Cambridge Underground 1991 pp 37-42

Mallorca - first find your cave....

Julian Todd

Show caves

When you step off the airport-to-hotel coach in Mallorca, the reception desk of the hotel takes away your passport and hands you a welcome pack of naff leaflets of things you don't want to do, such as participating in early morning aerobics sessions, or deliberately going to evening Spanish dance performances where they play that god-awful rattling screaming music with castanets and pink feather duster dresses which you can hear from at least seven blocks away. (As it was, we had to endure quite enough atrocious music in Rocky's pub every night).

In this welcome pack, and I am sure in every other hotel welcome pack on the entire island, there is always a leaflet advertising the Caves of Drach, probably the biggest money-spinner on the entire island - a must for every touroid with nothing better to do during the day than waste time until the evening. It's one of the only slightly palatable advertised daytime attractions.

Apart from Drach, there are at least three other official show caves: Caves of Ham, near Drach, a 66.66% reduction of everything in Drach excluding size of helictites but including overall length, entrance fee, size of lake, number of silly boats on the lake, ability to play violin while rowing boat and IQ of the guide; caves of Artá and caves of Campanet, to which no CUCC person has been yet.

Cova de sa Campaña

Caves other than these four show caves are harder to find as there are no road signs directing you to them. The most spectacular wild cave is believed to be Campaña, which is both the largest and the deepest cave known on Mallorca. This has several sloping pitches, enormous chambers, spectacular formations and quite a lot of mud! Like all Mallorcan caves, it's also warm enough to do in shorts.

Campaña is not easy to find. The best place to park is in a layby on the right hand side of the Sa Calobra road between the nine and ten kilometre marker posts. Ascend the hill on a bearing of 70° to the broken col. From here, follow the cairned/red spot-marked path around to the right until it is possible to cross the col. The vague path traverses around to the right (on a bearing of about 80°) to the cave, which is virtually invisible until you actually reach the entrance.

Cova de Cala Falc—

In December 1988 Campaña was the only wild cave CUCC found and explored; the club knowledge base on Mallorca was pretty poor.

In December 1989 we attempted to locate Pont and Pirata, two quite famous caves. Keith Millar had somehow obtained a photocopy of an article about these two caves and their surveys. Unfortunately the text was in Catalan, an obscure dialect of Spanish which no-one can read, and the Mallorcans don't even bother to speak, so far as we can tell. The instructions were very bad, almost as bad as our translations of them, and after walking two miles along the the rim of the coastal cliffs south-west of Cala Romàntica (south west of Porto Cristo) and beyond we found a cove, waded through three feet of washed up rubbish that was rotting there and clambered into a little cave called Cova de Cala Falco. There was a duck forty feet into it, so we took all our clothes off and explored all the chambers beyond it in the nude. Caves are tough on bare feet. On the walk back to the car park we discovered Pirata - the entrance barred by a locked gate - at the same time as a sun-roasted Spaniard with a shotgun discovered us and told us to go away.

Julian goes west

In October 1990 I moved to Bristol and joined UBSS (University of Bristol Spelaeological Society) and was impressed by the size of their spelaeological library. They have at least one folder of publications for every caving region in the world. A veritable data mine. UBSS have acquired this library by trading journals. In particular they publish and mail out 'Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society' which looks and feels almost exactly like one of those 150 page pamphlets your college sends you ten years after you graduated and you don't quite know what it is except it is very boring and contains a couple of obituaries of honourable gentlemen who donated large sums of money to your college like you won't. Anyway, I am told it is all very learned and academic and every self-respecting caving club in the world wants a set. To my delight I found an enormous bulging boxfile of Mallorca stuff.

Mallorca has produced for the last 20 years an annual journal called 'Endins' which is very professional looking. Here is an English abstract of a random article from the pages of 'Endins': "Some observations concerning the capture of Aglenus brunneus (Gyllenhal) (Coleoptera) in Cova de s'Algar (Artà, Mallorca Island) are presented. In addition, comments on the systematic position of this beetle are also given." I had found a magazine to rival 'Proceedings of UBSS' in boredom and not providing the right information, ie. the locations of some caves worth visiting.

