Split, Day 2

Split, Day 2

My breakfast this morning consisted of Apple Pie! Apple pie, freshly shaven prosciutto, delicious cheese, fruit filled warm croissants, almost a fried fish, and an assortment of other amazingly scrumptious things. The breakfast at the Coronaro Hotel is probably one of the best I’ve ever had, only rivaling that in the SoSofitel Hotel in Thailand.

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After totally stuffing ourselves, we grabbed our travel bag and met the rental car guy in the lobby to get our car for today’s adventure – Krka Falls. I basically signed my life and life’s savings away for the car and the deposit, so I was pretty terrified to drive it. After successfully navigating outside of the tiny car park at the hotel, we were on the road and my driving confidence slowly came back.

It was about a 50 minute, super scenic drive through the mountains, tunnels, and towns to get to Krka. The little car we had had some trouble getting up to the speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour, so it was pedal-to-the-metal to keep up with the other cars. It was only on the way back that Ryan told me to use cruise control! That made things so much easier!

We pulled up at the parking lot of the Park, bought our tickets, and searched for sun screen. Let me tell you, Ryan and I are convinced that Croatians do not believe in sun screen. I scoured all of the markets / pharmacies in the Split the day before, checked with the hotel, and even went to the shops around the falls, but all of the shop attendants looked at us funny when we asked it they sold sun screen. We brought some with us, but one of our bottles disappeared, so we were totally out of luck! I highly recommend bringing as much as you can from the US if you visit Croatia because its like a treasure hunt for the stuff when you get here. When we did find it, it was around $20 for a 3 oz. bottle!

We opted to walk off our huge breakfast by journeying the 15 minute hike down the gravel path to the falls instead of taking the bus. The walk was beautiful and you could hear the falls as we got closer and closer! They were huge and there were so many! ‘

There is a wooden bridge-way that goes through the forest on-top of the falls / waterways (see map above). You literally walk over all of the streams and can watch fish swim under you and down the falls. I’ve never experienced anything like it. The walk around to falls takes about an hour and is so worth it! There were so many views and it was so relaxing to be out in such a beautiful place.

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We were a little peckish by the time we got to the base of the falls and Ryan couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a hot dog stand. I swear, the man loves hot dogs more than anything else in this world. His eyes light up like an anime kids eyes do in cartoons when they see candy! While he was enjoying his hot dog, this lady walked up behind him and took a photo. She then offered me money for the photo. It was a very strange encounter but I have to imagine that photo is hanging in a great place of honor in her household now?

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After making Ryan’s dreams come true by buying a hot dog and turning down the cash from the little lady, I got some pistachio gelato and we sat by the falls, people watching and taking it all in.

Unlike the Plitvice Lakes National Park outside of Zagreb, you can swim at the base of one of the waterfalls in Krka. I couldn’t resist sticking my toes in the perfect temperature water.

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After relaxing by the falls for a while, we had to hike back up. We stopped by the 2nd hydroelectric plant ever made in the world which happens to be located at he base of the falls. The first plant was made in Niagara Falls and opened only 2 days before the one at Krka.

Ryan was getting annoyed at me because I stopped at every vista point, but I just love waterfalls apparently!

We took a quick hike to the boat area that takes motors to a few other waterfalls, an island, and some caves. The boat ride was 4 hours long and we needed to get back to Split to drop the car off, so we passed on the excursion. After that, it was back to the car. We had to walk back up the massive hill that we easily hiked down. It was so steep and we couldn’t stop walking for fear that we couldn’t start back up again!

Huffing and puffing, we got back to our car and it was on the road again back to Split. We had to get some gas to fill up the rental before heading to the hotel and was shocked that the cost to half-way fill-up our little rental car was the same cost as a full tank for my Toyota Yaris! So crazy!

We got back to the hotel in Split, showered off, and decided to walk the town. It was only 4 PM but, with such a light lunch, we decided to grab an early dinner. All I really wanted was a good charcuterie board and we heard that Bokeria was the place to go for such fare. A waiter came and gave us menus but never came back to our table. Even though the restaurant was not busy, we sat for a good 25 minutes with no attention or waters, so we decided to leave. With such rave reviews, I was OK with waiting a little longer, but Ryan’s hanger wouldn’t stand for it!

