Author Archives: lgermany

Charyn Canyon – Kazakhstan

Breakfast this morning was porridge made with Manka (semolina). Sooooo much better than regular porridge, though this could be due to the unknown amount of sugar that was put in it before it was served to me 😉

Manka - Semolina porridge - Kazakhstan

We said goodbye to our hosts and left the village of Saty with greatly improved weather, calling in to take a quick peek at one of the ubiquitous Islamic cemeteries that dot the landscape here.

Rural village - Kazakhstan

Typical white house with blue trim in Saty (top) and images from one of the ubiquitous Islamic cemetaries that dot the landscape

We re-crossed the broad grassy plains with the herdsmen, but this time with great views of the Tian Shan Mountains

Tian Shan Mountains - Kazakhstan

Herder in the large grassy plain where the animals graze – in front of the Tian Shan Mountains

and stopped off at the Black Canyon

Black Canyon - Kazakhstan

on our way to our key destination for the day – the Charyn Canyon  

This is the most touted natural feature of Almaty region, and, although beautiful, it wasn’t quite as impressive as I had imagined.   It would have been great to have more time to explore more than just this famous part of the canyon, and to see it in different light – rather than the harsh midday sun.

Charyn Canyon - Kazakhstan

It is about a 3km walk along the bottom of the canyon – through the Valley of Castles initially (reminiscent of the Grand Canyon)

Charyn Canyon - Valley of Castles - Kazakhstan

Valley of Castles

and onto the “Witches Gorge” – so known because people would leap to their deaths off the cliffs, spurred on by the call of the witches – and the Charyn River.

Charyn River - Charyn Canyon - Kazakhstan

We ended up seeing 2 snakes (something that got Emil very excited) and quite a few of these little guys – gerbils I think.

Wildlife - Charyn Canyon - Kazakhstan

After exploring the Canyon for a few hours, we started the long road back to Almaty, stopping along the way for a very late lunch at an Uighur restaurant.  

We had our own private partitioned space, and I asked Emil to order something for me that I hadn’t tried yet.  He ordered Kazan Kebab and Etken Chay (Uighur milky tea) for me.

Uighur restaurant - Kazakhstan

Uighur restaurant – we had our own partitioned section. I had the Kazan Kebab and Etken Chay

Both were delicious – made even more so due to the fact that I was starving.   And it was a lovely ending to the trip.

 

Recommendation:   

I can highly recommend the 3-day Kolsai Lakes, Kaindy Lake and Charyn Canyon tour offered by Almaty Tours.  Although it is a bit pricey, you are really well looked after and the places you visit really are spectacular.

Time:  3 days

Cost:  USD$390 which includes everything: transportation, lodging, meals and entrance fees

Oh, and Almaty Tours also give you a welcome pack 🙂

Almaty Tours

Kolsai Lakes – Kazakhstan

After an early breakfast of fried eggs, bread, Baursak, jam, Hvorost (fried dough squares covered in honey and poppy seeds – very similar to the typical Kazakh sweet Chak Chak), and tea of course, we set off in the car to the first Kolsai Lake – altitude 1,818m.

Hvorost as part of Breakfast - Kazakhstan

Hvorost as part of breakfast – I like this idea!

A half hour up a bad road saw us overlooking a gorgeous scene of turquoise water nestled in between pine-covered hills.   Unfortunately, it was very overcast again, so the pictures don’t really do it justice.  

First Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

The first Kolsai Lake is accessible to everyone

From there we started the hike up to the second Kolsai Lake.   Trust me – the map at the entrance is not to scale!

Kolsai Lakes Map - not to scale!

Map of the Kolsai Lakes – we were only going to hike to the middle lake in this image. It was NOT to scale!

Of course, I should have looked it up before we left Almaty, but it ended up being a 9km hike one way.  It wasn’t particularly strenuous for the first couple of hours and there were some beautiful views of course.

First Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

But then we hit the snow.   This made it infinitely more challenging – partially just in trying to keep footing and partially because it ended up obscuring the path at a really critical point.

Hiking from first Kolsai Lake to second Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

Yes, we “took a detour” which ended us up in thigh-deep snow with absolutely no idea where the path had disappeared to (the National Parks service really needs to put some decent signage up.  The sparsely positioned blue arrows weren’t quite enough!)

Stuck in the snow - Kolsai lakes - Kazakhstan

In the end, after bush-bashing up the river for a bit trying to regain the path, and several shoes-full of snow later, we decided that we had to turn around.   Fortunately, it was only about 2 minutes into our retreat that we stumbled upon the trail again – so we resumed our push through the snow and mud for the second lake.

Hiking from first Kolsai Lake to second Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

The last hour up to the second lake is steep and, given this was Emil’s first time to the second lake, we had no idea how much further we had to go.  In fact, we had no idea if this really was the path to the lake, or a path used by illegal immigrants coming over the border from Kyrgzstan…   But eventually it flattened out into a saddle, and then we’d finally made it.

And it was totally worth it!

Second Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

The second lake is at 2,252m, and was still mostly frozen.   And apart from a couple of large ducks/geese, we were the only ones there.  

Second Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

Absolute tranquility surrounded by conifer-covered mountains – perfect place for a well-deserved lunch.

Lunch at second Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

Lunch at second Kolsai Lake – lots of carbs, and an Easter egg provided by our driver

We hung out up there for about half an hour admiring the view, before an increase in wind heralded a turn in the weather, at which point we decided to beat a hasty retreat.  We did not want to get lost in cloud coming back down!

Second Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

Yes, the lake was still frozen!

Eventually made it back down through the snow without major incident – loving the Salomon hiking boots I bought back in Australia – great grip on some dodgy surfaces!    And enjoyed the stroll back once we’d gotten past the snow.

Lots of fir trees in this part of Kazakhstan

Lots of fir trees in this part of Kazakhstan

Came across these blokes fishing back at the first Kolsai Lake, which again was just gorgeous in its tranquility.

First Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

Then it was back in the van for the slow trip back to Saty village.  Dinner was Lagman, an Uighur national dish adopted by the Kazakhs.  Noodles, vegetables and a little meat in a broth … with dill of course!

Lagman - Uighur national dish - Kazakhstan

Although I was far more interested in visiting Lake Kaindy, this turned out to be a really awesome hike with some great views, even if a bit hairy at times due to the snow!  Really recommend it!

