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

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

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

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

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

Strolling Brazil’s City of Tiles: São Luís

In the doorway stands an elderly man. Our eyes meet and I shake his hand.

“You are lucky to live in such a beautiful building. What an incredibly tiled façade your home has,” I comment.

For the past couple of hours I have been strolling through the center of São Luis and I still don’t believe what I am seeing: this is by far the best-preserved center of any of Brazil’s major cities. Continue reading