Date weekend in Krakow

Steph and I had a lovely pre covid tradition of trying to increase his country count by having a monthly date weekend in a new European country.  Our favourite visits were those where we could experience the dual culinary delights of a Michelin starred dinner of local cuisine AND an exceptional hot dog van.  (Highlights to date of the hot dog tradition have been Copenhagen, Reykjavik and the Faroes).  We had high hopes for this weekend’s adventure to Krakow – where we had heard of a famous kielbasa (sausage) van and we had secured a reservation at Fiorentina.  Bonus points were also going to be in order if we could get some excellent dumplings 

To balance out our weekend, we were visiting Auschwitz.  I am not really looking forward to it, but think it is an important place to visit.  

Late arrival in town, kielbasa and pierogi (sausage and dumplings)

We arrived at 9pm but were confident that left time for dinner. We checked into our very luxurious suite at the Bonerowski Palace (a suite at a bargain), and then went on the hunt for the famous blue sausage van in the south of the old town. The sausage and roll combo commanded a queue of locals but it was worth the wait. Delicious. We were still pretty peckish so wandered around the old town and found a nice restaurant in the old square for some pierogi with cheese and potato. We were most amused in the middle of a european energy crisis to see packed terraces in the old town square with both gas and electric heaters going at full blast. Clearly no energy worries here.

A sobering day at Auschwitz Birkenau

Visiting Auschwitz has always been on the plan since I was a kid in NZ studying the holocaust at high school. It was a sobering and horrible day, in spite of knowing exactly what we were getting into. The vastness of Birkenau was hard to comprehend. The only gratifying part of the visit was how busy it was – crowded but respectful – which gives me at least some hope that these atrocities will never be forgotten.

A sunnier wander around the Wawel castle and over to the Jewish Ghetto

We headed up to the Wawel castle to check it out. We were planning as we went, and as i looked up reviews to see what we should visit and pay for, I was amused by Heinrich 16’s review on Tripadvisor – ‘a bunch of mismashed buildings, with outrageous fees to visit some inside rooms, not an actual castle’. Harsh, but not entirely untrue. The cathedral was lovely and the views of the river were great, but we were too lazy to pay to squish in a queue and walk slowly around some state rooms inside (you can see everything outside for free) . We enjoyed more the lovely walk along the river with the autumn leaves and across the Father Bernatek’s bridge with the excellent acrobatic sculptures. And we wandered around the old ghetto with a sobering memorial in the square with empty chairs

Visiting the modern art museum

Most of you will know that I love modern art – the more obscure the better, and I will always visit a modern art museum if there is one. Krakow has an excellent museum. The current exhibition was pretty shocking with a mixed bag of protest photos and videos – covering everything from women’s rights (yay) to anti Putin material (yay again) to groups campaigning for the right to murder gypsies (wtaf).

A fine albeit brusque dinner at Fiorentina

In keeping with tradition we had booked a michelin recommended dinner at Fiorentina. The service was amusingly Polish, and I was getting pretty hangry 45 minutes after we were seated and I had only been fed a small amuse bouche with smoked sour cream. The speed of service improved and dinner was good though not outstanding.

Walking tour around the Old town and Kazimierz

After an excellent bacon, cheese, egg, pickle and onion brioche sandwich for breakfast, we embarked on two walking tours (old town and Kazimierz – the jewish old town) that the guide suggested would take all day (maps below). We meandered and finished in two hours, but admittedly couldn’t visit the inside of any of the religious sites as they were either closed or in use for services. Our favourite spots were the flea market in Kazimierz (doing a roaring trade in fur coats), the 15th century Remah cemetery which was the lovely resting place of most of the famous polish jews, and the Franciscan church (mass performed with gusto). We passed lots of huge tour groups getting ferried around in electric buggies…. Krakow definitely is a bustling tourist destination… but it didn’t detract from the loveliness.

Additional info

Everyone in Krakow uses bolt not uber – it works well. We took it to auschwitz and bag for c. £45 each way, and it was £10 to the airport (don’t be a dufus and take a taxi to the airport like we did (we thought it was a fixed fare), it was much more expensive than a bolt)

Stayed at the Bonerowski palace – lovely

Prebook your Auschwitz visit a few weeks in advance as they do sell out. We managed to get a slot on a french tour as there were no english ones left.