Lake Kaindy – Kazakhstan

I’m meeting up with the Madventures Silk Road tour in Almaty, Kazakhstan – but decided to arrive a few days early to explore the surroundings.  A quick internet search revealed a wealth of hiking/nature opportunities around Kazakhstan’s old capital (the capital was moved to Astana in 1998), but the one that really caught my eye was Lake Kaindy.    With its turquoise waters and drowned spruce trees – it was a little different – and so I set my heart on seeing it.

I ran up against the usual issue where a minimum of 4 people is required for a tour to run, so ended up signing up for the 3-day Kolsai Lakes, Kaindy Lake and Charyn Canyon tour offered by Almaty Tours.  By some miracle, they had a departure scheduled for 17-19 April – perfect timing for me – and they assured me it would run no matter how many people they had.  It was pricey, but it was the only way I was going to get there.

I was met at the Almaty Backpackers Hostel by Emil, my guide, at 7am and it turns out that I’m the only one on the tour!   Emil is 23 with a degree in public relations, is actually from Kyrgyzstan, speaks excellent English and is a very friendly and talkative young man.   We got along well right from the beginning.

In case your Central Asian geography is hazy, Kazakhstan is a very big country!   In fact, it is the 9th biggest country in the world!  Given this, and the fact that many of the roads are in quite bad shape, it takes a long time to get to locations that look relatively close together on the map.   I’m Australian.  I should be familiar with this idea.  But somehow it always comes as a surprise in another country.

So, it took us almost 5 hours to reach the Kazakhstani portion of the Tian Shan Mountains and the village of Saty, where we based ourselves for the next 2 days.   Ironicially, the slowest part of the trip was along the perfect dual-carriageway highway leading out of Almaty, which, for some inexplicable reason, had a speed limit of 50 km/hr!    The most interesting part of the drive was the last hour or so – where we passed through a grassy region with farmers on horseback tending their herds.   Like in Mongolia, there are no fences here, but unlike Mongolia, the Kazakhs are settled in farms and no longer lead a nomadic lifestyle.  This is a result of the Russians who, in the 1930s, created cooperative farms across Kazakhstan and converted the population to a more settled way of life. 

Kazakh farms - Kazakhstan

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the family that runs the guesthouse where we would be staying.   Essentially, I have a room in the home of a local Kazakh family, and they feed us whatever they will eat themselves (normal Kazakh food) while we are here.   For lunch this consisted of Plov – a staple dish in Kazakhstan made from rice, carrot, meat (in this case mutton) and herbs – they are particularly fond of dill.   Quite heavy food (lots of carbs!), but very tasty!

Plov - Kazakhstan

This was served with pickled cabbage, biscuits, sweets, and an enormous basket of bread and Baursak (fried dough).

Baursak - Kazakhstan

Baursak

All washed down with as much tea as you can drink.   In this case, we had tea with milk, though it is also very common to have tea with lemon.

Kazakh tea - Kazakhstan

I also learned that there is a whole ritual around the tea.  In particular, to be hospitable, the lady of the house must sit with the guests and serve the tea for them. 

Kazakh tea - Kazakhstan

Tea is served in bowls with the milk added in first, followed by the brewed tea, followed by more boiling water.   The bowl is only ½ filled – if it is filled completely, it means that your host is trying to get rid of you and it is time for you to leave!

You finish your bowl of tea, and then hand it back to the host to refill to ½ way.   Repeat this until you’ve had enough, which you indicate by placing your bowl down on the table and covering the top with your hand.  It feels very strange to be waited on in this way, but an interesting custom.

Kazakh woman waiting to serve tea

Love this image

After lunch, we transferred into an old Russian van for the trip up to Lake Kaindy.  

Russian transportation to Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

We ran into another couple of Russian tourists who joined us on our excursion, managed to overcome a bit of an obstacle blocking the road, and spent the next 40 minutes crawling up a very bad 4WD-only road.   You have to give it to these old Russian-made vans!

Roadblock on the way to Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

Obstacles blocking the road to Lake Kaindy

From where we left the van, it was another 1.5km walk uphill to reach the lake.  But, despite the crap weather we had, it was amazing!

Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

It is only a small lake that was formed in 1911 when a powerful earthquake triggered a landslide, forming a natural dam.   As the water rose, it flooded the spruce trees which are now a bleached and eerie feature of the lake.

Drowned fir trees at Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

From the lake’s edge, we headed up to get a more eagle-eye view, traipsing through the last of the winter snow.

Snow at Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

Again, just a spectacular place – both the lake and the surrounding mountains.

Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

And from this vantage point, you can see a very cool thing – the water in the lake is so cold that it has perfectly preserved the needles of the spruce trees below the waterline!  Even more than 100 years later, they are clearly visible in the beautifully transparent water.

Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

Totally worth it to get up to the lake – though would have been nice to have about another hour there just to sit and contemplate the view.  

Then it was back to the guesthouse – and for dinner we had more tea, more bread and Baursak, and Manty – dumplings filled with meat, potatoes and herbs (dill, again).   Not quite as tasty as the Plov at lunch, but definitely filling!

Manty - Kazakhstan

Oh, and just for fun:  Turns out Emil is a keen photographer (though is saving up for a decent camera) – love this “supermodel shot” he took of me 😊

Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

Trip Plan 2017 – 2018

Well, after such a spectacular year last year, and not wanting to rejoin “real life” just yet, I’m off again 🙂    This time, ticking off quite a few bucket list items – going across the Silk Road and also 5 weeks hiking in Greenland.

Here’s the map:

I hope you join me in my new adventures!

 

My year of travel – a summary

Well, the year of travel is over.   And it was absolutely awesome!  So much so, that I’m avoiding “real life” for another year and heading off again!   So more to come…

Here is where I ended up going over the past year:

The Places

Many people have asked me what has been my highlight from the year, which is always a tough one to answer.  

As far as places go, most would expect me to say Antarctica.  And, while Antarctica was truly incredible, what has stayed most keenly in heart is the 10-day Huayhuash Trek I did in Peru back in September (yes, I know the blog post only just came out – too many pictures to process!).   I traveled with incredible people on both of these journeys, but I think the reason Huayhuash pips Antarctica is that I had to work for it.   10 days hiking above 4,200m, with a pass over 4,800m every day – that takes some doing, and delivers a significant sense of achievement at the end.  

