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Report #8
Acapulco & Puerto Escondido

Route Map
April 15, 2007

It was SO hot last night that when Steve started talking about laying up here in Acapulco for a while I got really downhearted. I was not looking forward to getting up and schlepping through the heat today. But come morning it seemed cooler and once we got going, the day turned out just fine.

We started off at the big fort in town, El Fuerte de San Diego.

AcapulcoAcapulco is a perfect port – a naturally protected harbour cut deep into the land. Spanish galleons sailed the waters between the Orient and Acapulco where they would drop their cargo. From here it would be carted over the mountains to Vera Cruz on the Caribbean where it was shipped off to Spain. That Oriental connection explains the Asian look to so many of the locals here.

The fort was built high on the hill overlooking the ocean. It’s guns point down into the harbour, perfectly positioned to pick off pirates and marauders. El Feurte has been largely restored and given new life as the Museo Histórica de Acapulco. They’ve done an impressive job of filling it with artifacts and treasures that illustrate the progress of trade between Asia and El Fuerte canonAcapulco.

The fort is set in a beautiful garden with a spectacular view of the city, the harbour, and surrounding countryside. But the best thing about it? Naturally cool stone and fully air conditioned.

Next we set off looking for the bullring. In our usual serendipitous fashion we missed the bullring but bumped into the site of the world-renowned Acapulco cliff divers. Literally. We came steaming up this hill, rounded a corner and a fellow directed us into a parking spot.

“Where are we?”

“You are at the world-renowned Acapulco cliff divers.”

“Oh. Okay.”

La PerlaWe parked and started towards the cliff. Another fellow came over and convinced us we should view the divers from the equally world-renowned La Perla Restaurant. I’d heard about this place. The tables are set in tiers up and down the cliffs. It’s a site made famous by Hollywood movies starring the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Jayne Mansfield. A Hollywood icon. And sure enough, the walls inside are covered with photos of the famous.

Since it was now noon and really heating up again, the idea of sitting at a shaded table in an iconic restaurant sipping Pina Coladas was considerably more appealing than standing in the heat squinting into the sun for two hours.

The lunch buffet was 107 pesos each, and the fee for watching the divers is 30 pesos. So basically $14 each for lunch.

There are six divers. They swim into the waters below the cliff then climb up the rockAcapulco Divers face, a feat in itself. Then they jump from a platform that is about 25 metres above the surf crashing into the rocks below. They are the warm-up act.

When the big banana appears he does so on an even higher platform ...as if by magic. He gestures and postures ...kisses the shrine ...crosses himself. We are all suitably impressed with his appearance so high up the rock face.

Then, like a bad vaudeville act a lumpy old fellow in a safari vest comes stumbling down the cliff behind him. The fellow gets into a conversation with the diver, is obviously requesting that the diver pose for him. At some point there seems to be a problem with the camera because the diver is examining the camera. Then to make the act complete, the even lumpier wife in her lavender sweat suit comes scrambling down the cliff and joins the act, insisting that the diver take a photo of her with her husband, then her with the diver, then hubby with the diver and oh bloody hell! Why don’t they get out off the platform. They are in the middle of every shot!

Eventually, to get away from them if nothing else, the diver gives us a quick bow and tumbles off the platform with the tourist prostrated over the edge videotaping him.

Lunch was so-so. Great fruit, coffee, and sticky buns but the mini pizzas constructed on tortilla shells were awful and the beef stew had stringy intestines roping through it. There had been a whole pig but it was down to not much more than the head. We had arrived about noon and this was obviously a “brunch” situation that had already seen a couple tour groups through the line.

There was a lively family at the next table on holiday from Mexico City. They had engaged a mariachi band to entertain them and these fellows were excellent. Real musicians and great comedians as well because they had the women in stitches with their obviously naughty lyrics. Unfortunately our Spanish was not equal to the patter. But it was fun to be there and we had a great time practicing our respective Spanish/English skills on each other.

Steve was determined that we’d see an authentic bullfight on this trip so we set off, back on the trail of the bullring. We did find it finally and the bullfights are every Sunday at 5:30, but not after the end of March. Alas, this is April already.

Acapulco BusesEnjoyed walking the beach and taking ever more photos of pelicans. Equally interested in the big buses cruising the strip. They seem to be privately owned as they are highly decorated and “named.” Some have a religious theme with names like “Christ’s Chariot.” Some are goofy, like “Hot Wheels.” Others are sinister, “Satan’s Hole.”

Was looking forward to the highly lauded artisan’s market but disappointed once again. Just the usual t-shirts and muslin dresses and shell bric-a-brac.

On the way back to the campground we followed a narrow lane down to the beach at Pie de la Cuesta. But no sooner had we parked then several truckloads of camouflage-clad federales brandishing machine guns came tearing down the lane behind us. They pointed to an exceedingly fancy BMW sport coupe and asked if we knew anything about this car.

“Nope.”

“Maybe it is not a good time to be in this area,”
they advised.Shipwreck at  Pie de la Cuesta

“Right.” .

But there was a really interesting shipwreck on that beach so a couple hours later we returned. No federales but two really big wrecks, one fairly recent.

It is now very hot and humid. Tomorrow we leave for Puerto Escondido and it is supposed to be much worse.

April 16, 2007

Could not sleep in the heat so took off in the dark. Pie de la Cuesta where we are staying is a small town to the north of Acapulco and we have to get through the rush hour of Acapulco to the highway on the south side of town.

