A Peek into North Korea – Visiting the DMZ in Korea

Eilji Observatory, South Korea (©photocoen)“No photos.”
“No photos?”
“No.”

A second of disappointment as well as bewilderment. We had just driven a couple of hundred meters past fences with barbed wire and watchtowers and had been able to take photos. But now, from the highest point we couldn’t. It was, at the least, a bit inconsistent. However, feeling fortunate with the way this day had turned out we weren’t complaining. Continue reading

Going Underground in South Korea – Visiting the 4th Tunnel at the DMZ

Entrance of the 4th tunnel.

Entrance of the 4th tunnel.

In the 1960s-1980s, North Korea dug tunnels under the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into South Korea in an attempt to surprise attack their neighbors from underground, Depending on the size of the tunnel it can funnel 10,000-30,000 soldiers an hour and some are big enough for vehicles as well. Unfortunately for North Korea, the tunnels were discovered. That is to say, four of them: three just north of Seoul in the 1970s and the fourth farther east near Yanggu in the early 1990s. There is speculation whether there are more, but nobody on the South side really knows.

As Coen and I were driving through South Korea in an oh-let’s-take-that road-to-see-where-it-leads kind of way, we got a regional map at a tourist information office and learned that we were near the fourth tunnel. We knew that in Seoul you needed to sign up for an organized tour to visit the tunnels near the capital, which we didn’t feel like doing, and hoped this wouldn’t be the case here. Continue reading

A World Peace Bell Made of Cartridges (South Korea)

World Bell of Peace.

World Bell of Peace.

In the north of South Korea stands a Peace Dam. It was South Korea’s response to the Imnam Dam in North Korea built in the 1980s. South Korea’s military dictator at the time, Chun Doo-hwan, predicted that North Korea would use it to create a killer flood, wiping out most of Seoul. This was two years before the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, so no time was lost or money wasted to counteract this by building a dam on the south side. Continue reading

Korean Sex Slaves in Japan – The Battle Isn’t Over Yet


Sculpture Dedicated to Korean Sex-Slaves for Japan (©photocoen)
It had been a beautiful afternoon of strolling around Seoul. We had left the subway for what it was: efficiently transporting people from A to B. We weren’t here for efficiency but for sightseeing, for getting a feel for the city. And walking is the best way to do so.

Amidst the spic and span of glitzy glass skyscrapers my eyes caught yellow Post-its stuck to a wooden fence that surrounded a high-rise under construction. Between all the silver and transparent cleanliness and somewhat sterile feel of this business part of Seoul, the colorful, randomly pinned notes stood out. I took a closer look. Continue reading

Watching a Soccer Game in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracaña Stadium, Brazil

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.

Football Game in Maracaña, Rio de Janeiro (©photocoen)“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

Hiking up Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, or Not?

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.

Sugar Loaf Mountain ,Rio de Jaineiro (©photocoen)

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

Visiting an Awarak Community in Guyana

Santa Rosa Church's Graveyard in Moruca, Guyana (©photocoen)The music stopped. Silence took over, only interrupted by the twittering of birds. In her new coat of snow-white paint, the recently restored Santa Rosa Church stood outlined against a green landscape of coconut trees, palm trees and weeds that were about to reconquer the cemetery around the church.

Wooden crosses, bare wood or painted blue or white, bore the names of the deceased. Their dates of birth and dead were referred to as ‘sunrise’, or ‘dawn’, and ‘sunset’. Across from the church stretched the savannah, the late afternoon sun turning the grass into a mixture of golden yellow, warm red and soft green. The Moruca River cut across the savanna, which was interspersed with narrow waterways; families and their kids were quietly paddling in their dugout canoes. It was a moment of bliss. Continue reading

Dutch Heritage in Guyana

Fort Zeelandia, Guyana (©photocoen)History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. ~ Maya Angelou

One of our surprises in Guyana has been its earliest colonial history, which happens to be Dutch. Why did we never learn anything about Guyana in school? The Dutch were the first Europeans to establish settlements, forts and plantations in this region and stayed for two centuries before the colonies became British. You’d gather that does deserve some attention, wouldn’t you?

Of course our colonial history isn’t something to be particularly proud of but that doesn’t make it a reason to exclude it from textbooks, does it? On the contrary. And so we took up the opportunity to fill in the gaps during our journey here. Continue reading

Our 4 Favorite Colonial Churches in Minas Gerais (Brazil)

Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in São João del Rei.

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

Who Are The Prophets of Congonhas?

Prophet Jonas.

Prophet Jonas.

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

Where to Learn All About Che Guevara?

Painting of Che Guevara on Plaza de la Cooperation, Rosario (1997).

Painting of Che Guevara on Plaza de la Cooperation, Rosario (1997).

Truth be said, before coming to South America I didn’t know much about Che Guevara. Some kind of revolutionary guy, right? But what exactly had he done in Cuba and Bolivia? And ‘Che’, what kind of name is that, anyway? And no, I had not read his Motorcycle Diaries, or seen the movie that followed.

All that changed when we reached Argentina. When we visited Rosario, near Buenos Aires, we stumbled upon two interesting things. First, it was Flag Day. Second, Che Guevara was born here. It was time to learn a bit more about this guy. Continue reading

Water Management in the Netherlands – Het Kristalbad

Kristalbad, the Netherlands (©photocoen)

“The Miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.” ~Thích Nhât Hanh

A couple of years ago, when visiting my parents, my father asked me to join him for a bicycle ride. The region I grew up in, in the east of the Netherlands, is characterized by lots of green and even today still has a sense of space. The latter is not evident: the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with an average of 500 inhabitants per square kilometer (for comparison: the U.S. has 35). Continue reading

5 Top Travel Destinations in French Guiana

Top travel destinations: watching the hatching of sea turtles (©photocoen)French Guiana…

  • May be a little visited territory, but if you care for nature and/or wildlife spotting, it really is a top travel destination and you shouldn’t miss it. You can easily spend a 3-week holiday here. Okay, we spent closer to 3 months (over various visits), but Coen and I have the tendency to not being able to leave once we fall in love with a place…
  • Has been one of our big surprises on our South America journey. This overseas department of France lies north of Brazil and east of Suriname. It has few people, lots of Amazon rainforest, a bit of savanna and a long and easily accessible coast along the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Offers a diversity of trails for hikers, fun outings for families with kids, and has numerous spots for birding, watching sea turtles or other wildlife. Having said that, it is not a country for those who seek large or imposing museums or suchlike cultural places of interest. Continue reading

Sightseeing in Buenos Aires – 5 Hidden Corners

Sightseeing in Buenos Aires: Banco de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, Argentina (photocoen)

Banco de la Provincia de Buenos Aires: detail of a bronze door

Sightseeing in Buenos Aires, let me think for a sec. Okay: taking tango lessons, eating slabs of beef, visiting the Recoleta Cemetery, strolling around Palermo, checking out the football stadium in La Boca…

All activities worth undertaking and places worth seeing. So, Coen and I did all that and more on the typical must-see-cum-do list for Buenos Aires. Then part two of the fun started, finding the city’s quiet yet charming spots, hidden churches, local restaurants, and anything else worth exploring outside guidebooks.

Sometimes we succeed on such missions, sometimes we don’t. In Buenos Aires we did and had a marvelous time in one particular neighborhood near Plaza de Mayo: the ‘Zona Bancaria’ – Argentina’s banking zone. We discovered it has much to offer in terms of churches, museums and architecture. Continue reading