Acapulco (part 1)

November 3, 1969 … How exciting! Captain Ikiadis invited us to the bridge at daybreak to watch our arrival in Acapulco!

We stayed up all night (in case we slept in) and arrived on the bridge at about 4.30am. Everyone was busy so we had to keep out of their way, but the Captain had arranged coffee (so strong and bitter that it was almost standing to attention in its little cup!) and a tray of salami and crackers.

Of course, the bridge is in total darkness at night and unless you know where everything is (which we didn’t) you can fumble around and trip over things, so trying to balance a coffee cup and a plate of crackers and stay out of people’s way was more than a little challenging!

We could see twinkling lights in the distance, but the sky and sea were still pitch black and we couldn’t make out any features or landmarks. Captain Ikiadis explained that soon we’d be coming into a horseshoe-shaped bay.

Well, over the next hour, it all became just too beautiful to describe. But I’ll try. Now we know why he invited us to see it.

Imagine the hazy outline of a row of cliffs partly encircling you, vaguely silhouetted against a dark sky, rising from a deep-blue velvet sea and speckled all over with fairy lights. Within minutes, the sky began to lighten. It changed from black to dark blue, then gradually to pale orange then burnt orange.

Wherever you looked, you saw a different colour or a different shade. Golden rays spread across sky as the sun began to peep over the horizon. Everything glowed with muted colour.

The scene unfolding before us was so glorious that it literally took my breath away! It was difficult to define the horizon, because sea and sky became the same rich blue and merged into each other.

The sun slowly rose above the hills, drenching everything in golden light. Then it was dawn and the sky began to grow lighter.

The fairy lights covering the hills started blinking out, like they knew there was no point trying to compete with nature’s technicolour display. Gulls swooped overhead to announce the beginning of a new day.

When it was over, we almost had to shake ourselves back to the present. It was as though Mother Nature had put on a grand performance for our eyes only, and we were in total awe.

How fortunate we were to arrive just before daybreak! Neville Fenn recalls “sailing into Acapulco Bay about half an hour after midnight” and Tim Roche arrived at around 10pm. Both went ashore immediately and stayed there all night. Tim agreed that even from the shore, “Acapulco in the early hours of the morning was indeed a wonderful sight!”   

Acapulco Bay (Baihia de Acapulco) is not very deep so we had to anchor about a mile from shore and passengers are taken in by launch. The launches were positioned alongside  the ship and officers assisted us as we stepped from the ship into the craft as it bobbed about in the waves.

Judith Martin thought it was “great fun getting on and off in the bay” and crew member Linda Harrison agreed that “the trip ashore by life boat added to the experience.”

Neville Fenn points out that he has since seen … “recent photos with the over-size cruise ships of today tied up” (close to shore) so assumes a lot of work must have been done since then.

Anxious to go ashore — even late at night  — Neville Fenn and Tim Roche (on separate trips) grabbed the first available launch and headed into town.

Once ashore, Tim Roche’s remembers … “we had a huge hamburger  (for $1) up in the mountains somewhere” He remembers the cafe being “a bit dodgy with chickens, etc wandering through,” but adds that … “the burger was good and we had no after effects.” 

Later, Tim boarded a launch and returned to the ship in time for breakfast. “Oh how enjoyable that was,” he recalls. “Like coming home ….great feeling!

We loved visiting our ports … but oh my, we loved being on our ship even more!

Having arrived about 6am, Chris, Denise and I boarded the launch at around 8am and by then the temperature was already hitting 80 degrees farenheit (about 27 celcius).

It took about 10 minutes to reach shore, and we were delivered right into the township. Mexicans with big droopy moustaches and wearing colourful ponchos all gathered around trying to sell us stringed puppets or sombreros.

Tim Roche recalls “several locals hanging off the dock trying to sell us things even before we could disembark.”

                  Of course, I had to buy a sombrero! Who didnt?

Acapulco was the first truly foreign port for many of us, and it totally captured our imagination.

Sharyn Arthur agrees …  “It was everything. the narrow streets, the language, the buildings.”

But there was another side to Acapulco, and it was one that not all of us even noticed.

Sharyn had also arrived late at night and thought Acapulco looked … “so glamorous from the ship“, but she didn’t go ashore until after daybreak. She recalls …”others who had taken the 2am launch into town returned saying there were rats running in the streets,” adding … “I lost a bit of enthusiasm at that news.”  Tim Roche also noticed the “rats running around.”

Judith Martin didn’t appreciate the “bugs falling from the trees along the waterfront after nightfall,” and although Robert Goldberg “felt perfectly safe” during daylight hours, he wasn’t impressed by the huge spiders in and about the market stalls!” According to him, they were “worse than the species back home.

I was blissfully unaware of all that. No rats or spiders sent me scurrying off in terror, no bugs fell on my head. It was impossible, however, not to notice the poverty, which was made all the more obvious by the stretch of luxury hotels (known by the locals as Millionaire’s Paradise) straddling the bay beside the bustling Mexican township.

Judith Martin had “never seen such poverty and wealth.” She commented that …”there did not seem to be anything in the middle, (separating) beautiful hotels and shacks/hovels.

Tim Roche recalls the mind-boggling contrast: “Standing on the main drag and in front of me were the big hotels oozing wealth …if I turned around there were people sleeping on cars and in the gutter and rats running around ! A very surreal experience!”

Neville Fenn “wandered around the streets and alleyways during his night ashore … dodging stray dogs and cats and several homeless people sleeping in the doorways.” 

Perhaps I was in too much of a hurry to see the famed cliff divers to notice rats and spiders, though. Paul (the Australis’ piano player) took us into town where we rented a little striped mini-moke. It only cost $16 for 24 hours and as there were 7 of us, it worked out at just over $2 each! Wow! We had a quick look around town, then Paul drove us out to La Quebreda.

I was really excited about seeing the divers, and who wouldn’t after watching Elvis (well, someone who looked a lot like him from a distance!) do his death-defying leap in living technicolour in Fun In Acapulco? Of course, I wasn’t alone. Most boomers had seen the movie, and The La Quebreda divers were number 1 on the “to see” list for every visitor to Acapulco. 

Neville Fenn confesses he even closed his eyes for a few seconds so he could … “picture the diver as Elvis Presley in Fun in Acapulco.”

The main viewing platform is from the cliff opposite, while the El Mirador hotel straddles both cliffs and provides a perfect view from its balcony — the very balcony Elvis wiggled his way across to the beat of a Mexican combo only a few years earlier.

Steve Mullis spent the day at the hotel, “watching the cliff divers and drinking ice cold beer.”

The dive is 135 feet from cliff-top to water. They dive at over 50 mph into about 16 ft of water in a narrow channel and have to time it precisely so they enter the water at just the right moment to can catch an incoming wave, otherwise the water won’t be deep enough!

Divers start training at the age of 5. Incredibly, there has never been a professional fatality, and they’ve been doing it since the 1930’s.

We watched two amazingly graceful dives, half an hour apart. In between the displays, young boys (mostly children) swim around to remove anything that might injure the diver. It’s a long way down, and even little scraps of paper or a leaf could cause an injury.

The Mirador Hotel, Acapulco

By this time the temperature had climbed to over 100 degrees farenheit (about 38 celcius) and we all voted to head for the cool shade of the surrounding hills and forests. So did many other Chandris fb members, and a few of them saw an even seedier side of glorious Acapulco.

Cllick here for the next blog

Many thanks to Chandris facebook members Neville Fenn, Tim Roche, Judith Martin, Sharyn Arthur, Robert Goldberg and Steve Mullis for their wonderful contributions.

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