Walking tours from IYP below

Dawdling around Durmitor

After the epic mountains of Bosnia, I was very keen to check out the durmitor national park across the border in Montenegro (having hiked the lovely southern Prokletije mountains in Montenegro last year when doing the peak of the balkans trail). I flew to Podgorica and rented a car to drive to the mountain town of Zabljiak. I arrived on a Sunday so had to overnight in town as the store was closed and I needed gas for the stove. I had an excellent Balkan dinner of pork kebabs and went to bed early

Day 1 – to Lokvice with an out and back to Bobotuv Kuk – 1100m ascent, 14k (guidebook said 8 hours took 6)

Up at 6.30, I had my supplies ready, figured out my gas stove converter (it is impossible to buy screw top gas canisters here so I have bought a kovea adaptor for the pierce-able canisters) and had bought my park ticket by 7.30. I headed off from Ivan do, detouring down to the black lake.

The first slog up to Lokvice was lovely but a slog with a full pack and extra water. The path meandered through trees and I had a lovely dog follow me up to the glacial cirque at Lokvice. Two shepherds try to sell me beer, but I took shelter from the wind to make a coffee. It was bitterly cold. To lighten the 13kg in my pack, I pitched my tent in one of the many depressions above katun Lokovice which had a spectacular view out over the cirque.

I then summoned the energy to begin the ascent of Bobotov Kuk – Montenegro’s highest summit – with the dog in tow all the way to the pass. The walk was lovely albeit with quite a lot of scree and boulders. The last grunt up to the pass before Bobotuv was bitterly cold and windy and I had no feeling in my fingers. The views from the pass were nice but the peak was shrouded in mist (and had been throughout my approach, so I decided to head down after taking in the view.

It was a nice meander down and I got back to my tent for a hot late lunch around 3pm. There were only two other tents nearby. The shepherds skulked by around 6pm to ask for a camp site fee, and I told them firmly the rangers had told me payment wasn’t necessary, so they buggered off without complaining (the rangers had said no such thing but I am well versed in scams) . The nice Croatian guys camped in the next depression paid 10 euros and got no receipt.

The weather forecast was for minus two but I survived the night fine in spite of only having my summer tent with me (I had a winter bed roll and quilt) and mercifully the wind dropped when the sun went down

Day 2 – over to Skrcko Jezero 900m ascent, 12k (guide book said 5.5 hours and it took 5.5)

I woke up at 6 and was delighted I had shed some layers over night and I hadnt been cold. The forecast said it was zero degrees but it didn’t feel like it out of the wind. I read the papers, had coffee and then headed out through the sheep who were blocking the trail at 7.30am.

The route was advertised in the guide book as ‘moderate’ and unsigned but obvious on the ground….hmmmm. Off I went and the trail was easy navigating around the side of the cirque, and I actually surprised myself by doing fine on the steep scree – I hate scree. And then I climbed past a bluff and the guidebook said ‘the path to the pass should be obvious in the grass from here’. Um no. The guidance was to stay left of the scree and bluffs but the gpx trace seemed to lead me through the steep bluffs with painful drops. Not good. And to top it off I was blimmen freezing as it was only about two degrees. Oh well, I had a word with myself and decided to keep trying to find a route I could both go up and down (never go up or down anything where you can’t retrace your steps as then you have no escape route). Persevering for a while and scrambling up a few rockfaces I eventually got to some grass from where I could see a safe route across to the pass. Phew!

The views from Tronj pass to Bandijierna and the fangs of Zilpi and the backside of Bobotuv Kuk are stunning and I was all alone. I didn’t hang about though as the wind was blasting through and it was freezing

The route down the other side met the main trail from Sedlo to Surutka so it was reassuring to see markers and some people and I stopped for lunch at the lovely Zeleni vir lake at 11

The route to Skrcko Jezerco (lake) took me a full two hours versus the signposted 90 mins. It involved scree, bouldering, three chained sections, two steep scrambles (one of which I got wedged in coming down as my backpack is wider than me). However the walk was amazing -Samar has these lovely folded rock formations and it is stunning. I arrived at the hut at Skrcko lake around 2pm and pitched my tent by the little lake and had some tea and fruitcake. The guidebook said the 8k would take me 5.5 hours and it did. Blimey – I guess it isn’t much trail here and a lot of rock hopping

