Author Topic: Tenerriffic two part trip report (Verbose...yes really!)  (Read 3013 times)

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Tenerriffic two part trip report (Verbose...yes really!)
« on: December 14, 2007, 07:15:20 pm »

Up until now a great deal of my travelling has been done alone and the last bit of international adventure I had was probably as a teenager on a package tour to France,  and so there were two very big differences with this trip, the first being was that I wasn't alone, I was with a group of friends who actually liked the same things that I did, and the second was that I was now old enough to buy beer, excellent!
When I think of Tenerife it brings to mind images of 'mad for it'  Brits in union jack T'shirts, pissing off the locals and parading themselves down the streets after a dodgy paella and a bucket full of Stella, destined to wind up in some ex-pat run resort that is sterilised of culture and bereft of flavour, I'm fairly sure it is the last place on Earth I'd be wanting to go.
Luckily Tenerife isn't like that, well most of it anyhow... a quick scramble through the airport, avoiding the sombrero clad package operators and desperate touts with fliers directing you to "the maddest pissup on the island" and we were away up into the mountain roads, climbing our way to thin air and freedom.... well almost.. we took a wrong turn upon leaving the airport and spent an hour getting back on track, to be fair we were all slightly comatosed from an extremely early flight coupled with the fact that shortly after take off our pilot turned on the speakers and introduced himself as 'Johnny Quest'... it was easy to see that this trip was going to be a break from the norm.

Day one; Cueva De Samara, Cueva De Los Pajoros

With Andy Morse and his partner Wendy already settled into the villa in Los Silos, all that remained was for the rest of us to meet them there, 'us' consisted of the unshakable and extremely well travelled Ian Timney, the inimitable part caver part rally car driver that was Les and the extremely nervous passenger that was myself. To say that we were driving at high altitude was an understatement as the first thing that really struck me was that I was looking down and not up at the clouds, if we went off the edge here I wouldn't just have time to think about things on the way down, I'd be able to write a will and maybe even make a farewell phonecall or two before we even got close to hitting the ground.
       Luckily Les is a good driver and whilst slowing down for corners seemed to be something that only hapenned to other people, we had soon two wheeled our way around the Island and had pulled up at Cueva De Samara which was to be my first experience of a lava tube. The landscape was breathtaking with great expanses of ash and boulders as far as I could see, it was a scene so far removed from the verdant hills I've spent my life amongst, as to seem utterly alien by comparison. The rocks had a glassy texture, and they grated beneath my feet with an almost metallic sound, trees dotted the area and served as one of the scant few reminders that there was life even here, and as stark and vast as this landscape felt, it was completely dwarfed by Mount Teide which loomed over everything like some rock behemoth consuming the horizon.

Mount Teide, the highest point in Spain (Photo by Ian Timney)

         The caves were small and shallow but they gave me a good idea of what was to come, the walls looked like melted wax as if they had oozed their way into formation (which of course they had) it wasn't hard to imagine great flows of magma cooling on the surface and forming these hollowed out tubes, after taking some photos we were off to our next cave.
When I arrived in Tenerife I assumed we were going to be renting out a 4x4 all terrain, bells and whistles lava mobile that would cope with anything we could throw at it, imagine my surprise then, when we ended up driving out of the depot in a little Red Kia... this was as nothing however in comparison to the utter astonishment I felt when Les roared it off the road and sent us hurtling down a dirt track. In the end I gave up trying to keep my head still to look around me and so the only thing that assured me we were still touching the ground was the comforting sound of rocks smashing into the undercarriage, it turns out that any car can be a 4x4 if you have the right insurance... apparently hire cars only last for an average of six months in Tenerife, at this rate ours would be lucky to make six days.
Our next cave was Cueva De Los Pajoros which was huge and had the biggest gate on it I had ever seen, that also happened to be locked up firmly, and while usually this might have been the end of the story, the people who had built the gate had failed to factor in the ingenuity of cavers and so while it had beaten us today, we would be back later in the week to an altogether different outcome.
      Once we had got sorted with the villa we headed out for dinner at a local seafood restaurant where I witnessed one of the worst sagas to ever befall a plate of grilled prawns,  it was safe to say that it was one of the longest starters in history, so long in fact that Les was still working on them whilst everyone else was eating their mains, the waiter had to beat an incredulous retreat with his next course and a member of the public couldn't stand to watch it anymore and came over to berate him.

