Whether it’s maraca-rattling in Rio or treading the Inca Trail in Peru, these are the escapades on every explorer’s wish list…
Brazilian Samba dancer
Whoever called New York ‘the city that never sleeps’ had obviously never been to Rio during Carnival. This annual festival is designed to be one big blow-out before Lent, and it takes the form of seven days of round-the-clock partying. Street parties known as ‘blocos’ break out all over the city, samba bands play their way through the streets in conga-style lines, and drag queens don size nine stilettos to walk the red carpets at the famous Scala Club balls. The highlights of the week are the dusk-til-dawn parades at the Sambadrome, where Rio’s samba schools try to out-dance each other on top of psychedelic floats. With 40-foot tall mechanical spiders, unicorns and shrimps, the whole scene is weird on a Wonderland scale. Next year, things kick off on 17th February, so start stocking up on the Pro-Plus now.
Clap eyes on a surly-looking stone giant on Easter Island and your first thought will probably be ‘how on earth?’. And we can’t help you with that. You see, no-one knows for sure how or why this speck of an island came to be crammed with almost 900 colossal statues. The main theory goes that islanders chiselled them into shape at the Rano Raratu volcano between 1000 and 1650 AD. Each new face was modelled on that of a dearly departed ancestor’s, and thought to be charged by a magical spiritual essence. A team of up to 150 people then ‘walked’ them – using a pulley system – to the island’s edges. Impressive work given the tallest one is 33 feet. Today, the stone army forms an unbroken ring around the perimeter, but you’ll also see dozens scattered inland – probably ‘dropped’ on their journey to the coast.
Up there with Rome’s colosseum and Egypt’s Pyramids, Machu Picchu is one of the world’s historical heavyweights. Back in the 15th century, this ancient Incan city was considered one of the most sacred sites in the world. And, even today, the most ardent atheist has to admit there’s something spiritual about the place. The city itself is 9,000 metres above sea level so it’s shrouded in cloud and framed by fang-shaped peaks. And the ruins here range from temples and palaces to baths and sacrificial stones. When it comes to getting here, you’ve got two choices. Join a train at Cusco station – the journey takes around four hours. Alternatively, brave a four-day trek through the Peruvian wilderness. You’ll spend your days negotiating tightrope-thin mountain paths and your nights drinking coca tea in moon-lit camps.
These Equator-straddling islands helped shaped Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the groundbreaking British scientist made another important observation on his trip – and it’s the one you’ll go on (and on) about once you’ve been here. We’re talking about the tameness of the animals. With all the charm of a Disney cast, over-excited penguins waddle over for a closer look at you. Marine iguanas barely blink when you crouch to get a close-up. And sealions laze on rocks less than 3 feet away, too busy sunbathing to acknowledge the nearby paparazzi. The real stars, though, are the giant tortoises. In his travelogue from the 1830s, Darwin talked about riding these crinkly-faced creatures around the islands. Okay, so we don’t recommend it, but you get the idea – Galapagos is like an alternate universe, and the animals rule.
Great Wall Of China
You can’t come to China without that photo of you, standing by the Great Wall smiling triumphantly as if you’ve just finished building a section. The world’s longest manmade structure wriggles its way through valleys, mountains and deserts for a whopping 5,500 miles. Work was kicked off by Emperor Qin Shi Huang over 2,000 years ago in a bid to protect the northern borders of the Empire. And over the centuries, new sections have been added and old parts rebuilt. Despite the name, it’s actually a series of walls that have been stitched together. Today’s finished article came at a price, though – the wall was labelled the longest cemetery on earth because so many died building it. Just don’t believe everything you read about China’s main tourist attraction – the claim you can see it from the moon is nonsense.
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Author: Osman Khan
Published: October 19, 2011
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