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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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Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


That is a great story to share! Too bad the company did not last...
Gives me an itch to do more traveling.

Wow! Wished they still were around. That would be the best way to see the world.

I think you need to write your memoir!
I'm in the midst of writing mine. It's a story of a six-year adventure of travel around the world back in the 1950s, before jet planes,air conditioning, computers and globalization,at a point in time when the past was colliding with the future.

I tried to include a photo of a Ports plane, but it didn't come through evidently. It is a jet and along the whole side it reads "Denver Ports of Call." There's a neat logo on the tail.Our planes were really recognizable and always brought questions from folks.

What an interesting life you have had!

Great story and recap, Yes our World Logo was exactly that worldwide known, the S with the Globe, I have put together a facebook page in honor of this company, its open to the public and I welcome postings and members to join, any photos that you wish to share will be credited to you as the owner and displayed on the page with your name or I can keep it private as you wish. Thank you for sharing, Yes I agree too bad this one did not last, truly was a great company a great idea and a joy to work for this big family in the late 1980's until it was sold off and broken up. Brian K. Harrington Denver POC former employee.

What a nice blog post. My grandparents were Larry and Fredda Turrill who were responsible for its growth and success. What a nice thing to read and remember them.

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