In search of an elusive olm

The olm (Proteus anguinus) was always one of the animals I wanted to see. It lives only in this part of the world but it is rarely seen by people as it lives underground. It can only be found in the karst caves starting from Soča near Trieste all the way to Hercegovina. It rarely gets out of the caves and only if the floods bring it out. In appearance, it is a strange, almost lizard like animal and, because of it’s skin color that resembles the color of the human skin, it is also known in these areas as a “human fish”.  It was first mentioned in 1689 by a local naturalist Valvasor describing that after heavy rains, the olms were washed up from the underground and made locals believe they saw a cave dragons’ offspring.

Olm - photo from the internet

Olm – photo from the internet

So, being a member of “Špiljar” Caving club from Split, I asked Mr. Tonči Rađa if it would be possible to see the olm. Luckily, olm lives only few miles from Split. In Dugopolje.
One August afternoon, we all got together, got the equipment and headed north to Đuderina jama cave. The cave is nothing special but has one very narrow section and the olm is usually hidden way deep. In a small, natural lake. The olm was first found here in 1979.

Nata entering the cave

Nata entering the cave

The cave is not too deep – only few meters at the entrance and then few more to get to the lower level. We used ropes and 100 years old rope ladder that belonged to Split’s first cavers! Since some of us were not experienced cavers, that ladder came in quite handy!

The 100 years old wire rope ladder

The 100 years old wire rope ladder

The cave is nothing special – very few cave decorations can be seen.

Going in...

Going in…

We had to get on our knees and then slide through some muddy sections to get to the part of the cave with the olm. But before that, we had to slide through a very narrow section, In some parts, it was so narrow the helmet could barely go through…

Getting through a narrow section

Getting through a narrow section

After all this, we finally reached the part of the cave where olm lives. It is a narrow passage – just for one person – all the way to the small lake. But, we were not lucky to see it… Despite all the rain this summer, the small lake in the cave was almost dry- The olm has retreated deeper to the underground, to the narrow streams and rivers where it normally hides.

So, it was time to go back and hope that some other time we will be more lucky and finally see it. It is quite common in the caves in this area so it should not be too long before we get o see it in real life.

Also, important notice – caving is only for people with permits and with experienced, licensed members of local caving clubs. And don’t forget, the olm is a protected animal!

Okljucna village and Kraljicina spilja cave

I have been reading about Kraljicina spilja cave (Queen’s cave translated to English) for a while now but never had the time to visit. It is the largest cave of Vis island and it is located on a fairly inaccessible part of the western coast close to Okljucna village. Yesterday we had some extra time and decided to visit the cave.
First, we drove to abandoned Okljucna village.

Okljucna today…


Okljucna today is just a shadow of once a lovely village that even had a full school of students. No one lives there year round any more. Just a few restored houses are now left and many more are abandoned.

The church at Okljucna


To reach the Queen’s Cave, one has to drive from Vis all the way to a sign that tells a story of the cave and the research conducted. It involves some dirt road driving but in general, it is an easy drive.
Then, it is enough to follow the signs along the path. For about 50 minutes.
Abandoned house along the route.

Abandoned house along the route.


Being end of August, we enjoyed picking and eating blackberries and figs but also saw rare service tree filled with fruits (still sour)
Service tree

Service tree


The path is quite scenic but very narrow. it is difficult to get lost, though, as it is the only path you can follow. At times, it goes bellow the pine trees providing much needed shade. make sure you bring plenty of water as you will need it!
Following the path

Following the path


Nearing the cave, the views became stunning. Open seas and steep, rugged western coast of Vis.
The western coast of Vis

The western coast of Vis


The final part of the trail is fairly difficult and ropes have been positioned and tied to the trees to ease the approach. The cave is right above the sea, some 70 meters, although, due to many trees, it does not look that way!
The entrance to Queen's cave

The entrance to Queen’s cave


The cave is not too big and one needs ropes to get to more distant halls. Without any equipment, one can easily get through the first two sections. Some carved steps can also be found to ease getting from one part to another.
The cave is filled with ornaments and it is quite lovely. Nothing spectacular but still pretty. Lots of bats, too!
Inside the cave

Inside the cave


Beautiful part of the cave

Beautiful part of the cave


The cave has also suffered some devastation although some of the major destruction seems to have been done by an earthquake. The archaeologists have doe some excavations as the cave was inhabited in the past. Not permanently according to the evidence found but probably only as a stop when traveling.
Some half hour is enough to enjoy the cave (without ropes) and to enjoy the cool temperatures before heading back.
One exiting we heard and briefly saw, very rare Eleanora’s falcon! That makes these cliffs a top position for any serious birdwatcher!
The road back was nothing easier… Another 50 minutes in the scorching sun and looking for rare pine tree shades. We were happy to be back to Oključna.
Opuntia ficus-indica

Opuntia ficus-indica


Just one of many great places to visit while on Vis!

Travel to Croatia

Beaches of Vis Island – Sandy Smokova beach

Vis is generally known as one of the most beautiful islands of Croatia. Culture, history, food, beaches…all that makes Vis  Island a very special destination. There are several very popular beaches on the island (Srebrna, Stončica, Grandovac, Stiniva…to name just a few) but some are only accessible by a boat as the coast of Vis is quite rugged and wild.

One of my favorites is Smokova for sure.

Smokova beach

Entering Smokova bay

This is not a small bay. It can hold dozens of boats of all sizes and and it is a perfect refuge from jugo (southern) wind or maestral (north western). It is a popular destination for all boaters but it was not crowded despite the fact it was August 1st which is usually the busiest month of the season.

Smokova

Smokova

In the bay

In the bay

The beautiful bay ends with a small sandy beach that is just perfect for families! Well…maybe not everyone likes it.

Great for families and (most) children

Great for families and (most) children

The beach itself is maybe a 100 meters long and it is made of a very fine, nearly white sand. The beach is open to northern winds and it is not the cleanest as some people have a custom of throwing stuff overboard… The Vis island tourist board should find some funds to clean these beaches and maintain it that way through the season (and after). Lots of driftwood as well but I like that and some folks built a nice shade.

White sands

White sands

It is also worth mentioning that, because of the high hills that envelope the Smokova bay, sun is lost fairly soon so, by 7 PM, it was already dark on the beach.

At the beach

At the beach

A curiosity of Smokova is that one can still see part of a WW2 bomber wing at the sea bottom. About 100 meters from the beach. It is part of a wing of an aircraft that did not make it to the Vis airport and crashed here. The airport for allied airplanes was created in the central part of the island as US and British airplanes were attacking Nazi targets during the last stages of the WW2.

Part of the wing

Part of the wing

And then it was time to head back.

Heading back to Vis town

Heading back to Vis town

Stončica lighthouse looked pretty as ever.

Stončica lighthouse

Stončica lighthouse

In general, nearly all beaches of Vis are quite special and very hard to pint one out as the nicest. Smokova is excellent for families as that sandy part makes it easily accessible and great for children. Smokova is part of our motor boat trip around Vis Island as one of the most popular stops.

 

Travel in Croatia