Bosnia and Herzegovina part four: Konjic, Mostar and Dubrovnik

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Day 7 – rafting on the Neretva

We had two options today: white-water rafting on the Neretva river or walking in hot conditions. I decided to opt for the cooler option, although the prospect of the rapids scared me a bit and I didn’t bring my swimming costume! We left Sarajevo for Konjic at 9am and met up with Samir Krivić the owner of Europe Rafting at Restoran Vidikovac where we had a great view of the old Ottoman bridge over the river. Then we drove to another location and parted from the walkers.

We were provided with wet suits, life jackets and helmets. The wet suits were sleeveless and a bit exposing – Kenan very kindly loaned me his t-shirt so that I wasn’t flashing my sports bra to the world! Alison, Sarah, Bob and I were in the same boat with Samir and his son. It took us 4 hours to go about 23 km with a couple of breaks to snack on fruit and (for those who wanted to) a swim in the cold river. Samir told us that in April, when the river is at its highest and strongest, the same trip takes 45 minutes! We did up to class 5 rapids, which means nothing to me other than it was very exciting without being scary. My favourite bits though were the quiet periods between rapids where we could just float and enjoy the scenery and the beautifully clear, cool water. We saw a golden eagle flying in the distance!

When we disembarked we had to return our wet suits. Unfortunately, our dry clothes were in the van which was up a slope on the other side of the road and I had to make the trip in my underwear! Then we drove back to Restoran Vidikovac for our meal of fresh river trout and chips. By this time it was 5pm. The walkers joined us about 45 minutes later and we sat and caught up for a while. They had a good walk with beautiful scenery but it was very hot.

Then we had a lovely scenic drive south along the E73 which follows the Neretva river to Mostar. We arrived at our hotel in Mostar (Hotel Almira) about 7:30pm. Some of the group went out for dinner but I was full of trout.

Day 8 – Mostar to Dubrovnik

Jasmina from Fortuna Tours gave us a walking tour between 8:30 and 10am and by then it was already getting hot. She told us that in summer the temperature in the sun reaches over 50 degrees! She took us over the famous Old Bridge (stari most) which was destroyed in 1993 and rebuilt and reopened in 2004. We walked along cobbled streets to the Tabačica mosque, which is open to tourists. We also visited the Biscevic House, a 17th century Turkish house museum with a courtyard.

After some free time we loaded up the bus and left for our drive to Dubrovnik at 11:30am. We stopped for half an hour at Neum for lunch and an opportunity to spend the last of our Bosnian currency. I had a sub-par sandwich and an ice cream. Neum is on BiH’s 24km stretch of Dalmatian coast. We followed the coastal road and had to go through the border with Croatia twice to get there because the only land connection Neum has with BiH is via a narrow, windy road through the hills (it makes sense when you look at a map!). Thankfully the border crossings were quick.

We arrived at our hotel (Hotel Sumratin) in Dubrovnik around 3pm. After checking in we walked down the attractive, pedestrianised Zvonimira street towards Lapad Bay. Emma and Alison had a swim and then a few of us sat in the shade with a drink. It was a very pleasant way to unwind after the heat of Mostar and the long bus journey.

That evening we headed into the old town for dinner. We caught the number 6 bus to the Pile Gate and then wandered down the glistening marble-paved Stradun watching the swallows and martins aerial feeding as the sun set. It was a wonderful introduction to the beautiful old town. We ate at Konoba Sciabecco which is on Prijeko street parallel to Stradun, with a lovely view of the Little Church of St. Nicholas (Crkva sv. Nikole). Lovely location, but overpriced, average food (I ordered the fish fillet). After dinner we went for ice cream at Dolce Vita. I had the delicious hazelnut praline. We caught the (packed!) number 6 bus back to the hotel and were in bed before midnight.

Day 9 – Dubrovnik

Emma wisely suggested that we visit the city walls first thing before the worst of the heat and crowds. So Emma, Bob, Sarah, Richard and I caught the bus at 8am and were on the city walls about 20 minutes later. We took about 2 hours to walk leisurely around the walls and stopped once about half way round for a very welcome drink in the shade at Caffe Bar Salvatore. The views from the walls of the Adriatic and the terracotta rooftops were absolutely stunning.