I then wandered down to skalala to see the waterfall (which had no water). I met two Dutch hikers who had no map and asked me for directions. They were very stressed after the route down from plananica and were looking for the shortest route to a road without gaining any altitude. I sent them down past skalala which my notes says is sign posted and hits a road in 8k. As I was heading back to the tent pitch, I was amused to see two hikers near my tent at 4ish when I got back…. I heard them again 45 mins later on the hill behind my tent (where there is no trail) and then again 45 mins later back in the basin and clearly lost. By this time two other hikers had arrived and pitched their tent up 100m away on the other side of the lake and they gave the lost hikers some directions. But it was 5.30, two hours of daylight left and even for very fit people with good navigation I thought we were at least three hours from the nearest road. I hope they took the wise option and stopped in the hut for the night which had blankets and water – better to be hungry for a night than lost and hypothermic in the bush. Oh well – moral of the story – have a map on your phone and extra supplies

Day 3 back to civilisation -12k and 800m of ascent, 4.5 hours

I had an excellent sleep – my new exped pillow is a game changer (weighs a punishing 200g versus 60g for the last one but I sleep so much better). I was awake and brewing coffee at 6.30am and fully packed and heading out by 7.20am. I meandered down to the lake and then headed up the path to plananica. The path in my guidebook was no longer on the official signage (an alternate route via meded was signposted) but I thought I would see how it was . Well the path was obvious on the ground although the waymarkings hadn’t been repainted for a few years, but it was tough – steep, narrow path, watching every foot step and a bit too terrifying to stop and look around. (My vertigo worsens with age). I kept my head down and took it steady and was at the top of the 650m slog 2 hours after leaving camp – so I definitely deserved a coffee and some double cream Oreo’s (a new delicious discovery in the Voli supermarket .

The rest of the route back to civilisation was a lovely meander through a high valley and some lovely pine forest. The high valley surprised me with some lovely wild horses and some less lovely enormous bulls (I am scared of bulls). I was listening to oasis as I passed so I serenaded the bulls hoping my voice would keep them at bay. I was enjoying the singing and hadn’t seen anyone since leaving camp three hours earlier, so kept singing until I ran into six day hikers – I feel sorry for their ears.

I meandered back into town and found a hotel for a shower and had a big lunch and then a nap

Zabljiak, Montenegro, September 13, 2022

Additional info

The cicerone guide to Montenegro was good, albeit a little out of date

Parking is fine at Ivan do – I left the car there for three days no prob (near the rangers office)

There are very few water sources which are reliable (lokvice, Zeleni vir, skrcko and Jablan) so prep accordingly and take enough receptacles to carry what you need (I had 2x 3 litre cnoc water bladders)

Check the mountain forecast. Normal September temps are 15-25 degrees, I had 0-15 degrees. Worth checking and packing accordingly

It’s two and a bit hours drive from Podgorica airport (lots of cheap flights from London) to Zabljiak.

I didn’t find screw gas for the jetboil but did find piercable cartridges which worked with a kovea adaptor – at the Voli supermarket in Zabljiak (open mon- sat 7am- 10pm)

Backpacking in Bosnia

I loved the Peaks of the Balkans trail which I did last October, so having done some research I have decided to section hike the Via Dinarica – an extraordinary 2000 km trail that starts in Slovenia and passes through Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and on to Albania. I have a week and am planning to hike the bulk of the Bosnian section of the trail from Blindije to Maglic.

Wizz air did me no favours. I stayed at the luxurious holiday inn express at Luton to be sure I’d get my 8.30 flight (it was on a rail strike day) and I woke up at 5.30 am to a cancellation text. There was no flight to Sarajevo for days, so a bit of Googling and even some random consideration of other locations, I figured out I could get to Split (in Croatia) in the evening and get someone to drop me off at Blidinje (yay for Samer at green visions who came to my rescue in this and lots of other challenges). That problem sorted. My lovely driver Nedim and his girlfriend Vanya met me at the airport in Split, took me over the border, and dropped me at the mountain lodge in Blidinje where I had booked a 12 euro dorm. As was to become the standard procedure, the amassed group of Bosnian hikers offered me a shot of rakia, told me it was too dangerous to hike alone and too hard for me to make it, and asked where my husband was in quick succession. This theme never stopped – Bosnians just don’t hike solo, and unheard of for an old lady to be out by herself. What did amuse me was their presumption I wouldn’t make it :-),

