a few weeks ago a beloved friend was in need of some soothing reassurance in the form of other humans sharing anecdotes of their silliest Avoidable Mistakes. i have detailed mine below.
i present for yr reading pleasure the Slovenian Cave Adventure.
i was travelling alone and had planned a day to the škocjan caves. in the morning due to a vending machine mishap i lost several euros before catching my carefully planned high speed train from ljubljana to divača. divača is a tiny town in southern Slovenia that basically only has a train station because it’s close to the škocjan caves, although it does also possess a Snake Cave Mass Grave, nearby the eponymous Snake Cave (Kačna jama, depth 280 meters), so named “because of the many snakes there”.
my high speed train was running late but i’d been keeping track of the stops. right before it got to divača i had my bag & camera and i was waiting at the train door (slovenian train doors have to be manually opened). the door had a confusing big red handle and some slovenian words that looked like they probably said “don’t open this door”. the train stopped but all i could see was track; i couldnt see a sign for a station; i thought we might be waiting to pull up to the platform or else maybe we were just waiting for a different train to pass. there was a train guard in the corridor ~3m away so i started toward him to ask “are we at divača and also how does this door handle work please” and as i opened my mouth the train pulled away and i said “was that…” and he said “yes” and i said “!!??” and he said “you’ll have to get off at the next stop” and i said “!!!!???????” and he said “its ok you can take a bus from there back to divača” and i got off at the next stop several minutes later (via a different train door with a yellow handle and nothing resembling safety hazard warnings) and i learnt that sometimes in slovenia you just gotta climb right off the train onto the track and they dont have platforms and like, ok, thats cool, i love death & high vehicular collision. that’s fine.
so i ventured into this miniscule Not-Divača station to find that it was completely deserted. there were no buses or anything resembling a bus stop. there were also no humans in sight, except for in a nearby construction site behind a tall wire fence. all the doors in the train station were closed and i couldn’t find the name of the station, although i thought it might have been “Vozni Red”, because the only officious looking words in sight that seemed plausibly large enough said “Vozni Red” and had the train times listed below it. the next train back to divača/ljubljana was in 6 hours (the only other train was in 2 hours and went in the opposite direction… to italy). the škocjan caves at the time held 2 tours a day one at 11am and one at 1pm and i was aiming for the 1pm one. it was 12pm at this point.
i started vibrating slightly & my anxious brain was screaming at me that even if i waited 6 hours to go back to ljubljana i would have wasted a whole day and i was only in slovenia for less than a week and i’d planned other things. it was winter and very cold and i didnt have a smartphone and it was 2011 and google maps hadnt made it to rural slovenia yet regardless. i thought “its ok i prepared for this” and i called one of the taxi numbers id written down in case i got stuck except it was a ljubljana taxi service and i was now halfway across the country. the operator told me they’d have to charge the distance all the way from ljubljana & asked where i was; i said at high speed & pitch “the stop after divača, i think its called vozni red?” and she said “yes but where are you” and i said with increasing frenzy “i think it’s called vozni red???????” and then i said i would try to call a different taxi line and call her back if that didnt work and i hung up and called one of the taxi numbers from a flyer on the wall only it rung out into silence. i tried to call back the first person, my phone ran out of battery, and i ran out of sheer fuckn human fortitude and started noisily weeping and contemplating the long pointless 6 hr wait ahead of me
and then two little slovenian blokes with grey beards presumably came off their lunch break, and opened a door to find this inconsolable english speaker leaking bodily fluids all over their train station. they said something to the effect of “??????” and i asked through gulping sobs if there was a bus and they said there wasn’t, and i asked if there was a payphone at the train station i could use and they said there wasn’t, and then i asked if there was a payphone at the (presumably existent) nearby town of Vozni Red and they said no, and they asked me where i was going and i said i needed to get back to divača because i was going to the škocjan caves only my phone had died & etc. they suggested hitchhiking and i started crying even harder and they looked at each other and then one of them left and the other awkwardly smiled at me and then the first one came back with another dude who was even smaller with an even greyer beard who had been fetched from the construction site
the first guy said in stilted english something to the effect of this man, he is going to divača, he has car, he will take you, and i kept crying because at this point i just didn’t know what else to do. i looked at this very small bearded slovenian man who was directing a somewhat terrified grin at me and i tried to very quickly think about what serial killers looked like & if i would be able to determine if someone was a serial killer by looking at him. he was older than my grandpa and frailer than me (!), and i said yes, thank you, thank you, thank you, and i got in his front seat and he offered me some obscure kind of slovenian wrapped sweet which i sensibly declined in case it was poisoned, and i thought very determinedly through the process of what i would do if he did anything Suspicious such as raping and/or murdering me (you see this was not my first rape & i was determined to be more streetwise about it this time) and i decided that i would jam my fingers or my penknife into his eyes and then get out of the car and run but only if we were still on a major road and not in the middle of nowhere, and i focussed Very Very Hard on the route he took to make sure all the road signs said we were going to divača (they did & we were)