Dubrovnik old town

Photo credit: helenalex1 on Flickr

Emma, Bob, Sarah and I decided to get the cable car up to Mount Srđ. In hindsight we should have bought tickets beforehand because once we got to the cable car there was quite a bit of queuing in the heat to buy tickets. The views from the top were spectacular but we missed out on visiting the Museum of the Homeland War because it wasn’t signposted and by the time we arrived at the top it was hot and crowded and we were keen to get back down. Due to the crowds and prices in the old town we decided to go back to the area around the hotel for lunch. Exiting the Pile Gate proved to be an uncomfortable experience – there were too many people trying to enter and exit at the same time through a fairly narrow space and we were stuck in the crowd for what felt like a long time but was probably only 5 minutes.

Lunch was pizza and chips from Tutto Bene Pizzeria & Fast Food on the lovely pedestrianised street near the hotel. We saw John sitting there with a beer and asked to join him! That afternoon we said goodbye to Richard, John, Alen and Dževad because Richard and John were getting the group flight back to the UK (Mary and Sean had left earlier that morning). The rest of us joined Alison on the beach, had a few drinks and then walked a little way along the coast path to Cave Bar More for another drink! The views from this side of the bay were beautiful. We wandered back to the hotel and on the way made a reservation for 6:30pm at Casa Restaurant. The food was delicious – I had the catch of the day (hake) with pea puree and beetroot, followed by chocolate posset. We had a lovely view of the bay and the sunset from our table on the terrace.

Lapad Bay sunset, Dubrovnik

Photo credit: helenalex1 on Flickr

Day 10 – home

Emma left at 4:30am to catch her flight home. Due to our poor experience with the hotel breakfast the day before the rest of us decided to get a croissant and coffee at a local café at 9am and then left for the airport at 10:30am.

Thank you for reading my memories and I hope you consider visiting the beautiful and very interesting Bosnia and Herzegovina!

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina part three: Sarajevo and the surrounding hills

Part 1 | Part 2

Day 4 – exploring the city

We drove to Sarajevo and checked into our hotel (Hotel Hecco) which was located about a 10 minute walk north of the old town. Then we walked down the hill to Baščaršija Square (aka Pigeon Square) to have lunch on Bravadžiluk Street. We split up for lunch: those who wanted meat went to a place that served ćevapi (small grilled meat sausages) and those who didn’t went across the road to Buregdzinica Oklagija. Here they served Bosnian pie (known as pita) which is a filled pastry rolled into a spiral. I particularly liked the ones filled with cheese (sirnica) and potatoes (krompiruša). The meal came to 5KM each, which is about £2.50. Eating out in Bosnia is generally cheap – especially in comparison to Dubrovnik!

After lunch we met up with Rijad, a local in his early 20s, who gave us a walking tour of the city. He showed us the Ottoman-style quarters (which he called “Istanbul”) and the Austro-Hungarian parts (“Vienna”). The difference in architecture was pronounced. He explained that further out of the centre is “Moscow” with its socialist-era housing blocks. We saw mosques, a synagogue, Orthodox churches and a Catholic cathedral. We saw the place where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914 and all around the city we saw bullet holes and shrapnel scars on buildings from the 90s conflict. We heard what it was like to be in Sarajevo during the 15th century and the 1984 Winter Olympics. He advised us to catch one of the old “massage” trams to get rid of our kidney stones and to listen out for the sound of the cannon being fired at sunset to signal the breaking of the fast. In short, he was a very good guide and gave us a fascinating overview of the city’s history and people.

After the tour, Kenan took us to the metalwork shop of one of his friends, and then to the Sevdah Art House (Sevdah is a melancholy folk music a bit like Portuguese Fado) where we had a drink and a snack. I had Salep (milk, orchid root and cinnamon) and kadaif (shredded pastry soaked in sugar syrup).

After some free time to explore we met up for dinner at Nanina Kuhinja (Grandma’s Kitchen) where I ate a lot of food! We were served numerous courses of traditional Bosnian food one after the other and I found it difficult to pace myself! It was all delicious, especially the klepe (Balkan ravioli). There wasn’t a table big enough to accommodate all twelve of us plus Alen so we were at two tables. There was a lot of laughter and bawdiness at our table!

