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August 2019

Kočevsko – explore, inspire & care

When Radio SI invited us to explore the forests of Kočevsko, with a real chance of spotting some wildlife, we were stoked about the adventure that awaited us. Kevin, a Belgian who’s born and raised in the lowlands of the West, and Mankica, a city girl who never explored this part of Slovenia, would embark on a journey through a mythical forest.

The morning of our scouting adventure started off with a fantastic breakfast at the Bearlog Hostel, where we had spent the night. The buffet with plenty of local products was precisely what we needed before heading out into the great outdoors. We met our local guide, Petra Draskovic, at the hostel. Here she gave us a quick briefing. Due to the recent storms, which wreaked havoc in the region, our stop at Željnske Jame caves was canceled.

That being said, Petra reassured us that we’d still have a full day. Nevertheless, the planned hike might be a bit more challenging than usual. Due to the massive storms, it was highly likely that several trees fell over or got damaged. Hence, we might have to be a bit more acrobatic than we are used to, walking down the sidewalks of Ljubljana.

Last but not least, Petra, our local bear expert, told us what we should do in case we’d encounter bears. Running away or clumsily trying to climb the first tree near you are definitely not a good option. Caressing cute bear cubs that curiously shuffle towards you is another significant NO NO. Ignoring the cuteness of the little ones, and playing dead, with your face facing downwards and your hands in your neck are the best reflexes when encountering this king of the forest. Ideal and reassuring advice for two city-slicking-pacifists, with a weakness for cute and cuddly animals.

Our first stop offered us a lovely panoramic view of the Kočevsko forests as well as the primeval Rajhenavski Rog virgin forest. The sight of the vast woodlands was mind-blowing. At this location, Petra explained to us what a virgin forest really is. Basically, Rajhenavski Rog virgin forest is allowed to follow the laws of nature and BE a forest. No man may enter or intervene with its development. Wiser than when we were when we woke up, we set course for the start of the Rog hiking trail. The impressive green giants, lining the dirt roads, quickly embraced us.

Our second stop was at the base of the Queen of Rog. Meeting Debela Jelka, with her 51 meters proudly standing tall in the forest and hiding her crown from plain sight, was something alright. Aged 500 years, she probably witnessed more human madness than our history books actually covered. Awestruck, we hugged this majestic queen. A little later, we reached a nice open area where we decided to have a forest picknick. The basket that Petra had brought was full of delicious local delicacies. However, sitting there, enjoying that lovely meal, we couldn’t silence the voice in our mind. Continuously pointing out that the scent of the food might lure out a shy, curious, and opportunistic bear. Luckily we refueled without having to evade hungry animals and continued our hike along the border of the virgin forest.

Being close to the primeval forest enabled us to take a quick peek and see what the circle of life is all about. With the help of our guide, we became aware that nature’s smart decisions trump those of man. While strolling along, Petra told us more about the animals that live in these woods. Showing us which pawprints, fur, and feces match individual animals. Never failing to point out some of the marks that the inhabitants of the forest left behind.

Petra successfully brought the wonders of the forest and its secret language, which remain hidden to rookies like ourselves, to our attention. While she simultaneously guided us skillfully through the maze of glorious trees.

At the end of our hike, to gain some new strength, Petra drove us to a local beekeeper. A charming man who explained to us what it entails to produce ‘bear friendly’ honey. As he poured us some tasty medeni liker and medica, he showed us how it’s possible to coexist with bears. Only by changing his way of thinking and working, he was able to protect his hives without any drastic measures. Respecting the bear’s existence and presence. A win-win situation for all parties involved. Although he has to stay on his toes at all times.

Shortly after taking our last sip, we were back on the road and paid a visit to Kočevsko jezero, a local lake. We went canoeing here in a handcrafted wooden canoe. It was an enjoyable and rewarding way of relaxing. After paddling around the lake, and skillfully balancing the canoe on the smooth surface of the lake, we eventually set course for the hunting lodge or Ranch Marina. Where we enjoyed a hearty, scrumptious dinner and a refreshing beverage. We reminisced about what we had seen that day in excellent company, the people who made this memorable day possible.

Thank you Petra, Nevenka, Lidija and ‘oh-so-merciful weather gods’ for letting us discover the secret forest. It was a day to remember for years to come.

Kevin & Mankica

Photos: Petra Draškovič and Mankica Kranjec