For a moment I am caught off guard and almost fall overboard. Piranha jaws sharply tug at the chunk of fat I had fastened on the hook. Pablo, my host, guide and friend helps me pull in my line until the feisty creature plops on the bottom of the boat in fluttering spasms.
Fortunately, Pablo doesn’t expect me to remove the hook from the razor-toothed jaws. In the Pantanal wetlands, but also in Brazil’s other waters that are teeming with piranhas such as the Amazon, Paraguai, Orinoco and São Francisco River, it is not uncommon to encounter fishermen who miss the top of a finger. Even experienced anglers may still get caught by surprise, thinking the piranha has drawn its last breath, only to find it dangling from a finger.
One of the most unexpected sites I ever did in our 13-year journey was visiting a soccer stadium and actually watching a soccer game. Traveling is full of surprises, and here I stood, in 2007, in the what ‘everybody’ considered to be the most famous stadium in the world.
“You can’t leave Rio de Janeiro without having seen the Maracaña Stadium!”
“The what?” I couldn’t even pronounce the word.
“The Maracaña Stadium! You don’t know what it is?”
“Sorry, never heard of it.”
“No, that’s impossible. Everybody knows Maracaña. It was the largest stadium in the world. It was were Pelé played his last game!”
Being a complete ignoramus when it comes to soccer, that last remark didn’t make any impression whatsoever. Wisely, I refrained from asking who Pelé was. Obviously, he was an important player. You shouldn’t try the patience of Brazilians too much when it comes to soccer, I knew. Continue reading
With the Olympic Games coming up soon, I’d thought I’d share some of my ignorance about Rio de Janeiro when I first visited it in 2007.
Thus far, thick traffic and having to watch my back had made me wary of the city but after a leisurely walk up the Sugar Loaf I took in the view and suddenly understood the spell that visitors as well as Cariocas (Rio de Janeiro’s residents) fall under. Even more so, I could now clearly see why the city’s earliest colonizers chose this spot to settle down.
In front of me stretched the enchanting Guanabara Bay of tropical blue waters filled with sailing yachts and lined with beaches. Framing it was the dramatic backdrop of the forest-clad mountains of Tijuca National Park, topped by Brazil’s famous Cristo Redentor.
What’s there not to fall in love with? Continue reading
Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in São João del Rei.
In the 17th century gold was discovered in Minas Gerais, an area north / northwest of Rio de Janeiro. It led to an explosion of gold mines and cidades históricas with ornate architecture reflecting the resultant wealth. Once the gold was depleted many people left, seeking their fortunes elsewhere; however, colonial architecture still abounds.
According to our guidebook you will find more than thirty baroque and rococo churches worth a visit in this region. While we visited most of them – call us freaks, if you like – I am aware that this is a mission impossible for an average two or three-week holiday. So which of these ecclesiastical landmarks are a must-see? Here are four churches that I believe will give you a good impression of the religious architectural glory of those days. Continue reading
When you follow the Estrada Real in Minas Gerais, the Royal Route along which gold and other mined treasures were transported to Rio de Janeiro in the colonial days, you’ll probably get saturated by the number of baroque-rococo churches you visit along the way. Even we did, and we are church buffs. The churches are beautiful – stunning if you love the amount of gold and glitter used in them. But there are (too) many.
Congonhas is a place to take a breath. Okay, there is a church and yes, you should see it (in fact it’s a basilica and a UNESCO World Heritage Site), but,as far as we are concerned, the town’s most interesting attraction is outdoors. Continue reading
Waterfall at Ponto de Pedra, West Brazil.
What is the link between slow travel and waterfalls, you may ask? Does seeing the Niagara Waterfalls or Iguazu Waterfalls slow you down in any way? On the contrary, you may argue. These type of destinations we often visit for the destination itself rather than looking for anything interesting along the way. Continue reading
Tres Cruces, Peru
“An image of the earth, its landscapes, directly affects people. The beauty of the earth creates enormous emotion, and through that emotion, you can transmit knowledge and raise consciousness”~Yann Arthus-Bertrand
This quote spoke to me, which made me read up on Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s work and philosophy. He is known for, among other things, his book Earth from Above – aerial photos from landscapes around the world (more about that here). Yann Arthus-Bertrand is a photo-journalist , cinematographer as well as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations.
I decided share a couple of our photos with you that exactly had that effect on me: that emotion where it felt as if my chest enlarged because it filled with air and energy. Standing in these places made me aware of my minuscular role in the universe and the extraordinary beauty of our planet that we need to preserve and treasure. Continue reading
For weeks we had been traveling through the Amazon Forest in Brazil. Some areas consist of virgin forest, but large parts have made way for cattle ranching. The region is known as the Arc of Deforestation. From Mato Grosso we drove into Rondônia, the state where in the 1980s each minute an area the size of a football field was deforested – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a period of 10 years. The speed of cutting down forest has diminished, but the deforestation is an ongoing process.
