Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dispatch 24 Acapulco

March 16-?
Acapulco was a mere 120 miles from Zihuatanejo which we did in an overnight motor jaunt. Just for reference, our boat travels about 5 knots (5 nautical miles per hour) which is somewhere between a quick walk and a slow jog speed. (A nautical mile is slightly longer than a statute mile). So 120 miles would be 24 hours. The coastline here in Southern Mexico is flat, fairly featureless in terms of bays or inlets and runs NW to SE very close to W to E. The ports are far apart and require one or more overnights. This will continue to be the case through much of Central America.

Acapulco is one of the oldest ports in Mexico and is a natural protected harbor. The bay is shaped like a mushroom and is very large. By day the entrance is notable for the large skyscraper like buildings and, by night, the hills around the bay sparkle with lights. The “skyscraper-like buildings” turned out to be high-rise hotels on closer inspection and Acapulco is the hugest tourist trap area we’ve been to and it was busy. We thought people had stopped coming here as we had not heard any of our friends planning a trip here. Certainly the boat cruiser community tends to steer around this place as it is a large city and not particularly friendly to our, ahem, generally cheap lifestyle. We planned this stop only because we had gotten a couple high quality dental referrals here, and, looking at the surroundings, we expect we may be paying US prices for the privilege of seeing these dentists. But, if a root canal is needed, we felt we wanted someone we could trust. As of this writing, the jury remains out on the dental situation as our appointment is tomorrow.

We pulled into the harbor near the Club de Yates, the oldest marina in Mexico. It is pretty snooty and we planned to anchor outside, but, a Mexican in a dinghy approached us and offered to tie us up to his mooring for a mere 100 pesos/day ($10) and we accepted as the anchorage was deep and reported to be fouled with debris. We dinghied into the yacht club planning to flash our yacht club membership card so we could receive reciprocal privileges and use the dinghy dock, showers, pool, etc. for free. Imagine our chagrin when they pulled out a list of member yacht clubs and ours wasn’t on it. Hummph. The alternatives were, pay $35/day for the above services (no kidding, who do they think they are?) or fly below the radar and just act like we belong there as we stroll through the grounds to the street. You see, we need a safe place for the dinghy. Well, so far we’re trying to fake it.

We decided to “see” Acapulco the second day so we walked out to the street and hopped on the waterfront bus. This air conditioned bus took us around the whole bay over about 40 minutes and for 5 pesos (50 cents). What a deal. What we learned is that the waterfront is one big long tourist strip ending in bigger and bigger hotels with more and more party places for the tourists. Yikes. Well, we realized that we hadn’t done our homework and the guidebook was on the boat, so we debarked the bus at the far end of the bay and decided to go find a map of the city.

The first stop was the Hyatt Hotel where we walked into the lobby to face the mayhem of the transition between the first and second week of spring break. It should have been a tip-off that there were Dos Equis posters on the busses welcoming the spring breakers and telling them to drink responsibly. There were hundreds of college age kids in the lobby of the hotel with giant suitcases (how many shorts, t-shirts and bathing suits do you need for a week??) We walked through like an entitled pair of middle-aged gringos and I approached the concierge to consider the various tours they offered saying we just arrived and wondering what activities we should do in Acapulco? I asked sweetly if she had a map to help us get oriented and she handed me the typical tourist brochure with a map that showed the location of Club Hollywood, Hard Rock Café, Carlos and Charlies and other important historic landmarks. Sigh, what was I thinking. On the flip side, it was air conditioned inside the lobby with very nice US style bathrooms and it was 95 degrees and 88 percent humidity outside. Why hadn’t we thought of this before??