The other thing that Huayhuash had going for it, is that the only time my brain completely turns off is while I’m hiking.   And trust me  – that that point in my trip, I really needed to switch my brain off for a while!  10 days of not thinking about anything except my immediate surroundings was absolute bliss!    And the scenery was amazing!

As far as the biggest positive surprise goes – El Salvador takes that one out hands down.   I loved it there, as did all the people I traveled with.   The El Salvadorean people know that their country has a reputation for being unsafe, and go out of their way to help you and ensure you have a great time.   And oh the pupusas…..

As far as the biggest negative surprise – unfortunately, Cuba.   The way everyone raves about it I probably went in with too high expectations – but most of the time I just felt like I was a walking money-bag.   A couple of caveats with this – I suspect most people go on an organised trip and only stay in the “tourist triangle” – La Havana, Viñales, Trinidad, Varadero.    This would give you a very different experience to the one I had during my first couple of weeks in particular – travelling independently in the eastern part of the island.  

I can only speculate, but I have met several other people who where there either at the same time as me (and who I traveled with) or around the same time, who also ended up with the same opinion.

The People

Apart from where you go and what you see/do, the other key aspect of traveling are the people that you meet.  I strongly suspect that this is even more keenly felt by long-term travelers and, although I shared my journey with many, many wonderful people, the following have left a particularly strong mark:

Nicaragua:   Pedro Torres, Keith Manyin, Caite Handschuh, Tom Rendulich, Sven and Caroline Hansen, Sekar Bala

El Salvador:  Andre (did I ever know your last name Andre?), Susan Jung

Guatemala:  Susan Jung, Julia Koch

Cuba:  Wendy Moors, Rebekka Wessels

Ecuador:  Jenny Waack

Peru: Max Abé, Niccoló Quattropani, Jenny Waack, Rebekka Wessels

Bolivia: Jenny Waack, Kimberley Carter

Chile:  My old ESO buddies, Jenny Waack

Antarctica:  Tyson Brooks, Carl Enfohrs, Remco Verstappen

And a very special thank you has to go to Eliza Hernandez – the most awesome spanish teacher ever!   I am infinitely grateful to have had Eliza as my grammar teacher over the total of 3 months I spent at La Mariposa Spanish School both this trip and on my previous visit.  It is largely thanks to her that my Spanish is almost fluent!

What did I discover?

The other thing that people often ask about when they find out I’ve been travelling for a year is “what did you learn by doing it” and/or “how has it changed you”?   Well, it’s not like I specifically set out to learn anything (apart from improving my Spanish), though I did have a few periods of pretty intense reflection of what I wanted out of life.  

So here’s some non-exhaustive dot point musings about travel from the last year: 

  • it makes you live more in the moment.  I was not really worried about the future and what I needed to do/should do next.  Well, right up until the point where I had to decide whether I would return to my job or not…
  • it allows you to relax and encourages you to take time to do nothing.  Though somehow the days are incredibly full and I have no idea how I managed to fit a full-time job in previously!
  • it gives you the opportunity to meet lots of new and (sometimes) interesting people, and have different conversations to what you would normally have
  • it highlights how little you actually know about the world, and that you should ask more questions, always!
  • it really cuts through the rubbish and highlights how similar we all are, no matter where we come from
  • it teaches you patience and resilience.  Fortunatley I already had a good amount of both, having lived in Latin America previously
  • it forces you to live simply.   You cannot fit very much in a 60L bag, and I’m here to tell you that you really don’t need many material possessions to have an incredible life
  • it doesn’t change the fact that Australia is home and always will be (no matter how much I love Latin America).  If anything, I become more patriotic (but hopefully not in an obnoxious way) when I travel.   It also showed me just how little I knew about certain aspects of my own country (e.g. politics)
  • it makes you really appreciate the luxuries we enjoy in our everyday, first-world lives.   Clean drinking water, hot showers with plenty of water pressure,  the huge variety of fresh and cooked food in Australia, being able to buy a truly cold coke on a hot day from the service station or supermarket…

And what do I want out of life?   Well, I’m still not quite sure I know.  But I’ve always wanted to go back and live in Latin America again for a while, and that now factors into my plan for this coming year 🙂  Living in Ecuador (Chile is too expensive 🙁 ), doing freelance work for organisations back in Australia – it’s kind of one of the ideas Tim Ferriss puts forth in “The 4-hour Work Week”, though I’d had the idea before I read the book.   If it all works out like I hope – it could make for a great life for a while!  

Stay tuned…

10 days – Trekking the Huayhuash Circuit – Part 2

Continuing the journey… 

 

Day 6:  Viconga (4,407m) – Punta Cuyoc (5,000m) – Huanacpatay (4,300m)

Awoke to yet another gorgeous day, and after our usual awesome breakfast (everything tastes so good when you are camping, and Eliceo is genuinely a master with a 2-burner gas stove!) we started our climb to Punta Cuyoc – one of the highest passes on the trek.  

Looking back down to Viconga Campground on the way Punta Cuyoc

Looking back down to Viconga Campground on the way up to Punta Cuyoc

Again though, with the slow altitude pace set by Eliceo – it was really lovely

On the way Punta Cuyoc - Cordillera Huayhuash

On the way Punta Cuyoc

And we finally remembered to take a group photo!

Group Photo on the way Punta Cuyoc - Cordillera Huayhuash

Me, Eliceo, Nico and Max, on the way up to Punta Cuyoc

The gorgeous scenery continued as we approached the pass – Max went a bit too close and ended up with a boot full of mud…

Almost at Punta Cuyoc - Cordillera Huayhuash

Almost at Punta Cuyoc

Unfortunately, when we finally made the top of the pass, we ran into the rear-guard of the large Israeli group.  I will never understand why you would have (really crappy) music blaring when you are in such a pristine environment surrounded by such beauty.  But that was how they trekked 🙁   Tried to find a quiet bit of the pass to sit and contemplate … fortunately the wind helped in that regard.   Finally, after about 1/2 hour they started their descent and we stayed another 15 minutes or so to just enjoy the silence.

