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-Archipel, 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

Exploring the Old Town of Marmaris (Turkey)

Or:

The Weather Obsession Continues

When we wake up, it’s dry. Windy, but dry! That may sound like good news, however, it is terribly frustrating when spending the night in a hotel instead of on the trail based on a weather forecast that predicts continuous rain showers.

Why aren’t we on the 850-km-long Carian Trail?! Continue reading

Joining a Jain Pilgrimage to Gujarat’s Palitana Temples, India

“Don’t wear leather items like shoes or a belt.”

“Wear clean and ironed clothes. Adinath will see this and you will receive more energy for walking.”

“Chant ‘Adinath-Adinath’ at every step, which will give more energy too.”

“Don’t bring food – take just a bottle of water if you really have to. The only food you are allowed to carry to the top is rice and coconut, to offer in the temples.”

“Oh, and don’t forget to greet the other pilgrims with Jai Jinendrah!” Continue reading

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

Touring Xinjiang’s Historical Sites around Turpan, China

It took thirty hours to traverse the Taklaman, the world’s largest desert, by bus. I got off in the middle of nowhere, in a town called Turpan. The region captivated me for two reasons:

1. The extremes of the landscape. I stood amidst a vastness of dry, empty, yellow-to-red-hued plains and barren mountains. The lowest point is the Turpan basin at 505 feet below sea level, which receives practically no rain. Yet there are also extensive, fertile farmlands and even a grape valley. 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

Strolling among Ruins of Jesuit Missions in Paraguay

Dark red bricks stand out against a stark blue sky. Long shadows peter out over fields, the soft light of the late afternoon giving the ruins an air of mystery. Who was that saint draped in a robe, holding a staff in his right hand? Or that elegantly-dressed woman, whose nose was rudely cut off?

On my stroll among the restored walls of an old Jesuit settlement I stumble upon remains of statues, lintels and columns. They raise questions about the past. As no guide or brochure were available, I relied on information from guidebooks and history books to answer the questions and tell the stories. 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