Day two; Cueva De San Marcos

    Unlike the caves of the previous day, Cueva De San Marcos was wide open and a couple of kilometres in length, the entrance was in the middle of a cliff about 200 foot up, and as we traversed to it I tried not to pay too much mind to the entire town that was sprawled out below us.
Ian took some time to practise photography and I took some time to stand around posing for it, the results were brilliant and the cave was very large, with great wide passages it was like walking through dried up river beds hemmed in by massive smooth banks of rock, sometimes as high as three or four metres with rocky bumps and spurs stuck to them where bursts of lava must have shot out of the stream and cooled to their final resting place.

Surfing a stone wave (Photo by Ian Timney)

It doesn't take much imagination to envision how this place must have looked whilst it was in full flow and after a bit of crawling we arrived at a chamber containing a large lava pool that felt almost unnatural to walk over... it was very surreal to see something that had all the visual characteristics of liquid and yet was completely solid, and whilst it had cooled hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years previously, my legs still weren't convinced.

Sump one, Tenerife style (Photo by Ian Timney)

At the beach bar sometime later we discussed the colonisation of Mars and how food drops would need to be fired into the surface, upon which Ian explained that the entire mission would be doomed to failure as all the biscuits would be broken. With these weighty matters on our minds we went out to eat and I drank too much, last thing I recall was Ian draining a bottle of spirits that looked like it had been filled with the contents of an allotment, leaves, bark and roots.. very odd, Christ knows how I got home, although I somehow managed to get my video camera out in time to watch Ian drift off and nearly fall off his chair.

Day Three; Cueva De Los Pajoros - Victory

Waking up with a horrendous hangover I decided to take a walk down to the beach to clear my head; if anyone else had been gazing out to sea at this time they would have found their scenic view (and possibly their entire day) somewhat ruined by a shambling figure staggering along the shoreline and vomiting in rockpools, not good.
I managed to pull it together eventually and once we had packed our walkie talkies we were off to try and find the hidden entrance to Los Pajoros that had eluded Andy and many others for more than five years now.
     The gate to this place is huge and worthy of respect but it clearly wasn't made with cavers in mind and so while the rest of us were stomping around trying to find the ungated and elusive second entrance Les came through on the radios and said that he had found a way in and that we should meet him back at the gate
Anyhow it turned out that while Les was studying the gate in his capacity as Conservation and Access officer, a pile of rocks at the side of it had fallen down before his very eyes, access was sorted then, but in the name of conservation he decreed that someone would have to go in and rebuild the pile; in fact he reckoned it might be a four man job.... which was handy as there was exactly four of us.

Cueva De Los Pajoros main entrance (Photo by Ian Timney)

     This tube was monstrous, the survey listed it as 80metres or so when in fact it was nearer to 300, no wonder we couldn't trace the other entrance from the surface.. we were way off! Now that we were inside, Les and myself went on ahead to find it from within, while Andy and Ian set up to take some photos. It got pretty flat out in some places but eventually we popped out of a very small hole which was a long distance from where we thought we would end up, the reason they probably didn't gate this one was because they'd never have been able to find it without the help of cavers. I went back and forth several times helping the others set up, passing things to Les, and rebuilding the initial access point... by the end of it I had clocked up nearly five through trips and proclaimed myself as the official Los Pajoros leader, any longer in there and I'd have started charging.

Little green man sighted in lava tube (Photo by Andy Morse)

Later that night we met the Tajinaste (who aren't a firm but in fact a club that partake in climbing and caving) in Santa Cruz and drank beer whilst communicating in the universal language that is caving, big drops, carbide lamps and lava crawling with no kneepads. We ate out at a Chinese and it took the manager ten minutes to process my credit card earning him the title of PICNIC (Problem In Chair Not In Computer) I wisely stayed sober.

Day Four; Cueva Del Viento, Entrada de Los Piquetes, Entrada Las Breveritas.

Today provided us with one of the hardest and most satisfying trips I'd experienced in my time over here and it changed my perception about lava tubes being big and easy...  more than once I wondered just what on earth I was doing here.

The first part of Cueva Del Viento (which is 18 kilometres long) was through an entrance called Breveritas, which was behind some bushes in a wasteland, we dropped down and trudged along the large passageways until we reached a locked gate (which was completely caver proof) and returned back to explore in the other direction. Tree roots had broken through the roof here and hung down in tendrils like some bizarre biological formation, the air was also quite damp and pungent and so we took some swift photos and headed topside to take a look at the second entrance.