Punta Cuyoc - Cordillera Huayhuash

Punta Cuyoc

Although climbing up to these passes has given the old heart and lungs a fair bit of a workout, I actually find getting down the other side often more challenging.   This was no exception – very steep and slippery rocky paths where you are half the time skating down it trying to keep upright.   The first part of this was so steep that one of the dogs that was accompanying the Israeli group (this is where our inherited dog came from as well – apparently he liked us better – perhaps because we walked faster and didn’t have crappy music going all the time) wouldn’t actually start the descent!   He was still at the top when we went to depart, whimpering because he was being left behind.  In the end, Eliceo enacted a rescue and carried him down the first part of the slope – almost bringing himself unstuck in the process!

Getting down was harder than climbing up - Punta Cuyoc - Cordillera Huayhuash

Getting down was harder than climbing up – the other side of Punta Cuyoc

We made it to Quebrada Huanacpatay campsite with no real dramas though.   How could you not get used to these views!

Huanacpatay Campground - Cordillera Huayhuash

Huanacpatay Campground

Day 7: Quebrada Huanacpatay (4,300m) – Santa Rosa Pass (5200m) – Huayllapa (3,500m)

This was the day I was most fearful of.   Our highest pass at 5,200m and we were taking a different route to normal.   Almost everyone goes over the San Antonio pass (5,020m), but Eliceo’s opinion was that the adjacent Santa Rosa Pass had a more spectacular view of the mountain range, and at the bottom of the descent you could visit one of the lakes as well.

While we were camped the night before, looking across the Huanacpatay valley, I was seriously wondering where the heck the path was and how we were going to climb what looked to be almost vertical! 

Turns out – via a lot of switchbacks!

Switchbacks - Cordillera Huayhuash

These are only about a foot-width wide and zig-zag up what is essentially a scree slope.   You don’t want to suffer from vertigo here!

After the initial, very steep first ascent, we encountered a nice flat valley which was a wonderful surprise.   It was only a temporary respite, however, we still had a ways to climb to reach the pass.

Santa Rosa Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

“Respite Valley” We are heading up and over the high valley you can see

But oh how it was worth it!   One of the most spectacular views on the hike, and there have been so many of them!

Santa Rosa Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

The view from the Santa Rosa pass is stunning! 

We were actually really lucky and arrived in time to get the complete view without clouds – you can actually see the clouds starting to roll in on the right hand side of the above image.   About half hour later, the tops of the mountains were obscured.  It was very much worth getting up at the crack of dawn to see this!

Santa Rosa Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Max and Nico on top of the Santa Rosa pass. Yes we were still travelling with the dog who had adopted us

We stayed up there for quite a long time, but eventually the cold and wind drove us down the other side.   The way down was ridiculously steep – I would hate to think what coming down the even steeper San Antonio pass must be like!

Descending from the Santa Rosa pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Descending from the Santa Rosa pass.

We took our time with plenty of rest stops along the way, and to give the shaky legs a bit of a break from the steep descent

Rest stop along the way down from Santa Rosa Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

We availed ourselves of plenty of rest stops so that we could take in the incredible views

And finally reached the turquoise Laguna Juraucocha.   It would have been brilliant to have an extra day camped in this area to explore the lakes (that would have been one of the extensions I would have made), but we had to push on to get to the small village of Huayllapa.

Laguna Juraucocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

We got to visit Laguna Juraucocha because we took the Santa Rosa pass.

This involved trudging down a long valley, following a river with some pretty cool waterfalls along the way.  

Valley to Huayllapa - Cordillera Huayhuash

It was pretty, but the least interesting part of the walk.    Also hurt to know that we were descending to 3,500m … and we would need to regain all that altitude again tomorrow!

Huayllapa - Cordillera Huayhuash

Entering the village of Huayllapa

Rather than camp on the soccer field at Huayllapa, we all decided to take some very basic rooms in one of the two hostels in town.   Even paid a few Soles more for the opportunity of a hot-ish shower 🙂   Was luxury to sleep in a bed and was not as cold as we have been throughout the rest of the trek

Day 8:  Huayllapa (3,500m) – Punta Tapush (4750 m) – Laguna Susucocha (4,654m) – Cashpapampa (4,400m)

Ok – so regaining all that altitude was not my favourite part of the trek.  It wasn’t technically challenging (always a good distraction), and it wasn’t particularly beautiful for the first part either (always a good excuse to stop for photos) – rather it was a long, 4 hour slog up a hill.

Regaining altitude - Huayllapa to Punta Tapush - Cordillera Huayhuash

Not the most inspiring scenery of the trek … along the 4 hour slog up to Punta Tapush

Fortunately, after about 3 hours, it did get more beautiful

Approaching Punta Tapush - Cordillera Huayhuash And the last part up to Punta Tapush was really cool in my opinion.  Very rocky, almost seemed volcanic to me.

Cool rocky bit approaching Punta Tapush - Cordillera Huayhuash

Finally made it

Punta Tapush - Cordillera Huayhuash

and made a special friend too 🙂

Donkey and me at Punta Tapush - Cordillera Huayhuash

Spent quite a bit of time hanging out up there given it was warm and not too windy, and then headed down to Laguna Susucocha.

Laguna Susucocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Laguna Susucocha. Diablo Mudo (which the boys climbed the next morning) is in the snowy peak in the background

And our slightly swampy campsite at Cashpapampa

Heading down to Cashpapampa campground

Heading down to Cashpapampa campground – we camped near those green patches in the middle of the image

Day 9: Cashpapampa (4,400m) – Paso Yaucha (4,800m) –  Laguna Jahuacocha (4,150m)

I happily stayed warm in my sleeping bag listening to the guys get ready at 2am for their ascent of Diablo Mudo (the Deaf Devil).   Eliceo went with them of course, which meant that I started the day trekking by myself.   Elijio pointed me in the right direction, said that I really shouldn’t get lost and off I set.   

The valley I ascended on the way to Paso Yaucha - Cordillera Huayhuash

The valley I ascended on the way to Paso Yaucha

On the way to Paso Yaucha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Vistas on the way to Paso Yaucha

It was quite a different experience hiking by myself rather than following Max and Nico and Eliceo from a distance.  On the couple of occasions where I thought the path was not entirely obvious – I had to go looking for myself to find the way.  And, on top of the pass, I had to try to take my “pass photo” as a selfie … this is quite difficult to do with an actual camera (rather than a phone)

Paso Yaucha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Selfie on Paso Yaucha

The nice thing about it, however, was that I was able to spend as long as I wanted at the top!   And the view did not disappoint, even though the light at that time of day wasn’t the best for photos.