It rained quite heavily in the evening and the walk back to the hotel was a bit wet. I heard later that two of our group had a close shave with a car. Parking in Sarajevo is a problem, with people forced to park on pavements – this means that walking along non-pedestrianised streets can be a bit dangerous, as you’re sometimes forced to walk in the road and the drivers don’t always slow down or swerve.

Day 5 – yoga, a waterfall and lots of nettles

This was my favourite day of walking. We left the hotel at 9am and drove up to the Sarajevo Hills and started walking at 10am. The conditions were ideal for walking – about 20 degrees, scattered clouds and a cool breeze. I wore a long-sleeved top and was comfortable (but I forgot to put sunscreen on my hands and because I was using poles the top of my hands were a bit red at the end of the day). After about 40 minutes of walking we stopped in a beautiful field of wildflowers to do yoga and meditate.

Wildflowers in the Sarajevo hills

Photo credit: helenalex1 on Flickr

We had lunch at the highest point of our walk (Bukovik Peak, 1,534m) – a delicious salmon sandwich from a shop in Sarajevo, cherries, mint tea and chocolate. We had fabulous views of the city in the valley below us. Alen talked about the 90s war – how the unique geography of Sarajevo enabled the siege to happen, and his own experience as a boy of 12. Our guides were very generous in sharing their stories of the war.

After lunch we walked down into coniferous forest. Due to the overnight rain it was a bit muddy and slippery underfoot. This was a beautiful stretch of walking – dappled sunlight, the smell of wet leaves and wild garlic, the sound of birds. The water up here is potable so we were able to fill our bottles with cool and refreshing water. We didn’t see any wolves or bears but there was evidence that boars had been hunting for truffles recently. We didn’t see anyone else until the Skakavac waterfall where we bumped into Kenan’s friend who showed us a photo he’d taken of the waterfall when it was frozen in minus 20 degrees. The waterfall is 98m high and emits a lot of spray so we got dressed up in our waterproofs and crossed a slippery bridge to the other side.

Skakavac waterfall by emmaPhoto credit: Emma Milliken on Facebook

We emerged from the forest and saw the welcome site of a small lodge where we ended our hike with a cold drink – I had mint juice which was delicious. Others had beer or a type of rakia made from honey and pine needles (medovača) and Mary played with the dogs.

We got back to the hotel at 5:50pm and agreed to meet Kenan at Pigeon square at 7:10pm – so quick showers! Our dinner was at Žara iz duvara and our host was very attentive and made us laugh a few times with her formidable hospitality: “you can show your appreciation by eating all your food!” We had the set meal and the food was delicious but I ate too much early on in the (many!) courses. I can’t remember everything we ate, but the menu was heavy on nettles, e.g. nettle fritters with cottage cheese, nettle soup (very garlicy – yum!) and nettle bread. At the end of the meal there was a digestif of rakia in various flavours including walnut, cherry, pear, juniper and nettle (or course!) I had a sip of the pear and all I could taste was alcohol.

Day 6 – Lukomir

We left the hotel at 9am and drove to the Bjelašnica mountains, the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics. We started at 11am from Umoljani – walking up the track to the upper village, which is abandoned during the winter. We then walked for 4 hours to Lukomir via Obaji peak. It was sunny and warm with a refreshing breeze and lots of gorgeous views. We encountered some sheep dogs who tried to herd us! We stopped just before ascending Obaji peak to refuel – cherries, chocolate and a wafer biscuit made of tahini. From Obaji peak (1,896m) we could see Lukomir, the highest village in BiH at 1,469m and our final destination

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Photo credit: bob_stunt on Flickr

The descent down to Lukomir was steep and rocky.  We stopped at the bottom of the hill by the cemetery and some stećci medieval tombstones. Alen talked about the history of the original Bosnian kingdom and the history of the village – one of the longest continually inhabited villages in Europe. When we entered the village we were served a delicious traditional meal of Bosnian pita with sour cream/cheese and a salad of tomato, cucumber and onion, followed by tea and coffee.

