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

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

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

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

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

A Boat Trip through the Flooded Forest of Anavilhanas (Brazil)

I feel as if I am looking at a scene in the cartoon of Jack and the Beanstalk. Amidst the flooded forest of Anavilhanas, I am looking up at a meters wide trunk of a tree that divides into three immensely thick branches that reach high into the sky, as if they are on their way to heaven.

We can’t climb to heaven, but we can go around the trunk scrambling over the buttresses protruding from the water. It is a balancing act, and a combination of stretching my legs as far as I can to reach the next buttress and squatting to carefully descend to a lower part; I feel like a child again, playing in the woods. Continue reading

Admiring Iguazu Falls in Argentina

The 275 waterfalls that make up Iguazu Falls lie on the Argentinean-Brazilian border and I already saw them in Brazil. Yet, I wanted to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site from the Argentinean side as well, even though I wasn’t sure this side would anything to the experience.

These falls have at least one feature that Argentina can brag about: They were the stage for the movie The Mission (1986), starring, among other actors, Robert de Niro. The movie shows the spectacle of this natural phenomenon but even more so gives insight into the Jesuit, close-to-utopia missions in the region, where Guaraní people were invited to live with the Jesuits in reducciónes to be protected against being hunted down by the Brazilian (Portuguese) Bandeirantes (slave and gold hunters). Continue reading

Snorkeling with Sharks in the Galápagos Islands

“Shark!”

I was facedown in the water, mesmerized by schools of surgeonfish weaving their way among the rocks, yet the word registered loud and clear. I looked up and saw Coen waving frantically, pointing to something underneath his body. I swam towards him, careful not to make any sudden movements that might scare the fish away. Continue reading

Watching Hummingbirds at the Mashpi Eco Lodge in Ecuador

Booted Rackettail

Purple-Crowned Fairies, Green-Crowned Wood Nymphs and Violet-Tailed Sylphs were fluttering all around me. Had I just landed in an elf forest? It most certainly felt like it. Surrounded by a towering wilderness of forested mountains with gray clouds closing in or receding just as suddenly, the area felt mystical enough to be one. Continue reading