Stage 1 Blidinje to Jablanica through the Cvrsnica – 35km, 1800m ascent

After a decent night with no snoring in the dorm, I made a quick breakfast outside and headed off at 6.50. First up a relatively well marked but non existent trail up to the summit of Veliki Vilinic. The trail is not well used and pretty hard to see on the ground, but the markings on the trees are abundant. It was slow going with lots of crawling under fallen logs but I didn’t get lost. I only saw one shirtless guy that I passed before the ridge

After the Vilinic summit I started meeting day hikers in abundance. I popped down to the spring near the Vilinic hut to make lunch and fill up with water – just as well too (more on that later). It was hot, so I was meandering and I even stopped for a 30 min lie down at the lovely and tiny crvenjak lake. Then I went to see the rebels gate on the way up to Drinjaca summit.

After the Drinjaca summit the tourists and the trail petered out and there was a lot of bush bashing and precarious paths followed by a horrendous scree slide down to Plasa hut. I was hoping for water at the hut – but I couldn’t find any when I followed the sign post ‘voda ’ though I did fall down the side of the hill. Oh well – no bother – there are two more springs further up the trail. But sadly after walking the 4K to check them out, they were both dry. So it was 6pm, I was 15km from a town, and I had 1 litre of water. Nothing to do but to force march it to town. It was a grim steep tree fallen slide down the first few km with lots of slippery leaves and flies, then an 8k stretch on a gravel road, then 4km on an actual road by this time I had my head torch on. I got to the hotel at 9.50pm and drank a whole bottle of mineral water. My feet were a bit of a mess from the longer than planned day with a heavy pack. The restaurant was closed so I cooked up a dehydrated meal in my room and passed out.

Stage 2 Rapti to Boracko – 34km

After yesterdays trials I figured out I better carry more water, and I also figured out that huge chunks of the via dinarica have not much trail and/or lots of road walking – the downside of a cross country trail is they inevitable have less than lovely ‘join up’ bits.

So having done my research and texted the wonderful Samir, I decided to skip the first part of the next section, and get a ride up to Rapti to climb Velika Kapa and then overnight at Vrutak hut before continuing to Boracko Jezero via Jezerce Hut (thereby cutting out a 26km road walk from Rujiste to Boracko on the official trail). It was a good call. However it was a hard uphill as I wasn’t confident there would be water so I drank 3 litres before I left and I carried 7 litres – making my pack weigh in at about 17kg – ouch – quite something in the 35 degree heat.

The hike was delightful. I didn’t see anyone all day except one loud group of guided hikers. It was way too hot and I should have had sunscreen or long sleeves. I took a few breaks squishing myself into the shade of the few scrubby pines. But the view from Vrutak was worth it. There was plentiful water in the cistern, so I drank with abandon – tea, hot chocolate, coffee and more tea and read a book. I slept with the tent doors open and the view was lovely even at 3am.

I was up at 5.40 and had a leisurely breakfast, finally heading up the hill at 7am. The next 12km were absolutely one of the best hiking sections ever (even if you had to stay on some bits of the trail to avoid landmines). The views of Zelena Glava, amazing rocks, lots of flowers, green meadows, it was pure hikers bliss. I saw three people all day – in one group – and they also thought I was nuts for being in the mountain by myself but couldn’t give me much I’d a reason for why I shouldn’t be alone :-).

I stopped for tea and cookies at the Jezerce Hut (which also had water) and then meandered through lovely forest and high valleys until reaching the 4wd road to Boracko Jezero. The next 8k was a hot but largely shaded and uninspiring forest road. But the 4K after that was soul crushing, there was no shade, it was 35 degrees and the sun was relentlessly beating down on my head. I succumbed and stuck my thumb out and hitched the last 5k to the lake to the Herzegovina lodges….. am very hot and sunburnt…. and grateful to Samer and Alma for picking me up. Elmir and Gogo gave me a very warm welcome at the Hercegovina Lodges and I had a lovely shower and washed my clothes. They cooked me an enormous dinner and I had a long sleep

Rafting down the Neretva

I was feeling pretty busted by the time I arrived at Boracko, and had figured out that I had a chest/throat infection which meant I was hacking and coughing half the day. I was over heated and tired so decided to stay two nights in Boracko and have a lazy day rafting down the stunning Neretva river – good call.