Bosnian pita in Lukomir

Photo credit: helenalex1 on Flickr

We were shown crafts that the villagers had made (craved wooden spoons and woollen socks/gloves) which some of us bought. The loo was a stone hut perched on the cliff edge and had a wonderful view of the hills and valley. At 5pm, after a short tour of the village in which Alen showed us the mosque, we started our journey back to Sarajevo. The traffic was quite bad so we didn’t arrive until 6:50pm. Some of the group opted to go out for dinner but I chose to stay at the hotel.

Next: Konjic, Mostar and Dubrovnik

Bosnia and Herzegovina part two: Sutjeska National Park

Part 1

Day 2 – Donje Bare lake and Ugljesin Peak

We left Trebinje early, drove 2 and a half hours to Sutjeska National Park and checked into our hotel. Hotel Mladost, or “Hotel Youth” was built in the Tito era as a youth camp and still has that feel. The communal areas were a bit tired looking but I think most of the rooms have been refurbished – ours was certainly fine.

We then drove up the first of many rough and windy roads (thank you for the Dramamine Emma!) to Donje Bare lake and had lunch. I didn’t notice until that evening but I think this was the point where I received lots of insect bites. After lunch we walked for 4 hours. It was hot (high 20s) and sunny and the pace was a bit quicker than I’m used to, so I found it challenging. However, the scenery was stunning – we walked through pretty wildflower meadows (more insect bites!) and up and down mountainous terrain without seeing another soul. All the while having gorgeous views of snow-capped peaks. The highest point we reached was Ugljesin Peak (1858m).

Zelengora peaks

Photo credit: helenalex1 on Flickr

We drove back to the hotel with a stop at a local store to buy water and insect repellent. After a quick shower we had dinner at the hotel – meat stew and potatoes (or fish for the non-meat eaters), and chocolate cake for desert. After dinner, while a thunderstorm raged outside, Alen described the next day’s climb up Bosnia’s highest peak, Maglic Mountain (2386m). He explained that it’s a tough and long walk (8-12 hours depending on the group) with some scrambling and a 30-40 minute section of sliding down scree. I had a worrying twinge in my knee and the sun exposure and pace during the day’s walk had left me feeling a bit unwell, so I decided that I wasn’t up to doing Maglic and would stay at the hotel. Alen said there was a Plan B walk if 50% of the group wanted to do it, but that would’ve left the Maglic climbers with only 1 guide on what sounded like a really tough climb. In the end the decision was taken out of our hands.

Day 3 – a primeval forest, a heart-shaped lake and a monument

The overnight rain meant that it was too wet to climb Maglic so we did the Plan B walk instead. We left the hotel at 8:30am but didn’t start walking until 10:30am – there was a lot of driving in this trip that I hadn’t anticipated. On the way we took a slight detour to a lookout point where we had fantastic views of the Perućica Primeval Forest, one of the two remaining primeval forests in Europe dating back 20,000 years. The walking conditions were very different from the previous day – it was wet underfoot, with low cloud which hid some of the panoramic views (but still gorgeous scenery).

Trnovačko Lake, Montenegro

Photo credit: helenalex1 on Flickr

After 2 hours walking we stopped for lunch by Trnovačko Lake (above) which is in Montenegro (we’d crossed the border). While we ate our packed lunches our guides did the necessary bureaucracy with the border guard. Unfortunately, it started to rain and showed no signs of stopping, so we decided not to carry on up the mountain but walk the 2 hours back to the bus. When back at the bus a few of us decided to walk to the fire tower and back.

We arrived back at the hotel at 5:30pm and had time for a shower and/or nap. At 6:30pm we walked to the enormous monument next to our hotel. It was built in remembrance of the Battle of Sutjeska, a Partisan victory over the Germans in World War II.

Photo credit: Mary Russell on Flickr

Dinner was at Restoran Tentorium. The meat eaters had chicken broth to start and the vegetarians had an unidentified green soup (looking at the menu on their website this was probably wild spinach cream soup). Then it was chicken in white wine sauce followed by crepes with plum jam. After dinner, Kenan explained that his family built a memorial to Tito and the Partisans on Maglic and showed us some photos.

Next: Sarajevo and the surrounding hills

Bosnia and Herzegovina part one: Trebinje

Back in June I went on the Exodus Walking in Bosnia & Herzegovina trip with some of the same people I went to Peru with last year: my uncle Bob, my cousin Emma, Alison and Sarah. In the next few blog posts I’m going to share my memories and some of our photos. There are more photos on my Flickr.