So we walked out and backtracked a couple blocks to Walmart thinking maybe they had a city map. Hold the phone—Walmart????? I have entered exactly 2 Walmarts previously in my life and, on both occasions, I fervently wished for a different store to get whatever it was I needed. This Walmart seemed different somehow and Richard and I found ourselves falling into a trance state which is the only possible explanation for the 2 hours we spent there. Remember the AC and bathrooms of the Hyatt? Ditto for Walmart. And look, there are so many things here to choose from. We both developed an immediate hankering to have lunch at the Subway shop at the front of the store. We wandered the aisles on our hunt for the map and found ourselves buying Damiana, a Mexican honey liqueur in a bottle shaped like a very voluptuous woman (the price was good), a Sudoku book, a small area rug and almost a set of sheets. We never found the map but the search was inexplicably pleasurable.

We succumbed to our urge for Subway. The customer before us was one of the aforementioned spring breakers. He told me he was from Lon Gisland (that’s how they say it) and was a freshman in New Hampshire at Dartmouth. He was with a bunch of his buddies, and, judging from the quality of the conversation we overheard, we hope their grasp of English is better in written form. His main concern about ordering the subway was how old the tuna was, worried he would get food poisoning at a Subway in Mexico. Odd. We doubt he’ll take in any of the taco stands in downtown.

We emerged from our department store Stepford trance and lurched back into the city to find the “real” Acapulco. We boarded another of the wonderful buses and took it back to the Zocalo and the historic Fuerte de San Diego. The fort is atop a bluff and is star shaped and surrounded with a moat (no water in it) with good old fashioned drawbridges. Great stuff. As we walked a back street down toward town from the fort, we found ourselves at the back of a building called Casa de Mascaras. I ran around to investigate the front and we excitedly discovered a tiny museum of masks from around Mexico and a few from around the world for comparison. We love masks and this was an enchanting discovery (surprisingly not marked on my tourist brochure from the Hyatt although we could SWIM WITH THE DOLPHINS or go to the CRAZIEST POOL PARTIES according to the brochure). We loved the museum.

We walked through the main square and saw the Moorish style cathedral and backtracked to the Mercado de Artesanias to look for a doll in the costume of the traditional mask dances. The Mercado was unbelievable—stall after stall of tourist junk which we certainly had seen before in PV or Zihua, but the merchants were desperate for business and very tenacious. We did find one of the dolls after grudgingly admitting what we were looking for and paid merely 50% more than we should have (bargained down from 3 times what we should have). When we realized that some of the glassware was 10 times the price we’d seen in other stores, we just laughed and beat it out of there with merchants trailing after us lowering the price as we walked away to 8 times, 5 times, 3 times the going price…

Next, we decided we better go see the cliff divers. As a local Spaniard boater said to us our first day, “What do you see in Paris, the Eiffel Tower, right? And in Rome, the Vatican. So here, you must see the cliff divers.” Point taken. We walked from the Zocalo toward the hill where we thought the cliff divers were. We asked a guy on the street where the Quebradas are (the cliffs) and he directed us—just up the street and follow the hill around and you can’t miss it (well, that’s the translation of the Spanish and hand gestures he gave us). As we approached, the street was increasingly filled with people, many families out for a Saturday night show. We found out the next dive was scheduled in an hour and a half. The cliffs are stunning and it was worth the walk. We had a beer and an Elote (a street food of corn on the cob slathered in mayonnaise, cheese and hotsauce which we had learned to love in San Carlos) and started to walk back in the sunset. Then we decided, what the hell, and hung out and saw the cliff divers from the overlook as they dove after dark from the lit cliffs. It was a great experience and we felt we’d done our tourist duty so we walked back to the yacht club. There we walked in like we belonged with a “Buenas noches” to the guard, found our dinghy right where we had left it and came home to enjoy the cool evening in the cockpit. We decided we enjoyed the day in Acapulco. We wish we were done with it now and could move on but tomorrow is D-day (dental day)!

And here I writing the addendum to say Acapulco will have our business for another week while Richard gets a root canal. Believe me, this wasn’t in the overall plan. The good news is, despite the incredible luxurious office our referral dentist had with the drop dead view of Acapulco harbor, the cost of the root canal is 1/3 that of the US, she speaks English well and we trust her. Better that than an unexpected tooth abscess on a 5 day passage!