Prolific traveller Col Gunter and wife Julieta have been many places around the world, but they’re not big on regular tourist routes and tend to take the road less travelled.
The couple’s latest adventure was to South America, where they spent almost five months – from April 18 to September 1.
“I’ve always dreamed of going to South America,” Julieta said. “Col had been there years ago and as I’d heard a lot about it, Col started planning our trip in conjunction with Barry and his team at Travel Diversity.” Their trip was in two stages – the first organised by Barry, and the second by Col, who liaised with travel agents once they reached their various destinations. The journey began in Santiago and then on to Easter Island. Then they flew to Lima, in Peru, using the city as their base to go on various tours.
They travelled to Iquitos, cruising the Amazon on a 15-cabin boat and on another journey, viewed the famed Nazca Lines, a series of World Heritage-listed ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca desert in southern Peru. Then it was back to Lima and on to Venezuela for a few weeks, where some amazing sights awaited the intrepid travellers.
They soon discovered the joy of Venezuela was most definitely in the journey, as it often would take quite a long time to get to their desired destination. “From Bariloche, in Patagonia, we had quite a trip across into Chile,” Col said. “We took the Lake Crossings, which start off on a series of ferries, buses and four-wheel drives. In the course of two days, we caught four ferries and four different land transfers to go through the lake districts, but it was a beautiful way to go.”
For Julieta, her trip highlight was in Venezuela, at a ranch (Hato el Cedral), a wildlife preserve where the bird and animal life was so abundant, it was hard to take it all in. It was so beautiful, you just couldn’t comprehend it,” Julieta said. “Venezuela itself is one of the hardest places to get around in, but it’s the most rewarding.” Julieta said in Central America, Col certainly stood out in a crowd. “My husband was so much taller than anyone else, so he was the odd one out,” she said. “In Costa Rica there were lots of tourists, but when you go to Nicaragua, you really have to look over your shoulder. “Overall though, it was really such a peaceful place and we didn’t feel at all in danger. In Venezuela, we were the only tourists, and Col regretted he didn’t have his Australian cap with him. The Americans are very much resented in that place. Venezuela is a very nice country and has so much to offer.”
The trip was full of highlights and Angel Falls – the tallest falls on earth – definitely made that list – but getting there was no mean feat. “It’s one of the hardest places to get to. You have to use a boat, walk, and climb up a mountain,” Julieta said. “The only reason tourists won’t go there is because of the president. If they have a change of government, Venezuela would be a good spot to go, but for now, because Costa Rica is safer, that’s where you see a lot of tourists.”
Julieta said at times, their “road less travelled” approach meant they were the only tourists around.
“We went to another place, very much like a big ranch. It was hundreds of thousands of acres owned by the government and it was the first time I saw an anaconda in my life,” Julieta said. “It was such a paradise and every day we would see different species of birds, a crocodile, a capybara. It was amazing to see them all in one spot. The place itself you had to get to on a small boat, with crocodiles, an anaconda, and piranha around you at the same time. We were the only tourists there. Sometimes we feel like we’re in The Amazing Race and we’re always the last to arrive. It can be kind of lonely when you’re dining, but you feel a bit like VIPs at the same time. Still, it would have been nicer if there was another couple around, at times.”
Reluctantly leaving Venezuela, they moved on to Cuba, doing a tour there, which was the end of their prearranged itinerary. From here on in, they were freestyling. Using Panama City as their base, they moved independently for several weeks, taking short trips, returning every few days to plan their next adventure.
Then it was on to Costa Rica, where San Jose was their depot, continuing their short exploratory trips and returning to base every few days.“When we moved into Nicaragua it was fairly solid slogging up in there,” Col said.
From Lima they returned to Argentina, basing themselves in Buenos Aires, where they booked a trip into Salta, which was pretty spectacular and well worth the journey. One of their scenic highlights was Igazu Falls in Argentina, one of the wonders of the world. “I’ve been to Victoria Falls, and it’s pretty spectacular, but the way they’ve organised all the walkways and vantage points at Igazu is simply breathtaking,” Col said.
“It’s like the water is falling all around you – but my ‘handbrake’ was starting to slow down by the end of it.
“Four-and-a-half months is bloody hard to travel that way. You’ve got to be fairly independent and it’s fortunate Julieta could speak a bit of Spanish, which helped a lot at various times. “Mind you, we did end up with a lot of strange meals.”
The most important factor when planning a freestyling holiday like the Gunters is to have plenty of time up your sleeve. “Once you get to a city you’ve got to find a travel agent, then organise tours and accommodation,” Col said. “It requires flexibility and it takes a fair bit of time to organise, but at least you can have a bit of relaxation along the way.”
Col’s top tips for holidaying abroad are to be aware and observant at all times – and always try to leave something behind in the poorer countries you visit, even small gifts for school children are very much appreciated.