São Vicente is a village on the north coast of Madeira, at the end of the valley that was the birthplace of the island. We were keen to take our grandchildren to walk where lava once flowed, so organized Ricardo and his taxi to take us across the island from Funchal to São Vicente, on a road where the latter part was prone to landslips and where there had been bad flooding a few years ago.
We arrived at the Volcanism Centre and Caves of São Vicente with only a short time to wait until the next guided tour.
The centre provides visitors with audiovisual demonstrations of volcanic eruptions and the birth of an island as well as a walk through São Vicente’s volcanic caves, walking where lava once flowed.
The caves comprise a number of lava tubes, the result of a volcanic eruption four hundred thousand years ago. The area covered by the volcanic tubes is over 1000 meters in length, the largest that has been discovered to date on the island. Some of the tubes have been dug out, with the floors lowered, to allow exploration.
The last time we visited the caves the weather was dry but we were advised to wear light rain jackets because of drips coming through the ceilings. But apart from the odd plop of cold water on our heads the ground was dry and easy to walk on.
This time, there had been heavy rain prior to our arrival so it was wet underfoot with a few puddles, and many more drips from the roof. The plus side of this was that the underground pools of water looked more spectacular in the eerie lighting.
The walk through the mountain is around 700 metres long, taking around 30 minutes. I found it fascinating to see the striations and patterns left when the lava surged though, parts of it reminiscent of intricately carved cathedral roofs.
In places where there were lights plants grew, luminously green despite the lack of natural light, their seeds deposited by the water that seeps into the tubes through the rock above. The temperature here is fairly constant about sixteen degrees centigrade I seem to remember.
The pools we came across took our breaths away and caused bottlenecks on the narrow path as we all stopped to take photographs.
A truly amazing walk through the entrails of the earth during which visitors can admire volcanic stalactites, lava accumulations, known as ‘lava cakes’, and the ‘erratic block’ – a large boulder carried by the lava that, because of its size, became stuck in one of the lava channels.
Our grandchildren looked slightly apprehensive as it was the first time they had ventured underground, but I’m sure they’ll remember aspects of their trip with fascination.
Una excursión muy emocionante. Seguramente una experiencia inolvidable para tus nietos. Yo también estaría preocupado, igual que estuvieron los niños, este no era un paseo para mi. Prefiero aire y sol. Afortunadamente hay blogers como tú que nos traen noticias de lo que pasa en las profundidades.
Ah, I favour the sun too, Walter. But it was fascinating to walk through places where lava once flowed and to see plants growing in pools of artificial light. It was good to be out in the fresh air again, though, even if it was quite windy.
Seems like you took a foray into another world. The atmosphere itself must have been captivating. Pat Mosel
I thought I might feel claustrophobic, Pat, but surprisingly I didn’t. It wasn’t even particularly cold. The thought we were walking where lava once surged to the surface of the earth, the whole volcanic upheaval forming the island that remains today, I found quite exciting. No matter where you travel in Madeira you go through mountains. Their road network has tunnels regularly on every route, either that or bridges over deep ravines. The caves and centre provide an explanation of why the landscape makes that necessary.
Hope you have a lovely time over Christmas with your family.
I don’t do this regularly. Thank you for your article! It
is exceptionally composed and makes some excellent points.
I greatly liked your post. I’m not one to ever leave comments, but I felt really compelled to this time.
I shared this on my instagram and bookmarked your blog!
I enjoyed your blog this morning. I have fond memories of walking through a lava tube in Hawaii about 25 years ago. One of the reasons I love reading your blog is that besides taking me into a world I have never experienced, it reminds me of wonderful experiences I have had!!!
Thank you, Carol. We found it an interesting visit and were surprised to see the odd plant growing where there was light. One of the joys of holidays is doing things you haven’t done before and enjoying new experiences. I’m glad it brought back good memories for you.