Root curtains (Photo by Andy Morse)

    The second entrance was in someones yard and was not only completely overgrown but had also been used as a rubbish tip, the smell was very offputting and Andy asked the two women watching us from a balcony above if we were OK to enter, clearly thinking we were insane they shrugged and then watched with a mixture of curiosity and bewilderment as Andy battled his way through the foilage and vanished from view. As all this was going on, children shot down the road on makeshift wooden boards that were capable of incredible speeds, while parents and bystanders looked on approvingly. It was touching to see kids having fun and I couldn't help but grimace when it occurred to me that this kind of thing would probably be banned in the UK on the grounds of Health and Safety.
It was my turn to enter now and I tried to avoid getting buried by the great heap of crap that had accumulated at the entrance, clearly this cave was rarely traversed, if at all and so once everyone was in we began to check out every possible side passage and lead. Most of the time this involved some fairly technical climbing that was best left to Les, at other times it involved something called 'Combined tactics' which involved pushing me up awkward climbs and laughing when I was out of sight!

'Combined tactics' (Photo by Andy Morse)

    We soon got into more serious cave and with most of the houses above built illegally we didn't have to go far in before we started seeing (and smelling) signs of sewage and at one point a rat hurtled off down the passage and into the depths.... nice! Still, there was an elusive breeze and so while the others took photos, Les and myself headed further down, and down.... and down, for a very long way and all the while observing lots of possible side passages worth checking out on the way back. Eventually the main passage we had followed ended in a lava sump and so we headed up to meet the others, on the way I pushed a tube that went into some flat out crawling and Les came along to take a look. By now we had covered a lot of ground, possibly 2k or more and when we met the others I'd worked up a sweat. I currently don't have have much to offer a caving party by way of technical skill and I lack the experience of my comrades and so really the only thing I can bring to the table is that I am always keen (even if that is with a capital S as Les likes to point out), and so as we are considering starting the trek back up, Andy appears and mentions he has found a passage that "goes on until next week" and he wants to push a tight squeeze at the end of it but needs moral support... foolishly I jump at the chance to lend my assistance.
     What he didn't mention was that most of it... 300 metres in fact was flat out crawling on lava, now for anyone who has yet to experience thrutching along lava I can only imagine it is like swimming in a bottle bank and I so there I was busy earning my 300 metre proficiency badge in stupidity. We came to a squeeze that was very close to my limit and as spikes and shards of lava broke off all along my back I pushed myself through it bit by bit, my belt became snagged and I moved my hand to free it a little too fast, which resulted in me slicing it quite badly. The end result was that I emerged the other side of the squeeze with my oversuit shredded and my arms and legs bleeding from several lacerations, I didn't want to show concern but it is at times like this that you recall the sewage and the rats and the fact that the last Tetanus injection I had was 12 years ago... nothing to worry about then...
      We carried on and made it to the squeeze that Andy wanted to push, however it turned out to be just that little bit too tight and although he could see unsurveyed passageway beyond, we wouldn't be able to get there without tools. On the way back part of my new boots literally just fell off from all the abuse they had been getting, we arrived at the squeeze that had given me so much hassle the first time and Andy tried to sneak in front of me in case I ended up getting stuck, but being a bastard I dived on in and Andy threatened to gnaw his way out if I didn't get a move on.

    We eventually made it out and I recall coming topside, bleeding, tired and covered in crap.. whilst down there I had pocketed a pretty looking pebble only to discover that upon exiting I no longer even had a pocket. It was the last cruel blow from what I considered to be a complete tosser of a cave, but part of me was buzzing... it was great fun and I really enjoyed the more sporting side of lava tubing, I was on top of the world and I'll almost certainly return for round two someday, you can also rest assured that when I do it will be with a chisel in one hand and a sodding great hammer in the other!
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Re: Tenerriffic two part trip report (Verbose...yes really!)
« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2007, 07:16:07 pm »

Day Five; Cueva Las Mechas

Driving up into Tacaronte we wanted to check out a cave that had previously always been locked and so once we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to find that someone had removed the lock. Not that it mattered because our C&A officer had already found a secondary entrance that would have rendered the gate obsolete anyhow, so we made our way inside and although it wasn't a big cave it was very photogenic. Andy initially took a different route from us and ended up finding some new lava tube all of his own, clearly it wasn't as good as ours though, because he was soon thrutching his way back to join us.

