Bus to Ostrov u Macochy; Off the bus too soon; Walk through farmland to Sloup; A bike race; Sloupsko-Šošŭvské Cave; Just in time for the bus back to Blansko; Henry the friendly mushroom (and apricot) man; In which we fail to find a place to pitch the tent and return to the Hotel Probe

The bus to the third cave in the Moravian Karst area took about twenty minutes. We were supposed to get off at a village called Ostrov u Macochy, about 14km from Blansko. I messed up though, and instead of watching the stop names I trusted the schedule. The bus was running late and so I thought the stop we got off at was ours, when it was really four or five stops short. In a city, not such a big deal - in the country, it meant an six-kilometer walk out to where were supposed to have gotten off the bus, plus the two kilometers from the last bus stop to the cave. It was a nice two hours walk, though, through a beautiful countryside of fields and rolling forested hills. We walked past the entrance to the area’s fourth major public cave, the Výpustek Cave, closed this year for reconstruction. I stopped at one point to pick tiny sweet strawberries and raspberries growing together at the edge of the woods, and nearer to the cave we saw a bicycle race in progress. It looked like a time-trial event since the riders were turning around at the end of a road and heading back the way they came. I tried to look it up afterward but wasn’t able to find any mention of it in the media.

When we arrived at the cave, I went and got tickets, and we found that we had half an hour to wait until the next tour left. There were short tours of one hour, and long tours of 100 minutes - we went for the long tour, naturally. The short tour covered only one section of the combined Sloupsko-Šošŭvské system (I can’t remember which half, Sloupsko or Šošŭvské) while the long tour covered both sections. Not willing to be caught out again, I also paid for both of us to be able to take photos. This last was a waste of money as the guides in this cave couldn’t have cared less if we took photos or not. Figures, really.

The cave system was truly incredible though. It’s more than four kilometers long, and it has massive vaulted caverns and vast deep chasms. There were speleotherms I’ve never seen before, like shelfstone, where a stalagmite grows in round shelves as the water level in the cave rises and falls; and what the text called ‘wasps’ nests’, which looked like Japanese gyoza dumplings to me, lumpy upside-down bulges on the cave celing with dripstone veins radiating from their centre points. It was richly supplied, too, with a million variations of dripstone stalactites and stalagmites, and flowstone curtains and waves. I saw “cave bacon” for the first time, which looks exactly like strips of bacon hanging edge-on from the ceiling, and three examples of bell canopies, which look like lumpy mushrooms or umbrellas fringed along their circumference with tiny stalactites. Every now and again there were ridges of miniature stalactites in a line along the ceiling, looking exactly like the jawbone of a shark with its lines of teeth. In all, it was the most visual, intricate and rewarding cave system I’ve ever seen - number one on my list, no question. 100 minutes was a long time for a cave tour, but nowhere near long enough. I could spend days down there, with no exaggeration. There were two guides, one at the front giving the tour (in Czech only, alas) and one at the back to herd the stragglers. Because we stopped every ten seconds to point and gasp and take pictures, Sheryl and I were always at the back with the second guide. She was very nice - never hurrying us, and pointing out little details with her light that she thought might interest us. It’s nice to see a cave guide who actually has a love of caves, and she must have thought the same about tourists. We had no languages in common, but I imagine our enthusiasm came through clearly enough.

By the time we finally left the cave, chilled to the bone by the cold subterranean air, it was past 4 o’clock in the afternoon. We had half an hour to walk back to the closest bus stop so that we could catch the bus back to Blansko. There was another bus after, but we really didn’t feel like waiting another two hours. We were still undecided about what to do that night - stay in Blankso; stay in Brno, the closest large town; or go straight on to Vienna. Missing the bus would eliminate the Vienna option, so we stepped it out and managed to make the bus stop with a couple of minutes to spare.

On the bus ride back, we chatted to a nice man named Henry - or at least that’s how he anglicized his name for us (without us asking - I’d have preferred to have his real name). He lived in Brno and had been out picking mushrooms. He had a huge bag of them and let Sheryl take a picture of them. He also gave us apricots from his mother’s garden, and we had a good conversation. It was really nice to meet him, because it meant that not everyone in the Czech Republic hated us.

Back in Blansko, we decided it didn’t make any sense either to go on to Vienna and arrive there in the dark, or to go to Brno, since there was nothing there that interested us. We decided to pitch the tent somewhere, and spent an hour looking around for a usable spot. We had to admit defeat, though. All the outlying areas to the south of town were either too hilly and had no flat ground, or were too obviously party spots, or were too open. Everything was still quite wet from the storm of the night before, too. So we decided in the end to return to the by-now-familiar Hotel Probe. I was nervous about going back, since Sheryl had coloured her hair and ruined one of the towels, but we had to go back to get our packs one way or another. There were no issues checking in, though - I guess either they hadn’t discovered it yet or they hadn’t bothered telling the night clerk. There was a showdown in the morning, though - see tomorrow’s dispatch for details.

Flourish

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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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