Vista from Paso Yaucha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Vista from Paso Yaucha

It was also an  inspired idea to sit and contemplate for a while, as it meant that a couple of Israelis (yes there are lots in Huayhuash) and their guide caught up to me.  Their guide was a good friend of Eliceo and so I joined them as they went for a slight detour out to another viewpoint.

Heading out to the lookout from Paso Yaucha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Heading out to the lookout from Paso Yaucha

Eliceo later told me that he specifically didn’t tell me about this viewpoint because it can be quite dangerous to get down from there.   But can you imagine being so close and not getting to see this?!

Viewpoint over 3 lakes near Paso Yaucha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Viewpoint over 3 lakes near Paso Yaucha

I take Eliceo’s point though – the descent from here was incredibly steep and I fell (softly) several times before finally arriving at Laguna Jahuacocha and our last campsite for the trek.

Camp at Laguna Jahuacocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Yet another incredible campsite at Laguna Jahuacocha

It was quite a popular place actually – saw more people here than at any other time on the trek.  Fresh fried trout (caught especially by Elijio) for dinner was the perfect final meal, and the others washed it down with a bottle of red wine which had somehow survived the entire trip!

Day 10: Laguna Jahuacocha (4,150m) – Llamac (3,238m) – Huaraz (3,053m)

The area around Laguna Jahuacocha would be another place to spend an extra day exploring if you had it.  But unfortunately we had to meet our transport, so it was up, up, up, up another interminable climb.  

The interminable ascent to Pampa Llamac - Cordillera Huayhuash

The interminable ascent to Pampa Llamac

It all looked so similar that you would swear that the corner you were facing was identical to the one you rounded about 10 minutes ago, and because the gorgeous mountains of yesterday were directly behind us, we didn’t have any awe-inspiring views to distract us.

But, one foot in front of the other at Eliceo’s snail’s pace, and we made it to Pampa Llamac eventually.

Pampa LLamac - Cordillera Huayhuash

Final pass of the trip – Pampa Llamac

Pampa Llamac - Cordillera Huayhuash

Max and Nico made it too!

Elijio caught up to us at the top, made some adjustments to the donkey’s loads, and led the way for our final descent.

Elijio adjusting the loads on the donkeys - Pampa Llamac - Cordillera Huayhuash

Elijio adjusting the loads on the donkeys – Pampa Llamac

Descending from Pampa Llamac - Cordillera Huayhuash

Descending from Pampa Llamac

We past the ruin of the house (almost nothing there now) of where Eliceo grew up, and finally reached our destination – the village of Llamac – where our transportation was awaiting us and we had to say goodbye to Elijio and his donkeys.

Llamac - Cordillera Huayhuash

The village of Llamac.

Then it was the long road back to Huaraz – dropping Max and Nico off at the highway as they were heading directly back to Lima.

Really amazing feeling to have finished the hike – the sense of accomplishment really is something spectacular.   And I’m just infinitely grateful that I had the opportunity to do it, and share the experience with such amazing people!

Right… time to wash some clothes that are almost walking for themselves :-/

Recommendations

For those of you who have been inspired by the above (and it’s very hard not to be!), a few things to note.   This trek is probably not for you if:

  • you don’t like camping
  • you haven’t done an extended trek before (I did the 8-day Torres del Paine Circuit Trek in Chilean Patagonia last year, which was also awesome.  Actually, it is what inspired me to do more multi-day treks like this)
  • you suffer badly from the cold (OK – so this describes me, but I survived 🙂 ) Make sure you bring a -20 degree sleeping bag – you are going to need it!
  • you aren’t in decent shape – it’s 10 days of trekking at altitude – enough said
  • you don’t do altitude well – you are above 4000m 98% of the time so make sure you can handle the altitude before committing
  • you suffer from vertigo – there are many, many places where there are very, very steep drop-offs as you skirt around the edges of mountains on scree-slopes
  • you have bad knees – there are 3 days that involve very, very steep descents of more than an hour – they are knee killers!
  • you don’t have good balance – read last 2 dot points!

Best months for the trek are May – September and most companies only offer hikes during this time.   I organised through Peru Qorianka which must have some sort of affiliation with Active Peru, and was very, very happy with the trip and the quality of the equipment provided.

Cost:  I paid USD$720 + a tip for Eliceo and Elijio.   This included transport to and from Huayhuash, guide, donkey driver + donkeys, 5 meals/day and all equipment.  Couldn’t ask for more.

Time:  I really liked the relaxed nature of the 10-day trek where we had time to really appreciate the journey and also have some downtime from walking.   Some do it in 8 days, which would be much tougher – especially as there would be at least one day with multiple passes to climb.  12 days would be ideal – so you could add in a few day hikes around Laguna Juraucocha and Laguna Jahuacocha.

 

10 days – Trekking the Huayhuash Circuit – Part 1

The Huayhuash Circuit Trek (pronounced Why-wash) is widely regarded as one of the best alpine treks in the world due to its remoteness and the proximity to enormous mountains that you can almost reach out and touch.  Even better, the number of visitors is still relatively low.   Most opt for the shorter and more famous Santa Cruz trek in the Cordillera Blanca, though this is changing with the success of the movie and book Touching the Void” – Joe Simpson’s remarkable survival of Siula Grande (one of the highest peaks in the Cordillera Huayhuash).

So after a single acclimatization hike to Laguna 69, and a couple of days in Huaraz arranging logistics, I got picked up at my hostel at 8am to head out into the wilderness for 10 days.   The trek itself is about 130km in total, 98% of which is between 4000m and 5200m, and there are 8 passes above 4500m to cross.  Hmmm… about that acclimatization…

Our route (and where we camped each night) is mapped in purple on the below (thanks to Peruvian Soul for the best illustrative map I could find). 

Huayhuash Circuit Trek - where we walked

Peruvian Soul also have the cool altitude chart of the trek, and although not quite correct (given we didn’t exactly follow the Peruvian Soul route), it gives you a pretty good idea of what we were dealing with though (the major difference is that we did the Santa Rosa pass @ 5200m instead of the San Antonio pass @5020m).

