South American Odyssey for Gilford resident

By Miriam King, QMI Agency

Eric Whitehead's first book, Then There Was One, was subtitled, "The Ultimate '70s Road Trip."

It was a chronicle based his journal of a cross-continent journey in 1971, accompanied by friend Murray Jupe. The high school graduates headed south in a $500 car, planning on making the round trip from Toronto to Acapulco, Mexico and back on a shoestring - and recording their journey and experiences in Kodachrome slides.

"That first road trip did set a precedent for travelling," Whitehead admits. "That did open up a whole new world for me."

But his new book, South American Odyssey, is worlds apart from the first. It chronicles a trip he made in 2011 with wife Karen. Starting in Quito, Ecuador with a visit to his son, it turned into an exploration of some of "the most remote areas in South America" that can be reached by visitors.

Rather than drive, in an area marked by instability, unfriendly border crossings, and rough mountainous roads, they travelled mainly by air - necessitating at least 20 flights, some long hauls, others just short hops.

"South America in general does not have a rail system," Whitehead explains. "You're talking about huge distances ... about 3,000 km. to go the length of Chile." It takes days by bus, and many of the roads are considered dangerous. "They do not recommend that you take a bus - or drive."

It all started with plans to visit their son Gavin in Quito, where he was teaching. "The empty-nest syndrome - in this case, we were following the nestling," Whitehead says. They went on to visit the Galapagos Islands, taking a 5-day cruise that allowed the couple to get an almost personal tour of islands that played such a pivotal role in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

There is a rule, requiring visitors to stay at least 2 metres away from the Galapagos animals, "but I don't think they tell the animals that," Whitehead says. "The sea lions will sidle up to you and sit at your feet. And the birds - you can get close enough to touch them."

"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 I land I feel, 'This is a different world entirely here.' "

They visited Lake Titicaca in Peru, and stayed overnight in a guest house on isolated Amantani Island in the middle of the lake, then passed through Santiago, Chile on the way to remote Patagonia.

"We were there in August, which is their winter," he notes. "It was amazing to see it with all the ice and snow."

They went horseback riding in the mountains, where altitude was a constant challenge, and stayed 3 nights at a resort hotel in Puerto Natales - the only guests in the whole hotel. "Most people go this time of year (January), which is their summer."

And they visited Easter Island - "amazing!" - before heading home.

"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.... the most remote inhabited island in the world."

All along the way, they took digital photographs - about 4,000 of them - and recorded over 200 videoclips. South American Odyssey is fully illustrated with magnificent color photos. "They're probably a little nicer-looking than in the first book," Whitehead laughs, and the book itself, though not written as a journal, "is journalistic. It's more a story."

South American Odyssey, like Then There was One, is self-published, and both books are available online at The cost of the new book is $25 - which Whitehead admits doesn't cover his expenses. "It's not a money-making prospect, per se," but it is a labour of love.

The books will also be available at Bradford's CarrotFest, in August.

Whitehead is already working on his next book, chronicling a trip to Peru in 2005, when he and Karen travelled the Inca Trail - a 4-day hike to Machu Picchu, that reaches elevations of nearly 14,000 ft. above sea level. "We were 52 at the time," he remembers. "We didn't think we'd survive!"

Whitehead, a resident of Gilford, Ontario, may have more money now than he had back in 1971; he may be more likely to travel by air than by broken-down car and backpack, but he still has his sense of adventure - and he's still delighted to share his odysseys to wild and unusual locales.

With excerpts from South American Odyssey, with permission of the author.


Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions