Nobody had warned us that we’d have to put pink prophylactics on our head before entering Europe’s longest volcanic tube.
I’d read a number of reports about going underground at the Cueva del Viento (Cave of the Wind) near Icod de los Vinos but had never seen mention of the pink and grey headgear that went under the hard hats and which, let’s be honest, makes you look like a right geek.
As we pulled them onto our heads, the scene transformed into a photographic quick draw to see who could get the most ridiculous shot that could be used as blackmail material later.
It was a moment that was indicative of our visit to the Cueva del Viento – fun but with a serious side (the hard hats were essential as I did smack my head towards the end of the underground trip when my concentration lapsed. It did its job perfectly and I felt nothing except a jolt).
Before Going Underground
We’d turned up at the Visitor Centre 30 minutes early as instructed and had spent the time perusing the info boards and taking note of the insects that we didn’t want to encounter within the cave – we particularly weren’t keen on running into eyeless cockroaches.
The visit starts with a 25/30 minute presentation about how the Cueva del Viento was created. It was the sort of thing our visiting nephew, Liam, had studied at university so he was interested in this part but I was chomping at the bit to get below ground.
However, the enthusiasm and mischievous humour of Francisco Manuel Mesa Luis (“my name’s Frank but you can call me Francisco”) – biologist and our guide – made the prep highly enjoyable as well as being fascinating.
I’m not going into detail as it’s much better to hear and see how tunnels like the Cueva del Viento are formed from the likes of Francisco but he did whet my appetite even more for getting underground to explore Europe’s longest volcanic tube (17 kilometres). Plus his description of pahoehoe (rope-like lava) and ‘a’a (uneven, jagged lava) is a hoot.
Getting to the Entrance of the Cueva del Viento
First there’s a short ride up vertical country lanes, then it’s time for hard hats and silly caps and a hike into the heady pines. Francisco references points of interest along the way including flowers, pahoehoe lava and the first site of the tube itself at the ‘cave of the old woman’ (so called because an old woman fell down it and had to be rescued).
It’s not a long or difficult walk but it did prove a problem for one woman in our group.
Into the Cueva del Viento
Anyone who has visited the Cueva de los Verdes on Lanzarote will find the Cueva del Viento quite a bit different. Where the Cueva de los Verdes has been developed to be able to welcome hordes of tourists daily, the Cueva del Viento feels more like the real deal; a place to study a natural wonder. Don’t get me wrong, I like Cueva de los Verdes but I got much more of a thrill descending into Tenerife’s grittier volcanic tube.
There’s no tasteful lighting and soporific music, only silence and a narrow arc of light provided by head torches. Underfoot is surprisingly rough on the soles of the feet and decent shoes are required.
Within a few seconds, the blackness closed in around us and any movement of the head revealed intriguing caverns and other tunnels leading from the channel we were exploring. There was a door on one and Francisco explained that it was a tube where some of the tunnel’s creatures lived and that the door kept them safe from us. In the darkness in the bowels of the earth in such a fantastical setting it was impossible not to wonder ‘or does it keep us safe from them?’ But that’s probably a product of a mind fuelled by too many Jules Verne novels and Steven Spielberg movies.
Throughout our exploration of the tube, Francisco kept us fed with juicy snippets and just before it was time to head to the surface, he played his ace card – lights out time.
The total darkness was almost physical, like a presence that crowded my senses and made me feel small and insignificant. It also made me want to laugh when, breaking the eerie silence, someone’s stomach groaned… at least I hoped it was someone’s stomach.
Giggle potential aside, it was an appropriately dramatic conclusion to an imagination stirring journey to the centre of Tenerife’s earth.
The Visitor Centre is open from 9am to 4pm with four guided tours each day (10am, 11am, 1pm and 2pm); tours can be arranged in different languages; tickets are €16 for adults – €10 for residents. Don’t turn up without booking a place first.
Finding the Cueva del Viento
The Cueva del Viento and its Visitor Centre is located in the hills above Icod de los Vinos on the road leading beyond El Amparo. Anyone who knows Icod de los Vinos will know that ‘in the hills above’ means you’re in for a steep climb in the car, even if you approach from the La Montañeta side. The Visitor Centre is well signposted from both approaches but it’s worth becoming familiar with where it is on the map.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+