Quick Confession - Speleologist Boris Blaškovič: Salt caves are an artificially created, purely commercial thing
Have you ever heard of salt caves and their positive effects? As far back as 3,000 BC, the ancient Egyptians used salt as a medicine. These days, salt caves are a popular place for people to go and recharge their energy, but mainly improve their health and give their immunity a boost. Do you suffer from hay fever, allergies or eczema? You don't have to travel to the sea. It's said that 45 minutes in a salt cave equals a three-day stay by the sea. It helps alleviate chronic respiratory diseases, skin diseases and also has a positive effect on a person's mental health. In an interview for LP-Life.com, experienced speleologist Boris Blaškovič talked about life underground, Thai boys, but also about commercial salt caves and their healing effects.
When did you start exploring caves?
It hasn't been that long, just a few years back. I slowly got there by doing it as a hobby. At first, I'd visit three times a year, then five times a year, and things gradually got into motion.
Have you ever been afraid that an unexplored space would cave in on you?
Of course. The risk is always there. When discovering new spaces, you never know what you're going to bump into. Caution is a must.
To what depth can you descend in our country? In Abkhazia, there is a cave is that's more than two thousand meters deep and speleologists haven't yet been able to reach its bottom.
The deepest cave in Slovakia is 499 meters deep, it is the Hipman Cave System located in Jánská dolina in the Low Tatras. In the future, the depth will remain open for other enthusiasts, or for the next generation.
It's said that in France or the Czech Republic, caves are used to age cheeses. Is that true?
I believe it is - after all, we're using them for the same purpose in Slovakia. I also know about a cave in the Moravian Karst that served as a warehouse and for ageing Niva cheese. There is constant temperature and 98 percent humidity in caves, which supports the maturation of certain molds, such as those required for this purpose. A cave system is very individual and there are no negative effects in it.
It is said that the air in caves is often unhealthy, low in oxygen and occasionally saturated with toxic gases.
Very exceptionally, that can be true, but it is really very rare. In general, the air in a cave is normally breathable, even beneficial to human health, and as such it is used for medicinal purposes. There are a few exceptions when gas levels are high, but, as I say, it's a rare occurrence.
In the past, people used torches in caves. Is it true that when you light one, it increases the oxygen consumption in the cave, as a result of which there is less of it?
A torch is a fire, and fire needs oxygen to keep burning. In the past, people were using them mainly to visit large caves, in which oxygen is more or less inexhaustible, because there are various drafts, and most importantly, the spaces those caves stretch over are huge.
When do people use oxygen cylinders used in spelunking?
Oxygen cylinders are only used by divers when they need to overcome a siphon or when they have to get underwater and into an unknown space. Otherwise, oxygen cylinders are not typically used in caves, because the air there is acceptable.
Several years ago, the whole world was following the story of the Thai boys who were surprised by sudden floods while in a cave and remained trapped there. Would they survive without oxygen?
Of course, it is impossible to survive without oxygen, but lack of oxygen is not the problem in these cases. Oxygen flows into the cave even when, for example, the access path is flooded. A rock is not uniform throughout. There are various corridors, cracks and small gaps there, and while it's impossible for a person to crawl through, air does flow through them. There are other factors that are important for survival in a cave, such as hypothermia or lack of food later on. The cave in Thailand was very warm and there were other factors that played an important role.
How long can a person survive in a cave without oxygen?
As long as they hold their breath.
If someone gets trapped in a cave, like in this case, what do they have to do to survive?
That is individual. Each cave has its own character, temperature and conditions. When you get stuck in an unexplored cave and in difficult conditions, your chances are slim. Hypothermia can occur, which is the most common thing. That was actually the case with the Polish cavers in the Tatras two or three years ago. They both died of hypothermia. If you're not prepared, the chances are sometimes very small.
There is a lot of talk about salt caves and their positive effects on health. It is said that 45 minutes in a salt cave equals a three-day stay by the sea. Why?
These caves are exceptional due to the salt located inside. Already in the 15th century, the ancient Romans found out that people who worked in salt mines were breathing better. Their breathing problems improved there. This is explicitly the effect of salt.
How did the salt get into the cave?
Someone brought it there. Salt caves are not a natural thing. Certainly not in our conditions. We cannot get into new spaces full of salt. Salt caves are an artificially created thing, which in my opinion is purely commercial, but also has healing effects. It is not a natural creation.
What are the healing effects of the salt caves for respiratory problems?
Salt caves are of great importance for children with various respiratory problems, such as asthma.
Do we have such a salt cave in Slovakia or the Czech Republic?
We do have salt caves in Slovakia, many of them in fact, but they are artificially created and used for medicinal purposes. In my opinion, salt caves are an artificial creation, but in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and their surroundings they are used for so-called speleotherapy. It is the inhalation of cave aerosol directly in cave spaces. In Slovakia, there are two caves created for these purposes, where mainly children, but also people with various respiratory problems go to spend some time. They lie down on loungers, get wrapped in a blanket and breathe air that is good for their health. Our forefathers knew it too. The air has 98 percent humidity. It is a cave aerosol without negative properties and does not cause irritation. In addition, it contains various minerals that thrive and purify when inhaled.