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OUR HISTORY

RAY HECKMANN...the Founder
Ray Heckmann Sr., founder of FESTIVAL TOURS on October 1, 1971, combined a single minded dedication to service and a love for travel which were readily apparent upon first meeting him.

Ray's love affair with travel and in particular with Latin America began shortly after World War II.  In 1946, he and a fellow war veteran, Cedric Philipp, bought a U.S. Army surplus Jeep that had seen service in Europe for the grand sum of $50.00.  The two young adventurers left their homes in Manhattan, New York bound for Texas where they boarded a steamer from Galveston to La Guaira, Venezuela on the northern tip of South America.



Ray (sunglasses) and Cedric in Manhattan,
October 30, 1946

On November 14, 1946, Ray, on letterhead from the Buccaneer Hotel in Galveston writes, "Our phone rang early this morning, but it was not the ringing of the phone which wakened us, but the news that we were to load our jeep and trailer aboard the good ship Water Knot this afternoon.  Well we have just returned from the docks and the feeling of enthusiasm which is ours is boundless...The voyage (to La Guaira, Venezuela) will take us about 12 days."

November 30, 1946, aboard the Water Knot now nicknamed the "hibernation" by the two, Ray writes, "The good ship "hibernation" is a 6,000 ton freighter and quite obviously does not boast the acoutrements of a luxury liner. However as only passengers we have the run of the ship and more importantly , the run of the galley adjoining the wardroom."   

Disembarking in La Guaira, Venezuela, they then drove their Jeep, crisscrossing the continent, until reaching Chile, tucked between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.  In all, the trip took nearly four months; and despite the lack of paved roads and in Ecuador, stretches where no road of any sort existed, they made it to Santiago safe and sound in the spring of 1947.

December 13, 1946, Ray writes, " What an introduction to the continent was that drive to Caracas. By rule, the distance is no more than 10 miles, but even the birds use the broken-backed snake route of the carretera. As we shifted to lower gears, we looked at each other in amazement." 



Ray (standing) and Cedric (seated)
with their Jeep in Manhattan; 1946

In Venezuela, it was indeed high adventure for the two young Americans.  Cedric writes, "We were above the frost line on the Andes. Our Army Jeep had neither heat nor air conditioning. We were freezing!" 

Cedric continues, "It was my turn to drive. It was after midnight. I hit a boulder that cracked our crankcase. Oil flooded out. Fortunately, we had crested - so we coasted down to the village of Mucuruba. Only place to stay: the bordelo!

About Ecuador, Cedric writes, "Your Dad (Ray Sr.) had some Air Force photos. None showed the jungle or river. Neither did the maps. We cut our way through the jungle with machetes. Yards per day. The river we crossed was by building up the bed with rocks three times after rains washed away our work."

The two Americans were received as heroes throughout South America by everyone from Presidents to gold miners and railroad workers to sharecroppers. Sleeping at times by the roadside and, at others, in hospitals, police and army quarters, construction and mining camps, homes and guest houses, the hospitality was overwhelming.

In Peru, Cedric recounts, "I hit a bull that came through a hedge. It gored our radiator. We reached Tacna on drinking water after I closed the major leak with pliers."

Returning to the United States was only temporary and quickly followed by a year in Maracaibo, Venezuela on an oil refinery contract with Phillips Petroleum. Then back to Santiago, Chile in 1949 where he met and married his loving wife, Nora Foxley Diaz-Gana.


Ray marries Nora Foxley Diaz-Gana on August 15, 1949 in Chile

It was during this time that Ray broke into the travel field as Sales Manager for Cinta Chilean Airlines and later began wholesaling tour programs to the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

Encouraged by Pan American and Panagra Airlines to set up a Wholesale Tour Operation in the United States, Ray, in the fall of 1960, moved his family, now five in number, to Miami, Florida and opened Transamerica Tours. Several years later, the opportunities presented by the New York World's Fair in 1964/65 lured Ray to New York, opening both USA Holidays (Inbound Travel) and South America Tours (Outbound Travel), in the summer of 1964. Then in October 1971, the promise of Walt Disney World took Ray and his family to Orlando, Florida; and the rest as they say is history. The years since have seen growth of a sizeable travel organization dedicated to the wholesaling of tour programs to North, Central and South America.


14115 Budworth Circle
Orlando, Florida 32832
Telephone: (407) 208-0208
E-mail: info@festivaltours.com

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