Day 519 – 1 August, 2016
After Martyn left, I hadn’t given much thought to where I would end up. I did the easiest thing I could think of – I went back to Ljubljana. I had really liked it there and the country was small enough that I decided I could do some day trips from Ljubljana to other sites that I still wanted to visit.
The UNESCO-designated Skocjan Cave is a natural wonder located in southern Slovenia. I took a local bus to the town of Divaca, where I presumed there would be a shuttle to the caves. I was wrong. Our bus arrived in Divaca at 12:00, but the shuttle had gone 10 minutes earlier with the next one running at 2:00pm. A testament to how quickly you can forge friendships on the road, I noticed there were two other clueless travelers besides me who were also noting the bad news about the shuttle service. I took a quick look at my map, calculated the distance was about 3 miles, and announced I was going to walk if either of them would like to join me. Guillermo from Madrid and Paula from Rio heartily agreed. A half mile later, Guillermo throws down his pack and says it would be easier to hitchhike. I could easily see his point. The road we were on led directly past the caves, but seeing as I (and apparently Paula as well) am inexperienced in such things, I let Guillermo take the lead. Five minutes later we were in a van with a kind gentleman who worked at the caves and was happy to deliver us to the front door.
The cave itself was immense and impressive. I recalled visiting Paradise Cave in Phong Nha, Vietnam and found myself comparing the two. It’s hard to pick a favorite. Skocjan Cave has the Reka River cutting through its belly. We weaved back and forth on solid walkways high above the inner core. At one point, we crossed over a vertigo-inducing bridge that loomed 45m over the river. An artificially-illuminated waterfall plunged well below us and it was difficult to know the scale in the monstrous cavity. Self-guiding and photos of any kind were prohibited within the cave itself, which was in stark contrast to the rules suggested (and rarely followed) in the Vietnamese counterpart.
That evening I met Justin. While I was paying some bills, he was plugged into his laptop for what he vaguely described as “work stuff.” Both still sitting there as the hour approached midnight, he bought me a beer and we chatted for awhile. Justin is currently living in Boulder and working for a software company. He’s taken two weeks to travel in Slovenia and meet friends for a sailing trip in Croatia, yet this first week he’s still tuned in to work. He’s not really from anywhere, growing up in a military family, because he’s lived in more than 15 countries. When asked what sports he played, he answers “all of them.” When asked how many languages he speaks, he answers “several.” And he’s a Libertarian. So I’m pretty sure we can never be friends, but in a masochistic way, I was intrigued. When I said I was going to see Predjama Castle the following day, Justin asked to come along.
Predjama literally means “in front of the cave.” The largest castle in the world to be constructed using a cave as a natural defense was what fairy tales are made of – dungeons and trap doors and secret entrances. The castle’s most famous resident, the knight Erazem Lueger, was eventually killed when a cannon was shot through the wall of the bathroom while he was on the toilet. You can’t make this stuff up! Unlike Justin, I had never seen a cave castle before and still a recent arrival in Europe, I had not had the chance to become tired of castles yet. I enjoyed every minute investigating the intricate design of this unique monument.
Aside from his questionable political views, Justin and I did have quite a bit in common. When I said I planned to go for a run back in the city, he asked if he could join me for that as well. It had been some time since I had a running companion (and a competitive one at that) so he kept me on my toes, even when we both constantly professed to be “out of shape.” We both ran a little bit faster, responding to the other’s pace. Finally, finishing a fun day at Marley & Me, a popular foodie restaurant in the city, I added another excellent Slovenian meal to a long list from this city. We dined on a prosciutto and cheese plate, marinated octopus salad, salmon with a honey mustard sauce, and chicken fillet in cream sauce, all accompanied with a local wine. It was here that Justin confessed that the company he works for is actually his own, started from the ground up, and his product was recently accepted by a couple of high profile clients. A self-professed lifetime entrepreneur, he is well on his way in plans to grow it and sell it for possibly an 8-digit number. Not a bad resume for someone I met in a…..hostel?