After a huge Bosnian breakfast, I was picked up by the lovely Bakir from the rafting company who already had a van full. I met the lovely Lamia, Isra, Mariam, Lana and Muaz. The first four are kick arse surgeons in training from the UK (and originally Iraq, Bosnia, Pakistan, and Jordan), and Muaz is a mere mortal like me working in online.

We had a wonderful day – the rafting was relaxing and the river was super clean and fun to swim in. Bakir cooked us a lovely lunch of Cevapi/Kebab in bread, and we meandered down the river. But the real highlight of my day was talking to my raft mates, who were able to ask all my nosiest questions about Muslim women (which I never get to ask women direct in Iraq, Yemen or Pakistan as they don’t speak English and I don’t trust men to translate). We had wonderful chats about being underestimated in life (given appearance – goodness only knows how a hijabed woman who is 5 foot gets treated when she shows up to see a patient – but apparently no one ever expects her to be the surgeon), the dearth of ethnic minority role models and our obligation to give back. The five of them were incredibly inspiring – smart, thoughtful, funny, committed. We chatted so much I think our guide would have failed us for failing to respond to most of his paddling commands – but he thought we were hilarious. I can see the four surgeons kicking arse for years to come and i look forward to seeing what they can achieve

BH9 Boracko to lukomir – 32km, 1970 m ascent; onward to Umoljani -8km

I left Boracko at 5.15 enjoying the cool breeze and walked 3km along the road before getting a hitch to skip the final 3km of road walking. The first van that passed stopped and had four men all drinking beer – it was 5.40am. The put me in the middle in the back and the chap next to me both patted my bare knee and also got his Fanta out of his lunch box to give me for the trail. I couldn’t figure out if I was more offended by the lecherous knee pat or that he thought I was too dumb to have enough fluid in my bag. (The fanta, however, was delicious after 1000m of ascent up the hill. )

They dropped me off at the Neretva river and then I wandered through easy wooded trails up and down to cross the Rakitnica river – it was stunning and part of me wanted to just stick my tent up and stay there for a week. Alas, instead I started the tough grunt up from the river to Dubocani on a pretty sketchy ‘path’ along the Cepa ridge. My vertigo is worsening with age, as is my agility. And there were moments on this mornings walk hanging on to tree branches and rocks with a vast expanse of nothingness below when I wondered what the f@ck I was doing up here, but I sure as hell didn’t want to go back down the way I came. The markings were rare and there wasn’t much of a trail on the ground. Sometimes the markings seemed to indicate you should walk off onto mad ledges (and in that case the mad ledge was actually the trail). Amusingly there were two sections with three metres of cabling to hold on to – I have no clue how the trail planners decided those 6 metres were the place to deploy cable versus all of the other gut wrenching, vomit inducing sections I had passed over. Fundamentally though, I think good for me to tough it out, and I know there will always be sections of the trail that scare the crap out of me, and that I will almost always get through them.

Anyway, I held my nerve and made it to Dubocani and then grunted further up the hill to the spring near Vradanski in the sweltering heat. By this time it was 11, I was making good time and I was baking and everything I was wearing was soaking wet with sweat. I went looking for the marked water source with no luck. But I had some 3G, and a fellow hiker had posted an update on this trail section yesterday giving the coordinates of the spring (80m away from where it was on the map). I had to squeeze in to a cave to get the water but it was blissfully cool. 2 litres of cold water, bread and cheese, a coffee and lay down in the shade with my feet up for an hour and I was restored

The next 6k to Blatacko lake were relatively uneventful and the lake itself was dry. Then the final 8k ended up taking about 3.5 hours – more of the sketchy stomach churning drops and unclear markings. I arrived at Lajtna Basta pretty knackered with the mentally taxing effort of trying not to fall down into the canyon, after ten hours of actual walking (but I had three hours of lunch, tea and shade breaks) and received a delightful welcome. It’s basic but clean, four rooms, sharing one loo and a shower. I had a cider, a shower and a got a hello from each of the seven members of the family who work there. I ordered a ‘small’ local cheese pie for dinner and I managed to eat a third of it. I was in bed by nine with the window open for the cool mountain breeze and fell asleep listening to the sound of the sheep bells .

It was a blissfully quiet night with the odd murmur from neighbours and I woke up from time to time and enjoyed the view of the stars out the window. I was awake at 5.30 but no Bosnian will give you breakfast before 8, so I lay in bed and read a book. Breakfast, however, was my idea of heaven – fried bread, cream cheese and jam – a coronary disaster but bloody delicious, and washed down with Bosnian coffee.