In summary, you can still see the devastation that the 90s conflict brought, especially in Sarajevo where there are bullet and shrapnel holes all around, but I was really impressed with the natural beauty of the countryside and the fascinating cultural heritage. We walked through stunning mountainous and forested scenery and didn’t see another tour group; we went white-water rafting on the crystal-clear Neretva river and saw a golden eagle; we were in Sarajevo during Ramadan and experienced the wonderful atmosphere of people coming out after sunset to break their fast with friends and family. I hope that the tourism industry continues to grow and I’m going to do my bit to encourage people to visit!

Day 1 – Travelling to Trebinje

Bob very kindly offered to drive us to Gatwick, so I stayed overnight in Oxfordshire. I set my alarm for 2:45am and we left at 3:10am. We had breakfast and met up with Alison and Sarah and took the 07:50 BA flight to Dubrovnik. This wasn’t the group flight so when we arrived at Dubrovnik we weren’t met by the group leader but instead two taxi drivers took the four of us and our luggage across the border to Trebinje. We decided not to go with the Exodus flights because there was a change in Zagreb and we could get a direct flight plus transfer for not much more money.

The journey from Dubrovnik airport to Trebinje is 25 miles but took us 90 minutes because we were queuing for a long time at the border. We had to show our passports to leave Croatia and then again to enter Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH). I was in a taxi with Bob and our driver could speak English – he explained that the queuing is normal in summer and they are strict because it’s one of the main borders into and out of the EU. We arrived at our hotel in Trebinje in the early afternoon (Hotel Platani). We had a light lunch (roasted mushroom salad for me) sitting outside the hotel underneath the sycamore trees and overlooking the market square. It was a lovely setting and our waiter patiently taught us how to say “hvala” (thank you). At one point we spotted a delegation from the Orthodox church in full regalia walking towards the hotel. They noticed our interest and one man introduced himself as an archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church from Sweden.

archbishop

Photo credit: _samaco_ on instagram

The guide book that Exodus recommended (Bradt guide to Bosnia & Herzegovina by Tim Clancy) says that Trebinje “is the southernmost city in BiH, boasting 260 sunny days per year. With its mild Mediterranean climate, the crystal-clear Trebišnjica River, and unique architecture, it ranks among the most beautiful towns in Herzegovina.” (p.220). Unfortunately, we only had one night there.

Famous Five bimble in Bosnia

Photo credit: bob_stunt on Flickr

On a side note: I really recommend the above guide book. Tim Clancy was an aid worker during the 90s war and writes really well about the country, people and history.
On another side note: when I got back to work I discovered that one of my colleagues was born in Trebinje (her grandfather was the mayor!) and I think my photos and description of the town has encouraged her to take her mother back for a visit.

Emma and the rest of our group arrived around 6pm and we all went out for a welcome dinner at a local winery. The group consisted of: Richard from the Isle of Mull, John from Yeovil, Penny from Wales, Trish & Greg from Tasmania, and Mary & Sean from Essex. Our leader was Alen, our support leader was Kenan and our driver was Dževad. Dževad became known to the group as “the best driver in Bosnia” for navigating the bumpy and twisty mountain roads, but he had an inauspicious start – he miscalculated the height of the bus on the first night and reversed into some metal trellis at the winery! No damage done though.

We were the only group at the winery and had the owners’ full attention. We were seated outside and had lovely views down into a valley full of grape vines. Everything we were served was grown locally. The food consisted of platters of meat and cheese, and other dishes that I’m afraid I didn’t catch the name of – two that I particularly remember were an aubergine and tomato layered dish and some sort of cornflour cheese mixture that was delicious. We were sampling wines throughout the meal in case we wanted to buy a bottle. To finish the meal we were given different flavours of rakia (fruit brandy) including walnut, cherry and nettle. We then had a very short tour of the winery.

