Twist your head to the right, your body to the left and wiggle through the crack, urged the guide leading us through Modric Cave in Croatia. Pretending I was a pretzel worked. After dragging my lagging left leg through a fissure between caverns, I re-lit my carbide miner’s lamp and stood stunned by the beauty of crystals sparkling on the curvaceous stalactites. My husband, who was a spelunker in his earlier days, couldn’t stop grinning and told me that he’d never seen a cave so pristine.
We were partially through a two-hour excursion into the cave, which is located less than 20 miles from the ancient city of Zadar and about a three-hour drive north of Dubrovnik. The adventure had started with a 10-minute walk over rocky ground to the entrance, within view of a calm, azure Adriatic Sea. Our guide, Marijan, unlocked the iron gate barring the entrance to the cave, so that our group of five could enter. Looking at the opening, the size of a book-return slot at a library, we eyed each other wondering how we could slip through it. Grab the rock wall, slide your feet through the crack while resting your back on the grate, wiggle through, then twist around and drop to the ground, Marijan directed. Following his directions (mentally thanking the helmet on my head when it smacked the grate), I wound up in a space barely big enough to hold the group.
During the time we spent exploring Modric Cave, we gingerly climbed over rocks or contorted our bodies to wiggle through small cracks in walls to marvel at the formations in the larger caverns. Our lamps revealed nature’s beauty created over millions of years. The cave is still “living” – growing with drops of water depositing tiny bits of calcium carbonate on the formations – and we were admonished not to touch them. Colored stalactites hung from the ceiling, with drops of water at the bottom you knew would one day add a millimeter to the glistening column. Stalagmites had dew-laden tops from the ground water seeping through the ceiling high above. Entering cavern after cavern in this 829-meter-long cave, we were awed as Marijan pointed out flows, columns and speleo shapes ranging from cuttlefish and jellyfish to a formation that looked like a turtle.
Quick flashes of light from cameras showed the three Germans we were spelunking with posing by fat pillars. Marijan, lean and weathered from years of leading people through caves and on treks in nearby Paklenica National Park, took our camera and photographed us. Then we sat down, turned off our lights and held our breath, savoring the absolute darkness and silence.
When we had re-emerged into bright sunlight, Marijan re-locked the iron gate covering the entrance and said that no more than 1,000 visitors are allowed in with a guide annually. In reality less than 300 people will visit this year, he added.
For us, this immersion into an underworld of pristine beauty was the highlight of our trip. Croatia may be a “hot” destination, but it still holds many unexplored marvels like Modric for the intrepid traveler.
Advance arrangements are needed to visit Modric Cave. Go to www.zara-adventure.hr for details. Modric Cave is listed as a technically undemanding excursion, but do expect to walk over very rough surfaces and to twist your body into some seriously contorted positions. This is not a cave NFL linebackers can enter, nor anyone with claustrophobia or a fear of the dark. Marijan, who says he is the only guide allowed to take small groups into Modric Cave, supplies overalls and helmets. Light hiking shoes, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a camera are all you’ll need to bring. The adventure costs 22 Euro per person. Experienced cavers can also arrange to visit caves that require rappelling and more advanced caving skills.
[Photo Credits: Lois Friedland]