he asked me what my name was and what my plans for the day were and i said “i’m meeting a friend at the škocjan caves at 1pm so i have to be at divača train station by 12.41 pm so that i can catch the shuttle bus to the caves because otherwise my friend will miss me and worry” (a TOTAL LIE because my nearest friend was in the UK which is in fact several countries away from slovenia) and he nodded and smiled and i’m quite sure totally disbelieved me and gave me some tissues to mop up the disaster of my face. a little while later he pulled up at a crossing and awkwardly gestured in one direction and said “that way… divača, 5 min” and then gestured in the other direction and said “that way… škocjan caves, 10 min, where do you want to go” and i looked at the signs at the crossing to make sure he was telling the truth and then i made some confused & grateful noises and started crying again and he started flinging tissues at me and making apologetic non-bilingual sounds
we pulled up at the škocjan caves regional parks centre and he said he hoped i had a good day and i thanked him a lot of times and then awkwardly tried to offer him some money, only i was poor and didnt have much so it was only a relatively low euro banknote, and he waved it away and i cried some more and then thanked him again and then he pulled away probably thankful beyond belief to be rid of me. i stumbled into the škocjan caves regional parks centre and bought my tour tickets and the ticket seller said “you’re lucky, usually we do one tour in the morning in english and one tour in the afternoon in slovenian but it’s low season and there are only two other people booked in to tour today so the tourguide’s going to do everything in both english & slovenian because you’ll have more time to go through the caves slowly without a crowd”, and then it was still only 12.30 so i sat down at a bench and breathed and ate the chocolate bar that i’d battled from the faulty vending machine and felt very glad & grateful that i had a chocolate bar and not the healthy but deeply uncomforting sandwich i’d planned to buy.
the tour guide showed up and i asked her if i was allowed to take photos inside the caves and she said “usually no because it slows down the tours too much, but today you can because it’s off season and there are only two other people here”, and i Did Not Cry and then the škocjan caves were some magnificent jules verne lord of the rings glorious bullshit (HAVE I MENTIONED I LOVE CAVES) and theyre enormous and UNESCO listed and theres a huge distant river that runs through one set of them and there are eleven chambers stretching over 6 kilometres (these were the days where i could walk distances) and one body of the cave chambers is called the “silent caves” and the other body of cave chambers is called the “murmuring caves” because you can hear the sound of the underground river rushing through them only they don’t murmur they fucking thunder and it’s like hearing the roaring arteries of the universe and inside the caves there are bats (I LOVE BATS) and in and around the caves there are several endangered species of alpine glacial relics and saxifrage and juniper and rare coral and algae and ivy and spleenwort and harts-tongue, and above the caves there are nesting ravens and peregrine falcons and rock doves and coloured wallcreepers and alpine swifts, and further inland there are foxes and badgers and dormice
there were cave temples there thousands of years ago and we’ve found shaft-caves full of votive/propitiatory offerings of helmets and ritually bent swords and spears and Baltic/Bohemian amber jewellery all covered in runic devotional phrases and people’s names, the historical equivalent of “robin was here” (robin existed, robin is alive, if there are gods here in the caves please be kind, please let robin continue to live & exist, please let robin be happy, please let me love & be loved, please take my suffering, please cure my mother of plague, please bless my child, please do not be angry, we are so small, we are so small in the hugeness of the earth), and i was just wandering through these enormous arcing caverns of faintly dripping Cretaceous and Paleocene limestone and gouring sinuous rimstone and flowstone and huge swathes of light and shadow and dappled puddles and i was so in love i could barely breathe and my feet felt like they were barely touching the floor
the river is called Reka, which means river, and it splits off from Vela Voda, which means Big Creek, and when you come into the cavern over the river there’s no space in your head for anything but the huge sound of the river, walking over this golden-lit high arching spindly bridge and I JUST LOVE CAVES A LOT and i took so many beautiful photos and yeah ok i cried again and it was so wonderful and my heart was so full that i couldn’t even begin to understand what emotions i was feeling and then as we left the last cavern the exit from the cave system is this enormous, enormous godlike hole carved into the planet and the sun was streaming in and everything was glowing and i thought, i am coming back to life, i am alive, and i could feel my heart beating through my whole body, and that cave entrance/exit was described once by Posidonius of Apamea, who was a scholar in the 2nd century BCE who wrote about moons and tides and skull-trophies and druidic customs, and the vital forces of the sun, and the soul, and he thought that the universe was all interconnected like one living organism, “through cosmic “sympathy”, in all respects from the development of the physical world to the history of humanity”, and there’s a lunar crater named after him, and he thought the entrance to the škocjan caves might have been the entrance to the underworld. and it was winter and inside the caves it was cool and soft and then walking out into the world was such a bright, sharp shock, i felt the breath come all the way down into my lungs
and then on my way home, on the shuttle bus from the škocjan caves to divača station, i learnt that “vozni red” meant timetable.