Even in 1983 Puerto del Carmen was the busiest tourist resort on the island but in December it was rather quiet and at that time hadn’t really begun to attract the rowdy visitors that have subsequently discovered the island. Consequently evenings were relatively quiet and relaxed in the bars and the restaurants of the resort without the excesses that have led some to refer to the island these days as Lanzagrotty!
After the drive to the west of the island to Timanfaya we had the knackered jeep at our disposal for another day and this time travelled north along the eastern coast to visit the volcanic caves just north of Arrecife.
It is a rather odd thing but people seem to like to go below the surface of the earth and go down caves and caverns, grottoes and mines and I have to say that I am no exception. I used to live near the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire (UK) and would go down the Blue John mines near Buxton pretty much every year. Well the guide book pointed out some caves in Lanzarote so that is where we made for today.
La Cueva de los Verdes is what is known as a lava tube and was created around three thousand years ago by lava flows from the nearby volcano Monte Corona, flowing across the Malpaís de la Corona toward the sea. The lava streams cooled on top, developing a solid crust, before the lava drained away leaving the top part as the roof of a cave. In a number of places along the tube the roof of the cave collapsed, forming a cavern known locally as a jameo.
The cave system at Cueva de los Verdes is around six kilometres long and claimed to be the longest lava tube in the World but I am willing to wager that somewhere else in the World will be making exactly the same claim!
Visitors can take a tour along about a kilometre of illuminated path and so we handed over our money and prepared to leave the sunshine and like Otto Lidenbrock in ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ * descend below the surface.
We followed our guide through an intriguing maze of gigantic caves, carved by lava and gnawed by erosion, through a succession of caverns and galleries with lighting displays arranged to illuminate the colours of the rocks and the eerie shadows that they cast. As usual in underground caves he kept pointing out natural sculptures that, with a lot of imagination, had a resemblance to familiar icons – the Madonna and Child (several times), Bulls, Matadors and famous Spanish Kings and Queens.
After an hour or so we returned blinking to the surface and drove the short distance to nearby Jameos del Agua and prepared to go straight underground again.
This time we descended steeply down a flight of steps and arrived in a rather gloomy café area where we stopped for a drink and an overpriced bocadillo before continuing into the cave. There was a walk now along a narrow path on one side of a flooded cavern where in the water the main attraction were hundreds of blind albino crabs, apparently the only ones like it in the World, which is another claim that I am unable to confirm.
We didn’t spend nearly as much time underground at this cave because it opened out quite quickly into the collapsed cavern where the afternoon sunshine was pouring into a luxurious tropical garden with exotic plants and scarlet flowers, fish ponds with turtles posing obligingly for photographs and a brilliant turquoise swimming pool and recreational area. Today this is claimed to be the number one visitor attraction on the island and visitors are pre warned about long queues but once again it was quiet enough when we were there.
At the end of the day we drove back to Puerto del Carmen and as we were running low on fuel we were forced to find a garage so we pulled into a filling station where the smiling attendant approached probably in expectation of filling the tank and a big sale…
‘Si Seňor?’ he beamed,
‘two hundred por favor’ , we said calculating that this would be enough to see us through until we returned the vehicle to the car hire office.
‘two hondred?’ ‘two hondred?’ the man pushed his black beret up over his forehead scratched his head in that puzzled sort of way, twisted his face into a squint, wrinkled his walnut sunburned face and looked thoroughly confused as he searched for clarification, finally he just said – ‘not enough room in tank!’
We looked confused and then we realised what he meant and were more specific, ‘no, not litres – pesetas!’
Now, this was the equivalent of about seventy-five pence so this required great precision on his part to deliver only just the required miniscule amount into the tank. We handed him two one hundred peseta notes and he walked away shaking his head and repeating over and over to himself ‘two hondred, two hondred…’
And this wasn’t the end to Richard’s meanness and on the last night we finally found out why he always found an excuse to go back into a restaurant after we had paid and left. He would claim that he had left his jacket or needed the gents or some other quite plausible reason but then we caught him going back inside and scooping up the change that we had left for a gratuity because he didn’t agree with the principle of tipping.
Having caught him we made him buy the next few rounds of drinks!
This had been my first time visiting the Canary Islands and I liked Lanzarote even though I have never been back but for the next few years I did make it an annual event to visit some of the others…
* Rather interestingly in the book the Professor and his assistant search for the Centre of the Earth by entering a lava tube at Snæfellsjökull glacier in Iceland and eventually comes back to the surface through another one on the slopes of Mount Etna on the island of Sicily.
Other Cave Stories:
Drogarati Cave and Blue Lagoon, Kephalonia
The last photo is the coolest one.
Just getting ready for a big night out in Puerto Del Carmen!
Madonna and Child several times? Were there any refreshments prior to cave exploration by chance? 🙂
It must be someone’s important cave job to find all of the Madonna and child natural sculptures and shadows.
One place I have never been… you probably saw it at it’s best I guess
That is an interesting point Spike. I have always said how good it would have been to see Spain in the 1950s before mass tourism and the 1980s is now far enough behind us to start thinking along the same lines. It was good then but I don’t know how it compares today. In 50 years time people will say how much they would have liked to have seen it in 2014. Probably the same for most anywhere! Nostalgia rules!
Exactly. Remember we first conversed over my post on Folegandros. I was there in 87 and would think twice before going back. It’ll be great sure, but like childhood memories, it’s never the same after.
I loved Lanzascrotty (as we called it). Jameos del Agua was a tale in itself. Natch we were bussing it, so we finally got on the bus heading that way.
