Going down inside a volcano is not usually on the list of holiday outings. Yet here I was, driving with my lovely Azorean host, Jorge, through the lush green forests of Terceira (so named as it is the third largest island in the Azores) towards the Algar de Corvao to do just that. I fully expected it to be a joke at my expense, expected that my host would turn to me at any moment and say “What-you REALLY believed we were going to go inside a volcano?!!!” We would then laugh heartily at my gullibility, slap each other on the back in good humor and go participate in one of Terceira’s more attractive activities such as whale watching on the sapphire blue oceans, visiting the beautiful Monte Brasil or Praia dos Biscoitos, wine tasting in the Museu do Vino or strolling along the Rua de Se.
However, the moment never came and before long we were standing in a remote location, queuing by a ticket office (it seems that even natural wonders of the world have their price nowadays-in this case 8 euros). My host cheerfully told me that I was about to do something that very few people did in their lifetime, which brought the unspoken question “And why exactly do so few people do this?”
Algar do Carvao (roughly translated as “Coal opening”) is actually a volcanic cavern created by an eruption over 2000 years ago. We entered the cavern through what appeared to be a tunnel into the underworld. I was glad I wore sturdy shoes as I began to climb down the seemingly endless -and extremely narrow and slippery- stairs (in reality, approximately 250 stairs descending 100 meters). Rather than get warmer, as one might expect of a volcano, it actually became cooler, and decidedly damper as we descended.
There were no plaques, no colored lights, no posters for weekend concerts as I have experienced in other caves around the world, simply the wonders of nature, a volcanic pool at the bottom which can be up to 15 meters deep, stalagmites, unique silicate stalactites and fauna that exist only in this location. In our world of opulence and haste, we do not often engage with the basics of nature, but here I felt like I was standing where the world began. On this drizzly, mid-April afternoon, the small number of other visitors soon left and we found ourselves alone.