Acapulco is a big city strung out along a narrow ledge of flat coastline that is serviced, almost exclusively by a two-lane highway. Traffic is always horrendous. We figure by leaving before dawn we’ll miss the worst of it.

Roadside I don’t know about “worst of it” but it takes us over an hour to get through to the south end. Wall-to-wall taxis and buses coming off side roads, all feeding into the MEX 200 goat track that twists tortuously into, through, and out of Acapulco.

South of Acapulco there is an industrial section that they are trying to turn into a new hotel zone. It is also where big box shops like Costco and Walmart have located. To celebrate making it through alive we stop at a VIP restaurant for bacon and eggs. VIP restaurants are owned by Walmart and offer a North American style respite from the usual Mexican fare.

Continued on then. The LP guide warns us that the road between Acapulco and Pinetopa is dangerous in terms of banditos. Fortunately the trip went smoothly although I was a little taken aback by the sight of a big, black-clad federale waving his machine gun around outside the toilets at the Pemex. But I guess it makes sense. Mexico is a cash economy. Very few places to use a credit card and certainly not at petrol stations. So with this Pemex being the only gas station in 200 km it would be a cash cow ripe for the taking. Thus the federale.

The terrain we traveled through today was ranching country and much of it was lush Man on Horsewith thick green grass, gorgeous huge trees, shrubbery. Lots of interesting, different looking cows, pigs, a few sheep, chickens and quite a few Tom Turkeys out in the yards.

But most of the towns we went through were stark in their poverty. Just such a desperate look and smell to them with unfinished hovels, dirty old sheets with holes in them hung over openings for privacy, lots of poor people sitting around on old packing crates trying to sell a few coconuts.

Every town is not like this, but it was certainly more noticeable in this area than in others.

Make it through to Puerto Escondido after a long 400 km day of driving. Funny, how in Australia when you say it’s 400 km to the next destination you say, “We’ll be there by lunch.” But in Mexico you say, “Hope we make it before dark.”

So we made it and found al campground next to the beach. Lots and lots of mature coconut trees make it unsuitable for big rigs but Steve has gotten very skilled at tucking our little trailer into tight spots.

We are right behind the area on the beach where all the fishermen set out in their pangas then bring their catch back to process. No smell to the area, obviously they clean it up well ...but could get pretty interesting.

Puerto EscondidoThe water is calm and lovely. Steve went for a swim but a jelly fish (or something) stung his arm. He’s recovered from the pain but the sting marks lasted through to the next day.

The night starts out great. We drift off to the song of the sea, waves gently lapping the shore.

Until midnight, when the sound of a large diesel engine startles us awake. Back and forth, gears grinding, driver trying to fit its bulks between the coconut trees. Someone is whistling directions – sounds strange I know, it must be a Mexican thing. Reminds us of our friend Dave working his sheep dogs in New Zealand. Anyway, here we are, the only campers in this campsite and this truck has to back in directly beside us ...literally inches from our windows.

But then it got worse. About 15 people piled out of the back of the truck – whining kids, crying babies, and even a barking dog.

Be patient, I tell myself. It is very late. They will settle themselves into their beds and peace will return. No. they talked and laughed and carried on for another two hours. At one point Steve looked out the window of the trailer and a row of men were sitting on the cement wall that was only about three feet from the back of the trailer. Steve yelled out the window “Keep it down out there!” They may not have understood the words but they sure understood the tone.

They moved off the wall and over the next 30 minutes seemed to settle into bed.

April 17, 2007

With the light of day we came to understand the size of the invasion because they started hauling out the cooking pots and 100-pound sacks of potatoes and crates of mangoes and whatever. We counted seven grown women standing at a makeshift counter preparing food. I have no idea where they all came from. The back of the truck, I guess.

The evening before I had entertained a passing thought of staying another night in this town. Seems really interesting, especially with our front row seat on the fishing. But after the invasion we realized there was no peace to be had here.

But the fishing thing was highly entertaining. The boats had been out all night so by fishdawn they were beaching their pangas, hauling in huge crates of fish. Most of the fish seemed to be a pink-coloured variety about 18 inches long – nothing much to look at but obviously a staple here as housewives and restaurateurs were lining up to bargain for them

The beaching of the pangas was something to witness. These boats are flat-bottomed fibreglass skiffs, about 20 feet in length. First you hear the sound of a motor racing flat out, then you see this panga, bow in the air, pointed straight at the beach going hell bent for leather. First time I saw it I thought the guy was attacking the people on the beach.

But they were waiting for him and just as the water shallowed out he pulled up the motor. The boat kept going and launched some 30-to-40 feet up the beach. As it hurtled outLaunching a Panga of the ocean, other fishermen expertly threw rollers under it, increasing the distance of the launch.

A truly amazing performance. Never got tired of it.

When they re-launched the pangas they just rolled it back into the surf by leap frogging the rollers.

On shore, at the tables behind our trailer, the women waited. As soon as the fish came in they started scaling and filleting them. At some of the boats buyers went through the fish right there in the boat, buying them by the bucket. Looked like the going price was 55 pesos (about $7) a bucket. Fish shopper

All interesting, but between the heat, the humidity and the noisy neighbours we decided to head inland. We are on the road to Oaxaca.

Carolyn Usher

Next: Oaxaca

Unless otherwise noted all prices are quoted in US$ or Mexican Pesos. At time of writing, 10 pesos = $1 US or CDN.