Thursday, 03 October 2013
Traveling Ports of Call
By Janet Thompson
Self-employed in 1971, I found time for traveling alone to New Mexico, checking out Western slope experimental oil-shale retorts, revisiting the Grand Mesa, Glenwood Springs and Aspen.
My steady gentleman friend then wasn't comfortable with the idea of single men and women traveling together so to shut me up, he bought me a membership to Ports of Call (POC) Travel Club.
The Club owned a couple DC7 airplanes and had a tiny terminal at the Denver airport. Off-duty commercial pilots, engineers and stewardesses (yes, a sexist stereotype) who wore hot-pants for uniforms, crewed the trips to places mostly in the U.S., Mexico and Central America.
In the beginning, passengers helped serve the meals and everyone traditionally applauded vigorously after every take-off and landing. The stews stayed with the passengers as tour-guides. It was a small community flying with POC. Everyone received a white plastic name tag to hang more sections on it showing the destination, month and year of trips taken.
All trips included a complimentary cocktail party on arrival at the destination. Once in Mazatlan, seated on a low wall and sucking down margaritas, I disappeared backwards and rose embarrassed from over the edge into the bushes.
After the parties we found our bags in our rooms ready for us to conk out from the busy day. If one traveled alone, a roommate was offered. I always accepted one but disappeared to explore the destinations alone.
For years, I took many trips, later inviting my mother to join me on some of them.
It was in San Salvador where I was first frightened by encountering AK-7-armed militia.
In the hotel bar in Guatemala City, I felt elated meeting two uniformed Air Force pilots who offered to fly me to the Tikal ruins.
The next morning I broke into a cold sweat seeing the small dirt-covered airstrip with its single, whitewashed, frame hangar. Gulping, I clambered aboard with the guys into a rickety, prop-driven plane for the uneventful trip to the site. I gloated when others envied my boasting rights for that surprising adventure!
In Antiqua, I discovered a Denver University graduate artist who sold me a stunning brass and jade necklace he had copied from Pre-Columbian museum pieces. Chichicastenango’s famous market provided multicolored shawls and dresses I hauled home for gifts.
South of the U.S., I always spoke my junior high Spanish exclusively, usually hiring a 12-year-old, bi-lingual, boy guide to find me local color, once to a family wedding, another to a secret cockfight.
In 1989, not wanting to lose our deposit but already separated, my husband, Stu (who I had met on a POC trip) and I took a long-planned dream trip to the Tahitian islands.
We landed in and left from historic Papeete. Ports of Call had hired the entire Wind Star Sailing Ship for a week-long cruise with stops in Moorea and Bora Bora. I had been on several cruises before, but nothing like this.
With less than 150 travelers on board, it seemed as if the crew-passenger ratio was about 1 to 1. Every time we left the room, the linens were changed and fresh fruit and flowers were replaced. Meals were shared with different companions each time or could be taken alone. On-board and onshore entertainment left little time to check the room TV. Shore stops offered whatever one wanted to explore and make of them.
One morning we took a tiny catamaran off the back of the boat. We traded off handling the sail but Stu was nervous when I did, always believing he could do anything better than I.
He was at the canvas when suddenly a strong gust tipped us over. We were in life jackets but I found myself under the little vessel. I remember thinking, “If this is how I have to go, it couldn't be better – in bathtub-warm water on a gloriously beautiful day, after being coddled like never before.”
I was calm when Stu, realizing where I was, thankfully hauled me out from under. I've maintained “What a memorable way to wrap up a marriage.”
About a year after our divorce was final, I moved to California. A few more years later Ports of Call dissolved in a sad corporate conflict. From a club with a couple DC-7s, a tiny terminal and part-time employees to second-hand jet airliners, a plush private terminal and full-time crews and support staff, Ports of Call planes were always recognizable at airports all over the world.
I was glad I wasn't around to witness its sorry death.
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