I headed out at 8.30 to Umoljani, and it was already hot. Todays path was an easy marked trail with no terror involved at all – just gentle views across the Rakitnica canyon to the other side. It was sweltering so at the first (and sadly only) stream I crossed after 40 mins, I took my T-shirt off, soaked it in the water and put it back on – instant air conditioning.

The rest of the trail was an easy meander, I was hoping to see water in the Studeni Potok stream but it was not to be. I passed through the lovely hilltop hamlet of Gradica and then wandered to Koliba Umoljani where Samer met me to drive me to Tjentiste as again am skipping a few sections of less than lovely trail. We arrived at 2pm and I spent the afternoon sorting plans for Maglic and swimming in the pool.

Summit of Veliki Maglic – 20km, 1400m ascent/descent

Maglic is the highest mountain in Bosnia and a popular weekend haunt for hikers – in part as there is a lovely lake and a decent hut which Milosh (the hut man, border guard, forest ranger and bar tender) keeps well stocked with beers. The trail head at Prijevor where the ascent starts is at the end of 26km of bumpy and rutted 4wd track. I asked Milan at the hotel if a transfer was possible and he said I could ‘rent’ the postman’s VW for 35 euros. Oddly, the postman couldn’t bring the car to me, so I had to meet him at the abandoned Petrol station at the turn off to Prijevor – a 1.4km stroll along the road at 5.15am. The car had no plates – hence the reticence to drive it along the main road. She also had no lock, no wing mirror, no functioning lights and not much in the way of brakes or a starter motor or suspension. However she did the job and was quite a fun bumpy ride up the hill. When I got there I parked her facing downhill as noticed the Postman didn’t turn her off when he was showing me the ropes and adjusting the seat with a screw driver. I was therefore very suspicious of the starter motor so I was ready to roll start her (something I had to do with my first car for three months when I couldn’t afford to replace the starter motor), but as it turned out later a bit of gas pumping and a black cloud of smoke and she got there

I didn’t pass anyone on the way up but the trail head was crowded with vans and tents. Most people summit the ‘short way’ and come down the ‘long way’ past Trvnovacko – but I had no helmet or harness for the cable sections on the shorter route so went the long way up and down. That proved to be a bit of a blessing as I didn’t see any hikers on the trail until close to the summit about four hours later. Counterintuitively, the trail descended 300m and passed through a lovely flowery meadow before climbing back up to 1650m at lake trvnovacko where I officially entered Montenegro. Milosh checked my passport, took a euro for the park fee, I said hello to the assembled hikers who were breakfasting on beer and sausages and kept on going. The next couple of hours was a sweaty grunt, quite a lot of steep uphill and scree and unbelievable humidity. It was grateful that side of the mountain was still in the shade, the few people I saw coming up that way in full sun when I was on the way back down looked like they were suffering. I stopped for coffee and biscuits about half way up and amused myself by trying to remember to take photos of the flowers

The summit, from this direction, isn’t too challenging and I got there about 11.30 and then turned back, this time having to weave through large groups of hikers bunched together with a guide at the front and the back. They are pretty cute groups – some of them even wear matching T-shirts. I got through the worst of the scree on the way down and then stopped for lunch with an epic view of the lake. Tip for hikers – add a pack of potato chips to a dehydrated meal, and it gives it tonnes of crunch – my real turmat cod curry was top class.

Descending to the lake – it appeared half of Bosnia had moved in – there were people of all shapes and sizes sporting speedos and swimming in the lake. I stopped at a quiet bit and took my shoes and shirt off and got in for a paddle – it was bliss. And then a wander back down the hill and up again to the car – managing to get about 100 sandfly bites in the valley. I bumped downhill in the trusty VW – returned her to the postman and walked back to the villas. (The postman btw told Milan he had never seen a woman drive that car so confidently – he doesn’t know what kiwi roads and cars are like 😂😂)

That’s it – an epic holiday, and I will need to come back as I would still like to hike around Zelengora and also raft down the Tara. I would highly recommend Bosnia for a small but perfectly formed hiking holiday. I would, however, investigate which routes to do, and skip the dull parts if doing the VD

Tjentiste, July 2, 2022

More information

Detailed trail guides for the Via Dinarica here, I also bought the Bradt guide, but you don’t really need it. I organised transfers through Green Vision, who also met me at Sarajevo airport with a gas canister for my stove. Samer came to the rescue multiple times during the trip to help me out. They then drove me from Tjentiste to dubrovnik airport. I can’t recommend them highly enough

I booked accommodation as I went no problem except for tjentiste – which I assume was problematic as it was the weekend. All the routes are on my strava

Note this blog is typed by my thumbs on my iPhone – expect typos!

