Sometimes we have days where everything seems stacked against us, although it didn’t feel like that right from the beginning… We both had limited sleep even though we had got into our bags quite early (again, as soon as it was dark @ 8.30ish). Just as I was undressing and trying to remove some at least some of the armada of insect life from the tent I found a tick crawling up my leg on its journey to who knows where… promptly destroyed with fire and put out the tent I couldn’t help but feel thousands more covering me as I tried to sleep. We had been savaged by mosquitoes that evening and the evening before so were both restless with the half sleeping/scratching that happens when you are not fully awake/asleep. For some reason I kept waking with a cold sweat, probably as I haven’t been able to wash my sleeping bag liner for a while so it is not letting the moisture our properly. At around midnight I was woken a screaming from the woods, something was busy hunting or being hunted – never the less it was a haunting sound which seemed to quieten down once I had bashed some pots about and alerted whatever was going on to our presence. Information boards earlier in the day mentioned that this area of woods are used by the Slovenian bear population to move from their summer high altitude feeding areas to the lower woodland in time for the winter. In the last ten years almost all of the 26 bear – car accidents have happened in this area during Autumn, as the relatively small strip of woodland (we were camping in) is the last complete link between these two zones of feeding. It wasn’t until that night, with screaming in the woods that I realised the 1st of September probably was considered Autumn… do bears scream?
At some unknown time after was the strobe light show, bright flashed all around (but with no thunder) from nearby storms. Some restless tossing and turning followed by plenty of semi conscious scratching was ended with an extremely bright flash and the familiar sound of large raindrops landing on our canopy. Remembering the tent was half open on both sides for ventilation (and to allow any potential bear encounters to occur without damaging the tent) I quickly closed everything (actually I may have woken Sheena up and told her to do her side!) and lay there waiting for the fun to start. Sure enough, like someone had a thousand hosepipes pointed at our tent, everything intensified exponentially. The large droplets create an almighty sound when landing on the tight cover, drowned out only by the deafening crashes of thunder from the passing storm. Lightning created daylight inside, with the scariest bolts starting dim but over a few seconds erratically becoming as bright as glowing plasma all around us. To be honest, it is absolutely petrifying lying down under a small metal frame with this happening over your head. You can’t help but count the seconds as each flash happens, trying to track whether the barrage is going to intensify or is on the way past. At the same time my mind was filled by trying to recount the terrain around us, how many hills were there and how close were they? It was an awesome display of the strength of nature and had us cowering for about two hours before we were able to slip back into continued itchy, sweaty sleep.
We awoke to a moisture laden grey morning, it was clearly going to be a wet day. With slugs on almost everything we own, we packed and flicked. The scenery to begin with was really beautiful, almost like a continuous golf course – perfect rolling green grass with large irregular depressions called foibe a kind of sink hole formed due to the underground limestone and karst landscape. Sections were heavily wooded, Sheena almost falling off her bike from the fright of four deer scampering after she was little more than a meter away from them. Until the closing stages of the Second World War there were over 150 villages in this area inhabited by a German speaking population (the Gottschee), residents in the area from the fourteenth century. Those that hadn’t escaped with the retreating German army were expelled to Austria and all trace removed from the landscape. Houses were demolished, all trace of graveyards and churches removed. Those found to have supported the national front movement were taken into the out of view karst depressions and shot. A plethora of other killings took place known as the foiba killings or massacres as various groups sought their revenge on each other. As a result of this chain of events there are still not many people living in the area. A resettlement attempt was made later in the 20th century, so there is some pastoral farming now – cows and sheep complete with bells around their necks, sheep on the grass slopes and goats penned in on the steep karst depressions. Anyway, so with not many people living here it turns out there are no shops. Nothing. As much as the scenery was nice to look at, we couldn’t eat it. The route we chose was supposed to be flat, but after sending us up a big hill in the rain the surface of the road was missing. Uphill, pouring rain and a gravel track…. 10km, 20km, 30km, 40km… we passed all of these with nothing to eat, and each non village we passed made us more frustrated and needing to eat. The unexpected steep and constant hills were tiring, especially as we thought it was going to be predominantly downhill. We shared a small amount of chocolate and passed through the Slovenian/Croatian border hoping to find something but didn’t. We shared a small lump of stale bread with a much neglected tub of dodgy meat paste I had taken from a breakfast buffet weeks ago. We were unsure if it was meant for pets or humans but ate it anyway as we sheltered under the canopy of a closed down ‘motel nightclub valentine’ that must have been the creation of illegally obtained money or a brothel as it was in the middle of the woods. Allowing the rain to soften the bread we psyched ourselves up to carry on the unknown distance to the next town. After 70km we ran at the first ‘pekarna’ like zombies after fresh brains…. Pekarnas are local bakeries that serve ‘burec’ – large, greasy filo pastry coil filled with either meat or cheese that must be incredibly unhealthy but are cheap and filling. In a state of food coma we realised there was a campsite signposted 5km away and decided that we had had enough and were happy to call it a day. Tired and wet we stocked up with more food and headed there where we drank a few beers and salvaged some wood to have a fire in an open BBQ pit with a roof. In a display of overeagerness, Sheena managed to burn a hole in her wet socks – I now have to change the location of my dry socks regularly and in secret.