We walked through a few squares before coming across another place that had a big picture of a charcuterie board in front of it and decent prices, so we grabbed a table. We ordered the meat and cheese board and a pizza for us to share and, even though we said we weren’t going to drink, the $3 house wine ended up on our table.

The meat and cheese board arrived but it only had cheese and bread on it. I alerted the waiter, who replied “Nema problema!”, and came out with a huge second board of delicious prosciutto. We definitely did not need that much but it was so yummy. Another round of heavily poured wine later, our pizza came out and it was cheese overload, but that is never a bad thing. I swear I am going to gain 20 pounds on this trip…

After dinner, we gallivanted through the streets and “accidentally” bought some more gelato. We wondered back to the hotel and grabbed one of the bottles of wine we bought in Hvar. The plan was to drink it on the rooftop patio / bar at the hotel, but one of the bartenders in the elevator up to the top informed us we could not bring it upstairs. At this point, we were quite tipsy, and we decided to be rebels and finish ½ our wine in the lobby of the hotel and then sneak the rest up to the top patio. The sunset view of the port from the roof of the hotel was amazing and we decided to top off the night with a glass of desert wine.

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The bartender didn’t have any port upstairs but he ran down to grab some from the restaurant for us. That should have been my first indication that it was going to be a pricy glass of wine, however, it was delicious and the rooftop was so romantic I didn’t care to ask and we eventually just bought the bottle….

All of a sudden, a Rat Pack song came on and Ryan and I danced. He spun me a few times and, when we finished, a group at the end of the patio gave us a round of applause. They eventually came up to us to chat and we realized that one couple’s kids live up the street from us! Small world, huh?

Once we were done with our wine, our elevator friend / waiter told us that we could use one of the rooftop hot tubs for free. The hotel opened their spa 3 weeks before our stay at and installed 3 private hot tubs on the rooftop that overlooked the palace and the harbor. Typically, you have to reserve and pay to use the hot tubs, but I guess our waiter decided to give us a treat!  We ran to our room to change and the spa was the perfect temperature by the time we got back. Talk about a romantic night! We enjoyed every second and I honestly didn’t want the night to end.

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Sacred Valley, Peru

Sacred Valley, Peru

6:30 AM wake up to meet our guides and head through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu! We hopped into our van with our guide, took a treacherous ride with crazy traffic through winding hills and, somehow, didn’t topple off one of the hairpin turns to our death. We were all very relieved when we made it to the various stops along the way!

Our first stop was at the Awana Kancha alpaca & llama farm to see the various types of indigenous animals. Apparently, there is a certain type of llama that gets so frightened when people approach, it is likely to have a heart attack and die! Talk about a poor fear reflex!

There were also native women weaving alpaca wool blankets and clothing in beautifully Peruvian patterns and, of course, all of their items were on sale in the gift shop at the end of our tour.

We then headed to a terraced, ancient city, atop mountains overlooking the Sacred Valley. The views from the city were astonishing and, though the air was thin, we were able to hike up to the top of the city.

Thankfully, we arrived early in the morning and there were only a few other people hiking the city while we were there. As we were leaving, we passed masses of tourist buses and huge groups that were about to climb up. Our driver had quite a time getting back down the narrow road past the big  buses – literally only an inch or two between us on either side! For almost all tours, it is worth getting up early to beat the crowds.

My dad and I looking over the Sacred Valley on the way to Machu Picchu, Peru

Along the drive to the next spot, we saw tons of stray dogs, cows, pigs, and kids running in and out of the streets. There were huge fields of quinoa and tarps lining the side of the road with huge corn kernels laying out to dry.

We were getting hungry on our road trip, so we stopped at a market. There was a silver factory there with a huge fire pit at the back for making empanadas. The store had guinea pig empanadas which I was going to try, but there was a cage with baby and adult guinea pigs right next to the fire pit and we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat one. Instead, we had a delicious chicken empanadas and bought some jewelry in the store.

Our empanadas were not enough to hold us over, so we headed to the Tunupa Sacred Valley  restaurant. There was a beautiful garden entrance with parakeets and other exotic birds. Inside, it was so packed with people through the buffet lines. After we ate, my sister, Ryan, and I went into the back garden to explore and make friends with some testy lamas. They give us the stink eye but I think we got through to them eventually!