Finishing the GR131 in Fuerteventura

Fuerteventura is the last of the Canary Islands on my list to do the cross island GR131 trail. I did my homework, and most hikers who blog about the route detested significant chunks of this walk – as it goes on tarmac through resorts. Doing a bit more homework yielded some excellent alternative routes around the mountains so I came up with a route that joined the parts of the GR131 I wanted to do and some excellent side hikes. The original route was 150km, mine was 130km but with a lot more ascent

Accommodation in the mountains is a bit tricky, and there is a network of trail shelters in which it is illegal but tolerated to camp, as the locals understand it is impossible to hike across the island without having to wild camp somewhere.

Day 1 – tour of Mt Cardon and then onward to Pajara (18km and 800m of ascent)

I stayed at the premier inn at Gatwick as there is nothing worse than a 4am wake up call. At 5.45 I woke up, had my coffee and breakfast in hand after security at 6.15 and was in the lounge at 6.30 ready to board the 7.15 flight. I was even organised enough to fill up all my water bottles at Gatwick after security. The flight was packed with British package tourists like normal and I suspected I was the only one who didn’t have any accommodation booked for the duration of my stay and was planning on bivouacking where I could

On landing, my only shopping requirement was to get some fuel for my stove (I bought an alcohol stove as there are few stockists of gas canisters on the island), so I got my taxi to stop at the hardware store to buy ‘alcohol de quemar’ and I was set

The nice taxi driver dropped me 50 km from the airport in a deserted parking area near mt Cardon and asked me if I was sure….. and was surprised when I told him I was planning to walk more than 150km to corralejo.

The 7km return trip up the mountain was delightful, with nice views down to La Pared and the ocean. The mountain is a pilgrim route with a lovely cave church at the top.

I returned to Cardon ‘town’ after the mountain hoping the bar I had passed would still be open at 2.30. Alas it was not to be – so no lunch apart from a protein bar, and some rationing required on the water to last until the next morning

The 3km after Cardon seemed very hard – it was hot, the wind had dropped, so I was sweaty, thirsty and hungry as I climbed a steep hill. I stopped near Morro de Moralito at 420m for a coffee and a protein bar and stuck my sun hat on

After that the trail did take a while, but it was mostly easy walking, albeit with quite a lot of ascent and descent rolling along the ridgelines. The views out to both sides of the island were spectacular.

The sun started to noticeably drop at 5pm so I hoped I would make a good campsite by nightfall. There weren’t obvious pitches en route and I knew there was a shelter near Pajara – which would have the bonus of a table so I could cook sitting up (handy with an alcohol stove) and sleep out of the wind

I got to the shelter at 6pm and it was situated on a gravel road I had seen three cars drive down and it was only 1.5km from Pajara – so hardly off the beaten track. However I would be entirely hidden from view sleeping on the bench behind the big stone table and it was wonderfully sheltered. I needed the shelter as the winds were 30kph and it would be a bugger to pitch a tent. I reckon I ruined one hikers day though – as a young guy strolled to the shelter with a full pack and a bag of food, clearly hoping to stay, and he kept walking when he saw me (thank goodness, I don’t like strangers).

I had a lovely beef stew for dinner, a lot of rehydration salts and a hot chocolate and hit the hay at 7pm. Or I tried to. I couldn’t quite get comfy but I reckon I finally fell asleep at 10pm. Amusingly the rubbish bin in the shelter which I was happy to see (saves carrying rubbish), seemed like less of a good idea during the night as the loud rustling from said bin confirmed the existence of a rat or a mouse – but I wasn’t inclined the leave my sleeping bag to check. The stars were lovely and it is quite nice sleeping in the open air, although with 35k winds I was pretty happy to have the thick rock walls of the open sided shelter keeping the worst of the wind away

Day 2 to Degollada Marrubio via Ermita de Penitas and Gran Montana (28km and 1700m ascent)

I was awake at 6, but as the sun doesn’t come up until 7.35, I made a coffee and read the newspapers on my phone in my sleeping bag. I was surprised by a passerby and his dog out for a stroll around 7am – they didn’t see me fortunately as no doubt they weren’t expecting to.