Next: Sutjeska National Park

Amadeus, National Theatre

Yesterday I went to see Amadeus at the National Theatre. It was 3 hours of visual and aural spectacle. Lucian Msamati was a fantastic Salieri and the 20 piece on-stage orchestra frequently gave me chills, but unfortunately the whole experience was tainted by Adam Gillen’s performance – his Mozart was often excruciating to watch. Continue reading “Amadeus, National Theatre”

Peru part 4: Machu Picchu tour and back to Cusco

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Day 8 – Machu Picchu tour

We had breakfast at the hotel at 6:30am. There was some confusion about checking out – hotel staff wanted our immigration cards as well as our passports – but AD sorted it for us. We joined the queue for the buses up to MP at 7:20am and it was already really long. Another guide told AD that it was twice as long earlier – in order to get the first bus at 5:30am people were queuing from 2:30am. It was a cloudy morning so those people wouldn’t have been able to see the sunrise anyway.

We got to MP at 8:40am and AD gave us an indepth tour of the site until 12noon. It was busy with tourists, but the site was breathtaking.

Machu Picchu in the morning

Photo credit: helenalex1 on Flickr

We caught the bus back down to the town and had lunch in an upstairs room of Apu Salkantay. Most of us ordered the avocado starter with trout chimichurri for main. We then had a wander around the town for a couple of hours before meeting back at the hotel to pick up our bags and walking to the train station. It was interesting watching the porters loading and unloading the trains right outside the hotel.

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Photo credit: Pauline Barker on Flickr

We caught an afternoon train to Ollantaytambo. I had the best seat of the group (window seat facing forward on the river side) and the train followed the Urubamba River for most of the 90 minute journey. It was interesting to see the difference in water level below and above the hydro electric plant. At Ollantaytambo we got on a bus at 6:20pm and it was then a 2 hour drive to Cusco. Emma fed the driver jelly worms. We started off listening to mellow Peruvian music and then changed to upbeat tunes from AD’s playlist. There were great views of the Southern night sky. Some of the group went out for dinner when we arrived back at the hotel, but I went up to our room.

Day 9 – Cusco

First lie in of the trip! A couple of the group went to a local yoga class at 9am and the rest of us went to watch the parade in Plaza de Armas (for the Greetings for Cusco celebrations). We found a spot in the main square at the front of the barriers. The parade started about 9:15am and we stayed until 10:30am.

Civic Parade, Cusco, 23 June 2016

Video credit: helenalex1 on Flickr

Despite it being AD’s day off, he very kindly agreed to take us on a mini tour of the best shops with the help of his friend driving the bus. They drove us up to Saqsaywaman and the Cristo Blanco (Statue of Christ) with great views of Cusco.

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Photo credit: Bob Stunt on Flickr

We stopped to talk to an elderly man in traditional dress who was playing a stringed instrument like a mandolin but with 8 strings (charango?). He also played the panpipes – AD and Emma sat down next to him and had a go with the panpipes. He was a very happy and pleasant man.

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Photo credit: Helen Clough on Flickr

We drove to a couple of factory shops where we had demonstrations and a chance to spend money. The first shop was textiles, where I bought a llama christmas tree decoration, and the second was silver and textiles, where I bought some Cusco flag earrings.

After arriving back in Cusco we went for lunch (to Bohemia Restaurant, the same place most of the group went to for dinner the previous evening). Most of us asked for ceviche as a main. It was very tasty. Before our meals arrived we went out on the balcony to watch the parade pass by. After the meal we split up to do a bit of exploring. The group I was with wandered down to Artisnal Cusco market to buy a few last souvenirs and gifts. A lot of the stalls were selling the same items. We walked back up Avenida el Sol, but it soon got almost impassible due to the number of people there for the parade, so we took a side street to get back to the hotel.

We packed for the flight the next day and met AD in the lobby at 7:30pm when he gave us a CD of his photos. We went for dinner at Pisco Carajo where they served big meals and big (and strong!) pisco sours. I had crepes filled with passion fruit mousse and a hot chocolate. There was live music from a 3 piece band who were very good. The singer sang in English and they played a lot of great songs to dance to, so we got up and danced! The owner danced with us for a bit and helped us move some tables out of the way to create a bigger dance floor. I went back to the hotel early (10pm) but the others carried on dancing until after midnight. Sarah had to get up early to get a 5:30am flight back to the US! Five of us were picked up at 6am to catch an 8:15am flight to Lima.