Huayhuash Circuit Trek - where we walked

I was sharing this adventure with Nico (Swiss-Italian) and Max (German) – two awesome, awesome guys who I really loved hanging out and trekking with.

Max, me and Nico - Cordillera Huayhuash

Our guide – Eliceo (an amazing guide/cook)

Eliceo - Cordillera Huayhuash

and our donkey-driver-come-general-helper-who-really-doesn’t-feel-the-cold-at-all – Elijio (along with his entourage of 6 donkeys and 1 horse) rounded out our very small group.

Elijio with donkeys - Huayhuash

I have to say, I was really, really thankful for the smallness of the group … we came across a large (12 people + guides + donkeys) group on about Day 3 for a couple of days (fortunately we were walking much faster and so only really saw them at the campsites) and that really would have driven me mad!  I was relishing the peacefulness and loneliness of where we were hiking – that would have been destroyed utterly with a lot of people.

To be honest, I’m mostly just going to let the images do the talking in the following 🙂

Day 1:  Huaraz (3050m) – Quartelhuain (4300m)

Actually, there was no hiking this day given that they have extended the road all the way to the first campsite.  4 hours in the van getting to know each other.   Set up camp.  Enjoy being in the outdoors.  Read.  Eat.  Sleep.   That was pretty much the extent of it 🙂    So happy to have awesome trekking companions and brilliant to meet a real-life James Herriott (Max is a ruminant vet).

Cordillera Huayhuash

Approaching the Cordillera Huayhuash along the road

Quartelhuain campsite - Cordillera Huayhuash

Quartelhuain campsite and surrounds

Day 2:  Quartelhuain (4300m) – Cacanan Punta Pass (4700m) – Mitucocha (4220m)

 Our first day of hiking.   It was absolutely freezing when we started out (even the -20 degree sleeping bag didn’t keep me warm last night – camping at altitude is a cold, cold business) and it took quite a long time for the toes and fingers to defrost.    

Chatting with locals on the way up Cacanan Punta Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Chatting with locals on the way up the Cacanan Punta Pass

I have come to the conclusion that the first and most important thing they teach the high-altitude guides in guide school is how to walk slowly.  Eliceo set a VERY slow pace up the steep first pass – and while it was not easy, it actually wasn’t that difficult either.  I think the problem I have usually is that I try to walk too fast.   There is a reason they look like they are barely plodding up Everest!

The view from the top of the pass was absolutely spectacular, though I was still not quite warm enough to strip off all the layers!

Me at the top of Cacanan Punta Pass

Me at the top of Cacanan Punta Pass – almost defrosted!

Cacanan Punta Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Cacanan Punta Pass

We then hiked over to check out an absolutely gorgeous lake and to have our lunch, running into some Vicuñas along the way.

Vicuña - Cordillera Huayhuash

Vicuña

Lake - Cordillera Huayhuash 

Lake - Cordillera Huayhuash

Then down to Mitucocha Lake for our second campsite.  What a view!

Mitucocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Day 3:  Mitucocha (4220m) – Punta Carhuac pass (4650m) – Carhuacocha (4150m)

Although it was freezing, there are definitely worse places to have breakfast than this.  Yes, Max and Nico are crazy wearing shorts at this time of the day!

Breakfast Mitucocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Breakfast at Mitucocha campsite

Packed up our tents, left Elijio with the rest of the packing job (guided treks are awesome!) and headed out towards the Punta Carhuac pass.  

Our donkeys and packing

Elijio was in charge of the packing and unpacking efforts – his donkeys always waiting patiently

A fairly easy day of hiking actually and the scenery just continues to be spectacular.’

Heading towards Punta Carhuac pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Heading towards Punta Carhuac pass

Punta Carhuac pass

Me at Punta Carhuac pass

Max and Eliceo at Punta Carhuac pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Max and Eliceo at Punta Carhuac pass

Heading away from Punta Carhuac pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Laguna Carhuacocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Laguna Carhuacocha – our next campsite

Laguna Carhuacocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Campsite at Laguna Carhuacocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Not a bad view of the Laguna Carhuacocha and Cordillera Huayhuash from my tent

Day 4: Carhuacocha (4,150m) – Siula Pass (4,850m) – Huayhuash (4,350m)

Woke up to a perfectly calm and gorgeous morning – a beautiful start to one of the toughest days of hiking.

Laguna Carhuacocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Stunning morning at Laguna Carhuacocha

It didn’t start out too bad – a nice flat walk along the edge of the lake towards the mountains.

Hiking along the side of Laguna Carhuacocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Then around the corner and past a farm with arguably one of the best views in the world.   Interestingly, the Huayhuash Circuit is not within a National Park.  It passes through farming communities and the trail fees go directly to the community who provide basic facilities and look after the campsites.

Farms - Cordillera Huayhuash

Farms (with dogs!) in the Cordillera Huayhuash

Hiked around some gorgeous lakes as well

Cordillera Huayhuash

Cordillera Huayhuash

before the going got tough!

Straight up a very steep path to the lookout over the lakes and mountain range.  Yes, even at Eliceo’s snail’s pace – this was a tough climb!    

Hiking to the lookout above the lakes below Siula Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

You can see the guys above me on the very steep path to the lookout over the 3 gorgeous lakes (Qanrajancacocha, Siulacocha and Quesillococha) below the Siula Pass

But the reward was worth it 🙂

Lookout over Qanrajancacocha, Siulacocha and Quesillococha - Cordillera Huayhuash

At the lookout of the three lakes: Lookout over Qanrajancacocha, Siulacocha and Quesillococha. Still not quite at the Siula Pass!

But we were still not done…  There was still quite a lot of uphill to go to actually reach the top of Siula Pass.

Heading towards Siula Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Heading towards Siula Pass

Siula Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Siula Pass

But I did make it 🙂

Siula Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Me at Siula Pass

The rest of the day’s hiking was a doddle – decending towards Huayhuash campsite.

Away from Siula Pass towards Huayhuash Campsite - Cordillera Huayhuash

Away from Siula Pass towards Huayhuash Campsite

Huayhuash Campsite - Cordillera Huayhuash

Huayhuash Campsite

Day 5: Huayhuash (4,350m) – Portachuelo Pass (4,795m) – Lake Viconga (4,407m)

This was another fairly easy day, and our long-awaited reward of thermal baths lay at the end of it.   I was hanging out for that – especially since I hadn’t had a proper wash for 5 days.

