The sandstone mesas of Venezuela are called tepui. You may have seen images of them in the Pixar movie, Up (2009); a widower retiree attaches balloons to his house and floats from the United States to a tepui in Venezuela, where he’s always dreamed of traveling. We saw the movie for the first time this week and enjoyed the unique landscape, the art, and the story.
The art in the movie was based directly on an on-location expedition to Venezuela. A special feature showed a handheld video of a Pemón guide taking the PIxar artists hiking to the top of Mount Roraima so they could draw and paint watercolors of the spectacular geology. The Venezuelan portion of this tepui has the only non-technical ascent (accessible to non-climbers), and that is the route the artists chose.
The tallest point of the tallest tepui mesa, Roraima, is 9222 ft. (2810 m). This tepui borders Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. The Pemón People live in this great plains area of Venezuela in the Canaima National Park, and still speak their indigenous language. Their stories talk about the mesas as the place where the gods or spirits dwell. That is the meaning of tepui. Their legends say Mount Roraima is the stump of an enormous tree that produced all the vegetables and fruit in the world, until the trickster Kukenán chopped it down.
The spirit of Kukenán is said to inhabit the tepui next to Roraima that bears his name. The Pixar group flew from Roraima to Mount Kukenán by helicopter. They spent several hours drawing. As they were about to leave, half the group was able to fly out to their campsite, but a sudden storm stranded the second half of the group on top of Kukenán.
For hours they huddled in a small indentation covered by rock as rain pelted down; like six people in a closet. The trickster spirit relented just before sunset, the skies cleared, and the helicopter could safely pick them up. The paintings they made that day are an important contribution to the look of the film, with rock structures similar to those in the photo below.
Have you seen the movie Up? Have you traveled to South America?
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