| I ’m A geographer |
Charles Brewer Carias,
72, is an explorer and ‘discoverer’. Born in Venezuela, the grandson of a British diplomat, he has built a career leading more than 200 expeditions into the Venezuelan rainforest. Twenty-seven species of flora and fauna have been named after him and he holds the world record for making fire with sticks (2.7 seconds). He talks to Tim Bromfield about being a Victorian explorer in the 21st century and his discovery of the lost city of El Dorado
I am an explorer, and I have dedicated my life to discovery, to exploration and to obtaining from that exploration new things for the world. I am a discoverer of plants, caves, crickets, frogs, Indian weavings – you name it.
However, I am living in a century of the specialist. I’m not a specialist; I am an encyclopaedist in the 19th-century sense. That’s my century, the century of explorers and discoverers. But when you say you’re an explorer or a discoverer, people put their tongues in their cheeks. I feel that I’m going through a century that doesn’t understand what I do.
When I was a child, Caracas was a city of 300,000 people, it was a rural area. That meant that I grew up with contact with so many plants and animals. The great explorers of the Venezuelan Gran Sabana were patients at my father’s dental clinic during the 1940s and I heard them speaking about the lost cities they had seen in the jungle.
The edge of the unknown still haunts us. To discover is to shed the veil of things that men have never known before. So you become a kind of creator, and this carries a responsibility. Where was it? At what time? When? Why? Detailed observation must accompany your sight so that you are sure that what you are looking at is a piece of information that no-one has ever had before. So you create. And as the great Colombian explorer Mauricio Obregon said: ‘When you discover, you must say it with poetry.’
Anybody can be a discoverer. It’s a matter of preparation, of knowledge, of being interested in everything. The only limits are those of our imagination.
El Dorado was not a place but a man: the gilded man, chief of the Oreiones, descended from the Incas. People started to speak about him in 1539, when three conquistadors gathered at Bogotá found evidence that indicated that, in the jungles east of the Andes, there existed an Indian chief who washed in gold dust and lived at a lake called Parime. Since then, thousands of men have died looking for this place, the lost city of Manoa.
The idea of the existence of the goldmine of the Incas has been maintained by many people, including Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in Brazil in 1925; and others, such as Jimmie Angel, who discovered the Angel Falls, and Paul Redfern, who disappeared with his airplane in 1927.
In 1992, I was in a very distant place living with some Indians and I went to the forest to relieve myself. While I was crouching down, I saw a white button. I thought, ‘That cannot be a button. This is a completely unexplored, unknown place.’ And this button only had one hole. So it had to be a bead from a necklace.
So I dug right there and found an immense layer of clay pottery. I made holes along the trail at the same depth,
and throughout, there were deposits of ceramics. It was so enormous that only a huge human dwelling could have been there. The Indians I worked with there were making pottery, and to my surprise, the mud they used was flecked with a mineral that shined like gold. It was then that I realised I had found Manoa; not the wealth of a city of gold, just confirmation of the history.
The lake was no more because it had dried out. But I have studied maps of the area and have checked that a lake could have been there. And it was beautiful – a closed endorheic basin, with rivers flowing into a central lake, just as the hypothetical Lake Parime was drawn based on Walter Raleigh’s map in 1599. Astonishing.
I have promised my three companions in this project not to talk about the specific location until the current government has been voted out, because it’s greedy, non-scientific and would destroy the information that is uncovered. When that has happened, I will be the director of an expedition to Manoa.
I feel that I need more time to pass on everything that I’ve learned in my life. I wake up every morning at 4am and start work because if I can’t give now, I won’t be able to give later. I have to communicate so many things. My lifetime is determined by the number of years I have left. So I am giving to the future information about what I saw in my time.
1938 Born Caracas, Venezuela
1960 Graduated from university with a degree in dentistry and studies in biology
1961 Lived with the Ye’kwana tribe in the Orinoco basin 1967 Participated with anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon and
Dr James Neel in seven expeditions to study the genetics of the Yanomamö and Ye’kwana Indians
1974, 1976 Discovered and explored the world’s largest sinkholes at the top of Sarisariñama tepui 1979–82 Venezuelan cabinet minister for youth affairs and sports 1981 Awarded medals for his expedition into the Essequibo territory (former British Guyana) to spy on Russian and Cuban activity 1983–87 Led expedition to Mountain of the Mists 2004 Discovered the world’s largest quartzite cave on Chimanta tepui
82 www.geographical.co.uk december 2010