By Colin Kirby
Gathered below the metal grid as daylight poured into the volcanic chasm, my party of 20 explorers were pleased to feel the warmth of the Tenerife Island sun. It was a brief respite and the turning point in the Cueva del Viento (cave of the wind) near Icod de Los Vinos in the north of Tenerife Island.
I did feel a bit daft with my hard helmet perched on my head, trying desperately to direct the beam of my light. It was a small price to pay in return for delving into a 1,200 metre stretch of the 17,032 kms. of tunnels spread over three levels. Mount Teide had looked majestic with its small snow cap, as a 30-minute uphill walk had brought us to the remote entrance.
When a side vent in the volcano, Pico Viejo, erupted 27,000 years ago, the molten lava carved its way down through the rocks leaving behind the biggest set of volcanic tubes in Europe. Just before the entrance, our guide showed us a protected rough shaft where someone had fallen to their death a few years ago – it was more effective than just telling us not to wander off.
We entered this lost world via a heavy grid lifted to reveal stone steps hewn into the rock. The initial 20-foot-high chamber had just enough room for us to perch on a craggy ledge as the history was explained on a multilingual chart. Under instruction we dimmed our helmet lights and spent a minute in the dark to appreciate just how deep down we were. Thankfully the guide was still there when we lit up again.
The tour drops 470 metres from one end to the other, and as we edged our way along in half-light the rocky and rutted floor tested us at every step. There was just enough room to stand upright but tree roots dangled through in places and the tunnel pressed in close enough to feel the dry dusty sides. Strange rock formations took on imagined life in the torch beams but the myriad of small insects that live down here didn’t seem overly keen to meet us.
The tunnels re-opened four years ago after being sealed for 15 years, and the full extent of them has still to be mapped. Our main route was fed by lots of tight twisting fissures spinning off into darkness well beyond the reach of our lights.
The village of Cueva del Viento is a delightful old Canarian settlement, much of the land surrounding it is marked out to reflect the route of the tunnels below. Ideally the preservation trust would like to buy this land to ensure that chemicals from farming don’t seep down to poison the ecosystem below. There are several guided tours a day, for more go to http://cuevadelviento.net/
Colin Kirby was born in Oxford, England and combined years of freelance writing with a full time office job before cutting the chains. Mad on sport, travel, and exploring, Colin covered topics as diverse as Ice Hockey, theatre reviews, and interviews with the odd star or two before moving to Tenerife to lap up the sun 10 years ago. Still finding new wonders in Tenerife and the other six Canary Islands, you can usually find Colin walking, swimming, or worshipping CD Tenerife football team. Meet him at http://www.colinkirby.com/