As we lazed about yesterday, we decided we’d do some sightseeing today and, after consulting our Lanzarote guide book, two places jumped out at us, Jameos del Agua and Cueva de Los Verdes, both of which were very close to each other. The problem being they weren’t all that close to us. According to our map both were around twelve miles away, walking distance, just, but not in the Lanzarote heat and not with the huge possibility of getting lost.
We went down to the hotel reception and asked if there were busses, there weren’t. We asked roughly how much a taxi would cost and found we were looking at forty euros each way. Hmm, that’s quite a lot of money, especially when you then have to pay to get in too. The hotel did run coach excursions but they were quite pricey too. The idea of being stuck on a coach with loads of other people and having to see things at their pace, not ours, didn’t really appeal. Besides, the excursion went to several other places we weren’t that interested in seeing and included lunch which we may or may not have wanted. The lovely receptionist’s final suggestion was to rent a car for the day!
We went away to mull things over. Commando wasn’t exactly enthralled with the idea of driving on the wrong side of the road in a car with the steering wheel and gear stick on the wrong side. He’s driven extensively in France, but in our own car, and in Cyprus in a hire car where the sensible Cypriots drive on the right side of the road, by right side I mean left. There was a hire car shop in the hotel atrium so we thought we’d find out how much it would cost before we decided anything.
Turned out the cost of car hire, at sixty five euros, was way less than all the other options, they’d throw in a sat nav for five euros extra and the man behind the desk assured us the roads are more or less empty at this time of year. Even so, I could see Commando’s point about the driving. Driving on the wrong side of the road is hard, let’s face it, I find it hard to drive on the right side of the road (left), not to mention the whole gear stick, steering wheel thing. We mulled a bit more, then Commando decided he’d give it a go. What was the worst that could happen?
Actually, I was trying very hard not to dwell on the worst that could happen, especially when we got into the car, a little Volkswagen Polo. Even for me it was pretty weird. For a start, I was sitting in the driving seat but I didn’t have a steering wheel or a clutch, brake or accelerator. Poor Commando was in the same situation but he had to drive, and on the wrong side of the road (right) at that! We managed to get out of the car park in one piece, although his gear changing at the beginning was pretty much like mine is all the time, which is much, much worse than his normal gear changing.
We hadn’t gone far when we realised the sat nav was still in Spanish so we had to pull over and work out how to change it to Tim, the English voice. After that it was pretty plain sailing, except that I found myself trying to brake on a fairly regular basis and Commando kept reaching down to the left for the gears. One good thing was the speed, Commando was erring on the side of caution as he didn’t know what the speed limit was half the time so he was actually driving nice and slowly, just like I do.
We did miss a turn, mainly because Tim didn’t tell us about it until we’d almost gone past it. Tim kindly recalculated though and we were soon back where we should be. After a while Commando got used to the gears, more or less, and I got used to being in the driving seat and not driving. There was an incident where he stalled because he was in third, not first, but that kind of thing happens to me with monotonous regularity. I can’t tell you how proud I was of him! There is no way I could have done it.
We made it to Cueva de los Verdes in one piece and, with a big sigh of relief from Commando, parked up. The views around us were astounding, the volcanoes we’d been driving past were laid out behind us and, close by, lots of little columns built of igneous rock dotted the landscape. In the opposite direction we looked out over the sea towards Morocco. Unlike the larva fields we walked through on Wednesday, these were alive with low growing cacti and succulents, maybe there is more rain in the north of the island or perhaps the ground is more fertile, who knows?
Cueva los Verdes is a four mile long underground tunnel, a little like the one we found in the mountains outside Tahiche, but much longer. It was created during the eruption of Monte Corona about five million years ago from a tube of solidified larva, like a long thin larva bubble. Apparently, it is one of the world’s longest volcanic tunnels but, sadly, only the first mile is open to the public and much of it is actually underwater so would only be accessible to divers, although even they’re not allowed in there.
