El Soplao is a cave situated in the Sierra de Arnero, in Cantabria (North of Spain). It is a very special cave as it has lots of helictites… and you may ask, what is an Helictite??? See for yourself!
The name of El Soplao comes from the Spanish word soplo, a wind blow in English. Inside the cave there is always some kind of wind given differences in pressure, and therefore its name of El Soplao. Until 1977, el Soplao was part of a zinc mine, but on that year the mine closed and recently it has opened as a tourist attraction. The mine is up a mountain, and so in a day with good weather you will get beautiful views, worth to take your time to admire them… The visit starts in a small train that will give access inside the mine. It is just a couple of minutes but gives a nice feeling to the visit. Once inside, even though the mine had several galleries, a normal visit will only explore the upper one, which has some spectacular mineral formations.
Before visiting el Soplao, in my mind there were only three kind of weird mineral formations inside a cave, formed by the deposition of calcium carbonate: the stalactites (the ones that hang from the ceiling), the stalagmites (on the floor) and the columns (connecting both the ceiling and the floor). And then I had my big surprise when I discovered the helictites. When you see an stalactite or stalagmite you see that they grow in a vertical axis following the force of gravity. The helictite, as the formers, also grows by the deposition of calcium carbonate, but this one does not follow a vertical axis, but it turns, makes needles against the gravity… even in the cave we could see one that made some kind of disco ball full of needles. The formation of the helictites is a subject of study, but seems like capillary forces working against gravity are the responsible of this weird formations.
I have to warn you: photos inside the cave are absolutely forbidden. Time for the visit is limited so there is no time for photos and flashes can be quite annoying. Actually, I am grateful that I could visit the cave without a dozen of flashes shooting all the time. On the other hand, as a good lomographer I take my camera everywhere. Here the LC-A loaded with a Fuji Neopan 1600 made a great job (obviously I did not have any flash!). There was not a lot of light in the cave, so most of the time I had to do long expositions, hiding the camera not to get caught and trying to find a stable position so it did not move. Not an easy job, but I got out some images of this beautiful cave!
More information on the cave, with information on visits can be found on the webpage of the El Soplao (http://www.elsoplao.es/ENG/default.htm). The entry fee is around 10 euros (equivalent to 10 piggypoints). If you are curious about the helictites you can check its entry in wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helictite).
Note: Photos were taken with a LC-A loaded with a Fuji Neopan 1600 and a Horizon loaded with a Kodak Ektar 100. All of the films were processed in a lab in Halifax (http://www.carsand.com/filmrelatedservices.html) and scans were made with an Epson perfection V700.