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Pitch darkness and total silence

Text: Tina Keber Photos: Tomo Jeseničnik

A visit to an abandoned lead and zinc mine in the northern Koroška region is an interesting way to spend the day when the weather is cloudy or rainy. The entrances to the underworld below Peca, a mountain straddling the border between Slovenia and Austria (where it is known as Petzen), are also open on fine and sunny days, of course, when the mine's constant temperature of 10°C offers pleasantly cool relief.

The former mine, where ore began to be dug in as early as the 17th century, can be visited on foot, by bike or by canoe. Exploring the tunnels of the mine as you paddle a canoe through crystal-clear water (which is also perfectly safe to drink – simply scoop it up from under your canoe when you feel thirsty) is a truly unique experience. The tunnels filled with water after the mine closed in 1994, when it ceased to be pumped to the surface. 

Foto Tomo Jesenicnik 980x400 min

The adventure begins with a ride on a train – the same one that used to carry the miners to work. Your destination lies 700 metres below the surface. Equipped with helmets and headlamps, you set off into an underground labyrinth of diggings and tunnels more than 1,000 kilometres long

After getting off the train, with your eyes already getting accustomed to the darkness, you descend a steep set of steps that take you down a further 95 metres. Here you put on neoprene suits and boots and take your place in one of the waiting canoes. Now you can set off to explore the underground lakes on your own – a thrilling experience that is sure to get your adrenaline pumping. Paddling the canoes is easy and suitable for anyone over the age of ten. But it does require concentration, since some of the tunnels are quite narrow and you need to use your hands to propel the canoe forwards. But there's no need to worry about feeling claustrophobic down there. After paddling just a few metres, you will find that the tunnel widens out into a spacious underground chamber and the light from your helmets will illuminate the water in countless shades of blue and green. You can even jump in for a refreshing dip, since in places the water is up to ten metres deep. 

Foto Tomo Jesenicnik 980x400 1 min

If you switch off your lamp and don't talk, you can experience total darkness and silence. Something all too rare in our world full of light and noise pollution. Sometimes the silence is broken by the mischievous laugh of the mine's only permanent inhabitant – a dwarf called Perkmandelc. The old miners believed that he was the owner of the ore they mined, and used to leave food and brandy in the tunnels for him. So if you hear an unfamiliar voice, take to your heels at once, for not even your guide will be able to help you. All he can do is wish you luck in the traditional miner's way – "Srečno!" – and race back to the surface with you.