Once we were shopped out and our stomaches were fully, we took off to Ollantaytambo, the town home to the train station. The town was surrounded by amazing fortress ruins and a temple for Sun God worship. We walked up 210 large stone steps to the top of ruins where there were 40+ ton rocks used to make the buildings. The crazy thing is, the huge rocks up at the top of the ruins were actually mined from the mountain across the valley. The Inca would mine the boulders from the top of the other mountain, push the boulders so they toppled down the mountain, and then, somehow, lug them back up to the top of other mountains to build their buildings. All of that at an average male height of 5’2!

After admiring the view for about 30 minutes, we had to catch the train. Our guide dropped us off and we almost took off in the wrong direction. Thankfully, she ran after us and pointed us the right way.

The views from the train were amazing, especially because there were windows from our seats to the ceiling and the over the ceiling, and it didn’t take long (1.5 hours) before we arrived at the Machupicchu Pueblo, the town below Machu Picchu!

Antigua, Guatemala – Day 2

Antigua, Guatemala – Day 2

For the first time on this trip, I got to sleep in… to 9:30 AM. I was ready to go by 10, but the other girls were a little more slow-moving as they tried to wake up. We finally left our secluded cabin around 11:30 to walk into Antigua for a traditional breakfast. We sat at a quaint little restaurant that had a big garden that was under construction so we were surrounded by equipment, but that didn’t matter. The food was scrumptious and there was tons of it with bread and oatmeal to start and sausage, plantains, black beans, eggs, and coffee to keep us going for the day. Almost all meals in Guatemala come with black beans and they are SO delicious! I must have had them at almost every meal.

We decided to walk off breakfast with a stroll through the market and main squares. We bought Guatemala’s version of M&Ms from a little girl who was selling them out of a basket on the side of the street but, in retrospect, shouldn’t have. Guatemala is full of kids and women selling trinkets and snacks, but you should only buy from the adults as buying from kids will keep propelling adults to use kids as sales vehicles instead of sending them to schools and the like. The income inequality in Guatemala is astonishingly apparent and it makes you feel very lucky to be in your situation instead of theirs.

A little girl selling candy on the streets of Antigua, Guatemala

After a few hours of buying gifts and souvenirs for everyone at home that we could think of and haggling prices like pros, we walked to a large, ornate, open wooden door. Again, Guatemala’s streets are lined with high, concrete walls so you never know what is awaiting behind each wall’s doors. Unbeknownst to my fellow USA traveler’s and I, the door Cass led us through took us to a small slice of paradise; a hotel called Santo Domingo in which Cass has her heart set on getting married in one day.

The hotel was beautiful with huge gardens full of rainforest type foliage and gorgeous parakeets and macaws. In the main outside square of the hotel, there is a river walk with over 3K candles lining the path that leads to a ruined Cathedral in the back of the hotel. It is huge and probably one of the most romantic settings I have entered in my entire life. I totally get the appeal of having that as a venue!

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After touring the hotel, we walked to a coffee shop and went to its rooftop for a drink and the view. Almost all of the restaurants and bars in Antigua have views like the below and it’s the place to be to watch the sun set over the volcanos.

A few of the girls decided to go to Mass, so Cass’s friend Isa and I walked down the street to a rooftop bar and had micheladas, basically a love child of beer and a Bloody Mary, while talking about Guatemala and watching the Fuego volcano erupt in the distance. Seriously, it was an evening out of the movies and it was so surreal watching lava slide down a mountainside!

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After the girls were done at Mass, we said our goodbyes to our new friend Isa and took off back to Guatemala City for a delicious home-cooked Pad Thai dinner at Cass’s casa and much-needed sleep before our trip to El Salvador the next day!

Antigua Tips:

  • Try micheladas – such a yummy and refreshing drink! (And you get your daily serving of veggies through the tomato juice.. right?)
  • Watch the sun set on a rooftop bar and stay until dark to watch the Fuego volcano erupt
  • Haggle in the markets for some great deals on trinkets
  • Do not buy from children selling goods in the markets

 

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

5:15 AM wake up to start our trek to Antigua, Guatemala for volcano hiking! Who needs sleep on vacation anyways…right? We had a quick bite to eat and took off to a Burger King about 30 minutes away to meet up with a few more of Cass’s friends who were going to make the climb with us. We went down some very bumpy roads in Cass’s old Jeep and made a few wrong turns while trying to navigate, but eventually made it to the coffee farm below the Acatenango volcano for our ride half-way up the volcano. The farm was beautiful, full of greenhouses and lush coffee forests. Cass’s friends hopped in the front of the truck that was driving us up the mountain and the “core four” of us hopped in the bed of the truck for one of the wildest rides I have ever had up the side of the volcano.

