Deep in the Venezuelan rain forest: imagine yourself standing at the base of Angel Falls. You are wrapped in fog and can only imagine the top where the water cascades over the lip of the high mesa thousands of feet above you.
If you dream of travel deep into the rain forests of the Amazon or Orinoco rivers then an tour to Venezuela may be just what you are looking for, but if you are an armchair traveler maybe you should settle for Isabel Allende’s adventure story La Ciudad de los Bestias (The City of the Beasts), which has much of its action set in the mysterious region surrounding Angel Falls.
Reading from a travel brochure:
“You gaze in awe at the powerful force of nature known as Angel Falls, whose waters plunge more than 3,000 feet. Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall, is one of the eight natural wonders of the world. You are there, after a long, hot hike, swimming in one of the refreshing natural pools beneath the towering falls.”
—Angel Falls Ecotours
The City of the Beasts is built on the legend of a lost city of gold, El Dorado, that is rumored to be hidden in the rainforest of Venezuela. From deep in the jungle come reports of a gigantic human-like creature being seen in the remote jungle of Venezuela. Perhaps these mysterious “beasts”, if they exist, could lead explorers to the El Dorado? Who knows?
These reports came to the attention of a national geographic journal and they decided to send an expedition from New York to locate the beast. Travel writer and adventurer Kate Cold is asked to document the expedition and write stories for the journal. Kate, doesn’t think twice; she accepts for her and for her grandson Alexander who is spending the summer with her.
Alexander is 15 years old; he is smart, athletic, good at sports, and he plays the flute really well. He will need these skills and more on this unexpected trip to Venezuela. Good luck, Alex.
Kate and her party fly from New York to Manaus, Brazil. In Manaus, they board a small plane to fly hundreds of miles North, following the Rio Negro to a small river village where the rest of the expedition is camped. There they will join a local guide and outfitter named Cesar Santos. Cesar’s 12-year-old daughter Nadia speaks the native dialects; she is the expedition translator.
Nadia is friends with a mysterious shaman called Walimai, who comes out of the jungle to talk to her just as the boats are being loaded for departure. Alex follows them into the edge of the jungle and sees Walimai give Nadia a token. Later Alex asks her about the meeting.
“He gave me this talisman. With it, I will always be safe. No one —no person, no animal, no ghost— can hurt me. I can also use it to call him, I’ve had to wait until he came. Walimai says that I am going to need him because there is much danger. Rahakanariwa is walking again; it is so creepy, a spirit cannibal-bird. Whenever it appears, there is death and destruction, but I will be protected by the talisman.”
—City of the Beasts
Alex shakes his head—silly girl, he thinks.
A talisman is not a bad idea: the rain forest has many dangers—wild animals, poisonous snakes and river serpents are a danger to the unwary traveler. Also, the mostly peaceful Indian tribes can turn savage if provoked. The greatest danger to the expedition, however, are criminals: smugglers, poachers, corrupt soldiers who plunder the rain forest.
There is also the legendary Beast that they are seeking. Is it dangerous?
Before the expedition starts, Nadia overhears two of their expedition crew whispering in the dark; they talk of a plot to kill off the natives so the area will be opened for mining. There is a spy in their group.
Nadia tells Alex of the spy and they resolve to be vigilant. A friendship is forming between these two youngsters.
Under military escort, the expedition starts up the Rio Negro towards Venezuela where they will meet the grand Orinoco River. These two great river systems are connected during the wet season so access to the Angel Falls region is possible from Manaus, Brazil or from Caracas, Venezuela.
A few days up river the guides become aware that that indians are invisibly watching the expedition from the banks of the river. Then, at a rest stop on the banks of the river a mysterious animal comes from the jungle and attacks one of the guards. Is this the fearsome beast they are searching for? Mindless of the danger, Nadia and Alex wander away from the rest of the expedition and Indians appear out of nowhere to kidnap them.
The two young adventurers are prisoners of the mysterious “people of the mist” who live in the remote Venezuelan rain forest. Walimai has led this tribe to Nadia because she has a mission to fulfill—she must help save this tribe from the Rahakanariwa, the evil bird of death.
Alex is taken prisioner too. The Indians take him along because Walimai senses that Alex has a roll to play—he must help Nadia subdue the fearsome Rahakanariwa.
After several days of hiking the party finds itself before a giant waterfall. (Think of Angel Falls; it helps.) The chief of the Indians tells Nadia that they will climb up the cliff behind the falls, because the Indian’s village is on the mesa. That is also the land of the Beasts.
Now Allende’s story can develop in earnest. Nadia, Alex and the indians climb up a secret path behind the waterfall to arrive at the village of the People of the Mist.
The chief of the tribe and Walimai send Nadia and Alex on a dangerous quest that will determine whether of the tribe and the giant beasts will continue to exist.
The novel comes to an exciting, surprising finale when army helicopters land on the high mesa in search of Nadia and Alex. The two young heroes will have to choose whom to support: the People of the Mist or the army and people of their own expedition.
The City of the Beasts is the first novel in a three-part series for young adults that will conclude with Kingdom of the Golden Dragon and Forest of the Pygmies. The author’s summaries of these novels can be found at her web site IsabelAllende.com. She says the following her novel:
“When his mother becomes ill, fifteen-year-old Alexander Cold is sent away to join his fearless and tough-minded grandmother, a magazine reporter for International Geographic, on an expedition to the dangerous, remote world of the Amazon. Their mission, along with the others on their team—including a celebrated anthropologist; a local guide and his young daughter, Nadia; and a doctor—is to document the legendary Yeti of the Amazon known as the Beast.
“Under the dense canopy of the jungle, Alexander is amazed to discover much more than he could have imagined about the hidden worlds of the rain forest—and about human nature. Drawing on the strength of the jaguar, the totemic animal Alexander finds within himself, and the eagle, Nadia’s spirit guide, the two young people are led by the People of the Mist—an indigenous people so in tune with their surroundings that they can literally disappear—on a thrilling and unforgettable journey into the wonder-filled heart of the Amazon.”
The series is available in Spanish and in English. I prefer the Spanish version.
More About Angel Falls
Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall at 3,212 feet (almost 20 times the height of Niagara Falls), is named in honor of Jimmie Angel, the Missouri-born bush pilot who crash-landed his turboprop near the falls in an ill-fated search for gold in the 1930’s. In
Day 81: La ciudad de los bestias (The City of the Beasts), Isabel Allende