Sheer magic: an awesome journey from the centre of the earth
The unique experience offered by the Cave of the Wind.
IT was in every way a defining, heart-thumping moment on our journey from the centre of the earth.
The two amiable guides brought us to a gentle but purposeful halt in the labyrinth of underground passageways that make up the enthralling Cave of the Wind.
We grouped in a ragged semi circle, burrowed somewhere beneath the rugged foothills of Mount Teide, the lamps on our safety helmets glowing like shaky fireflies.
Then, we were given a simple order: “Turn off your lamps…”
What? Did they really mean me? Surely not. Me, and the 15 others, including my redoubtable wife, Linda, crouching under millions of tons of timeless rocks?
But we all meekly obeyed.
The shock was palpable: an almost solid, unrelenting blackness dropped like a curtain. For 60 silent seconds we remained in total (yes, absolute) darkness absorbing the true meaning of life underground.
The blackness seemed endless and timeless. Ironically, I spent my time trying to actually see: but I didn’t know if I was looking up, down or sideways and I’d lost all sense of direction in this fascinating, meandering, underground wilderness.
But was it frightening? No, not one bit. Exhilarating and joyfully uplifting, yes. Particularly when lights were turned back on and we shared the joy of gazing at each other’s elated, smiling faces.
And I am here to tell you this extraordinary understated attraction (no, that’s not the correct word) tableau of history, is a veritable must-visit for anyone who wants to get to grips with the deeper understanding of volcanoes and their awesome place in the history of our planet.
First, some facts: The Cueva del Viento-Sobrado under-ground complex is the largest lava tube in the European Union.
It was created by lava flows from Pico Viejo, next to Mount Teide, and is a ten minute ride from the centre of Icod de los Vinos bearing the same name.
The tube was formed 27,000 years ago when basaltic lavas belched and roared their way out of the earth at temperatures topping 1,200 degrees centigrade during the volcano’s first eruptive phase.
The lava flowed down the volcano towards the sea, forming a crust on the surface. Meantime, underneath, hot lava continued its journey creating empty tubes which have now become an explorer’s delight.
It now gives visitors an exclusive and unparalleled insight into the role of lava flows, offering us mere mortals the chance to see first hand whimsical forms sculpted by the lava in the bowels of the earth.
And don’t for one minute believe our journey was lit like the pictures shown here.
Or there were any naff tourist tourist signs pointing; “This way to the caves” or glitzy gift shop packed with souvenirs (they only really stretch to a fridge magnet and some packets of Gofio, a toasted local cereal).
And, even more reassuring, is the fact that you are forbidden to touch anything that would disturb the fragile ecosystem in the caves itself.
This folks, is simply a true life adventure.
We operated totally on our helmet head lights and the expert guidance of Dragon and Monica, who became my two newest, best underground pals ever.
Their knowledge was encyclopaedic and unfolded in fascinating detail as they shepherded us though this underground kingdom filling out minds and eyes with awe, mystery and imagination.
We learned there were three different passage levels in more than 17 kilometres of tubes, together with beautiful geo-morphological phenomenon like chasms, terraces and other lava formations.
This tube is the fourth longest in the world with many unexplored ramifications, which tantalisingly will permit future expansion of its length as exploration continues.
And Cueva del Viento’s unique geomorphology and network of galleries on three superimposed levels, offers a phenomenon not been noted anywhere else in the world.
Its name is taken from the significant flows of cooling air that swirl in its interior.
At times, the tube roof soared above us, revealing tiny lava stalactites stippled to the arched ceiling and lava cascades, side terraces and lava lakes : pure magic every step of the way.
However, biologically, the tubes greatest relevance lies in its subterranean fauna — a constant source of new findings.
The cave has a total of 190 known species. But spookily, forty-eight are troglobites, animals doomed to live in the dark.
There’s an eyeless cock-roach and ground beetles and carabids … Could they be coming to get me?
No, said our guides. They creatures only have one interest: eating each other.
There are fossils of extinct animals like the giant rat and giant lizard, and, in hushed tones, we heard part of the complex was a burial ground for the Guanches, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands.
Remarkably, the tube itself was only discovered 100 years ago after an elderly walker survived a fifty foot fall when the ground literally opened up before her.
But best foot forward, it gave us an irresistible opportunity to grasp a trip of a lifetime.
Visits to the cave have to be prebooked, with guided routes limited to 16 per party, and start with a two language video presentation.
It is advisable to reserve your at least one day before your visit by Internet to : firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t be late – you’ll use your chance to participate.
To contact the Cueva del Viento Visitor Centre, for information, call: +34 922 81 53 39.
Prices per person: 16 euros for nonresidents; 10 euros for residents and 5 euros for children, five to 14 years old.
@ Wear suitable clothing (long pants) and footwear.
@ Always obey instructions given by the guides. Do not take any unmarked path oleave the group.
@ If you feel tired, tell the guide immediately.
@ Do not leave any waste behind or damage the cave; remember that is a very valuable protected ecosystem.
@ Animals are not allowed.
@ Do not take any material from the surroundings. Do not touch anything.
The tour is described as ‘medium difficult’ and children must be at least five years old.
Visitors with claustrophobia and those problems in knees and ankles should speak to the visitors’ centre before booking.