Rondônia was our border crossing into Bolivia, but that step was delayed as Coen got dengue. For a week we stayed in a hotel where he slept close to 24 hours a day for a week. In this town we met Paulo, who invited us to stay at his lodge: the Pakaas Jungle Lodge. We had seen pictures of it and took up this invitation with pleasure.
The Pakaas Jungle Lodge, constructed on an eight-meter-high stilts (called palafitas) in Guajará Mirim, offers a dazzling view of the confluence of the black-water Pakaas River and the white-water Marmoré River along the borders of Brazil and Bolivia. It has two kilometers of canopy walkways for wildlife spotting, and organizes boat trips to Warii indigenous people and the Seringal, a rubber plantation. By the way, thanks to the (acid) black water river, the place is blissfully free of mosquitoes. Continue reading
If I wanted to blend in with Brazilian culture I better started liking the traditional Brazilian food of beans and rice – Brazil’s staple food. Brazilians live on white beans, black beans – or feijão branco and feijão negro. Another typical bean dish is feijoada.
Beans come with every single Brazilian meal, no matter where in the country. They are served in private homes as well as in every single self-service restaurant, and are principally served during lunch – Brazilians’ main meal of the day.
Brazil’s Staple Food and Mealtimes
After a year of traveling in Brazil I concluded that beans and rice must be more important to Brazilians than coffee to Americans or cheese to the French. There simply is no meal served without them. In fact, it’s so common and we got used to it so quickly that we never took a single picture of this typical meal. Continue reading
White whiskered spider monkey (©Will Carter)
In 2013, the Cristalino Jungle Lodge was selected as one of National Geographic Traveler magazine’s 25 Best Ecolodges.
In South America, the term ‘eco’ has little meaning. People market a lodge as ‘eco’ just because it happens to be situated in the woods. Hence I have grown somewhat allergic to the term.
To my great pleasure I discovered some notable exceptions in Brazil. Places that truly embrace eco tourism, which reflects in where, how and why they build their lodge and/or bought a reserve. The Cristalino Jungle Lodge, at the southern edge of the Amazon, is one of them. Continue reading
Throughout our more-than-ten-year journey we’ve met people in intriguing ways, which in some cases has led to a long-lasting friendship: people who stopped us in the street to invite us to their house, an invitation through our website. We love the sightseeing and roaming-the-countryside aspect of traveling; however, in the end our warmest memories are always related to people.
I was reminiscing on this the other day with Coen, as we tend to do every while. Admiring a sunset above the ocean, sipping from our pisco sour cocktail, talking about the rich lives we lead… I figured it might be a nice idea to focus on a short series on exactly this aspect of traveling: meeting people, how beautiful they are, and how one thing can lead to another. Here’s part 1.
Meet Our Friends & BossHouse in São Paulo
São Paulo is South America’s largest metropolis and the place to go if you love international cuisine, entertainment and nightlife. Coen and I weren’t particularly attracted to it as its huge (17 million inhabitants!) and didn’t really have an image of being a safe place. There was no reason to visit it until we received an invitation from Milena. Continue reading
At 6 a.m. the sun is rising rapidly above the horizon, yet not burning fiercely as it will in a couple of hours. I stroll over the sandy plain dotted with shrubs that feed the local horses and donkeys. Behind me is the village of Jericoacoara, along Brazil’s northeast coast. In front of me are only dunes. They attract like a magnet.
I take off my flip-flops and feel the yellow, soft sand under my feet and between my toes. Steadily I climb one dune, and another and another. There is no one but me. The last dune offers me a view of the ocean: blue, vast, empty except for a couple of early morning walkers along the shore. I sit down and absorb this extraordinary landscape. Continue reading
I am lying stretched out on a wooden bed covered with a brightly striped bath towel. The sun prickles my skin and a breeze caresses my body, preventing me from overheating (note to self: next time slather myself in sun lotion before lying down). I look at the ripples on the transparent, blue water of the swimming pool – large enough to swim laps and surrounded by wooden walkways. Behind the pool a fence of woven branches of a local shrub separates Pousada Vila Bela Vista from the white sand beach and the Atlantic Ocean. Continue reading
At the end of a long day of exploring of Brazil’s beaches we meet the kitesurfers first. It’s late afternoon and Coen and I are in search of a place to spend the night. We drive onto Tatajuba Beach and see the sky filled with a dozen colorful kite sails: with windforce six the skillful kitesurfers put on a fantastic show of sailing at enormous speeds including spectacular jumps. Continue reading
In South America we often feel overwhelmed by our surroundings, marvel at views, camp in grandiose terrains, and feel dwarfed by canyons and mountains. Among the well-known spectacular sceneries on the continent are the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, the Lake District in Patagonia, the colored lakes of Sud Lipez in Bolivia, and Valle de la Luna in Chile.
Let’s explore some of the lesser-known forces of nature. Continue reading