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Friday, April 25, 2008

La Cueva Don Justo, El Hierro

This is from the inside of the cave. A photo I found on the internet.
Address of the photo: http://www.jakopin.net/primoz/slike/2007/El_Hierro_2007_VII.html

Last year when we visited El Hierro we met a man from Germany who lives on the island.
He told us about `Cueva Don Justo´ (Don Justo cave) in La Restinga. It's the thirteenth longest cave in the world and has a volcanic tunnel that has six kilometres (four miles) of galleries.
We didn't have time to go and see it right then but decided we will visit the cave next time.
He told us to be careful when we go there when it has happened that people have become exited of the nice galleries and went from one to another until the torch has been running out of batteries and they have had to be rescued. He also told that a dog was missing inside the cave some years ago and the government don't like people to go there anymore when they don't know what happened to the dog.

Last week I started researching about the cave on the internet and this is some of what I found:

It is the richest lava tube system on the island and contains a well developed troglobitic fauna. All species found in Cueva de don Justo are endemic to the island and seven are exclusively found in the caves. The system is threatened by tourism, garbage dumping, vandalism, and the invasion of alien species such as cockroaches. Because the system is on private land, there are no local organizations focusing their efforts on protecting it. The Cabildo de El Hierro (local island government) placed a gate at the entrance several years ago. However, the gate was quickly destroyed and never rebuilt.

We also read in a tourist brochure that it's closed as a measure of protection for an endemic species which lives inside the cave.
But we decided to go there and see what it's like when some of the sites on the internet says the gate is kicked down and some sites says you shouldn't miss out to visit the cave while you are on the island.
We were looking at the map we got from the car hire company and found the name of the cave and went out looking for it in the area. We walked for about 2 hours and then we gave up. We couldn't find it. Now we know the name was written in the wrong place on the map.

In the night when we were chatting with some locals at a bar I started asking about the cave and the direction. One man who is a retired doctor from Tenerife said he will show us where it is but he invited us to go there when it was dark outside and when we said we would prefer to go there when it's daylight he wasn't interested anymore.

Next day we went to the tourist information desk to ask where it is. The lady there said it's closed and it's no idea to go there. I didn't give up and asked her where it is and she gave us a map and wrote a cross at the exit road of La Restinga meaning the cave was almost in the village.
I asked her if she was sure (because the doctor told me it's out on a field) and she said it's at the foot of Montana Pueblo and put an other cross about 3 cm higher up on the map.
We checked all the maps we had and there wasn't any mountain called Pueblo!
We went out looking for the cave again in the direction she had shown us but didn't find it.
One of the waiters in the village where laughing and said maybe we will find the cave if we come back again next year. He had no knowledge where the cave is and had never visited it.

It really looked like the direction of the cave is a secret among the people and we finally gave up.
Of course it's not fun to have tourists getting lost in the cave and to go in and look for them etc. But why can't they just open up the first rooms in the cave and place gates at the tunnels further inside? Isn't there tourists enough to make a business out of it?

Now when I got back home I went on the internet to search if it says exactly where the cave is and I got to know it's at Montana Prim and I think we can, if we like, find it next time.
Clas was also searching and he found a site where it says it's prohibited to visit the cave. You need permission from The Cabildo of El Hierro in Valverde and it's only researchers who get it.
That explains why nobody like to tell us where it is. Specially when the gate is kicked down.
Oh, we didn't know we were asking for something prohibited! I wonder what the locals think about us now when we have tried to get to a place that is prohibited by the government. Maybe they look at us as spiers or real criminals? Maybe we have really put us on shame?

This is the opening of the cave today. A photo from the internet.
Montana Prim is in the background and Clas is now trying to find the GPS direction of it.
Address of the photo:http://www.jakopin.net/primoz/slike/2007/El_Hierro_2007_VII.html

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