On the way up to Portachuelo Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

On the way up to Portachuelo Pass

Donkeys approaching Portachuelo Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Donkeys for the Israeli group approaching us on top of Portachuelo Pass

Portachuelo Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

On top of the Portachuelo Pass

Portachuelo Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Rest stop on Portachuelo Pass. This dog had adopted us 2 days earlier and walked with us for the next 3 days. He was a great addition to our group

Lake Viconga - Cordillera Huayhuash

Heading down to Lake Viconga

Viconga Hot Springs - Cordillera Huayhuash

Enjoying the Viconga Hot Springs at the Viconga campground. Stunning place!

Viana do Castelo – Portugal

My second-last day in Portugal, Pedro and I headed out for a day-trip to Viana do Castelo, a town with a gorgeous historic centre and strong ties to the sea.

Our first stop was the Basílica de Santa Luzia, a massive, domed, Neo-Byzantine construction that was clearly inspired by the architecture of the Sacré Coeur in Paris.

Basílica de Santa Luzia

Something that always fascinates me about these large religious buildings is that they usually seem a heck of a lot smaller inside than what they appear on the outside – and the Basílica de Santa Luzia is no exception.  The other surprise here is that this is a relatively recent construction – only finished in the 1950s.

From the Basílica, we drove into town and strolled through the narrow and very white streets in the beautiful, historic downtown area.  We took time out for a Bola de Berlim and coffee, and then headed off to explore the Gil Eannes Hospital Ship, which is now permanently docked in the Viana do Castelo port.

Gil Eannes hospital ship

Gil Eannes Hospital Ship in Viana do Castelo

This was a very cool museum!

The Gil Eannes Hospital Ship was built in 1955 in the Viana do Castelo shipyards.  Its main purpose was to support the Portuguese cod fishing fleet in the seas around Newfoundland and Greenland, and aside from offering medical services to the fishermen, it also served as a maritime authority, mail ship, tug, ice breaker and general support ship for the Portuguese fishing vessels.

Gil Eannes hospital ship

They’ve done an amazing job at restoring the ship, though it is clear that they are still working on it.

Gil Eannes hospital ship - quarters

Captain’s quarters (left) and an as-yet-to-be-restored crewman’s quarters

I was amazed to find how well-equipped the kitchen and galley was, though given the isolation of where the ship operated, I guess this shouldn’t have been surprising.  I was most impressed that they had a whole separate bakery, as well as significant wine and grain stores. 

Gil Eannes hospital ship - kitchen and stores

I was super-impressed with the size of the pan (middle-left), but I guess there were a lot of people to cook for!

But of course the main fascination for visiting this museum ship is to check out the medical aspects of it.  One of the first things you discover as you make your way down through the ship is the x-ray lab.  

Gil Eannes hospital ship - x-ray lab

Another interesting location was the pathology lab – this guy scared the crap out of me as I poked my head around the door initially.  I was not expecting to see anyone!

Gil Eannes hospital ship - pathology lab

And the operating theatre, with an elevator to bring passengers down to this low level in the ship, and a window through to a viewing room. 

Gil Eannes hospital ship - operating room

Elevator to bring patients down to the operating level on the ship (left) and the operating theatre (right). 

I thought this was so incredibly well done – very impressive!

There were many, many other interesting nooks and crannies, everything from a sterilization room, dispensary and hospital ward, through to the engine room and wireless rooms, through to a barber’s shop.  And, of course, we had to get a picture in the bridge 🙂

Gil Eannes hospital ship - wheelhouse

Pedro showing how it’s done! And yes, I love maps

So, an incredible restoration, where each of the rooms is well labelled.  But what is currently missing is all the other interesting information.   I had so many questions!   On average, how many passengers did they have at any one time?  What were the most common things they treated?  How and how often did they re-supply the ship?  

Still, totally worth the few Euro it costs to get in!

 

Eat Porto!

So, if you’ve been reading along for the past year, you know by now that I have an obsession with typical foods of whichever country I’m visiting.   Portugal was no exception – and I have to admit – it has some of the best treats on the planet!   I reckon I put on over a kilo during the week I visited 🙁

I was very slack at taking photos of the dishes I ate while in the Alentejo region with Jose (trust me, there were many, and all of them enormous), so tried to make up for it in Porto!

And it all started with a classic:  the Pastéis de Nata – a rich egg custard in layers of crisp, flaky pastry.

Nata

I love these things (best when dusted with cinnamon as well), and I’m not alone.  It is possibly the most popular Portuguese pastry, and you can now find them all around the world. 

Given I was hungry, I also had a Rissóis de Camarão (shrimp croquette) – a very popular Portuguese snack – from the same place.  It is basically prawns in a type of béchamel sauce, wrapped in pastry, breaded and deep fried.   Also very good!   Yes, I have a savoury AND a sweet tooth 🙂

Rissol de camarão

Next up:  a heart attack on a plate, and Porto’s typical dish – Francesinha.  The “Little Frenchie” is definitely not for vegetarians, consisting of bread and layers upon layers of different types of meat, then topped off with melted cheese and a tomato and beer-based gravy.

Francesinha

Heart-attack on a plate – Francesinha

Healthy?  It most definitely was not!   Tasty?  Well, it did have a lot of flavour, but the problem was that I didn’t particularly like the flavour.  Having learned what the ingredients are, I suspect this was due to the beer-based gravy – certainly it was that part of the dish that was giving me the most problems.   And although another of my friends graciously offered to switch dishes with me, I ate my way through it … taste-buds becoming more and more numb to the taste as I progressed.   Loads of Portuguese can’t be wrong … but I won’t be ordering it again 🙂

In the evening, we wandered over past the Monumento aos Heróis da Guerra Peninsular to the Mercado Bom Sucesso.    This monument commemorates the victory of the Portuguese (the lion) over Napoleon’s French troops (the eagle) during the Peninsula War (1807–1814), but unfortunately what I saw was a lion humping an eagle on top of a very tall column!   A million apologies for the irreverence 🙁

Monumento aos Heróis da Guerra Peninsular - Porto

The Mercado Bom Sucesso is an awesome place to eat, filled with lots of little cafes serving all sorts of different things.  In keeping with my theme of trying little bits of alcohol, especially if they are typical, I had a go at Poncha – the typical drink from Madeira island.   It is basically aguardiente (the alcohol), sugar and juice from a fruit in season, and wasn’t too bad (I still struggle with the taste of all alcohol).  I did manage to finish it 🙂

Poncha

Poncha, typical drink from Madeira island

And it was here that I found my favourite Portuguese treat (apart from the Nata of course). The Jesuíta!   Created by the Jesuits (no prizes for guessing there), it is a triangular confection consisting of layers of thin, flaky pastry, with a thin filling of egg cream, and topped with a crispy, sweet, cinnamon-meringue crust.    

