Bound For Buenos Aires

Hello!!
This is a true story. It chronicles one of my many adventures as a foreign correspondent. I was a young 27-year old writer back then and throughout the years, life has taken us on quite the journey!!  My wife and I just celebrated 58 years of wedded bliss. Enjoy!!
Chris and I got married in mid December (1960) and in early February were scheduled to take a freighter from New Orleans, bound for Buenos Aires.  We were supposed to sail at noon. Chris gets really seasick so she took two Dramamine tablets.  Then, when we got to the dock, the ship was still being loaded. The Purser said it would be a three hours before we could board.  he suggested we go to a movie at a theater near the dock. We went. Chris fell asleep before the movie started, and was still asleep when it ended.  I had to practically lug her back to the ship.  We boarded and got to our cabin.  There were six other passengers. We ate with the captain and the crew.  Chris was encouraged by my father, who had sailed to fight in WWI by way of the Caribbean.  He said, “The Caribbean is a smooth as glass.”
We sailed that afternoon. As we got out of the Gulf of Mexico and into the Caribbean the sea got rough. The Caribbean wasn’t as “smooth as glass,” as my Dad had experienced. It was rolling and pitching. The captain said, “I’ve never seen this part of the Caribbean so rough. Chris said, “That’s because I’m on board.
Passengers ate in the dining room with the crew. There were eight passengers on our freighter: Chris and me—the young marrieds; a mother and her late teen daughter; a Brazilian couple bound for their home in Santos; a pair of American Catholic priests, bound for Rio de Janeiro to spend the rest of their lives in in church service in Brazil. One priest was in his fifties, the other in his late twenties. The younger one, like Chris, didn’t have “sea legs.” He said that he belonged to the “Railroad Irish,” who didn’t respond well to travel on water. The young priest and Chris didn’t come up on deck much during that Caribbean crossing, and neither came to meals in the dining room. The captain told me to tell Chris to limit liquid intake and to eat hard rolls. I took hard rolls to our cabin for Chris after every meal. Somewhere off the northwest coast of South America the sea became calmer and both Chris and the young priest got feeling better.

Ships continued to steam into Santos Bay until at the height of the dock strike and port congestion there were 26 ships waiting to be serviced.  It was a week before  the dispute was settled and the port authority authorized ships to dock and let passengers debark.  The port authority took the ships in order of their arrival—virtually all ships were cargo vessels.  A few, like ours, had passengers as well as cargo.  Those were allowed to land first. So Chris and I and  the passengers got to the dock and into Santos.   The ship was going to be two days in port unloading and taking on supplies.  Passengers were allowed to stay onboard but were encouraged to go into town, and, if they wished, take public transportation up the steep coastal mountain to Sao Paulo.  Sao Paulo then, as now, was one of the most populous cities in the Western Hemisphere.

Before we left the U.S. Chris and I had contacted a member of the LDS Church who was a friend of a friend.  Gary Neeleman had been a Salt Lake City broadcaster and reporter.  He spoke fluent Portuguese because he had served a two-and-a-half-year mission for the LDS Church in Brazil.   He returned to Brazil with his wife and two-year-old  at Sao Paulo bureau chief of the United Press International.   Chris and I had contact information for the Neelemans so we got in touch by phone.  Gary was at work but, when apprised of our circumstances—that we had to be in Santos/Sao Paulo for two days, she invited us to come stay over night.  The Neelemans took us out to dinner and gave us a very welcome bed for the night.  The next morning we were awakened , early,  by the Neeleman’s little boy who came into our room and said good morning.  That  boy, a toddler at the time, grew up to be the founder and owner of the international airline Jet Blue.

Meeting Gary and Rose Neeleman was to be a crucial and vital part of our time in Argentina.

