Although he never visited Pazin, the great writer Jules Verne vividly described adventures of Mathias Sandorf and his great escape from Pazin castle. In his novel of the same name written in 1885th, the main character manages to escape Pazin Castle in an attempt to save his life and ends up in the abyss of Pazin cave. Carried by undercurrents of Pazinčica for six hours, he emerges back in Lim bay…
Nowadays, people visit Pazin cave not to escape and save their lives. Instead, they visit the cave and face their fears – says Saša Bačić, Pazin cave speleologist and member of Speleological Association Istra ‘Pazin’. In cooperation with Natura Histrica association, which is a public institution for management of protected areas of nature in Istria County, and the city of Pazin, Speleological Association Istra ‘Pazin’ started organizing public explorations of Pazin cave in 2013th. Through the years, ‘Speleo adventure’ became an original Pazin tourist experience. As a speleologist, Saša manages several groups of tourists daily, leading them in to the depths of Pazin cave in a three-hour adventure called ‘Speleo adventure’.
In ‘Speleo adventure’ what does adventure stand for?
Speleo adventure is great for facing and overcoming your fears, and that’s why I love being a speleologist. Claustrophobia is certainly the first fear people face. Once we’re in the cave I always emphasize that height varies from 10 to 25 meters, so people really can’t have feel ‘trapped’. Another thing people face is the fear of heights. A part of Speleo adventure is taking two zip lines, and the second one, that’s 40 m long leads to the underground Martel lake. Once we reach that location, we are exactly 100 meters underneath the city, somewhere below the Franciscan monastery gardens.
The third fear is the fear of darkness – the cave has no light installations, so everyone is obliged to wear light helmets. That’s why the experience is called a ‘Speleo adventure’. When it’s all finished, the vast majority of people suffering from any phobia feels overwhelmed and satisfied, because they faced their fears. To clear out – Speleo adventure is not dangerous, but for example, we always take children by the hand during exploration. When it comes to experiencing something deep and unknown, it is important to convey a sense of security. It’s all in the energy you transfer to those around you.
Apart from height/depth differences, what else do you need to prepare for before entering the cave?
Temperature difference. Tourists gets surprised when I say sports shoes and long sleeves are obligatory. At the very entrance the temperature is about 25° celsius, and when we get in the cave it goes down to 15°celsius. The return is however, the worst – from light and breezy back to 30° degrees.
What about winter?
Speleo adventure is open all year round. We’re closed only during periods of heavy rain because of potential floods in the cave. Tourists came in last Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and I’m really glad they did. The cave is even more beautiful during winter because it’s full of icicles, and the temperature ranges from 0 -2° celsisus, so it’s not that bad.
Personally – why explore depths rather than reach for heights?
Years ago, I suffered from claustrophobia and wanted to overcome that fear. I joined Speleological Association Istra ‘Pazin’, and started exploring caves as a member. At some point, you meet your fears face to face – you’re deep in the cave and you have to go through a narrow passage and you have no way out of that situation. There are people in front of you, there are people behind you have no choice but to trust everyone around you and pass through.
So, you came to terms with your claustrophobia.
Yes. When you are in the cave exploring, you’re having an adrenalin rush because it’s an unknown place that no one has ever explored before. You focus on lights, ropes, and you have no time to think of your fear. That is how it gradually disappeared.
How deep is your speleological experience?
My personal interest in speleology has started 20 years ago when I passed the course to become a speleological trainee. Since then, I have mostly explored caves in Istria, especially on Ćićarija. Istria has over 1000 caves, but ours in Pazin is my favorite. I think it is unique in the world – it is almost in the center of the city, and it’s underneath the city. During exploration, I always mention it – and people find it mesmerizing. Moreover, our cave has an underground lake called Martel. It’s 80 meters long and it gradually gets deeper from 1,5 to 20m.
While we’re at curiosities of Pazin cave – what about the myth saying the undercurrents of Pazinčica river emerge back in Lim bay?
Pazinčica River emerges in Raša bay after 35km, not in Lim bay as it is popularly thought. Every couple of years speleologists, cave divers and geologists from around the world pay us a visit to check the accuracy of information I give out to tourists. You have to stand behind your words when you talk to people, and you have to give them short and credible facts. At the end, tourists always come out of the cave well informed and full of impressions.
I can’t say I’ve noticed many speleologists/guides in Istria like yourself.
Yes, that’s true. Practically all caves in Istria that are accessible for visits are highly commercialized and tailor-made for mass tourism. Most of them are illuminated and have trails – that is the main reason for the lack of speleologists who are also guides in Istria. Pazin cave is special because there are no trails, only a few ropes, and no light, you need a speleologist to take you inside. We tend to keep it that way.
Yet, Pazin has quite branded itself as an adrenaline destination in recent years.
We have a lot of influx of coastal tourists because sun&sea is no longer ‘enough’. It is true; we have become an adrenaline destination in recent years. It all started when Zip line above Pazin abyss was set, and later when we started with cave explorations for tourists. Finally, Zarečki krov is definitely a contributing factor for such status. Unfortunately, I am sad to mention it as an example of massive exploitation of nature, without proper infrastructure that can handle hundreds of visits per day. Every summer people leave garbage, and it’s becoming polluted. Unfortunately, the whole place along with the waterfall has become highly popular and viral on social media, while infrastructure and management are not following. I’m afraid no one can control it anymore. I personally haven’t been there for the last 3 years during summer season, there’s too much people and the place is no longer quiet. It’s no longer just for locals. The trail from Zarečki krov to Pazin cave is a protected piece of nature. That is precisely why Pazin cave has no trails, and has no light installations, and visiting is possible only with a speleologist. Speleologists are known for their love for nature, so we keep our Pazin cave protected from mass tourism.
Claustrophobia is settled, is there anything else you fear in life?
As a mother of three, if there’s any fear, it’s related to my children. As a person of 38 who has been through some things in life, I must say I have no fears left.
Photo courtesy of: Central Istria, Saša Bačić, Goran Safarek
Author: Annamaria Gržetić
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