Guided Through Caves

If The Flintstones could have ever envisaged such modernity, Jameos del Agua would surely have been their des res, with a waterfall, and swimming pools, a private restaurant, sweeping staircases, round windows, sea views and enough rooms to house all the Rubbles and The Flintstones put together. The walls that are not white-painted are of the subdued hues and shades of natural rock, the huge, high ceilings are of a similar rock base and if the cave-men, Fred and Barney, still felt a need to go out following their natural instinct to be the hunter-gatherers there are plenty of fish in the sea only half a mile away. In fact, if that´s too far away there are blind crabs* in the pool that I´m sure would be a delicacy. And if you think I am talking hyperbolics then you have obviously not yet been to visit what might be well be Cesar Manrique´s greatest creation. So come follow your art back to the cavemen era, when going clubbing had a very different meaning, and be amazed at what Cesar Manrique achieved.

Jameos del Agua on Lanzarote, has been described as  the place on the planet where nature and man first decided to embrace each other. 

César Manrique knew how to imagine and transform what was the collapse of the roof of a volcanic tube through which lava flowed from the Corona Volcano, into a unique space in the world. His privileged mind and his hands full of life modelled the wild and black basalt to shape a place where harmony, beauty and peace reign. White, blue, green and black, the colours that Manrique gave to his island from him, intermingle throughout a unique route of extraordinary beauty, which leads one to dream and imagine.

From the fresh access area  bathed in the greenery of large ferns that cradle small song-birds, to its original auditorium, unique in the world for its geological characteristics and acoustic conditions, every detail of Jameos del Agua is a continuous invitation to introspection and daydream.

* The blind crabs (Munidopsis Polimorpha)* , an endemic species of the island, are rocked by the high and low tides, in the interior lagoon, and the tunnel of Atlantis, which travels  endlessly into the blue of the Atlantic.

Jameos del Agua is the first Art, Culture and Tourism Centre created by César Manrique, and it is, for many, the paradigm of his aesthetic ideology: the harmony between nature and artistic creation.

Having lived on the island for seven years now, we have been privileged to attend the caves on several occasions. We have attended press conferences here and have reviewed countless classical music concerts held in the incredible auditorium. We were here on one glorious Canary Islands Day, when the theatre was bedecked in the flags of Spain, and all eight Canary Islands (and Europe!), and speeches were given by all their leaders, and there was fanfare, and music delivered by Lanzarote Ensemble, created out of public funding to serve on just such occasions.

Covid 19 brought what we feared might be a permanent end to all that but the diligence of the Lanzarote government and the public saw the caves brought back into public life  earlier than was ever expected and just this year, already, we have seen two concerts held there as part of the 39th Festival Internacional de Musica de  Islands Canarias. The music of the likes of Haydn, Mozart and Schubert has never sounded more glorious than when played by The Orquesta Of Camara de Paris. Then, only a few nights later there was more music by Haydn, this time The concert of Nations was played by an orchestra of the same name, led by Jordi Savall.

The concert was dedicated to the late Nobel prize winner, Jose Saramago, author of The Gospel According To Christ, who spent his later life here on Lanzarote. Readings from his work were interspersed into Haydn´s evocative contemplations of Christ´s Final Words On The Cross.

I reported both these concerts in both my weekly arts column at lanzarote Information on line and at my own daily blog of Sidetracks And Detours and they are still held in the archives at each outlet. We attended the concerts, with some of the 550 seats left unsold, because of remaining covid protocols, with our friends Iain and Margaret, and it was she, who never ignores  a stray leaflet or passes a poste previously unread, who had noted a ´new´ tour now being offered at Jameos Del Agua that was promising ´a secret guided tour of previously unseen areas of the caves´.

Naturally we all four of us took the tour only a week later and shared an exciting journey through volcanism, geology and the perfect symbiosis achieved between art and nature in an emblematic volcanic tube transformed by the late César Manrique. The tour started at the Jameo Chico, from which we saw the Tunnel of Atlántida, passing through the lake where the endemic crabs are found, continued through the Jameo Grande, and then the Jameo de La Cazuela, a space restricted to those taking a special tour, which is accessed via the imposing stage of the Auditorium.

We actually stood on stage and threw our voices out to the walls and up to the ceiling to hear them roll in perfect acoustics, around the arena. Well, I did. I´m not sure whether Margaret, Iain and my wife Dee did, nor am I sure they would admit to it even if they had done so.

We were four of a party of six, the other younger couple, being from Belgium who spoke perfect English as did Miriam, our young, friendly and enthusiastic, (and obviously proud) young female guide. 

“La Cazuela” is a unique place that is open to the public exclusively for private events, from where we were to contemplate two interior waterfalls and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this hidden area.
This guided tour took our small group and ended at La Galería bar, where we enjoyed an aperitif with a tasting of local products and wine from Lanzarote. Actually that description doesn´t do justice to what was platefuls of hot tapas.

Our excellent guide said goodbye to us all having spoken comprehensively about everything we had seen on the tour. She had been as excited about opening the doors to the underground dressing rooms which, deep in the belly of a volcano were far more impressive than some I have seen in the West End, as she had been talking about blind crabs and the flora and fauna of the caves. She generated an excitement that was way beyond the statistics of how many light bulbs are fixed into the rock face or how many stone steps have been carved into the staircases. Instead she had enthused about the beauty and the grandeur and shared her pride.