After rounding up our hand luggage, we debarked at the docks of Buenos Aires,  wishing a kind farewell to the crew and remaining passengers.  We got a taxi into town and checked in the  Fulbright Commission, then part of the United States Information Agency (later subsumed into the U.S. State Department) that was a contact entity for U.S. citizens.  I was on a private, not government fellowship (with the Inter American Press Association) but the staff at the Fulbright Commission was very helpful.  They suggested we check in at  a new hotel down near Rivadavia  (a major thorough fare that runs across much of Buenos Aires).  We had gotten some dollars changed into Pesos at an commercial money exchange.  Inflation was high in Argentina and the government was keeping tight control on transactions in which dollars and pesos were exchanged.  The official rate, as I recall, was three pesos for a dollar.  But there was a demand for dollars ( a solid currency) Argentines who wanted to travel abroad or buy goods abroad, so there was  thriving black market in pesos.   People approached us in the streets (our clothing and especially our American shoes gave us away as foreigners—not our skin or hair color.  Seventy percent of the Argentine population was directly from Italians or came directly from Italy. The dollar seekers offered to take us to money exchange houses that were paying much more than three pesos for a dollar.    We got a good price for initial exchange of dollars, and with pesos in pocket took a cab to the Hotel.  We were greeted warmly by the hotel (I’ll ask Chris if she remembers the  name of the hotel—years later I went back and  stayed there during one of my assignments) for we were among  the first guests to check in.

After rounding up our hand luggage, we debarked at the docks of Buenos Aires,  wishing a kind farewell to the crew and remaining passengers.  We got a taxi into town and checked in the  Fulbright Commission, then part of the United States Information Agency (later subsumed into the U.S. State Department) that was a contact entity for U.S. citizens.  I was on a private, not government fellowship (with the Inter American Press Association) I was later to receive (over the decades) a three USIA fellowships.  The staff at the Fulbright Commission was very helpful.  They suggested we check in at  a new hotel down near Rivadavia  (a major thorough fare that runs across much of Buenos Aires).  We had gotten some dollars changed into Pesos at an commercial money exchange.  Inflation was high in Argentina and the government was keeping tight control on transactions in which dollars and pesos were exchanged.  The official rate, as I recall, was three pesos for a dollar.  But there was a demand for dollars ( a solid currency) Argentines who wanted to travel abroad or buy goods abroad, so there was  thriving black market in pesos.   People approached us in the streets (our clothing and especially our American shoes gave us away as foreigners—not our skin or hair color.  Seventy percent of the Argentine population was directly from Italians or came directly from Italy. The dollar seekers offered to take us to money exchange houses that were paying much more than the government set price three pesos for a dollar.  Technically it was against the law to exchange dollars anywhere but at the government exchange. But everyone did it.    We got a good price for initial exchange of dollars, and with pesos in pocket took a cab to the Hotel.  We were greeted warmly by the hotel (I’ll ask Chris if she remembers the  name of the hotel—years later I went back and  stayed there during one of my assignments years later when the hotel was no longer new) for we were among  the first guests to check in to the new hotel.

Dr. Larry day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co

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3 thoughts on “Bound For Buenos Aires

  1. Sailing to Buenos Aires must be nice. We took the ferry between Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay and Buenos Aires and well even the sea in rio grande could be rough.

    • Dear Jesper,

      When my wife and I lived in Buenos Aires (both times: early 1961 and in the year 1974-75) we took the ferry across from Buenos Aires to Montevideo then up the coast by omnibus to the resort at Costas del Mar. That is a beautiful place. There are miles of white sand beaches and the ocean water has iodine in it that gives one a beautiful bronze tan.

      In previous existence (when I was in my early 20s) I spent two-and-a-half years in Uruguay. I spent time in places like Tacuarembo, Paysandu, Trienta y Tres, Isla Patrulla, Melo, Artigas. Artigas, by the way, is named for one of South America’s great patriots.

      Best wishes, Larry Day

  2. Many people will be benefiting from your writing
    because they’re great. Many thanks!

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