Coffee farm below Acatenango volcano, Antigua, GuatemalaIt started out nice and easy, driving through the dark green, lush coffee forests at the volcano’s base, but quickly turned into a windy dusty trail as we hit the mid section. Hair flying everywhere, skin looking tan with the dust layers, butts getting bruised from bouncing on the truck bed’s uneven floor, we were having the time of our life hanging on for dear life! As we got higher and higher, we entered the jungle level of the volcano which was dense, moist, and covered in moss. It was truly beautiful but we were also driving up at a super steep angle at a very fast pace not to lose traction, so we were all trying to hold each other in the bed of the truck as bump after bump tried to fling us out! Talk about exhilarating! I definitely had a nice round of bruises after that ride.

We finally made it to the drop-off for our hike. At this point, the forest had grown thin and there were lots of ferns and birch trees without leaves. The scenery – I can’t describe it. It was just so… extraordinarily different from Texas! Unfortunately, the elevation got to Janine so she stayed back with one of our guides at the car, and we took off on our hike. The higher we got, the more the ground turned into volcanic sand, making it very hard to climb up the steep side of the volcano. We rested at a plateau covered in delicate yellow flowers about half way up the trail and realized we were above the clouds. It was incredible.

Above the clouds atop of Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

From that point on, the trees stopped and it was volcanic sand all the way up. I swear, for every two steps I took, I slid back one step in the sand. There were no hand rails and the fall would have been a deadly one, so we faced upwards and onwards. You could hear the rumblings of the active volcano next store, named Fuego (Fire), echoing off of the boulders near the peak of our climb. It was terrifyingly exhilarating and the view / feeling of reaching the top was something I had never experienced before.

We walked the circumference of the volcano’s mouth, trying to stay erect as the super strong wind attempted to blow us away, and we found some wind cover between some rocks for a lunch stop. We watched the clouds roll over Fuego while it erupted as we ate and soaked in the view. I couldn’t believe this was just day 1 of our trip!

Atop of the Acatenango volcano in Antigua, Guatemala

 

The view of En Fuego Volcano from Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

The hike down was just as scary as the way up, but thrilling as we basically slid down the pumice sandy section of the mountain. There was an adorable blonde dog hanging out at the half-way plateau. He decided to join our group and followed us all the way back to our truck. I gave him the second half of my ham sandwich as a reward and we piled in the seat portion of the truck this time on the way down. We learned our lesson for sure! The dog followed our truck all the way down the mountain, and even tried to help us when the truck got stuck in a muddy ditch at a hairpin turn on the volcano trail! We almost had to push the truck out!

Hiking to the top of Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

Once we got off the volcano trail and onto an actual road, Cass, her friend Isa, and I stood in the bed of the truck and held onto the bar over the cab, hair flying in the wind singing songs at the top of our lungs, soaking in the experience as much as possible while racing back to the coffee plantation. Upon arrival, we shook out all of the pumice stones from our shoes and walked through the greenhouses full of poinsettias. It was really pretty and a nice end to the crazy morning before saying goodbye to Cass’s friends, hopping in the car, and driving back to Antigua for the rest of the day’s adventures.

Pointsetta garden below Acatenango volcano, Antigua, Guatemala

Volcano hiking tips:

  • Bring a warm wind jacket – the top of the volcano is very cold and windy
  • Wear hiking boots and sweat wicking, high socks. You can wear sneakers, but your shoes will get filled with sand and you may not get a lot of traction
  • Wear warm leggings for easy movement on the way up
  • Bring snacks & water so you have plenty of fule for the hike. It gets hot under the sun on the lower sections so hydration is key.
  • Use plenty of sunscreen as the altitude and thin air makes the sun extra potent
  • Try and find a good hiking stick for added hiking leverage
  • Wear a backpack for your things (camera etc). You will need your arms for balance so a purse is not recommended
  • The mid-way hike takes about 3 hours. Unless you want to do the whole day hike, find a service that will take you up half-way with a guide. You can also spend the night at the top of the volcano if you want – just make sure to bring very warm equipement and sleeping gear
  • Have extra cash for guide tips
  • Don’t forget your camera and selfie stick