The Gold & Orange Glow of Slovenian Caves

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Skocjan Jame - Slovenian Cave and bridge by Kalense KidImagine if the Grand Canyon were underground—that should give you an idea of what to expect when you enter the Škocjanske Jame (Škocjan Caves). Lonely Planet listed them as one of the top 10 attractions in Eastern Europe. They’re also on the UNESCO World Heritage list and get 100,000 visitors a year.

They live up to their reputation by being one of the largest underground canyons in the world with the Reka river still carving through it. At 60 meters wide and 140 meters deep, this canyon is a fraction of the Grand Canyon’s size, but the fact that it’s all underground makes it feel bigger.

When you cross the canyon via the narrow Hanke Canal Bridge, you’ll see the roaring river far below. You suddenly realize that you could fit a massive 45-story skyscraper in this subterranean world.

The Škocjan underworld is so enormous that a unique ecosystem has evolved here—it’s home to strange blind creatures that have never seen sunlight. The most bizarre one is the proteus.

Slovenians informally call it the človeška ribica (human fish). This alien vertebrate is as long as your forearm, has a long tail for swimming, gills, four legs, pigment-free skin, a highly sensitive nose, a sensor for detecting weak electrical fields in the water, and a pair of atrophied lungs and eyes that don’t really work.

They’re a weird amphibian that lives almost exclusively in water. Their life cycle is mystifying: they live almost as long as humans, they become sexually mature as teenagers, they have never been seen reproducing in the wild, their babies hatch out of eggs, and they can live up to 10 years without food. It’s one of the most hidden creatures in the Hidden Europe.

Cloveska Ribica - Human fish - by SanShoot on Flickr

Francis Tapon
Francis Tapon is half Chilean and half French and he was born and raised in San Francisco, California. He's been to over 80 countries, but he keeps coming back to this magical city because he loves earthquakes.

He spoke Spanish at home, French at school, and English everywhere else. He can get by in Portuguese and Italian, barely survive in Russian and Slovenian, and speak a few other languages.

Francis has an MBA from Harvard Business School and co-founded a successful Silicon Valley company that did robotic vision. He left his technology life to walk across America four times. He has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, and in 2007, became the first to do a round-trip on the Continental Divide Trail. In 2009, he was one of the finalists for the California Outdoors Hall of Fame, which "features nominees who are world-renowned for their skills and who have helped inspire thousands of others to take part in the great outdoors."

Francis has written a couple of travel books including The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us and Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America. He also produced a 77-minute video about his CDT Yo-Yo.
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