I packed up my bed roll, finished my muesli and headed into Pajara, hoping that somewhere would be open to buy water. Fortune smiled on me and a tiny shop was open. And then I got even luckier as one of the cafes was open for coffee – and full of old Spanish men chatting with vim and vigour at 7.45 on a Sunday morning

From Pajara it was a couple of km gentle stroll along a dry river bed then a lovely manageable climb up through agave and tabaibal to the Degollada los Granadillos. The winds were fierce (40km an hour) and heading towards me verses aiding me up the mountain but it was still a nice walk. After the pass (degollada), it was an easy meander down to Vega de los Palmas, where I did a detour off the GR131 to head down to the Ermita de los Penitas (a worthy 3.5km detour). The damn was lovely and the views down the ravine to the tiny church were gorgeous.

After that I was in need of sustenance and more water. The first three establishments I passed were all closed, so I was delighted to see the Don Antonio open. The fed me like royalty and let me charge my battery – heaven

After lunch I took another detour off the trail – 7km and 500m of ascent to climb Gran Montana at 670m for fantastic 360 views across the island. The trail was straight up but I didn’t go too fast as I had a full tummy from lunch

The route detoured back close to Vega where I rejoined the GR131 and headed towards betancuria – stopping for a cup of tea at the sheltered and deserted Castillo de Lara (a recr

After that it was a hard grunt up to the degollada de marubio at 60where there was a trail shelter that was home for the night. The wind was up and the roof was made of branches, so I tried to see if I could get my tent up within the confines of the shelter for more cover but there was no room and the picnic tables were fixed firmly to the ground. And it was too windy to pitch outside. So I did what previous hikers had done and slept on the picnic table after a dinner of soup and a hot chocolate.

I prepared for a windy night – put my dry night clothes on, made sure the quilt was well secured to the Therm-a-Rest and slept with hat, gloves and my down jacket. What I wasn’t prepared for was lifting my head in the middle of the night and the pillow blowing down the mountain. I was well secured in the quilt so it took me a moment to get out of bed and start chasing. The pillow was restored and I weighted it down by putting it in a dry bag with my clothes to keep it from blowing away again

Day 3 to Sargento 29k and 975m of ascent

I woke up at 6 and stayed in my sleeping bag until the caffeine cravings forced me to move. After breakfast of muesli, I headed down the hill to the village of Betancuria. It is clearly a village for day trippers as there were tonnes of restaurants (all closed at 7.45 this Monday morning) and no hotels. With no coffee in sight, I continued up over the pass at Corral De Guise (past a bizarre statue) and down to Valle de St Innes to pick up supplies and have two excellent cafe con leches

From St Ines it was a hot flat walk through Llanos all the way to Tefia – mostly on roads. Not my favourite walking but at least there were few cars. I stopped at 11.30 for lunch after 15km at the trail shelter under the lovely Mt Bermeja – the highlight of the morning

Then it was a more entertaining 9km walk through Tefia to the town to Casillas de Angelos (a gr131 detour), which had nicer views back to the mountain ridge line I had left this morning

I arrived at Casillas at 13.35 to find all the restaurants closed and the minimart had shut at 13.30 and wouldn’t reopen until 6pm. Fortunately there was a gas station so I bought more water and had an icecrean

Leaving Casillas I headed up a grey rocky hill side with steep steps and rubbly ground to reach the degollada de La sargenta at 479m which had lovely views out of Tetir and a nice view of the trail shelter which was my home for the night 200m below

I arrived at the shelter earlier than I normally stop – at 4pm – but with the wind forecast I decided to stay here for the night as the next shelter was 20k away. I dried my sweaty clothes in the sun and pitched my tent (there was room in this shelter). I typically only pitch my tent 20 mins before sunset in case of passerbys (wild camping is illegal in Spain although tolerated apparently in some places). I didn’t think I would be disturbed so pitched at 5pm and then was promptly surprised by two trail runners charging by. I suspected they wouldn’t call the rangers on me, and was right, I had a very peaceful night with my head down by 8pm (which did lead to a 4am wake up but no matter)