Bathing in Luxury at the Hotel Casa Gangotena in Quito

Hotel Casa Gangotena in Quito, Ecuador I was looking out over the Mediterranean dotted with a couple of sailing boats. Low rolling hills line the horizon. The image was framed by Corinthian columns covered in flowering vines. I felt as if I was on vacation in Greece, Italy, or Spain. Did that make sense, with my being 9,350 feet above sea level, in Quito, Ecuador’s capital? Not really. Continue reading

Touring the Itaipu Dam in Paraguay

I read some facts and figures about the Itaipu Dam that simply boggled my mind:

  • The construction of the Itaipu Dam, for which 50 million tons of rock were moved, took 16 years [1975-1991].
  • The dam is 643 feet high and almost 5 miles long.
  • The plant has 20 generators, which altogether have a capacity of 14,000 megawatts.
  • The construction of the dam cost 25 billion US dollars.
  • The dam supplies 90% of Paraguay’s energy and 25% of Brazil’s electric power.

Truth be told, I couldn’t wrap my head around such numbers. Continue reading

Absorbing the Story of Slavery in Redenção, Brazil

In 1873 Colonel Simião Jurumenha bought a sugarcane farm and built the cachaça factory of Douradinho in Redenção, some 80 kilometers south of Fortaleza in northeast Brazil. Ten years later slavery was abolished here, 5 years before the rest of Brazil. 130 years later, I visit the still functioning factory-cum-museum and am impressed by how well the images of those first ten years have been kept alive. Continue reading

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 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

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

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

Ziplining in Peru near Machu Picchu

I have a choice, I realized as I was swinging in midair. Either I freak out or let go and enjoy. While fear is an emotion, often used as an excuse – I can’t help it, I’m just too afraid to do it – I took a rational decision not to be afraid and relax. That in itself was an awkward if not an intriguing experience. Furthermore, it worked. I felt my muscles ease up and I took notice of the world around me. Seconds earlier I had only been staring in some sort of void without really seeing where I was. Continue reading