A Few Excerpts From The Book "South American Odyssey"

We return to the apartment for lunch then head out to the Centro Historico. This is where Quito shines. It boasts the largest historic centre in the Americas. Colossal Andean peaks surround this urban showcase of history and culture which offers colonial churches, chapels, monasteries and convents, squares, museums and fascinating architecture. During the 16th century the Incas took control of what is now Quito as they extended their area of influence outside of Peru. They established the city as their administrative centre and from there controlled the territories of their empire. As the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Americas, the Inca general Ruminahui razed the city rather than let his kingdom fall to the Spanish. In 1830 the Republic of Ecuador was proclaimed and the colonial city of Quito grew as they entered the 20th century. This growth was accelerated by the Pacific-Andean railway line which provided commercial expansion by linking them with the coastal city of Guayaquil. The banana boom of the 1940’s and the petroleum boom of the 1970’s completed Quito’s transformation.

There are six waterfalls along the route we have selected to the town of Rio Verde. They have exotic names like El Manto de la Novia, Bride’s Veil, but not all of them are identified to me so I am still not certain which one is which. At first I kick myself for not asking Marcelo the name of each and every one of them but then I decide it doesn’t matter because they are all beautiful and not even the endless downpour of the day can dampen our spirits or enjoyment of these wonders of nature.


Otavalo’s beauty lies in its indigenous people, the Otavalenos. Their market is an attraction to all not only for its outstanding shopping but also for its cultural significance and tradition of the Andes. The fine array of brilliantly coloured fabrics and textiles signal our arrival in the Plaza de los Ponchos just a short walk from the bus depot. Gavin and Jordi have been here many times before so, with their help, everything is easy to find although I think we could have managed by ourselves by simply following the multitudes as they funnel out of the station.

Farewell to Quito.

A trip to the Galapagos will change your life in some way. Located in the Pacific Ocean approximately 1000 kilometres off the western coast of Ecuador this volcanic archipelago consists of 13 major islands, of which only five are inhabited. There are also several smaller islands that tend to go unheralded. The Galapagos Islands are a land that time forgot; a rugged lost paradise that is home to animal species found nowhere else on earth. As soon as we land I feel, “This is a different world entirely here.” For one thing it’s hot and it’s sunny; this is more like I thought it would be at the equator. The altitude in Quito alters the temperature and makes things a lot cooler than you would anticipate. However, that observation pales as we realize that this is one of the last original places left in the world.


Our destination today is the town of Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca but we are stopping at about the halfway point at the Ruinas de Sillustani. This is a pre-Incan burial ground on the shores of beautiful Lake Umayo. The tombs are in a series of above ground funeral towers called chullpas. Here lie the remains of complete family groups, though likely primarily kings and important people in the region. The towers in Sillustani may be the most perfect cylindrical structures found in all of South America as there is no evidence of such perfection anywhere else. David is prepared with maps and props to explain this ancient culture and history to us. To reach the towers we have to climb a 300 foot hill about a half a kilometer from the parking lot. Somehow I do not think that this is a recommended activity for those newly arrived at 13,000 feet altitude but we do it anyway.


From the Uros Islands it is a three hour boat ride to Amantani Island where we have come to stay for the evening. It’s really not that great a distance but the motor boat is painfully slow. Calm waters today make for a very pretty ride as we gaze across the lake at the mountain lined shores. David assures us that it is not always like this in August. He has seen the waves crashing right over the boat. I’m sorry we missed that!

Santiago is a living, breathing enigma. There is an obvious European flair to the city and it is difficult to believe you are even in South America here – especially when compared to Quito, Lima and Puno – we don’t even need to talk about Juliaca. A major explanation of this paradox is the recurring earthquakes in Chile. They tend to initiate and complete urban renewal programs. There are very few old buildings left in Santiago; many lost in a multitude of devastating earthquakes. It is really quite sad to see and realize that history and culture are being annihilated at the cruel hands of Mother Nature.

Our journey heads north by bus from Punta Arenas; a very nice, comfortable touring bus I might add. Still, three hours on a bu-u-u-u-us can only be so good. The scenery for the first hour is Ontario in February. Snow covered, rolling hills – I manage to sleep through most of that. Then I clean my glasses. That takes three minutes. Once we pass the half way mark the snow all but disappears and it is Africa. I’ve seen this terrain before but with elephants. It’s flat and barren with scrub-like brush and dried trees but in the distance the Patagonia we came to see beckons. High, piercing peaks lend promise to our next two days adventure.

Easter Island, called Rapa Nui by local islanders and Isla de Pascua in Spanish, is a Polynesian island 2180 miles west of Chile in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. It was discovered on Easter Day in 1722 and was annexed by Chile in 1888. It is claimed to be the most remote inhabited island in the world. One thing is for certain – it is one of the smallest, isolated places you will ever visit.


Rapa Nui, Easter Island, Isla de Pascua, it goes by a lot of names and it is a truly amazing place. When we first arrived I thought this is probably what Hawaii was like in the forties and fifties before tourism had a major impact – and I still think that way. The island itself is definitely fascinating with all the moai statues both the standing and restored and the ones lying there as a reminder of the past. The island is full of history and culture and three days is not nearly enough time to take it all in. It is nice to know it is half way between Santiago, Chile and Tahiti so a nice future trip would be a stopover on Easter Island on our way to Tahiti. I would like to think that I will return – and who knows, they may have fixed that running toilet by then.



Read the interview with Eric Whitehead in the Bradford Times

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