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: