My First Trip to the USA & Canada

1960 – 1961

About 8 years after I had my first short plane ride, at end of October 1960, my father and I boarded a Peruvian Airlines plane, in Ezeiza’s Airport (Buenos Aires), that would take us to the USA. It was a four-engine propeller DC6. Our first stop was Santiago, Chile; and we crossed the Andes at an altitude of about 5,000 meters (app 16,000 ft.) or less than than half the altitude that current planes fly. The mountains towered over us. The spectacle was imposing and I will never forget it, although I have no words to describe it. (A few years ago I again crossed the Andes and the plane flew over the highest peak of the range and the sight didn’t seem as imposing then).

DC-6 in the mountainsFrom Santiago, we continued to Lima, Peru and then to Guayaquil, Ecuador. In each place we stopped to let people deplane and others embark. The next morning we arrived in Guatemala City, Guatemala. There was an airplane change and we had a stopover of 6 hours. We took a taxi at the airport and took a tour of the city. Don’t remember much about the short visit, just that there were a lot of traditional colonial buildings, some new tall buildings and what it appeared to be shantytowns.

We returned to the airport and started the last leg of our flying trip to our destination: Miami, FL. We arrived there 26 hours after leaving Buenos Aires. Nowadays the flying time is less than 9 hours.

The first thing that I noticed when we arrived in Miami was the humid heat that hit us when we exited the terminal. And then, the 8 line highway that connected the airport to downtown Miami. I never had seen such a wide road and the thousands of cars that whisked around us all the time. In Argentina the highways were mostly two line roads and traffic was sparse. As a 19 year old, things didn’t stop to amaze me: Biscayne Bay Park, the squirrels running free in the park, the hotels on South Beach, the yellow sand of the beaches, and the clear blue and warm water of the ocean… Wonderful!

After a few days, we continued our trip up North. We bought a ticket and took a Greyhound bus greyhound bus CC02to our first destination: Washington DC.  This trip again was full of new things. The comfort of the bus (it had a restroom); there was only one courteous driver (in Argentina they were and still are two drivers on long haul buses) who drove more than 10 hours straight; the bus stops where there were segregated bathrooms and water fountains; the coffee shops with bottomless coffee (you got refills all the time) and delicious apple and cherry pies, and Southern fried chicken, that one was supposed to eat with its fingers (forget the fork and knife that mother taught me to use when in company).

We arrived in Washington, the seat of power of one of the greatest countries of the World: the White House; Congress and the Supreme Court Building. The Mall and the great monuments honoring Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson. And the glorious Smithsonian Institute. I didn’t have enough “eyes” to take it all in.

But then, came New York, NY. Wow!!! Coming from the South, towards the Lincoln Tunnel, that incredible skyline! The bus went into the Lincoln Tunnel (again a first being in a tunnel under a river) and emerged near 42nd St. It was cold, but Dad had the forethought to buy me a coat and a hat in Washington, so I was ready for the change of weather. The next days we walked around Times Square, Herald Square, Rockefeller Center and Central Park. We visited the UN, the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum… We took in a show at Radio City Hall, where the admission in the morning was 99 cents, and included a show with the Rockettes, and a movie (Midnight Lace, with Doris Day and Rex Harrison). We shopped (actually, only looked around) at Macy’s, Gimbels and Alexanders. We lunched at Woolworth’s and Horn & Hardart… Again, everything totally new and exciting to me, a “bumpkin from the Argentinian Pampas.”

After a week a so, we boarded another Greyhound bus that took us to Chicago. We visited my uncle Reinhold and his family in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I got to meet my relatives for the first time. I had two cousins, Ilse, my own age and Erich, who, although a few years younger than me, already had his own car. He took me cruisin’ in it, and we met girls of his age that I found very brazen. Me being kind of shy and also engaged to a sweetheart in Argentina, was closed lipped most of the time. (I also didn’t speak a lot of English…)

We made another stop in Milwaukee, were I meet my aunt Elsa, her husband and four sons. One was also called Herbert. I didn’t see him or his siblings for another thirty years.

HG-Man Dec 61After that visit we boarded again a bus to our final destination: Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. We arrived there at the end of November, and it was really cold by then. A week or so later, while I was going for a job interview, I had to walk about half a mile from the bus to the office. I’ll never forget the raging  blizzard that surrounded me and I almost didn’t make it to the interview.  The winter  and the snow lasted until the middle of April. BTW, I got the job.

I stayed in Winnipeg for a year. In the summer, I traveled to Alberta with a youth group from the church that I had joined, and also went camping to Lake Winnipeg with a friend. It was again a new experience for me and I had a blast.

However, although I had made new friends, was well liked at my job and I liked what I was doing, I was homesick. I missed my fiancé, and the easier life style of my country. So, in December of 1960, again I boarded a Greyhound and traveled non-stop (except for meals and rest stops) to Miami. After stopping for a night there, I took a plane back to Buenos Aires.

So ended my first real traveling experience. But, the wanderlust bug continued to grow in me. A little more than four years later, I was making my way back to the US. That will be the subject of my next post.