The 1987 edition of 'Endins' reports the proceedings of a spelaeological conference held in Palma that year. Eighty per cent of it is in English, but the articles have titles like: "Soil Erosion from Hilltribe Opium Swiddens in the Golden Triangle, and the use of Karren as an Erosion Yardstick." Through some contacts I found a girl who spoke Spanish and took her along to the library for some translation work. All the other copies of 'Endins' are written entirely in Catalan, a language which she, like everybody else in the entire world, can't read very well. Anyway, we flipped through the articles in each issue and tried to sort out the ones which mentioned reasonable looking caves from the ones which involved foetid holes in the ground containing completely rotten solid artifacts, and extracted as best we could their locations from the text. We found a few, the most promising being Cova des Estudiants. And then, in the 1979 copy, I stumbled across the Inventory, a list of all known caves on the island. This I immediately photocopied.

(Just yesterday, as I was again flicking through the UBSS collection of 'Endins', I saw a survey of a cave in 'Endins - 1986' of the cave 'La Covota De Sa Penya Rotja' which looked very attractive. This cave is not in the Inventory, which is by now 12 years out of date. Somewhere it has an enormous chamber and an 80m pitch, though I couldn't find the pitch on the survey. It may not be obligatory. Penya Rotja is 703m long horizontally. Co-ordinates: X - 6 degrees 52 minutes 06 seconds, Y - 39 degrees 52 minutes 50 seconds, Z - 250m. It looks good.)

The Inventory uses one line for every cave, listing Code Number, Cave name, Cave Type (a Roman numeral), Longitude and Latitude grid references in DMS (degrees, minutes and seconds) and altitude in metres. Theoretically this pinpoints the cave to within 10m. All we needed to do was to get some maps. Then we'd plot the caves on the maps.

Unfortunately we didn't get any maps, apart from the gaudy awful tourist maps we already had from previous years. I recall spending a couple of nights in Rocky's trying to fix some longitudes and latitudes on a tourist map while at the same time becoming drunk on cheap strong cocktails. I was measuring with a ruler the vertical and horizontal displacements for Drach and Campanet, the two caves obviously marked on the map and listed in the Inventory because they are showcaves. I supposed that by dividing the longitude and latitude DMS displacements as recorded in the Inventory, using a calculator, correlating the ratio space sequence displacement vector which must point to, say, Cova des Estudiants, rescaling, remeasuring and recalculating then adding the proper offset vector from, eg., the position of Campanet, I'd find the cave. But I ended up plotting a point in the middle of the sea. A surprising number of supposedly intelligent people insisted that the error was due to my not taking into account the curvature of the Earth across the tiny Mediterranean island we were on. I tried to get Wookey to take over, but he was already just as drunk as I was.

Font Des Estudiants

Keith Millar then saved the day by supplying a vital piece of information which I shall now reveal. On page 35 of his book 'walking in Majorca', by June Parker, (Cicerone Press) it says that maps can be bought from Stanfords' International Map Centre at 14 Long Acre, London and from Libreria Fondevila at 12-14 Calle Arabi, Palma. So down to Palma we went and bought some 1:25000 maps which now grace the CUCC library. Hopefully in the next few years we can get a full set of them including the silly one which has four square inches of land in the bottom right hand corner with the rest of he sheet coloured in blue. We then drove towards Soller to find Cova des Estudiants.

This cave is within sight of the road, according to our limited description. Chris Densham and I spotted it and had to climb across a fence or two and into somebody's private land to get to it, but the entrance was gated with a solid plate of aluminium. The door had a sticker on it, a silhouette of a diver and a telephone number which I wrote down and have since lost. Meanwhile, Mike and Tina attempted to gain access to the cave by more diplomatic means: they knocked on the door of the house further down the road and asked. A friendly man led them to another cave which I have since identified as Font Des Estudiants. We went into Soller and returned with another 18 CUCC members to that little cave and trooped inside. It finishes after only 30 metres with a pool where Chris and I fell in and were photographed. You can tell it is a real tourist trip when you get mobbed by cameras every time you do anything.

Some comments about the maps and their grids

The maps are pretty good, lovely and large scale. They will even help you navigate through impossible towns like Inca. But, for some reason, there are these words or names of things sprinkled all over them which don't appear to correlate with anything. Perhaps they are names of hills or valleys. Some of the names are of caves which we know must be in the area, but the little omega symbols which would have pinpointed the actual position of the cave have been left out. The omega symbol has not been printed except in a very few exceptional cases. This is a shame because cave locating would have been terribly easy if they had. We could have ignored the troublesome Inventory.

