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

Appreciating Modern Architecture in Brasília, Brazil’s Capital

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

“Why would you want to go to Brasília? It is an ugly city that lacks a soul,” is the most common remark I have heard from Brazilians about their capital. Despite these discouraging words I decided to visit the city and judge for myself.

My verdict: “Brasília is an ugly city that lacks a soul.”

Yet I stayed a midweek and enjoyed every single day. What happened? Continue reading

Horseback Riding to Ancient Pyramids At Hacienda Zuleta (Ecuador)

“If you turn around you will see the entire row of pyramids,” Alice said. I pulled lightly on the reins and Esthela immediately reacted, at which I quietly breathed a sigh of relief because truth be said, I was not so sure that she would listen to me. Continue reading

Stargazing in Chile – Cerro Mamalluca

The sun was setting on my arrival; it was still too early to see all the planets and stars. Our guide suggested taking a look at the moon. One by one we moved behind the telescope and admired a half-full moon. It felt so close that if I reached out my hand, I could actually touch it. Especially the craters were clearly visible, among which the Sea of Tranquility, where the Americans planted their flag during the first landing on the moon. Continue reading

Whale Watching in Argentina (Peninsula Valdes)

“Look at that! Am I seeing what I am seeing? A white baby whale?!”

It was swimming right along its dark-grayish mother in the Golfo Nuevo, a protected bay along the Atlantic Ocean of the Argentinean coast.

“Oh yes, it’s been around for a while. It’s an albino whale. Quite exceptional of course,” my neighbor informed me.

I was stunned and fell in love with the place even more than I already had. Continue reading