And then home, with many wonderful memories and friends for life ❤

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Photo credit: Sarah Conlon on Flickr

Peru part 3: Inca Trail days 3&4

Part 1 | Part 2

Day 6: Inca Trail day 3 – Runquracay Pass and Phuyupatamarca

Tea was at 6am. Breakfast was quinoa porridge, pancakes and bread with cheese. We left camp at 7:45am and started climbing (again!) up to the ruins of Runquracay and over the Runquracay Pass (3930m). We were all still getting a bit breathless, so AD gave us Agua de Florida again and we had a lovely snack of passion fruit (I’d never peeled and eaten a passion fruit in that way before!).

We climbed up to the ruins of Sayajmarca and then descended into the rainforest. We stopped for lunch and had soup, followed by chicken, potatoes and veg, and then peaches. Then followed an absolutely gorgeous walk through the clouds. At this point the trail is a clearly defined path made of flat boulders:

The Inca Trail on the way to Phuyupatamarca (the place of the clouds)

Photo credit: helenalex1 on Flickr

and we passed through an Inca tunnel.

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Photo credit: Bob Stunt on Flickr

AD smelt a bear but didn’t see one!

Our camp was on the ridge above the Inca site of Phuyupatamarca (3680m). Unfortunately it was cloudy so we didn’t get to appreciate the view. For dinner we had soup to start, beef, rice and potatoes for main and chocolate pud for dessert.

Day 7: Inca Trail day 4 – To Machu Picchu!

It was a cold night and a few of us had broken sleep due to deflating mattresses. Breakfast was porridge, omelette and french toast. We said goodbye to the porters with tips and hugs because some of them had to get the train back to Ollantaytambo to start another tour.

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Photo credit: Bob Stunt on Flickr

There were llamas wandering around the camp and somewhere there’s a photo of Pauline doing a spot-on llama impression. It’s not this photo though 😉

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Photo credit: Pauline Barker on Flickr

We left camp at 8am and walked a short way to the Inca site of Phuyupataraca. From here we explored the ruins and took photos of the magnificent view of Machu Picchu mountain.

A porter pausing at Phuyupatamarca to admire the view of Machu Picchu mountain

Photo credit: helenalex1 on Flickr

The cloud continued to clear as we walked down the Inca steps: a 2 km stone staircase. We were on the lookout for orchids and AD pointed out Dancing-lady orchids and Lady’s Slipper orchids. When we passed the Dancing-lady orchids it was compulsory to do a little shimmy. We also saw hummingbirds.

We saw the ruins of Intipata from a distance and had lunch near Wiñay Wayna. Lunch was soup, stir fried vegetables and rice, and tinned peaches. We then visited the attractive ruins of Wiñay Wayna. We saw llamas fighting over a baby llama and we had a break sitting on a terrace looking at the magnificent view of the Urubamba valley. Bob amused us by doing an impression of a llama running and spitting.

Baby llama at Wiñay Wayna

Photo credit: helenalex1 on Flickr

We went through another check point and then the final stretch of walking through cloud forest to the Sun Gate. This part included the steepest steps on the trail – so steep we had to leave our walking poles with AD at the bottom and then use our hands and feet to get to the top. I expected the Sun Gate to be at the top of these steps but it was another 15 minutes of walking until we arrived. AD was dismayed to find it was so busy. A group of Argentinians were hogging the prime photo spot so he asked them to move:

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Photo credit: Sarah Conlon on Flickr

After time for photos and admiring the view of Machu Picchu we carried on walking down to the site itself. It was sunny and warm and there were very good views on the way:

Machu Picchu in the late afternoon

Photo credit: helenalex1 on Flickr

We took some more photos at Machu Picchu and then caught a bus down a winding road to Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Pueblo) to our hotel (Sierra Andina Hotel). SHOWER!! WI-FI!! It was right by the train tracks, so a bit noisy (also cockerels) but it was luxury to us.

To celebrate the end of the trek we went for dinner and dancing at Machu Pisco. Pisco sours were involved. There is photographic evidence of Bob on the dance floor. We stayed out until 10pm which was great because we’d been going to bed at 7:30-8pm on the trek. The restaurant didn’t have a dance floor, but we made one between the tables. The staff were really indulgent of us tipsy tourists who were so happy to be clean and to have completed the trek and to have beds not self-deflating mattresses.

Next: Peru part 4: Machu Picchu tour and back to Cusco