines still working in this area, but I have seen none. I think all of them, or what is left of them, are in Rio. Maybe we will see some when we get there. We get there in about eight days.
We had to wait around at the top for about 15 minutes before the guide could take us around. While we waited I talked to Tom Harris about where we had seen and where the two Toms had been. They said we would like Italy when we get there. I told them we are going to wait until we are old and tired before we see too many places with plumbing. Actually we are getting old and tired already.
The guide came to take us around. Some guide. She looked to be 18. Maybe 19. But she spoke English. A sort of English, I guess. We were going to walk around on the path and see dinosaurs. We were supposed to stay on the path. We were not supposed to keep an eye on the jungle because some things do come out. I wish. She was selling caramel corn, of all things. Before we set out she wanted to know if any of us wanted to buy some. Somehow selling caramel corn seems a little strange when you are in dinosaur territory. It smelled good, or maybe a little cloying, but it was not what we would have wanted.
We followed the path and our first stop was the pterodactyl rookery. We saw it at a distance ahead. It looked almost like a tent made of chain-link fence. There was a sort of double door we went through to get inside. The smell was overpowering and had been since we could first see the rookery. I don't know if that is the smell of the animals themselves or excreta, but it really smelled bad. The biggest pterodactyls were pretty big. Maybe it was as big as a man and a wingspan maybe three times as long as a man. They didn't look very happy. The wings had slits cut in them, which must be a lot like clipping a bird's wings. There were smaller ones and several chicks. I would have expected the young ones to be a little cuter. I guess they are a little too thin and boney to be cute. They seemed a bit lethargic. I suppose they could have been drugged. To me they just looked depressed. One does not ask a pterodactyl why the long face? They are just born with long faces.
We left by the same double doors we came in by. Next on the tour was a microsoftus. Or is it two microsofti? (microsoftuses?) I was anxious to see this since it was one of the rarer and lessor known dinosaurs in Maple White Plateau. It was in a caged area with grass and they had walls around him. I guess he couldn't come out. This was one of the reasons we were supposed to watch the jungle. This little fellow wasn't known until maybe six years ago. Nobody had ever found fossils of them. I don't even know if they had found theropods this small. (A theropod walks on two legs like a tyrannosaurus.) He is a greenish color so he blended in with the jungle leaves and he was somewhat shy of people. They eat mostly insects and rodents our guide told us. He has like six boney fins coming out of his face. There are two rows of three going from the eyebrows to the snout. The nature programs show them very active, but these two animals sort of stood around dazed. These dinosaurs are all warm-blooded animals, so they should be active. We have tapes of them in the wild showing they are active. But these microsofti in the zoo mostly just stand around.
The pen with the apatosaurus was equally discouraging. At least here I could see and understand why. Hadn't noticed on the dinosaurs previously but this one actually was hobbled. There were manacles chaining the front legs together. The disposition seems to be mild enough, but they are taking no chances that this thing is going to walk out on them. I think they do more than that. I think they drug them. Certainly the dinosaurs seemed to take very little interest in the people coming by. The films I had seen did not show them being so sedentary. It probably has something to do with their captivity.
The last we saw was the tyrannosaurus. I think this is their big attraction and they have only the one. Here too it did not move as I was expecting. It just sort of stood around. Thank goodness. Those teeth were as long as water glasses. He (she?) I could see had a manacle around his foot and a chain that acted like a tether. There was dried blood on the metal band. He looked kind of glassy-eyed. Each of the animals had a different smell and each smelled disgusting it its own way. The pen needed a cleaning. The skin looks almost like army camouflage. It is green and brown. I guess it serves about the same purpose. If you looked at the head there was like a cloud of some small flying insect. The dinosaur didn't seem to notice. If it didn't blink its eyes every minute or so and breathe you would not have known it wasn't mechanical. He just seemed to be waiting or bored.
I wish they had some way for us to go into the jungle and see the dinosaurs that are not captive. That is probably too dangerous. They probably stay away from this end of the plateau anyway. They are a little shy of anything people do. This zoo is kind of a pitiful way of seeing these dinosaurs in captivity. These things were the Lords of the Earth. As big and as powerful as they look, they sort of evoke pity. Somehow this was not the emotion I was expecting from this part of the trip.
It was now about 3:50 and we had to start heading back. I think we were all kind of hungry, but caramel corn, which was all they had for sale, was not what we were in the mood for. The cable cars took the same 25 minutes to get down. Evelyn and I were in the lead car and Jim and Ellen and the two Toms were in the other. OK, so we had seen dinosaurs now with our own eyes. Somehow I felt a little ashamed.
Gil had packed some sandwiches in the jeeps. The same meat that we had for lunch yesterday. The grease had soaked into the bread. There were some bottles of warm Coke. The Coke was more welcome after standing around in the heat with only our canteens. The bottles were not easy to drink from as we went over those rocky, bumpy roads. The trip back might have been a little faster. We were going downhill more of the way. I think traveling a path you have already traveled just make it seem shorter. We got back to Roxton Camp about 6:30. We got washed up and the Indians laid a table for us. Roast chicken for dinner. Gil didn't even join us for dinner. I think he has his own food packed and frequently opts for that. Back at the tent we packed most of our stuff so we could get an early start in the morning. Evelyn read and I worked on my log. I still feel kind of down.
[In case you couldn't tell, this log is not a real travelogue, but fiction based on THE LOST WORLD.]
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2022 Mark R. Leeper