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August 12, 2002

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After a morning tour of Slovenia's Skocjan caves, we went onward to Bosnia, a 10 hour journey by bus made long by border crossings in Croatia and Bosnia. The Bosnian border guards refused to stamp our passports, which added apprehension to our ignorance; we didn't know the local currency or exchange, where to find a hotel, and who was in charge of the area. A sign read, Republika of Srpska, which meant we were standing in the Serb region of Bosnia. In brief, Bosnia is a country divided into Serb, Croat, and Muslim states that don't talk to each other. Republika Srpska is the Serb-dominated, autonomous region in Bosnia. Furthermore, the Serbs here aren't fans of the West (due to our bombing campaign against them); the border guards weren't thrilled to see American passports, maybe that's why they wouldn't stamp them. The bus dropped us off at Banja Luka, capital of Republika Srpska, at 22:00 in a dark and empty bus station. No other lighted buildings in sight. One local bus sat in the parking lot, and with no other options (not even a taxi lingering nearby), we boarded this public bus. The bus driver accepted our Euro coins, and without knowing where we were going, we rode into town. The place seemed lively at night; no signs of war damage, a lot of small cafes and restaurants stayed cheerily open. Young couples walked along the lighted streets. We found a hotel (hotels are expensive in Banja Luka, minimum 100 Bosnian Konvertible Marks, KM - for a room with patchy carpeting, a rickety bed, and mosquitoes) and the first thing the receptionist wanted to know (in broken English) was, "Where's your entry stamp?"
To reach the Skocjan caves, take a bus from Ljubljana to a one-street village, then follow these little green signs into the woods. Of course you can't ask for directions because you're not sure how to say, "Skocjan."
The cave entrance is at the bottom of this gorge.
: Lonely Planet says the Skocjan caves are one of the best sites in Eastern Europe and we agree. Imagine a deep gorge with a raging torrent flowing at the bottom, enclosed at the top with a roof of stalactites - it's the real life Mines of Moria from Lord of the Rings.