Taking a Kitesurfing Course in Brazil, at Tatajuba Beach

From our apartment I looked out over the beach, the mouth of the lagoon and the ocean. During the morning hours it was quiet. A fisherman might be returning with his catch or somebody was going for a stroll along the shore. Somewhere after 11 am tranquility transformed into hustle and bustle, as if a silent alarm had gone off. Continue reading

Watching the Urkupiña Festival in Bolivia

Diablado

According to the most popular story, a young shepherd girl daily herded her sheep on a stony hill, where the Virgin Mary appeared to her several times. At one time she indicated the Virgin to her parents, shouting, “Orkopiña” – “There, on that hill”, as the Virgin was ascending towards heaven. On the summit they found a stone image of the Virgin, which since then has been kept in the church in Quillacollo. Continue reading

Exploring the Sunday Market in Kasghar, China

Sunday Market in KashgarWith over 50,000 people selling and buying, the Sunday Market in Kasghar is the biggest in China. Its origin goes back to the golden age of the Silk Route when delegations from all different empires came here to trade. Today guidebooks highlight the market as one of northwest China’s ‘must-sees’. Our expectations were high. Continue reading

Exploring the Jesuit Estancias in Argentina

Jesuit Estancia in Argentina

Estancia Jesus Maria

When in the 16th century the Jesuits came to Argentina, they founded schools and universities in Córdoba, an area today referred to as the Jesuit Block. In order to finance these institutions estancias were set up in the surrounding areas, where agriculture and cattle breeding prospered.

The Jesuits rapidly progressed to become rich, powerful and independent organizations. Too much so to the liking of the Spanish crown, which resulted in the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767. The Jesuit block and its estancias fell into decay until UNESCO gave them World Heritage status (in 2000) and restoration projects got underway. Continue reading

Celebrating the Aymara New Year in La Paz, Bolivia

Two Aymara shamans are building a bonfire and laying out offerings for good health and fortune: a dried lama fetus and sugar tablets depicting a house, moneybags and other symbols of wealth and health. Dressed in bright-colored ponchos and woolen headdresses, the amautas walk about in a circle formed by devotees and a couple of foreigners. They interrupt their preparations by calling onto Pachamama (mother earth) and Pachakama (the universe) to bless the New Year. Continue reading

Bamboo Rafting in India (the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary)

Tiger footprints. We stop in our tracks. Excitement rises. Our guide kneels and studies them, and concludes they are old ones. Disillusion comes with a hidden sense of relief. There is a gun-carrying guard with us, but still.

We set off once more along trails through a forest so hot and dry that the dehydrated leaves barely hang on to the trees. The sound of walking through the fallen leaves reminds me of Europe’s autumns, which is entirely at odds with the scorching temperatures. Continue reading

Ouro Prêto on Foot, a UNESCO site in Brazil

Around 1700 gold was discovered in the state of Minas Gerais. In 1711 Vila Rica de Ouro Prêto (lit: ‘Rich City of Black Gold’) was founded, which soon became the capital of the state and epicenter of Brazil’s biggest gold rush. Thousands of slaves dug out the gold, which was taken to the town where it was weighed and melted into bars at Casas de Intendéncias (weighing stations). Continue reading

Taking the Narrow Gauge Train to Darjeeling, India 

It’s still dark when we walk downhill to the train station. Although the train will only leave at seven, we have been advised to arrive an hour early, as there are few seats. The famous Sikkim narrow gauge train runs all the way up from the town of New Jalpaiguri on the plains of Siliguri to Darjeeling (55 miles) a trip that takes 8 hours. However, we have opted for the 19-mile return trip from Kuensong to Darjeeling. Continue reading

Listening to Stories of the Dead in Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina

City of Angels, City of the Dead, or City of Cats: These names all refer to the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. With 5000 sepulchers this eternal resting place is a rich synthesis of history, art, religion and death, and serves as a tribute to Argentina’s rich and famous. Continue reading

Hiking in Torres del Paine, Chile’s Best National Park

A thick black blanket steadily moved eastwards, threatening to block out daylight and announcing an impending storm. I took short gulps of air, exhausted from having legged it uphill to the 4000-foot John Gardner Pass. Instead of a postcard image of a snow-white glacier against a cobalt blue sky the weather gods presented me with a blurred world of grey with just enough light penetrating to vaguely see Southern Patagonia’s eerily blue, crevassed ice field and a couple of snow-covered peaks in the distance. Continue reading