Gate bypass crawl (Photo by Ian Timney)

Las Mechas main passage (Photo by Les Williams)

      We also checked out 'Labrada' another nearby cave that was firmly locked and gated and I couldn't help but feel annoyed as there were no signs of how to obtain a key or if in fact it was even possible to do so. It made me realise how good cavers have it in the UK with access and conservation, whereas it seems conservation here is an absolute and access is not an option. However I'm sure what is right for the caver isn't always right for the cave, and with that thought in mind I decided not to dwell on the issue and make the most of the caves that we could see, after all we had already had a fantastic run so far.
On the way back Les took our hire car to places most 4x4s would struggle with, and so like a bunch of paparazzi we scampered alongside taking photos of it as it was put through its paces, and with each puddle being a potential 11 kilometre walk to the nearest town, we thought lightening the load might be the most prudent plan of action.

"There is no AA in Tenerife apparently" (Photo by Andy Morse)

Day Six; Climbing Teide, Lunar Landscape. Here... at the end of all things.

     If you told me I would be climbing a mountain six months ago I wouldn't have believed it, yet today found me at the very highest point in Spain with a 360 degree view of the entire island of Tenerife. Maybe it was the sulphur fumes or the thin air and high altitude that had addled my brain, but I couldn't help thinking that there was something quite spiritual about climbing a mountain, you can almost imagine it as a manifestation for all the crap that comes with general life,  it's a struggle but if you persevere you can fight your way to the top of it and then stick two fingers up to everything all at once. It was very satisfying to sit at the summit and think about all the other less interesting things I could have done with this day, and perhaps even my life... and of course there were many, and it prompted me to send a text to a few friends, some I haven't seen for months and some I doubt I will ever see again.
I wasn't very trusting of the cable car (that wire doesn't look thick enough) and the only reason I got up without much fuss was because I watched it through my camera screen and pretended it was on TV, on the way back I stood in the middle and took a keen interest in the floor, in fact I couldn't take my eyes off it.

It's gonna blow (Photo by Ian Timney)

So that's a good days work then, time for the pub... but wait, Andy wants to check out something called 'The Lunar Landscape' which is apparently a nice easy trek that involves taking in some beautiful scenery along the way. It sounded good, quick and simple and so being the trusting types we agreed to take a look, after all what could possibly go wrong?
Upon reflection, trusting our lives and our equally precious beer time to a guidebook was the wrong decision to make, it was cheerily dubbed as an "easy walk" with paths that were "hard to miss" no surprise then, when it turned into a complete bloody farce. It didn't help that the path was almost untraceable at times and also that most of it was uphill, and so there we were...lost, and after an hour of uncertainty the atmosphere was becoming mutinous. Les had vanished into the wilderness, Andy clutched hold of his guidebook as if it was the bloody bible itself, and Ian was thrashing his way up the slope threatening to throw a 'wobbly' if we didn't start going downhill very soon, all that was left was for me to laugh in absolute hysterics at our predicament... so I did..... and just as we had begun to shake our fists at Andy and were considering burning his book, we spotted the lunar landscape.
    Now although I realise that trees probably don't grow on the moon, I can see how it got its name. I admit to being impressed as I beheld great towers of white pumice looming through the trees like marble minarets, a wonderful and almost dazzling contrast to the orange dirt and sand we had grown accustomed to. It was a strange sort of pearly oasis at the end of a huge canyon and I think we all stopped moaning long enough to agree that it was exceptionally scenic and well worth the walk.... Then we spotted the route back which was almost vertical and everyone had a bloody great tantrum.

Moon trees (Photo by me... yes really... can't you tell?)

Day Seven (last day), Cueva Hoya da San Felipe and the godfather of Tenerifian caving requests a meeting