After a quick toilet stop, we bought our tickets, nine euros each, and walked down a winding path to wait for the tour guide with the the mass of assorted nationalities also visiting the caves. While we waited I looked down into the dark mouth of the larva tunnel, a gaping chasm in the ground. There was also a smaller opening high up on the path, not big enough for a person to fit through, well not me anyway. Here a few hardy, non succulent, plants had found a sheltered home. The rocks below the opening were red, yet above it, they’re were a beautiful greenish blue, like verdigris.
Eventually the guide arrived and we all began our decent into the chasm, walking on a crazy paved floor of larva that may or may not have been purposely laid. With one last look at the blue sky above I entered the darkness of the caves. A steady stream of people followed, picking their way carefully down steps and uneven ground. Looking back at them I couldn’t help thinking, but for the modern clothes, we could have been a clan of prehistoric cave men.
In the first chamber our guide went through some safety instructions, mostly these were about tall people minding their heads and not letting children run off. We also learned that the caves are not called verdes because of their green colour, they are actually named after the family who lived there in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the Verdes or Green’s. The caves were also used by locals to hide from pirates and slave traders.
Here the rocks were bright green and ochre. Strategical placed lighting and the odd opening above let in enough light to make out where we were going. Maybe those little mounds are where the tunnel opens to the sky? We set off down the tunnel in a straggly line. I tried to stay at the back so I could stop and take photos not crowded with people gasping at the wonderful colours of the rocks, peering down chasms, along little side tunnels, and up through natural skylights, snapping away with my iPhone.
In places the colour of the rocks gave the impression that the larva was still boiling and flowing, in others the solidified larva took on a pinkish hue. In one section, called the devils kitchen, the rocks are a bright, coppery red, in another brilliant cobalt blue. Here and there white flecks or small seams were salt deposits from the infrequent rain.
One thing that stood out to me was the lack of moisture here. Other underground tunnels and caves I’ve visited, like Cheddar Gorge in England, St Michael’s Caves and the siege tunnels in Gibraltar have been damp, dripping places filled with stalactites and stalagmites built up over centuries from mineral filled water. Here the walls were alternately smooth and shiny, crazed with fissures, or rough and bubbly but none of them was damp in the slightest. Another surprise was the temperature, underground it is usually cold, here the temperature was a steady twenty degrees, like a warm spring day in England. There were stalactites of a kind, not formed by centuries of dripping water but by the molten larva, dripping down as it cooled. In some places the roof of the tunnel was so low even I had to bend down to get through, Commando was almost bent double.
The second chamber was lined with chairs facing a small stage. Here concerts are regularly held and the acoustics, as demonstrated by some gentle classical music, are fantastic. I imagine it would be quite something to listen to live music in such a setting. Not long after we left the auditorium cave we came to the deepest point. This was where we would have to turn back. We all stopped at a small wall, in front of us a precipitous drop with another cave above, separated by a kind of stone bridge.
Everyone lined up along the wall to look down into the depths below and the guide picked up a stone. He chose a small boy and asked for silence so that the child could drop the stone down into the tunnel below and we could hear it. “I hope there is no one down there,” he said. The boy dropped the stone and the strangest thing happened. Instead of the echoing of stone hitting rock far below there was a plop of stone hitting water and bottom cave dissolved into rippling water. The deep chasm had been an illusion, the reflection of the tunnel above. The water here is just eight inches deep and our guide was able to perform another small miracle by fishing the stone back out again. Surprisingly no one applauded.
Rather than walking back the way we’d come we took another, higher path. In places this was quite a steep climb and, when a tiny dot of light in the distance turned into bright sunlight, it was almost blinding in its brilliance, the heat of the sun magnified by our time underground. As someone who tends towards the claustrophobic the sight of blue sky and fluffy white clouds was very welcome, as was the view of the distant sea.
We walked back to the car slowly getting acclimatised to the heat and light. Our next mission was to find Jameos del Agua but, as time is getting on and I intend to spend tomorrow sitting on a sun lounger, I’ll tell you all about that then.