The Slide Years: Road Trip

By Eilene Lyon

The Slide Years is a series in which I select an image my dad took from 1957-1982 with Kodachrome slide film, then I write a stream-of-consciousness essay – a sort of mini-memoir.


The most epic road trip in my early life saw my family moving from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, to Guatemala City, via Oregon. Yes, first we crossed the country to spend Christmas and New Year’s (and my 12th birthday) in Corvallis.

Then it was time to head south, across the border. We drove through California and then on to Arizona, where I got to throw snowballs into the Grand Canyon from the South Rim. Then a stop in Tucson, where winter ended and summer began – in January.

Sylvia Halse at the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon in January. I remember wrapping my arm around the end post of this railing and leaning way out to see how far I could throw a snowball and see it fall into the canyon. I’m surprised I didn’t fall in myself!

We crossed into Mexico at Nogales and kept on moving south. I know we camped in one location. I remember there were peso coins scattered around on the ground there – the peso was nearly worthless at the time. The campground had a foosball table and we used those coins to play, until we realized that by slamming the coin slide hard enough it would give us the ball. However we got the ball, my brothers and I played a lot of free games.

We made stops in Mazatlan to swim in the ocean, and Guadalajara. Mexico City provided some cultural sites, such as the National Museum and a university campus. We visited a palace and an amusement park, where I got to ride the roller coaster – a perennial favorite of mine.

Sylvia and Steve Halse at Mitla Ruins
Mom and brother Steve in a building at the Monte Albán ruins near Oaxaca.

Outside Oaxaca, Dad was having trouble locating the Howard Johnson’s or Travel Lodge – some well-known hotel chain or other. Not having much luck, we stayed at a pension instead. It had a traditional floor plan of a single level forming a hollow square, with the rooms all opening into a central courtyard filled with flowering shrubs and a fountain. The restaurant served fresh homemade potato chips with the meals, the first I ever had like that.

The next morning, about two miles down the road, we passed the hotel Dad had been looking for. I wasn’t sorry we’d stayed at the pension. I’m sure it was much nicer, if more rustic.

I don’t recall how long it took us to drive all through Mexico and Guatemala to arrive at our destination. Once in the city, we got rooms in the Biltmore. It was exotic to me, finally being in the “land of eternal spring.” The move had been a bit traumatic, leaving all my friends behind in Pennsylvania to go live some place where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know a soul.

By the time we left Guatemala three and a half years later, it had won my heart and I hated to leave.

Feature image: Little brother exiting a pyramid at the Monte Albán ruins near Oaxaca, while I’m being assisted with my exit on the right.

36 thoughts on “The Slide Years: Road Trip

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  1. It had a traditional floor plan of a single level forming a hollow square, with the rooms all opening into a central courtyard filled with flowering shrubs and a fountain

    There is much about that architecture that is inward looking – and in many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern lands, the focus is on the family. There people often spend an inordinate amount of time among themselves. Certainly the markets and squares are open and inviting – but the home is a secure refuge. It says something about a long dangerous history of revolution and wars.

    In the U.S. the architecture is reversed with the home looking outward across an expanse of lawn.

    That says something.

    My police lieutenant served with the U.N. in Bosnia and described homes that had landscapes painted on the walls. It was so that the family could experience views of nature that were too dangerous to experience in person.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for enlightening us on the meaning of the architecture. While I appreciate looking outward on my beautiful Colorado landscape, the courtyard style is very appealing to my introverted side. It does provide a feeling of refuge.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You’ve lived an interesting life! I didn’t realize you lived for a time in Guatemala — maybe I missed that bit of news in a previous post, it’s not unlike me. Must have been both a difficult and enriching experience. Have you ever revisited it?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What an amazing road trip. You saw more of the country than many people ever do, then to end up in a completely different country to live. So exciting, even if it was a challenge in many ways. Memories of a lifetime in this post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The whole experience of living there was indelibly memorable – as you will see in some future posts. I still love traveling around the country by car. I’d like to see more of Canada that way, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoyed this installment of The Slide Years. (I always get a lift when I see the title come across my email.) My cousin’s husband is from Guatemala; he paints a very different picture of the country.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We lived there during one of the peaceful periods. Things took a big turn for the worse not long after we left and it’s been turbulent mostly since then. It’s quite a shame, because it could be reaping the same accolades and tourist dollars that Costa Rica brings for itself.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What an adventure; I can just picture the pension and the meal! The places and activities on your way there must have been out of this world for you and your siblings, as children. So sad so many of those places are not safe anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a unique experience for us. It really is too bad that traveling that route today might not be a good idea. I would hope the world would be becoming a friendlier place. Not so, apparently.

      Like

  6. Lots of great adventure for a kid! My knees went weak at the description of you hanging over the railing to throw the snowball in the Grand Canyon!! Sure glad you didn’t go with it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. After your recent “Motoring” post, I am not surprised that your epic road trip began in Mechanicsburg, PA! What a long and interesting adventure for you and your family. I am just wondering what kind of vehicle you motored in?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was our new Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon. I think I featured it once on the blog. We saw an identical one at a classic car show here a few years ago. I rode way in the back in my own little cubbyhole, away from the “detested” two brothers.🙂

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  8. What an amazing trip that must have been, and you were old enough to appreciate what you were seeing and young enough to not hate being stuck with your family in a car for all that time (I assume). Did you say why you were moving? I hope you write about your years there and what it was like to adjust to a new language and a new culture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There will definitely be more stories. We moved because of my dad’s military service. There wasn’t much US military presence there. My friends who weren’t Guatemalan were there for a variety of other reasons: diplomats, oil industry, missionaries, export trade, etc.

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