(26th – 27th)
In the last blog I forgot to mention an amusing incident whilst visiting Antigua, we sat on a bench in the main square, resting our feet, hiding from the heat of the day under a pretty mimosa tree when Sue fancied purchasing some cashew nuts from a passing vendor. She had a few coins of local currency left over from shopping and had just completed negotiations on how many nuts should be put into the little bag (Sue always drives a hard bargain) when she suddenly cried out, “What’s that!” and clutched her hair. With a broad smile on his face the nut seller pointed upwards, there, cooing contentedly above, was a pigeon. He had scored a direct hit. It did at the time pass through my mind that this may have been a trained pigeon, called into action when awkward customers drove too hard a bargain.
It was a sea day and also Australia Day the day after Sue’s encounter with the South American equivalent of the Dam Buster’s. Many of the activities on board had an Aussie theme which also included meal times, lunch was a typical Aussie Barbi held on deck. Sue immersed herself in most of the games and quizzes going on, while I contented myself with sticking to my usual routine, it was a very hot day. I did spend some time ‘up-top’ on the prow of the ship watching the occasional turtle pass us by, some unfortunately too close and disappeared into the side wash of the ship where I crossed my fingers and hoped they would emerge at the rear of the ship, avoiding the propellers. I hoped.
We arrived In Acapulco (Mexico) as usual during breakfast on the 27th. A very hot day greeted us as we disembarked from our berth which fortunately was directly opposite the fort of Acapulco. We had decided to do our ‘own thing’ today, but the decision was made with some trepidation. Watching the series of ‘El Chapo’ on Netflix prior to this holiday didn’t put me at ease and the onboard description of this port, pointed out that this, ‘once popular tourist destination, had suffered from years of Mexico’s ongoing drug wars and despite frightening homicide statistics the violence was largely confined to gang disputes, but the city remains comparatively safe to visit.’ Very reassuring!
It was evident as we left the ship that the Mexican authorities had taken our safety quite seriously. There were armed police everywhere and these were backed up by patrolling and fully kitted, camouflaged combat troops. Reassuring????
Acapulco was a small fishing village, first discovered by the Spanish during the time of conquest and later by John Wayne and fellow film stars who would jet down from Hollywood to get away from the admiring crowds. They called it their playground, Wayne had purchased a hotel to accommodate his personal guests. The bay is very pretty with its backdrop of hills and of course, the warmth of both sea and climate is a perfect combination. Today there are high-rise hotels and the urban spread has reached into the surrounding hills, but it still has that aura of past glory and undeniably takes a very pleasing photo in every direction.
We had come to tick off one of our bucket list items; cliff diving. After first ignoring the polite taxi drivers touting for trade at the exit to the port, we left the ship and with a few other early disembarkers, strolled along the seafront while trying to make sense of the very inadequate free map we had been given. We were heading for the Hotel Mirador, where on the adjacent cliffs the divers were going to plummet into a narrow water-filled ravine. It was hard going under a ferocious sun, walking in the shade became a necessity as there was no breeze to cool our progress. Reaching a point along the coastal road we headed up and over what turned out to be a narrow strip of land between two bays and descended onto a local beach between two cliffs where families seemed to be taking a Sunday stroll. We joined them along a raised cliffs
ide walkway, passing groups of cats clustered around fishermen busy gutting their catch, patiently waiting for the inevitable scraps. Reaching the end of the path we returned to the beach before ascending the road and path on the opposite side.
This route was in full sun, but every 50m along the sidewalk there were large sail-shaped signs containing the pictures of past and present Hollywood and Mexican movie stars that had once made this place famous. At the very top, was, of course, John Wayne, he had been given his own viewpoint with a small arena, probably used for local theatre performances and giving the audience a wonderful seascape as a distraction. Here I practised my limited Spanish on a couple sitting and chatting under a covered pergola, asking the way to the Mirador, we discovered that we were just a few hundred metres away.
With perfect timing, we arrived at a viewpoint opposite the cliffs just as the divers were climbing, spider-like up to the two little blue shrines built into the cliff. Here, they said their prayers before preparing to dive. We watched, photographed and videoed their dives. Two solo dives, then one double dive followed by the finale of a single dive from the highest perch of all. From outstretched arms and launch, the descent into the water was unbelievably quick, the most vivid memory being of the accompanying shadow on the cliff wall as if the soul had departed the body and was chasing its diver down the cliff face, attempting to rejoin before the water’s surface prevented it. A wonderful sight not easily forgotten.
After chatting to another couple that had unfortunately arrived a little too late to witness the spectacle we descended down into the ravine to see how deep the water was that the divers were risking their lives by a potential suicidal swan song. From this spot, it was obvious that the water was deep, but the ravine was no wider than the width of a king-size bed and the cliff itself was scarred with sharp ragged outcrops that would probably make death by drowning irrelevant if you hit it on the way down. Here we came across some more divers that were practising at a lower level and on the opposite side to the main show.
Cliff divers come from three local families, it is a tradition and jealously guarded. They rely on donations from their audience, who stuff dollar notes into their trunks as payment (assuming all goes well and they exit the water). Whether they receive payment from the Hotel Mirador as well, we could not find out. They should do.
We returned to the ship in time for lunch after first visiting the city’s colourful Cathedral, packed with worshippers, then a brief foray into a local market. After a change of T-Shirt and a cold shower, we again ventured out into the heat of Acapulco.
This time we crossed the road by the port exit and climbed up the steps leading to the fort. Surprisingly it seemed slightly cooler than in the morning. Entrance to the fort was $4 each and gave us access to the 11 mini museums inside. The fort is pentagonal in shape, within the various sized rooms there are exhibits displaying different aspects of Acapulco’s and Mexican history. As a lifesaver, there were very efficient air conditioning
units that I didn’t stray far from, while Sue read every available scrap of information on each item. With the internal rooms thoroughly investigated, we moved on to the roof and battlements. The views of the city and bay were excellent, it is a great place to build a defence structure, or at the very least a bakery. The heat generated from the flat roof would easily cook as many loaves as you could wish, but in the absence of dough, Sue and I made a good substitute. Though the views were superb we were glad to get to ground level and into the shade of some trees.
Making our way to the market of the morning we came across a museum housing face masks used in Carnival and local festivals. Some were very old, and all were beautifully made though many depicted quite grotesque figures. We watched a colourful video of the Carnival and a short explanation of how the masks are made before moving on.
The abundance of soldiery passed en route was reassuring but worrying at the same time. In one street we discovered a queue of young men clutching forms, lined up at a desk and fronted by a very official-looking officer. We soon worked out that they were being recruited into the army.
In the market, Sue abandoned me to the shade of a large tree while she went on the hunt for a dress to buy. Amusingly, I had been sitting there on a low stone wall for around 20 minutes, watching the busy goings on in the street market when I caught sight of some movement to my right. To my surprise, it was two soldiers standing just a few feet away from me in their camouflage outfits up against the tree foliage. Those drug gangs didn’t stand a chance around this tree, but I guess it might be a different story elsewhere in the city.
Luckily, despite trying on several outfits Sue couldn’t find anything she really liked, so the dollars stayed firmly in my wallet. Disappointingly we returned to the ship and left the traders, soldiers and drug dealers to their own devices.
Acapulco, you are a lovely city with lots to offer, I sincerely hope that you successfully address the faults in your society, I think you are trying hard, I wish you well. We may come back, one day, when you don’t need guns on the streets to keep us safe.
That evening as we sailed away from this iconic playground of the 50s and 60s, we partied ‘Mexican style’ on the top deck, safe in our rather large tin can.