The longitudes are disagreeable. According to the Inventory, the caves of Mallorca are about 6° East, while our maps put the island at 2° East. This is obviously some local habit of using non-standard meridians which no one understands, the same way as using non-standard languages. By comparing positions of road junctions on the two maps: an old 1:50000 map and a newer 1:25000 map we reckoned an offset of about 3° 45' 10". This is in fact not quite the full story, as Wookey and I found out a couple of days later, much to our puzzlement. The locations we were plotting from the Inventory were too far south of the cave entrances by about 400 metres. This error in the latitudes seems only to affect coastlines and cave entrances, but not road junctions. We do not know the extent of it and have absolutely no explanation as to why. You can find the error visibly scribbled on the Porto Christo map with respect to Pirata whose omega symbol is one of the few which are drawn on. Some work needs to be done by someone. Some Fonts (resurgences) are marked on the map as well. This could give some more clues.

I gave the telephone number I copied off the door of Estudiants to our rep. She phoned it up during the day while we were out and the answer we received was that there was no problem about access. Obviously a lie: the door was completely locked by aluminium. Another job which needs doing. Estudiants is, from the survey, a 310 metre gently descending passage with many pools of water along it.

The inventory divides the caves into nine types:

Ivery small cavities;
IIless than 30 metres;
IIIbetween 30 and 300 metres;
IVlonger than 300 metres;
V - VIIIavencs of various depths;
IXsea caves;
Xsubmarine caves.

An avenc is a pothole. Many of these are just very deep shafts, surprisingly deep holes in the ground with no horizontal development, and we ignored them. Sa Fosca is listed as Avenc des Gorg Blau (type VIII).

Cova des Diners

The day before we discovered the error in the longitude, two teams of CUCC members went out in search of caves. Team Manacor went to Manacor, asked a local and found Cova des Diners, and didn't push it very far because they thought it was Type III instead of IV. The entrance series is a labyrinth from which you cannot escape and there is a very wide low roofed (for its size) chamber which reminds me of a deep dungeon. The parts to avoid are the nasty narrow steep deep rifts which tempt you to go down them to look for ways on. There aren't any. You are guaranteed to break helictites in this cave.

Team Pollensa went to the land near Pollensa. Becka and I tried to plot some of the caves while in the car. Our attention was particularly focused on the little south pointing peninsula in the bay of Pollensa. We plotted many sort of reasonable sounding caves (Types I and II) close to sea level and thought that it might make a pleasant stroll along the coastline, every so often darting off inland to explore a small cave. Sounded like fun, except that the entire peninsula is a NATO military base not marked on the map!

Font de L'Algaret

We found one proper cave that day. The ones we didn't locate because we were searching 400 metres too far South were Cova de les Rodes O de Cala sa Vicente (we found an outdoor crapper instead) and Cova de Cal Pesso, both type IV. The one we did find was Font de L'Algaret which, being a resurgence is marked with a little 'o' on the Pollensa map. Access here is a little bit tricky. This entrance is about 200 metres down a nature trail in a sort of nature reserve, the entrance gate of which is guarded by a Spaniard. You cannot take your cars into it even though there is no carpark. We wandered up the path with the map and found the Font which was gated, but the gate wasn't locked. A little trickle of water was flowing out of it. The first twenty metres (all I have seen) is less than 1 metre high and 3 inches deep in water. You get your arms and legs wet crawling in it. For all I know it stays like that for the whole 300 metres of its reported length. We went back to the cars to get our lights and wellies and things. We stupidly tried to ask the man at the gate for permission. We were of course refused. He didn't let us return into the nature reserve. I suggest one car load of cavers each with a carrier bag of kneepads, headtorches and wellies could disappear into there and complete it without anyone noticing too badly. It is possible that the Mallorcan caving club negotiates sensitive access agreements and are immensely pissed off by this sort of behaviour, but I don't believe it.