I offered her my card and asked if she might consider allowing me to interview her for these pages and for Lanzarote Information. She took the card and said she surely would consider it and then let me know. 

Imagine my delight then when I arrived home later in the day to find her positive response already in my e mails.

That was still hours away as she left us to enjoy our meal. What a long, lazy afternoon that turned out to be as charming waiters kept delivering courses and pouring wine. And after that we took a short walk to the gift shop where my wife and I (well, I, really) purchased a book entitled Jameos Del Agua and a cd entitled Sonidos Del Agua, both of which turned out to be superb purchases. 

The cd is a simply gorgeous recording. Reading between the lines I can´t interpret, it seems this is a regular ensemble which has played many times on the Friday night music sessions held in the caves. The line-up seems to include a wind instrument, sounding like an oboe, percussion, guitar and two oboes. The liner notes seem to suggest these musicians might never have played before as an ensemble, but what a sound they create. There are tracks such as Clapton´s Tears In Heaven and if you have never wept for the song before you will weep here for its empathetic musicality. Their version of Libertango reminds us why this music rocked the world of Tango when it was first released. There is even a lovely imported version of a long established British folk song that tells us, in music, of Miss Rowan Davies.

The highlight, though, is a loose, jazzy version of Don´t Get Around Much Any More, the jazz standard written and first recorded by Duke Ellington. Originally written as an instrumental, Ellington named the song Never No Lament. Bob Russell’s lyrics came in 1942 and the song’s title was changed to the current “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” The somewhat sad lyric of the jilted lover who would just rather stay home bumps up against the very cheerful tune. Nevertheless, scorres of artistes have recorded and my own favourite version of Don´t Get Around Much Anymore was by Natalie Cole, but without doubt the track on this little known cd, Soniudas Del Agua, is my favourite instrumental version.

This little diamond of an album was recorded in September 2018 and Le Voz reported on the event at the time. 

The musicians invited to record the album were those who were the regular performers at music nights in the caves. The line-up was Timplists Alexis Lemes and José Vicente Pérez accompanied on guitar by Adrián Níz, Ayoze Rodríguez on clarinet, and Carlos Almaguer on percussion. Truly, these guys arte among the crème de la crème of live music on the island.

This album was recorded live on the same stage where they also perform on Tuesday nights at Los Jameos del Agua. It includes eleven compositions from various genres and styles of world music. 

The night of the recxording, the public was able to enjoy a concert in an ideal setting, where the five musicians gave their all. They performed each of the eleven recorded songs to which they added a few more at the request of those present who, very enthusiastically, asked them to continue playing. They took the opportunity to incorporate Canarian root songs such as folías, isa and seguidillas to which a touch of fusion was added, achieving a different and innovative sound. The five musicians that make up “Jameos Quartet” are very excited and bet that the work presented will last over time,

“Sonidos del Agua” is produced by the Centers for Art, Culture and Tourism (CACT)  of the Cabildo de Lanzarote in which there are some of the best songs with the “Jameos Quartet”. They have surprised the public that has accompanied them during the more than five years they have been performing at “Noches de Jameos”.

From the book I learned that the aboriginal word jameo refers to a large opening in a lava tube, which is formed when parts of the roof collapse. Both Jameos del Agua and Cueva de los Verdes are located inside the volcanic tube, created by the eruption of the Monte Corona volcano. The tube is 6 km long, of which at least 1.5 km is located below sea surface, and is therefore called “Tunnel of Atlantis”. 

Situated in the tunnel’s closest section to the coast, Jameos del Agua comprises at least three holes or caves, namely: Jameo Chico (which gives access to the inside part), Jameo Grande and Jameo la Cazuela.

I also read more about the spatial intervention in the large openings (“jameos”), executed by local artist César Manrique. His idea was to offer visitors a place to contemplate a natural attraction formed with only minimal human intervention, and I had to acknowledge that the tour had confimed how successful he had been in realising that vision.

Jameos Del Agua is the first centre of art, culture and tourism created by César Manrique, and it reflects one of his pillars of creativity: Nature and artistic creation in harmony. Restoration and cleaning of the abandoned site was necessary in the early sixties. Despite delays over the course of time, the year 1966 marked the opening of the first public areas. The initial project underwent multiple changes due to the volcanic tube’s special morphology. Those adjustments aimed to explore new creative alternatives and adopt adequate solutions. After completion of Jameos del Agua’s general structure in 1977, the centre was officially opened, including the auditorium. Afterwards however, new facilities were added for specific purposes, such as the museum, called “Casa de los Volcanes”. Since 1987, the centre has been  devoted to science and volcanology.

Furthermore, in this beautifully produced book I learned that Jameos del Agua is ecologically important, too, as it is home to a unique and endemic species of blind crab, a member of  the squat lobster family: The blind lobster Munidopsis polymorpha, a yellow-white and blind crustacean that is hardly one centimeter in length. These squat lobsters are very sensitive to changes in the lagoon (derived from sea water), including effects regarding noise and light. They are also very sensitive to oxide, which can even kill them, and therefore, it is forbidden to throw coins in the water.

With a far greater knowledge of the caves and concert hall than I had held previously, I acknowledged Miriam´s e mail and subsequently posed my ususal questions from the guys I call the five bums at the bar.

Watch this space for an article in which Miriam responds to questions from Messrs Who, What, When, Where And Why.