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

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

Admiring Traditional Baianas de Acarajé in Salvador da Bahia

Amidst a crowd of typical, T-shirts-and-jeans-wearing Brazilians, a black woman stood out. She wore an intricate, white, lace bodice covered with necklaces above a dark-blue, billowing skirt and a white piece of cloth artistically wrapped around her head. She was deep-frying some sort of snack. I had just arrived in Salvador da Bahia and was as yet unfamiliar with Salvador da Bahia’s famous Baianas de Acarajé. Continue reading

Watch the Highest Polo Tournament in the World (Pakistan)

Starting from behind the goal line, holding the ball and mallet in one hand and perfectly restraining his horse with the other, the horseman slowly moves forward. When he approaches the center of the field, he spurs his horse to maximum speed, tosses the ball into the air, hits just before it reaches the ground and launches it deep into defensive territory, where scrimmage and chaos reign. Continue reading

Taking a Kitesurfing Course in Brazil, at Tatajuba Beach

From our apartment I looked out over the beach, the mouth of the lagoon and the ocean. During the morning hours it was quiet. A fisherman might be returning with his catch or somebody was going for a stroll along the shore. Somewhere after 11 am tranquility transformed into hustle and bustle, as if a silent alarm had gone off. 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

Watching the Urkupiña Festival in Bolivia

Diablado

According to the most popular story, a young shepherd girl daily herded her sheep on a stony hill, where the Virgin Mary appeared to her several times. At one time she indicated the Virgin to her parents, shouting, “Orkopiña” – “There, on that hill”, as the Virgin was ascending towards heaven. On the summit they found a stone image of the Virgin, which since then has been kept in the church in Quillacollo. Continue reading

Joining a Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath Cave (India)

The goal of our Hindu pilgrimage is almost in sight: an ice stalagmite. A holy one, mind you. I flop down on an ice-cold stone and vigorously rub my feet that have turned blue and lost all feeling after I climbed stone steps without number in subzero temperatures. Barefoot, that is. 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