Getting Under The Skin Of Tenerife At Cueva Del Viento

Sampling just 200 of the 17,000 metres of volcanic tubes at Icod is always a privilege, it’s like lifting the bonnet on the engine of Tenerife. Outside the lush green plants, trees, and a dusting of snow on Mount Teide painted a picture of natures calm beauty but a few metres underground layers of history had been ripped open by a violent eruption dating back 20 million years.

This was my fourth visit to Cueva del Viento but there’s always more to discover, my friends Dave, Annie, and Francine were first time visitors in our English speaking group of 15. The tubes are the third biggest in the world but in terms of complexity the three layers of tunnels can’t be touched, they are a magnet to experts from around the globe, our knowledgeable guides were Dragan from Serbia and Monica from Poland.

The visitors centre is a steep 10 minute drive (or five euro taxi) up from Icod town and we were given a detailed video history of the creation of the tunnels via an eruption from Pico Viejo on the slopes of Mount Teide.
Our minibus took us up further to the edge of the pine forest to start the approach to the cave on foot. Our guides pointed out the different terrain along the walk, the pahohoe smooth lava that quickly forms a surface crust and then forms tubes underneath had cut a swathe through the pine trees.

We stopped at the Old Womans Chasm where a local lady was lucky to survive falling down a pothole, a metal gate protects it now but we were warned that the surface rock should be trodden on lightly. Taking the old Camino Real traders path we soon arrived at the stone steps down into the tunnels and strapped on our helmets, power packs, and lights. The cool, dry air that greeted us in the entrance tunnel was eerie and loaded with promise. Some further nuggets of information as we sat on the rock ledges and we were off walking slowly downwards with out light beams bouncing off the low roofs and encroaching sides.

The mission of the Cueva del Viento team is to educate and preserve about this insight window on history. Our visitors section of the tunnels had been inspected, subtley strengthened in places, and had metal grids added to aid walking but the rest of the labyrinth is still slowly giving up its secrets. Handicapped parties are encouraged to do the tour and Dragan told us how a young blind visitor had surprised him with the amount of information he was able to glean from a heightened sense of touch. At one point we turned all lights out for a minute to appreciate the total darkness and lack of any sound. The slight magnetism in the rocks cuts out phone and radio signals and would prevent any bats from using their natural sonar, rats and other creatures are also absent, the many species living here are tiny insects relying on plant roots and drips of moisture.

One aim of the project is to buy agricultural land above the tunnels to stop pesticides seeping down into the caves. Public exploration is growing, a caving club regularly visits from the UK and on Saturdays they can arrange more extensive caving trips that include full equipment to explore some of the many offshoots including a 14 metre downward link to the lower level. The end of our stretch brought us to the underside of the Old Womans Chasm where daylight streamed in through the grill above, after that we retraced our steps back to the entrance point. We had a good two hours below ground, the sunlight refreshed us as we emerged and our guides were able to answer the questions triggered off by our amazing journey as we returned to the visitors centre. It’s a very different and rewarding way to appreciate what a remarkable island Tenerife is.