The Andacollo Festival in Chile

According to its inhabitants, Andacollo is the most religious town of Chile. It features a basilica plus a second church, both of which are National Monuments. La Virgen de Andacollo is highly regarded and each first Sunday of the month she is paraded around the plaza in a procession. The first Sunday of October she is honored with a religious festival called La Fiesta Chico, but the spectacle of the year is in December: La Fiesta Grande, which lasts from the 23rd to the 27th.

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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

Watching Wild and Captive Condors in Ecuador, at Hacienda Zuleta

It was almost like a dance: seven rambunctious Andean Condors hopping around chunks of mule and calf. On other days the carrion might be alpaca, sheep, or rabbit. Males generally have the first go but Awu is a female that is able to stand up for herself and makes sure she gets the piece she wants to have. When two condors wanted the same piece they each tore on a side of it as if it were a game of tug-of-war. Continue reading

Admiring Traditional Baianas de Acarajé in Salvador da Bahia

Amidst a crowd of typical, T-shirts-and-jeans-wearing Brazilians, a black woman stood out. She wore an intricate, white, lace bodice covered with necklaces above a dark-blue, billowing skirt and a white piece of cloth artistically wrapped around her head. She was deep-frying some sort of snack. I had just arrived in Salvador da Bahia and was as yet unfamiliar with Salvador da Bahia’s famous Baianas de Acarajé. 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

Strolling among Ruins of Jesuit Missions in Paraguay

Dark red bricks stand out against a stark blue sky. Long shadows peter out over fields, the soft light of the late afternoon giving the ruins an air of mystery. Who was that saint draped in a robe, holding a staff in his right hand? Or that elegantly-dressed woman, whose nose was rudely cut off?

On my stroll among the restored walls of an old Jesuit settlement I stumble upon remains of statues, lintels and columns. They raise questions about the past. As no guide or brochure were available, I relied on information from guidebooks and history books to answer the questions and tell the stories. 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

Sky Biking in the Cloud Forest of the Mashpi Lodge (Ecuador)

“Ready? Off we go!” José, a guide, unchains the two-seater carriage with David, another guide, in the back and me in the front. David starts pedaling and all I have to do is to be in awe. The latter is not hard to do when you are transported along a 655-foot cable that at its highest point reaches 200 feet above a riverbed. We are cycling among 100 to130 foot tall tropical trees in the Mashpi Reserve, which lies at a 3-hour drive from Quito, Ecuador’s capital. Continue reading