Latin America 1950s 3
These reminiscences were submitted by Pat Cleary
It was a pleasure encountering that now famous headline-The story of the CCC boys who went to Latin America 1959-1961.Written by Mike Merry who was trained with Maurice Hale and myself by Nobby Clark at the Commercial Cable Co., school at Wormwood St., London, he gives a wonderful account of our 36 hour first class air journey to Panama, the first flying experience for each of us and transiting 9 countries in so doing.
But firstly let me tell you how I came to be there in the first place..
Mr GLB White General Manager of AAC&R in Europe and based at CCC Wormwood St., was friendly with my cousin through International Clay Pigeon shooting contests. I was just out of college and in search of a job when I was told to present myself at Wormwood St., when Mr White would see me- and the rest is history.
The journey had not finished for me when we arrived in Tocumen Airport Panama as I was flying on to Quito in Ecuador and from there to Guayaquil where I was met by a hackney cab that ferried me on that final tortuous journey to Salinas on the west coast that had added another several hours to my total trip.
Malcolm Woollaston in Part 2 who came to Salinas after I had finished there, describes that unique journey that he had also undertaken, careering down what can only be described as sand tracks and treacherous bends until finally arriving into around 125 degrees of noon day sun. That road will forever be etched in my memory because of a fatal accident that took the life of a friend of mine who had only recently arrived at the Ecuadorian Oilfields near Salinas. I remained with his lifeless body for what seemed like an eternity until I was finally able to make contact with their Company doctor to relay the terrible news. It was nearing Christmas 1960 in a foreign land with that horrific news shortly to reach the ears of his newly arrived young wife and child.
About mid way through my contract, I was joined by Maurice Hale from Balboa (Canal Zone) who found Salinas quite a difference from what he had been accustomed to in Panama. He busied himself with a fabulous second hand Cadillac that he purchased for a song, and with that a rather luscious young senorita to accompany him on his many tours of the peninsula. He also met an attractive young Russian lady with whom he began to take lessons in her native tongue quite frequently, while I was persisting with the Spanish language in a similar fashion. When he sold the Cadillac, we jointly purchased a camioneta (truck) and took off one evening, driving in turns all night long up the Andes mountains along frightening roads, as hundreds of beet trucks came hurtling down against us at alarming rates, blinding us with their headlights, until we finally arrived early morning in the city of Ambato, to crowds of natives plying their wares around the streets and playing their wonderful music on street corners. I have often wondered since, how we escaped with our lives on that frightening all night journey and then to repeat the dose all day long, back home again to Salinas. Maurice was shortly after transferred to Lima Peru on a new assignment. Ted Bass, a chap I had known in CCC London then arrived and became my replacement until Malcolm Woollaston took up duty sometime in 1963.
Some of my more memorable experiences during holiday periods included a short trip to the Galapagos Islands which is a possession of Ecuador and what an experience that is for anyone lucky enough to get there. I had befriended some of the ‘Sea Bees’ from the US Navy who arrived to build a Naval Academy who invited me on board the ‘ John Paul Jones’ gigantic US warship and an accompanying submarine called the Odax which did exercises while docked outside Salinas for several days. I met Dr Carlos Julio Arosamena who was our Company lawyer and was elected President of Ecuador for a 4 year term 1961-1965 but was deposed in 1963 and fled into exile to Panama. Malcolm recounts the coup d’etat that followed when the station was taken over during the night by the military on his tour of duty. However he lived to tell the tale! I also met Leon Febres Cordero through a neighbouring family from Guayaquil who holidayed frequently in Salinas. He was a larger than life man very engrossed in politics, just a few years older than me- and I wasn’t a bit surprised to read that he became President of the country in the 1980s- a man that made world headlines when he was kidnapped for several days by a group of paratroopers from the air force but was released when that political crisis was resolved. I understand that he is still very active in politics despite his age and having been shot several times
Another once-in-a-lifetime chance came my way when I was at Port Au Prince airport in Haiti on an unscheduled stopover when a group of us strolled downtown and saw Dr ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier in the flesh as he alighted from his limousine dressed in a gleaming white suit, dark horn rimmed glasses and black hat doling out fistfuls of coins and throwing them on the street with crowds of peasants at his feet grabbing all they could get their hands on. Then he was departing as quickly as he came flanked by the dreaded Ton Ton Macoute –his paramilitary police as he faded up the hill from the Plaza to his Palace. We were informed later in the airport concourse that we took our lives in our hands having strayed into Haitian territory without a visa!
I was later offered a position in communications with the Cuban Trade Mission which meant a 6 month familiarisation and induction course in Cuba, servicing their communications requirements in Central and South America after which I entered the publishing industry -first into business journals which I co-owned and edited with a partner as well as sourcing all advertising sponsorships etc. Unfortunately, the 3day week imposed by Prime Minister Ted Heath forced us to abandon the idea as we couldn’t get them printed, and consequently sold off the titles.
I then took a job as advertising & marketing manager with a group of newspapers in Wales where I remained until a similar position was offered to me in Ireland and from which I recently retired.
Looking back now on our extraordinary times in Latin America, these were times that saw the election of President John F. Kennedy. and indeed his assassination and the coming of Dr Fidel Castro, The Bay of Pigs Invasion, Che Guevara and of course, the various other major political upheavals that took place during our joint tours of duty there. We wouldn’t have missed this enriching experience for anything in the world.
Pat Cleary, Ireland 2006.