Jamie Os del Agua I said as I handed over my pesetas. Puzzled driver. Jamie Os del Agua, repeated Partner. A German couple sitting up the front helpfully said Hammy Os del Agua, and light dawned for all of us. No idea why I didn’t make the J sounding like H connection considering I was brought up knowing that sherry came from Herez.
When we got there, a tour group was queuing patiently to go in. We tagged on behind them expectantly. ‘You there at the back! You aren’t part of this tour!’ We turned around disconsolately and never did get to see Jameos del Agua. Can’t remember what we did after that. Probably ate, drank and got the bus back 😀
To be honest, I don’t think missing the caves will have left a gaping hole in your life.
Once on holiday with my son I paid for a guided tour of the Palace of Knossos and after a few minutes some free loaders tagged on. Even at fourteen, Jonathan was cultivating an impressive mean streak and he became very concerned about the two non-payers and he kept trying to draw this to the attention of the guide who eventually responded to the hints and asked them to pay up – much to his satisfaction.
I have enjoyed a few free guided tours myself I have to confess!
I found Knossos disappointing. Far too much reconstruction for me. I don’t remember having to pay though.
Nice to hear from you – I think we had this debate before?
I like the view of Henry Miller in ‘Colossus of Rhodes’:
“There has been much controversy about the aesthetics of Sir Arthur Evans’s work of restoration. I find myself unable to come to any conclusion about it; I accepted it as a fact. However Knossos may have looked in the past, however it may look in the future, this one which Evans has created is the only one I shall ever know. I am grateful to him for what he did…”
As a student of history you don’t need reconstruction (you would certainly like the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus at Bodrum) but most people/visitors/tourists need some sort of modern interpretation of ancient sites.
I am also thinking that without reconstruction many sites just would not be available to visit – I am thinking of the medieval castles of Spain for example.
When are you going to post again?
In reverse order.
You’re right I don’t need the reconstruction which is why it annoys me 😀
Well most people should pay more attention in their history lessons and read around a bit. If they aren’t interested why visit?
Hmm, I’m not grateful to Evans and whoever has fiddled with it afterwards.
We did. Knossos just happens to be the one that always stands out in my mind. Although there is something at Wallsend for Hadrian’s Wall that has also been fiddled with as I remember that wasn’t to my liking.
I’m catching up on commenting on other blogs for now. I could write a post for roughseas I suppose but I really have more important things to do sadly.
Good luck with those other important things…
We visited the second cave this year – the little crabs are still there. Would have liked to have seen the bigger tube and caves… Richard’s a bit of a one..!
I like going down into caves but I have to say that Kim isn’t nearly so keen!
While volcanic creations seem to follow you around, Andrew – or vice versa 😀 – you present the specialty of each as if it’s the only one in the world! I must say I love the cafe ambiance with the luscious and mysteriously exotic (at least to me) greenery.
Although it was a bit gloomy and damp (as I remember it) it was a rather nice place to spend a half an hour or so.
The people photo looks like a John Hinde postcard – lovely. Note you’re reading Venice by Jan Morris, an brilliant book.
I see exactly what you mean about the postcard image. ‘Venice’ is a wonderful book, just wish I had read it before going there. Also recently ‘Spain’ and also very good!
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Thank you Derrick.
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“scooping up the change that we had left for a gratuity because he didn’t agree with the principle of tipping” That’s dreadful! Stealing your friends’ money!
Don’t many countries have a system where the staff get very low wages but depend on tipping? I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that that is the case in the USA.
I believe that in USA there is an expectation of 20%. I refuse to go on a cruise ship as ripping is compulsory and automatically added to the bill. In Japan tipping is considered an insult.
Enjoyed this post, reminded me of visits to those caves. I went with friends to Lanzarote, we stayed in a villa in the centre of the island, and I was quite impressed by the lack of tourist rowdiness away from the bigger beach areas
A nice island, I enjoyed it but have never been back.
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I remember those caves well because as we were leaving one dark section, our guide called our “Cuidado la cabeza” (I may have got the ‘command’ ending wrong in Spanish here) but my husband, not knowing Spanish, didn’t ‘mind his head’ and when we emerged into the light he looked like something from a horror film as blood had been pouring out of his head for about ten minutes and his face and shirt were covered with it. Two of the Spanish women in the group immediately started screaming, another couple started praying, one man demanded we get an ambulance, another demanded the police, and poor old Nick just stood there looking perplexed as he had no pain and hadn’t felt anything. Thanks for reminding me of a funny occasion.
Thank you for adding your story Marie.
You should never tempt me Andrew,
The Undara Lava Tubes were created about 190,000 years ago when a staggering 23 cubic kilometres of lava flowed into a river bed and kept flowing for 160km, making it the world’s longest lava flow from a single volcano.
Huge caves, some over 21m wide and up to 10m high, have formed in places along the tubes. They are never dark because they are gaping holes which can be entered by visitors accompanied by tour guides. The experience is genuinely unforgettable.
Thanks for adding this John.
Being a bit claustrophobic, I’d never make it as a spelunker, Andrew. Still, I have been in my share of caves over the years. In Lava Beds National Monument (in the more remote section of Northeastern California) there are numerous lava tube caves you are welcome to explore on your own. Explorers are urged to have back up flashlights and to carry spare batteries. It wouldn’t do to get caught a few hundred feet in and suddenly have it go pitch black on you. 🙂 –Curt
Thanks for adding this Curt.
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I do enjoy lava tube exploration. All this tourism is the opposite of my favourite lava tube here in Oregon, where there is no evidence on the surface it even exists, until you are on top of it and see the ladder into a hole in the ground! Oh how I would have loved to visit La Cueva de los Verdes in 1983. Not that it seems so amazing, based on your description, but that I’m sure it’ll never be that quiet again.
It will be a major tourist attraction now I am sure.
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