By CHANTAL COOKE
I am trying very hard to squeeze through a gap in some rocks – a gap that I am sure is too small for me.
I am on my belly, inching my along, but at about half way through my backside has got stuck on the rocks above me. Clearly my bottom doesn’t just LOOK big in the bright red caver’s overalls – it IS big!
With a lot of grunting, and pushing, and scrabbling I eventually pop out the other end! Soaked, but relieved to have made it!
It’s all part of an ‘off the regular path’ tour offered by Postojna Cave in Slovenia.
Postojna Cave, known as the Queen of Caves, attracts over 600,000 visitors a year – but only a select few get to go deep underground, away from the tourists and experience the cave as its first explorers would have seen it. There are no paths, no railings, no lights – just the flame of the carbide lamp on your helmet. It’s like stepping back in time – but on another planet!
The cave was first discovered in 1818 by Luka Čeč and within a year it was welcoming visitors, with Archduke Ferdinand I being the first official ‘tourist’.
There are over 20,000 metres of tunnels and around 5km of them are easily accessible via the cave train and then on foot. But if you want to go a little deeper then Postojna offers a variety of options for the adrenaline lover.
You’ll don your overalls, and then once in the cave, your guide will help you light your carbide lamp. Early miners would pop the ‘flask’ containing the calcium carbide and water (the two react together to produce acetylene gas which is then burnt, like a tiny candle, on the top of the helmet) into their pocket – the heat generated within the flask helping to keep them warm. I can recommend this – the caves can get quite chilly and the ‘flask’ really will keep the cold at bay.
The tour starts reasonably easily – but not for long. Soon we’re scrambling over rocks, ducking low to avoid the ceiling, and clambering down the sides of deep caverns strewn with boulders.
Take a moment to turn off your light – and you won’t see a thing! Nothing. Put your hand right in front of your eyes – and still nothing. Turn around a few times and the chances are you will no longer know which way you were originally facing. It’s an unsettling feeling.
There is the constant sound of dripping, echoing off the walls, and in certain areas the rush of the river below, carving its way through the karst.
This is an experience for anyone with a sense of adventure – it’s not some tame stroll along a well-worn path with safety rails on either side; it’s a chance to relive a moment in the lives of the early cave explorers, to imagine what it must have been like to be the very first person to have walked these tunnels. The first to have seen their beauty. The first to have gasped in awe at nature’s rocky art gallery of stalagmites and stalactites.
I’ll probably never get a chance to visit another planet – but I came close to feeling as though I had when I took this tour through Postojna Cave. In today’s connected, busy world where it seems there are no more frontiers to conquer, this is an opportunity to imagine yourself as a true explorer, experiencing a place that very few others have ever visited. For me, that’s a precious gift – and well worth soaked overalls, scraped elbows and the embarrassment of getting my bottom stuck!
- Tours for adrenaline lovers: http://www.postojnska-jama.eu/en/other-sites/the-postojna-cave-system-for-adrenaline-lovers/
- Postojna Cave – http://www.postojnska-jama.eu/en/
- Postojna Cave Rooms & Apartments Proteus – http://www.postojnska-jama.eu/en/visitor-information/postojna-cave-rooms-and-apartments-proteus/
- Fly to: (http://www.postojnska-jama.eu/en/visitor-information/getting-to-postojna/)
- Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport, Ljubljana (71 km).
- Portorož Airport (72 km).
- Trieste No-Borders Airport (Ronchi dei Legionari Airport), Italy (74 km).
- Rijeka Airport, Omišalj, Croatia (99 km).
About the Author:
Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet.
In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.