As is always the case we managed to save the best until last, and today's trip really was the ultimate highlight... what started with all the intentions of a quick bit of caving planned in the late afternoon, ended up with us leaving the cave after more than a few hours on a real high from doing some amazing exploration with names such as 'Andy's glory hole', 'Les' bypass' and 'Timneys peeper' attributed to various parts of it.
The entrance was in the gutter at the side of a very busy main road, and it was amusing to see motorists rubbernecking as we crawled our way in, once we got inside the others went ahead and checked out leads whilst I did some filming, it didn't take long for them to reach the end and come back, by which time I had spotted a flat out crawl situated about two metres up the cave wall. Jokingly I told Andy there was glory within, and after five minutes he had proven me right, once Andy had disappeared, Les and Ian were so sure that this crawl came out at a point near the entrance that they had headed back up to try for a voice connection. Sure enough they had got the connection, but not from a tunnel exit but rather it was from a small two inch wide hole in the cave rock with Andy on the other side at the top of a three metre climb in a huge bit of previously unseen chamber.
    Ian remained at the peephole whilst myself and Les headed into the flat out crawl to join Andy and see if we could get down the climb.. which turned out to be overhanging... the chamber was gigantic and was cut through the middle by a perfectly formed canyon that stretched like a black ribbon into the gloom. Whilst i talked to Ian through the peephole, Andy and Les vanished down an unpushed passage and were long gone... after a while I got a shout from Les to come on in and so headed down to a desperately tight squeeze that Andy had apparently struggled through, clearly he had failed to spot the bypass alongside the squeeze but luckily Les didn't and so eventually the three of us regrouped at the start of a gigantic lava tube.
    Excitement was high because these new lava tubes made the ones at the entrance look tiny, and bones were strewn everywhere.. this was clearly a place that had hardly ever been traversed and so just as I had started to grow accustomed to it all, Les hooted from up ahead and we hurried forward into what has to be the biggest chamber I had seen in my time here. It was absolutely gigantic, apparently lava tubes can only get to a certain size before they become too big and can no longer support themselves, and if that is the case, this one was pushing it. What a thrill it was to have thrutched, climbed and traversed so far beyond the known survey and into some of the best cave we had seen all week, it wasn't lost on any of us and Les and Andy's excitement was like a stamp of approval, fantastic.
Alas! we had to cut short our exploration as we were expected for dinner and had got carried away and gone way over time, on the way back we found a skull that was later revealed to be from a lizard which apparently could grow up to a metre long and was now extinct.. bloody hell!

      Later that night we met with Alfredo who is one of the most knowledgeable cavers in Tenerife, there wasn't a detail he didn't seem to know about any cave or passage within it and with a mixture of Spanish, English and frenzied sign language we communicated over dinner about caves past and present and the possibility of future trips. Alfredo had been instrumental in surveys and conservation to a great many of the caves in Tenerife and had even helped to write the guidebook that we had all been relying on throughout our time there. It was a real pleasure to meet him and I look forward to returning one day to go caving with him.

International caving relations rely heavily on the medium of beer (Photo by bar staff of Gigi's on Ian's camera!)

     Time really does fly when you are having fun and so it seemed that within the mere blink of an eye we were back at the airport and preparing to go home, as we waited I regarded the various holiday makers in their 'kiss me quick' sombreros swapping numbers with people they probably shared nothing in common with other than nationality or choice of resort, and I wondered how my time away could compare with their own. I didn't get a tan, in fact I'm fairly positive that there were times I was crawling through human sewage, nor did I take a ride on a banana boat or swim in a heated pool, and yet I had plenty of adrenalin and felt like I had acheived something. Was I really that different from all these people that my definition of a good time would be something that would seem almost crazy to them? It didn't matter because I wasn't alone in my madness and so my mental comrades and I drank some beer, boarded our plane and returned home from one of the best vacations I have ever had.
Johnny Quest flew the plane again, stamping that final seal of lunacy on what was a comical seven days.
Many thanks to Andy and Wendy, Les and Ian for making it the adventure that it was.

I'll be back.
'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Stephen G. Tallentyre

Offline Les W

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Re: Tenerriffic two part trip report (Verbose...yes really!)
« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2007, 07:35:05 pm »
A most excellent report Gnomie  :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

To really do the week the justice it deserved would have taken a small paperback novel, but you have managed to compress the salient points of the trip and capture the atmosphere of the whole week into only 2 (large) pages. Well done mate.

You didn't mention your visit to Teno point though...  :-\
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Offline AndyF

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Re: Tenerriffic two part trip report (Verbose...yes really!)
« Reply #3 on: December 15, 2007, 05:00:08 pm »
Good report an great pics to match. Thanks for posting that up.. :thumbsup:
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Offline bru

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Re: Tenerriffic two part trip report (Verbose...yes really!)
« Reply #4 on: December 16, 2007, 09:27:53 pm »
heroic trip report mate.  nice light you got there btw  ;)

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Re: Tenerriffic two part trip report (Verbose...yes really!)
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2007, 07:43:30 pm »
So do we get a follow up on Teno point Gnomie...
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Re: Tenerriffic two part trip report (Verbose...yes really!)
« Reply #6 on: December 27, 2007, 06:39:15 am »
So do we get a follow up on Teno point Gnomie...

I can't recall anything about Teno point... I seem to remember having my hands over my eyes for most of it   :furious:
'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Stephen G. Tallentyre