Teaching Me the ABCs of World Travel

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Sometimes you meet people who change your life forever. Peggy & Harry Eckstein are two such people. Born in Germany in 1935 and 1932 respectively they would now be 83 and 86 years old—to the best of my knowledge they are still among the living. They survived WWII and came to the USA.

I was a banking professional (VP-Branch Manager) for thirty years, eventually finishing up my career in 2011 with JPMorgan Chase Bank (the largest bank in the USA). For over twenty of those years I managed a branch office in the small San Diego east county community of Lakeside.

That’s where I first met Peggy and then her husband Harry—they were both customers of the bank who became friends. Peggy is a force to be reckoned with, jovial, fun-loving and full of life. Harry appears a little more taciturn on first meeting but quickly warms to any conversation. They are both very intelligent, interesting and the best travelled people I have ever met. They have travelled every single continent and almost every country in the world at one time for another.

We immediately hit it off. We share a love of reading, photography, good Scotch whisky and travel. Back in the 1960s (or early 1970s) they were one of the first couples to tour the world by motorcycle and Life magazine (European edition) did a feature-length article about them and their adventure. Peggy was the first person to introduce me to the term ABC touring (Another Bloody Church or Castle). She said it tongue-in-cheek with her jolly German accent, big smile and laugh because she actually loves churches and castles. Peggy and Harry were both thrilled when I decided to travel to Vietnam in 2004 with my son Shawn.

I hadn’t been back since I fought there as a young Marine Corps Sergeant in 1967 and 1968 but my son convinced me I should take the emotional risk and I’m glad that I did. It was so rewarding that I returned again in 2008 with my brother Joel who is now my constant travel companion as we trek our way around the world—our first six years travelling through the Southern Hemisphere (Mexico, Cuba, Central America and South America) and now in the Northern Hemisphere (starting in Iceland, the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland, Scotland and now England). In 2010 to save my failing marriage I took my wife to Costa Rica.

It didn’t work and our marriage failed anyway. Through it all there was Peggy and Harry encouraging my adventures and urging me towards bigger, better and more extensive travels. Unfortunately, when I left the bank in 2011 and then the USA in early 2012 we lost touch. They never embraced computer technology (much less social media) and I lost my ability to stay connected. I can’t blame them—the first thing Joel and I did after retirement and escape was to trash our cellphones—literally (into the dumpster they went). We’ve never regretted it. However, I do miss talking with Peggy and Harry.

In May 2014 Joel and I snuck into Cuba. The United States trade embargo and travel ban against Cuba was still in place preventing American citizens from travelling to Cuba. The Cubans welcome American visitors, it’s the United States State Department that has a stick up its ass. Anyway, we travelled the entire island for almost a month (east to west and north to south). Shortly afterwards I published a coffee table photo book of the adventure and sent a copy (via snail mail) to the Ecksteins—hope they got it and enjoyed it. They were probably tickled with my clandestine foray into the forbidden.

2 responses to “Teaching Me the ABCs of World Travel

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