Eating Piranha, really? (Brazil)

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.

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Driving on Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

Driving on Salar de Uyuni, optical illusion photo of Karin-Marijke full sized pushing the Land Cruiser mini-sizedHexagonal tiles of salt stretch to the horizon, hemmed in by bluish mountains. The crunching of salt crystals beneath my feet sounds like stepping on fresh snow. I’m encompassed by total silence in an otherworldly spectacle that is largely devoid of life.

Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and is situated in the southwest corner of Bolivia. The town of Uyuni, characterized by guesthouses, overpriced tourist joints and tour operators, is the place to organize a trip to this salt plain. Continue reading

Why we Love the Lake District in Argentina

Lake District in Argentina, the blue lago Alumine surrounded by Andean MountainsI follow a winding trail along the slopes, which demands a bit of clambering over slippery rocks. I pick another handful of those juicy blackberries along the path, which constitute my breakfast. At a stream, I strip and lower myself into one of the shallow pools sheltered by rocks. Water of 100º degrees (40 degrees Celsius) flows down my shoulders, which is bliss in the crisp temperatures of dawn.

Around me are twittering birds, chirping cicadas, and crawling insects that are leaving their hiding places to search for food or to warm up in the sunlight that filters through the foliage. Leaves rustle and their coloring betrays the arrival of fall. This little paradise is mine until about ten o’clock, when other hikers start crossing my path. Even then it remains a quiet place; few have discovered this hidden hot spring near Lago Queñi. Continue reading

Why the Galápagos Islands Are Worth a Visit (and how you can visit them)

Do you go on a cruise, or do you stay in a hotel and find your own way around? Do you need a bag of money, or is the Galápagos a destination for low-budget travelers as well? Let’s take a look what the islands have to offer, and to whom.

Tortoise, Galápagos Islands (©photocoen)

“Look there’s one. And there’s another!”

Words from the seat behind me made me sit up straight and look out of the window. All I saw were grazing cows. What were they talking about?

“And another one!”

I spotted something resembling a big turtle shell but I couldn’t be sure. Even though the bus was driving at a snail’s pace over the narrow, unpaved road, we had passed it too fast. And besides, giant tortoises grazing among cattle? That couldn’t be true, could it?

I considered Disney Land. Had somebody put a number of empty shells in the fields to give naïve tourists the impression of tortoises living here? In view of the big tourist business of the Galápagos Islands, the thought wasn’t all that awkward. Continue reading

The Perfect Reason to Visit Venezuela

Open your eyes and let the adventure begin!

Open your eyes and let the adventure begin!

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” ~Jawaharial Nehru

Los Llanos are vast plains of grasslands and savanna in both Colombia and Venezuela. In Colombia we had traversed them for six days to reach the Venezuelan border. We felt a bit saturated with the landscape, but now had to cross the Venezuelan Llanos as well, this time to get to the Andes Mountains. Continue reading

A Butterfly in Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest

Butterfly, Amazon Ecuador (photocoen)

“Happiness is like a butterfly. If you chase it and chase it directly, it will elude you, but if you sit quietly and busy yourself with other things, it will come and light upon your shoulder.” ~Old Chinese Proverb

What’s so special about a butterfly, you may ask. Well, I got a visit from one who cleaned my keyboard. Seriously. Continue reading

What Makes a Sunset so Special? – The Mashpi Eco Lodge

Sunset at Mashpi Eco Lodge, Ecuador (©photocoen) “You know what would be a great idea?” Coen asked as we moved up the last steps of the stairs that brought us to a 30-meter-high watchtower.
“What?” David, our guide, asked.
“To serve champagne upstairs. Wouldn’t that be a fantastic surprise?”
David didn’t respond and we continued our way up. Continue reading

Slow Travel Through Waterfalls

Waterfall at Ponto de Pedra, West Brazil

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

5 Awe-Inspiring Landscapes in South America – Our Roles to Help Save the Planet

Tres Cruces, Peru

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

Admiring Wildlife from a Canopy Walkway – The Pakaas Jungle Lodge

View of Pakaas Lodge Swimming Pool & River (©photocoen) 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.

Meeting Paulo

Beautiful Tree with Fruit (©photocoen)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

Appreciating True Ecotourism: the Cristalino Jungle Lodge in the Brazilian Amazon

Cristalino Jungle Lodge - White whiskered spider monkey - Will Carter_

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

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

5 Places in South America to Stand in Awe Before Forces of Nature

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