Divača and Škocjan Caves (18 May 2013)
The train ride to Divača was quick and not unpleasant. I had gone there because it was the closest accessible town to the Škocjan Caves. I stayed a night there on 17 May and visited the caves the next morning before finding my way into Croatia.
Divača was a little village with hotels. People come here only because of the Škocjan Caves nearby I think. I walked a little around the village after my return from the Škocjan Caves and before I went to catch the train to start my journey to Croatia. It appeared to be entirely residential to me.
I probably could have visited the Škocjan Caves on a day trip from Ljubljana instead since there were shuttle buses to the caves from the Divača train station, but I did not want to have to return northwards to Ljubljana and then go back south again to Croatia. In any case, it is always nice to stay a while in some place new, even though my room in Ljubljana was really quite comfortable.
I had imagined that I could easily find my own way to the caves from the hotel by walking. But contrary to what I had read in some guide books, it was not so easy. The lady at the hotel tried to describe the way to me, but after two attempts to remember it I gave up. It was simply too confusing! According to the lady the way was also not signposted. What about the free shuttle from the train station? The timing was somehow not in my favour. I was almost bracing myself for the great disappointment of not being able to see the caves when the lady offered me a ride to the caves, at no charge!
The person who drove me the short distance to the caves was another lady working at the hotel. She could not speak much English but that somehow did not stop us from having a little conversation. I found out from her that she was originally from Banja Luka and her daughter was a doctor. She also did not think that I should walk to the caves. When we arrived at the caves I actually felt sorry that our conversation had to end. She was such a nice lady.
The tour of the caves was guided and there I was with a whole bunch of other tourists wandering in the dark cavernous subterranean gaps. There were two Asian couples who had come on this tour together. They sounded Singaporean or Malaysian. I was annoyed by them from the beginning, especially by one of the men.
Before entering the caves, the guide gathered everyone together for a briefing. The Asians (excluding me of course) were only interested in taking pictures and they took pictures of just about every single thing in sight. I think they have pictures of every piece of stone, every blade of grass and every speck of dirt at the entrance. They even wanted a picture of everyone in the tour attending the briefing and so at least two of them took turns to stand next to the guide who was on a stone platform to take their pictures. I had initially thought that they were official photographers for the tour based on their behavior until I noticed that the guide looked at them with some amusement (I would have been annoyed if I were her).
The caves were entered through this tunnel created for that purpose. I had the fortune of walking in front of the Asians and so could hear everything they said. And then the annoying man (I shall call him the Annoyance from now on) started his little smart aleck conversation with, I think, his wife. First he commented that all the stones around us were granite. I really could have sworn that we were in a karst area and therefore just about everything was limestone! Next the Annoyance remarked that there was stone everywhere. We were in a cave. What did he expect to see? Marshmallows?
Notwithstanding the annoyance, it felt like a real adventure walking through the caves. They did not look too different from the other caves that I had visited before in Southeast Asia, for example in Halong Bay, but I had not visited so many caves before that they stopped being interesting to me.
Photography was not allowed in the caves but since it was so dark and everyone had to walk in a single file, it could not be strictly enforced. Most of us therefore took pictures discreetly. Since I did not have a state of the art camera, my pictures did not turn out well at all in the darkness.
The Annoyance, being the photography aficionado, could not stop taking pictures. Fortunately enough, he understood discretion, most of the time. Towards the end of the tour however, when everyone was gathered for a final explanation, with the guide in front of the group, the Annoyance’s camera let off a flash. Maybe it was an accident, but the flash could not have come at a worse time. The guide cringed both very visibly but did not say anything. I hope that the Annoyance was Malaysian.
All my previous cave visits however did not prepare me for the astounding sight that was the Martel’s Chamber. This is the largest chamber in the system and it was incredible. The guide had told us about its dimensions before we had entered it, but hearing about something, as opposed to actually seeing it, very often does not allow a person to get a true sense of its magnificence. The chamber reaches a maximum of more than 140 m in height and the Reka River thunders underneath it. As the river smashed against the cave walls, it created a mist that pervaded the massive chamber. There had been significant rain in recent days and so the river was really quite spectacular. This was however still a far cry from this one day in 1965 when the river reached a level of more than 100 m. There is a sign in the cave marking that level. This was quite a bit higher than the bridge that I was walking on and I was awed. Such is the power of nature.
From that chamber onwards it was a free for all for everyone with the guide taking the back. The walkway that was built along the side of the tall cave wall led outside and since there was only one way to go no one should get lost. So we each went on our own way and I was happy to move away from the Annoyance. Being far away from the guide also meant that I could take all the photos I wanted. I did try with my iPhone, since it was better at handling dark places than my usual point and shoot. But I was still unsuccessful in getting a good shot with decent sharpness.
I had some time to kill after I finished the cave tour and so I went to visit 3 museums (entry covered by the ticket to the caves) and Škocjan Village. The museums showcased a little of the local culture, geology and wildlife. The entire area, including the village, is now used by the people working for the national park. No one really lives in the village anymore, except for maybe 1 caretaker if I remember correctly.
At the exhibit on the local fauna, I asked the girl there about seeing an olm or two. There was a mention of the olm at the exhibit and I was hoping that maybe I could see one at Škocjan. She told me that I should go to Postojna instead but warned that seeing the olm would not make for an exceptionally exciting experience. I wish I could have given the girl a medal for her honesty.
It is also possible to walk around the doline and see the huge depression in the ground and the almost vertical steep walls. The river could be seen flowing underneath and into the gaping mouth of the caves. It was somewhat unbelievable that much of what I had seen that day was created by water. And the scenery that day was so beautiful that I almost forgot all about the Annoyance.
Slovenia is such a wonderful place to enjoy nature in. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the people in that country behaved more like northern Europeans to me. The people were generally welcoming, especially the people involved in tourism, and efficient (a clear exception was this idiot who kept shouting “Panasonic” at me from his apartment window in Divača). I normally do not visit a place twice unless there is something that I really want to see but am not able to see on the first visit. However, I do find Slovenia to be a place worthy of a second visit just to enjoy the pace of life there and the nature.