Jesuíta

My favourite Portuguese treat – a Jesuíta from the Mercado Bom Sucesso

It was heaven!   I was so impressed, I ordered them everywhere else I went around Porto – but none was as good as this first one from the Mercado Bom Sucesso.

So, that was the first day of eating in Porto…. and there might have been one or two other treats consumed in there as well :-/ 

Other typical food that I tried during my time around Porto:

Pastel de Chaves – flaky pastry with minced meat and spices inside.  This name of this pastry is actually protected by the European Union since 1995. 

Pastel de Chaves

Clarinha de Fão – a thin pastry, dusted with icing sugar and filled with chila pumpkin beaten with egg yolks. 

Clarinha de Fão

Bola de Berlim – essentially a Portuguese doughnut with an egg-yolk-based filling.

Bola de Berlim

You might be starting to notice a trend emerging with the sweet pastries … the Portuguese use a LOT of egg-yolks!   So bad.  But oh so yummy!

And finally, a couple of typical dishes cooked specially for me by my friends 🙂

Alheira – a delicious garlicky bread and game sausage – traditionally made without pork (follow the link for the story behind this).   Typically served with boiled potatoes and Grelos – a green leafy vegetable.

Alheira

The sausage is the Alheira

Pão-de-ló – yet another coronary-inducing dessert with so many egg yolks that you don’t even want to know about it!   I was a little worried that it was actually going to taste like egg yolks, but nothing like it!   Absolutely delicious – I went back for seconds, but thought I’d better stop at that point…..

Pão-de-ló

I absolutely love the food of Portugal and can’t wait to visit again to work my way through some more of the pastries and other goodies on offer – and to have another Jesuíta (or 10) from the Mercado Bom Sucesso.

Porto favourites – Portugal

Although I had visited Portugal (my favourite country in Europe) twice previously, this was the first time I had made it to Porto. The purpose was to visit Pedro, my newest Portuguese friend (I have a few – I seem to get along very well with the Portuguese) who I’d met at La Mariposa Spanish School earlier in my travels.

Unfortunately, it was a bit of a rushed visit – sandwiched as it was into my European stopover on my way home to Australia.   But it (and the time I spent with Jose and his family in Lisbon and the Alentejo region) reaffirmed my love for this country, its people and its food!

We spent the first 2 days of my visit walking our legs off exploring different parts of Porto and eating all the traditional Portuguese dishes/pastries I could get my hands on (more on this in another blog post).  

Some of my highlights:

São Bento Station –   Portugal is famous for its tiles – particularly its Azulejos – and the São Bento train station in downtown Porto is a great example of why this is so.  Around 20,000 tiles depicting scenes from Portuguese history (including an incredible representation of the Battle of Arcos de Valdevez) are absolutely stunning! 

São Bento train station - Porto

São Francisco Church – the most impressive church we visited for a couple of reasons:   1)  The incredibly detailed wooden carvings that make up the interior (you wouldn’t have wanted the chisel to slip!)

São Francisco Church - Porto

Incredible detail in the wooden carvings. I took these before learning that photography was prohibited. Oops!

2) the crypt, which featured a grated window in the floor so you could see the enormous number of bones in the level below.  While this was not as impressive as Évora’s chapel of bones that I visited last time I came to Portugal, it was still cool 🙂 

São Francisco Church - crypt - Porto

Walking along the river – we had a great stroll along the Duoro Estuary from Leça da Palmeira, through Matosinhos, Foz, Passeio Alegre, and then up to Cais de Lordelo to catch a boat across the river to to Afurada.  Was really great to get some exercise after everything I’d eaten the day before!   My favourite thing along the way – the “She Changes” net sculpture, reflecting Porto’s sea-faring heritage!  It was very very cool how it would move in the wind 🙂

Douro estuary

Super-cool “She Changes” net sculpture (top), Castelo do Queijo (middle), and massive waves at Foz (bottom). Some of the sights walking along the river-front

Afurada – a not-so-touristy-if-you-get-off-the-foreshore fishing village where you can still find women doing old-style laundry at the Tanque público da Afurada, and hanging the clothes just outside on a public thoroughfare to dry.

Tanque público da Afurada

And where the streets are narrow and lined with tiled buildings 

Tiled houses - Afurada

Different house tiles – Afurada

I really loved Afurada – it was my favourite part of Porto – though Pedro reckons that is just a reflection of my ongoing fascination for the developing world, as the rest of Porto is much more modern.

What’s not to love about a wall that looks like this though?!

Great mates!

Pedro and I – great mates!

Libraria Lello – opened in 1906, this is one of the oldest bookshops in Portugal and one of the most famous in the world.  It is absolutely gorgeous inside but one has to use one’s imagination quite fiercely to picture what it must have been like before the hoards of tourists turned up.

Livraria Lello - Porto - Portugal

This place is truly stunning!

There are so many tourists in fact, that you may be confronted by quite a large queue outside, and they charge several Euros (5.50€ currently, if booked online) for you to visit.  However, this latter goes towards the cost of your purchase if you buy something worth over 10€. Fortunately, I was not confronted by a queue, and although I didn’t end up buying anything, it was worth the money to go have a peek if you like books and architecture.

Douro River and classic Porto views – of course 🙂  Downtown Porto is really very beautiful, and the best views come from across the Douro River.  Walk across the Ponte de Dom Luis for amazing views!

Porto - city views

Then head down to the shoreline to check out the Rabelo boats that were traditionally used to transport people and cargo along the river.

Rabelo boats - Druoro River - Porto

Million thanks Pedro for showing me your city!  Can’t wait to come back and visit again 🙂