Our other discovery of the day was decidedly peculiar. After driving on past the entrance of the military base in frustration, spending an hour throwing stones off the sea cliff off the north side of Formentor, we drove up a road to the high peak overlooking the military base and poked around some derelict buildings and concrete water tanks that were there. Not very far below us, on a sort of plateau a bit to the west was a strange artifact: a low circular concrete platform with 40 silver bobbles on upright stalks arranged in a concentric ring and one bobble stuck at the centre. I haven't a clue what it was. I didn't go too near it. There was a barbed wire perimeter fence. On the drive back down from the summit, Becka spotted a railway sized tunnel on the right hand side of the road. We parked, grabbed torches and ran into it. There was a chamber and some other passages a long way down. I walked up the slope above the entrance. Directly ahead of me was that strange artifact. We were exploring under it. Somebody please go there and find out what the hell it means.

Cova de les Rodes

Days later we had a second attempt at finding Rodes and succeeded. Rodes is on the outskirts of the town of Cala sa Vicente. The entrance is near the outer wall of a gravestone garden and you have to approach it from the far side because there is a mass of thorny bushes barring your way. Jeremy and I wore wetsuits into it and expected to die very quickly of overheating. We had heard it contained a free diveable sump. I took along my mask. The cave starts with dry walking passage with a gravel floor. Then there is a small pitch on the left which you can do effectively with a 30 foot handline. Wookey, Jeremy and Matt took their entire sets of SRT gear. I took a krab and a belay belt, but needed hand jammer to get me back up. The sump bypasses the second pitch and is the easiest I have ever done. Very refreshing. Some more cave-following takes you to the third pitch. The only difficult bit is the bottom 10 feet. Jeremy and I took turns swimming with the mask in different pools along the route before we disturbed them too much and they silted up. The pool at the very end had an absolutely smooth rounded edge and was impossible to climb out of unaided. A railway sized tunnel slopes down at 45 degrees underwater underneath the pool and you just want to swim down it when you see it. Editors note: An ULSA trip down Rodes in December 1988 encountered bad air at the foot of the third pitch. Whether this was unusual, or whether it happens often, is unclear, so anybody visiting the cave should be aware of the possibility of a build-up of bad air.

Pont and Pirata

After a second trip to Diners, a small party of us went to find Coves del Pirata and Cova des Pont. The best way there is to park at Cala Romàntica and walk up the dry and slightly muddy stream bed until you reach the rear of the hotel complex. Then you proceed for perhaps a mile and a half along a dirt track. The track bends right and goes around a clump of deep green vegetation and trees. Pirata is here. Fortunately the gate was not locked this year and we went straight in. Wookey had planned to use his car-jack on it. This cave has been show-caved. Obviously with the amount of money that Drach has been earning, somebody thought they could do the same with this cave. Paths have been carved out and stalactites sawn in half for more head room. For all I know there are the remains of a rowing boat in one of the lakes. However, despite going to all that trouble of destroying a cave in readiness for tourists, they didn't build the roads for tourists to drive there and the paths are falling into disrepair. Quite an impressive cave though. We swam in one of the deep blue lakes.

A short distance away (use the map) next to a wall is Pont with its 56 metre wide entrance which none of us believed until we had seen it. It is entirely hidden by a tree. The gate which lets you in was chained up with so much slack you can slip through the gap. If necessary (in case they chain it better next time) you can certainly climb over the wall in which the gate is built provided you can negotiate the tree branches. The paths in this cave have fallen completely into ruin. The main structure of this cave is a very large cavity with a huge mound of rock in the middle. If it wasn't for this there would be quite a tricky entrance pitch. As it is, there is a rock bridge from the rim to the mound. You climb down from this to reach the floor. There are several lakes in this cave, one or two of which have cave divers' lines leading into them. One supposes these belong to divers from a British club who dived there the year before and connected Pont and Pirata. One of the lakes, according to the survey, is quite large and leads into different chambers, one of which has an island. My second visit to Pont was during the evening of our last day. I took my wetsuit, mask and snorkel and swam all around it. I kept crashing into walls and scraping my snorkel along the ceiling. My FX2 light penetrated the water to the lake floor beautifully. I can see why people go cave diving. This, however, was eerie enough for me.

We got back to Rocky's at around midnight. Fortunately the bar stayed open 5:30 in the morning. Not long afterwards it rained because we were back in England.

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