Skocjan Caves

Trip Start Sep 02, 2005
1
6
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Trip End Dec 10, 2005


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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Brad:

The Skocjan Caves are a unique natural phenomenon created by the underground Reka River and lie within an easy 45 minute walk from Divaca train station. Or so we thought...

"It must be just around this corner" I reassure Mel as we round yet another promising bend in the road, only to be disappointed once again.

"Let's ask for directions in the next town" comes Mel's reply, and as I look down at the indecipherable map we were handed at the train station (which may as well have been drawn in crayon) I know that she is right, and resolve to put the male ego aside just this once.

We have been trekking through the hilly green Slovene countryside for nearly an hour now, we've just missed the midday tour of the caves and need to make the 1pm tour so we can make our return train back to civilisation. Our travels today started at the weary-eyed hour of 5am, and the effects of a caffeine fix during our 1 hour stop in Ljubljana are starting to wear off.

I escape our present dilemma and think back to that coffee at 'Cafe Nanna's' and smile. Pink walls and pink tables, pink chairs with pink cushions and a joyless male waiter wearing a pink apron, all too quick to defend his manhood: "I don't like this colour". My pink doily clad reminisce is cut short as we wave down a passing motorist.

The drivers' side window winds down to reveal a friendly young Slovene man wearing a hawaiian shirt and a mouthful of crooked teeth. We explain our predicament and he informs us that we are 3km off course and kindy offers us a lift. "You've gone - how do you say? - the wrong way".

The three of us talk about the breaking up of the former Yugoslavia, and what it has meant practically for everyday Slovenes like himself.

"Everything is more expensive. We have a better government now, but it costs more to run. Freedom is expensive". But it's not all bad. "Environment is better now. The caves used to smell from pollution, now it's a National Park".

The caves are also now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and when you venture down 200m underground to explore them, you can appreciate why this amazing and unique natural beauty must be preserved.

Entering through a narrow tunnel you are immediately thrown into a bizarre alien landscape where stalactites and stalagmites drip down from the ceiling and grow up from beneath your feet. Or so it looks, they actually grow at the impossibly slow rate of 1cm every 100 years, giving you some idea of the many hundreds or thousands or years it has taken for the caves to assume their present form.

Soon the chambers open into the vast 'Velika drovana' (Great Hall), which resembles something between the inside of a whale's stomach and a scene from Fraggle Rock (without the Fraggles). Here the stalactites and stalagmites from the ceiling and floor have grown so large that they meet in the middle, forming huge 20m high phallic columns.

The best is yet to come however as the roaring of the underground River Reka that has threatened since the beginning reveals itself at the bottom of an awe inspiring gorge that drops 100m below the rope bridge we carefully tiptoe across, and stretches the same distance over our heads. The dizzying view is a Hollywood setbuilder's wet dream, straight from the "You shall not pass" scene in the first Lord of the Rings film.

After circumnavigating the giant chasm, we take one last look at the gushing waters below and return to the surface, with a mind full of dramatic images stored in our heads, but none on our cameras. Photography is not permitted in the caves, and although this annoyed me at the start, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Me the being the compulsive photo-taker that I am (a digital camera and large memory card is to thank for this), it wasn't an easy rule to follow, however it proved very liberating to be free from the false sense of 'obligation' to capture every jaw dropping moment and instead just relax and take it all in (and buy overpriced postcards from the giftshop instead :)
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