By Keith Kellett
Over 3000 years have passed since the eruption of the Monte de Corona volcano on Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands. That eruption bored out a lava tunnel to the sea, and, indeed, continued under the sea bed for some distance. The tunnel is about 6 kms long, and is claimed as one of the longest lava tunnels in the world. They won’t stick their necks out and say it’s the longest, but a considerable amount still remains to be explored.
A ‘jameo’, a word that comes from the language the islanders spoke before the Spanish arrived, is formed when part of the roof of a tunnel so formed collapses, and that, simplified, is how the Jameos del Agua came about. ‘Agua’ means water, and it got its name from the underground lake between two of the ‘jameos’.
Inside the ‘jameos’ live blind albino crabs which are found nowhere else. However, they’re difficult, if not impossible, to see as they’re only a centimeter long. They have been adopted as the icon of the site, so there are plenty of models of them around the place.
You enter by way of the ‘Jameo Chico’ (‘Baby jameo’) and descend into it, down to the lake. A notice sternly forbids throwing coins into the water … (why do tourists feel that, when passing any water feature, be it fountain or horse-trough, they must toss coins into it?) … as this will adversely affect the crabs.
A walkway takes you through the tunnel, along the side of the lake, until you come to the ‘Jameo Grande’, where you ascend once more to exit the system. It might be thought that it’s not very interesting apart from the crabs, for there are no stalactites or other formations found in limestone caves; it’s just a hole in the ground, really.
But then, in the middle of the 1960s, along came local architect César Manrique. The work of Manrique can be seen all over Lanzarote, the most conspicuous of which are the ‘mobiles’ on the grass reserve on some roundabouts on the road. When he started, the ‘jameos’ were becoming rather dilapidated and overgrown.
What Manrique did in association with artist Jesús Soto was to create a sort of underground garden; one of the few examples of Man coordinating with Nature, and improving on it, but still retaining the feel of the volcanic tunnel. The idea was to use the acoustics of the ‘Jameo Grande’ for a concert hall in addition to it a restaurant, a pool – for admiring, not for swimming in - and a dance floor were installed. These blend in naturally, adding great interest to what is actually a rather anonymous hole in the ground.
Most Northern Europeans tend to regard Lanzarote as one of the inexpensive resorts for sun, sand, sea, sangria and … (what’s the other S? I forget!) but that’s not true of the whole island. Most of the tourists head for the beaches on the eastern coast, to the south of the capital, Arrecife. Some will head west, to the volcanic park at Timanfaya, for Lanzarote itself and indeed all of the Canary Islands were formed by volcanic action. Those volcanoes are by no means extinct as any tourist guide will often demonstrate, by tossing a bucket of water down a fumarole to produce a waterspout.
Luckily, Monte de Corona isn’t going to erupt any time soon. At least, I hope not!
Info on opening times and how to get to the Jameos here: http://www.turismolanzarote.com/
Keith Kellett writes athttp://travelrat.wordpress.com/
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_stephenson/