Acapulco (part 2)

Anna, Denise, me, Paul, Linda, on the road, heading for the hills

In my previous blog, our group had hired a mini moke, marveled at two spectacular dives at La Quebreda, then voted to leave the hustle, bustle and soaring heat of Acapulco township and head for the cool shade of the surrounding hills and forests.

Steve Mullis and a group of friends also hired a mini-moke in 1976 and headed for the hills, but first …

“…we employed a guy at a service station to be our guide. We also visited a local market to buy some essential goodies, then we did a quick tour of the rich lister’s places in Acapulco including John Wayne’s house.”

John Wayne wasn’t the only Hollywood celebrity to kick up his heels in Acapulco. Aussie bad-boy actor Errol Flynn first sailed into the sleepy fishing village on one of his infamous party boats in the 1930’s. He must have spread the word, because by the 60’s it had become “the place to be seen”, especially after Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack made it one of their glitzy haunts.

Sinatra’s clan were regulars at hotels like Los Flamingos (photo above), owned by a posse that included the previously-mentioned John Wayne and Johnny (Tarzan) Weissmuller. Lana Turner also had a place overlooking the ocean.

It was also where Elizabeth Taylor married Mike Todd – the third of her eight weddings – in 1957. John and Jacqueline Kennedy had headed to Acapulco for their honeymoon in 1953, and their visit was not forgotten. As our launch motored its way toward shore in 1969, we passed a sleek yacht called ‘Presidente Kennedy’.

In1976, billionaire Howard Hughes would spend his last days at the Acapulco Princess hotel.

We knew nothing – and probably cared less – about these celebrity visits as we took off with a squeal and a lurch and headed up the hill. I crossed my fingers that Paul (a regular visitor to Acapulco as he was employed by Chandris to play piano in the Smoking Room) knew what he was doing as we whizzed around corners and along back streets that were barely wide enough for 2-way traffic.

We overtook vehicles on the wrong side of the road, hardly making it back before an oncoming car did the same. Most of the time we all had our hands over our eyes.

Fortunately, Paul didn’t!

Apparently, no-one in Mexico takes driving too seriously, and Tim Roche can vouch for that … “We were driven up into the mountains by a crazy taxi driver who … neglected to tell us that brakes on cars there are optional.”

Maxwell Hines also took a taxi, but luckily found a sane driver … “we hired a splendid taxi driver for the entire day who was a mine of information and helpfulness. He got a good tip. The taxi between 5 of us in 1966 was as cheap as chips and we had him till 3am,  poor bugger.

As we climbed higher into the surrounding hills we could just make out our beautiful white lady anchored in the misty blue bay.
We climbed higher and noticed a small village nestled in an inlet below. The sign pointed to Porte Marquez, so we rattled and bumped along the unmade road towards it.

As we came to a stop and started trying to untangle ourselves, we were surrounded by the entire population of the village — about 20 smiling adults, 6 laughing children, plus a parrot and a pig.

Small huts — if you could call them huts — lined the beach. They were really just 4 poles with a thatched roof and a few rough amenities like a concrete stove. A few fishing boats rested at the water’s edge and rocked lazily in the lapping waves.

It would seem that the beach Steve Mullis and his friends found was very different. He recalls … “there were lots of outlets doing cold beer and food. They called it Sunset Beach. did some horse-riding in the surf and drank ice cold Corona’s. The service was great, the beer was brilliant and we had a great day.”

At Porte Marquez, no-one spoke English, but everyone was friendly and kept inviting us into their huts. We were led into one and the pig followed us in, while the parrot perched on the stove! It was just one room where the family ate, slept, cooked and lived. No privacy here!

We spent a few hours playing on the beach with the laughing dark-skinned children, lazing on the silver sand and taking occasional dips in the welcoming ocean to cool off.

Soon we had to say “Adios” and we clattered and bumped our way into the forest and back to town.

Tim Roche had a similar (but obviously more hair-raising) trip back to town in his ‘taxi without brakes’. He shudders when he remembers that “it was a mystery tour coming back down as to whether we would live to tell the tale.”

Everything in our little village had been so peaceful and calm that it was almost a surprise to find the bustling town of Acapulco still existed.

Paul dropped the car off so we could all do some shopping before returning to the ship. Chris, Denise and I wandered around and bought a few souvenirs (being as we’re now such experts in the art of bargaining!) and then found an open air cafe.

We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we sat down and looked over the menu … but of course it was all in Spanish. The waiter came to take our orders and we asked for hamburgers. Now, one might be forgiven for thinking that the word ‘hamburger’ would be part of Acapulco’s vocabulary after being visited by so many cruise ships and hungry travellers. Alas, the waiter had no idea what we wanted.

Luckily for us, three young Mexicans (one of them blonde!) noticed our dilemma, came over to see if they could help, and ordered for us.

That hamburger was delicious.

We get very healthy meals on the ship with lots of vegetables, but a big fat greasy hamburger occasionally is something we really miss, although most exciting to have in port is a cup of tea or coffee with real milk. I didn’t think I could ever get used to evaporated milk, but I have. Still, when we get to port it’s the first thing we want.

Miguel, Denise, Raffy, Chris, Jose … our Mexican angels

Our knights in shining armour joined us for coffee at our table and wanted to know all about our trip and also what it was like living in Australia. Then they paid for our meals, walked us back to the launch, asked us to write down our addresses so they could write, and stayed to wave us off.

We never did hear from them again!

Later, I started wondering about them. They were young, handsome, interesting and all three spoke perfect English. They said they were unemployed, but they seemed to have plenty of money. Many lonely American women spend winters in Acapulco, so perhaps we were privileged to be bought a meal by three young men whose mere company would cost most ladies a tidy sum!

Now, 50 years later, I realize how naive I was to think they might merely be selling their bodies to wealthy dowagers – which was shocking enough at the time!

But there was a lot more going on in Acapulco than many of us suspected!

Tim Roche and his friends had to run for their lives when four local men tried to sell them drugs … “When we refused, they chased us up the beach, vowing to kill us.”

Judith Martin remembers … “a lot passenger were conspicuous by their absence after purchasing certain items from Acapulco street traders.”

“I wonder what it was,” Judith muses, no doubt with tongue in cheek.

When Neville Fenn and his friends wandered around the streets and alley-ways late at night, they were … “warned by a security guy to head back to the market area as it would be safer.”

Allan Marshall confirms that Acapulco was indeed a very dangerous place, pointing out that … “even in the 80’s police with machine-guns kept the locals away from passengers on the beaches.”

Crew member Linda Harrison recalls …“the medical staff on board dreaded Acapulco,…too much sun, too much tequila, too many high jinx after a sedentary lifestyle. We usually had a few heart attacks amongst our older passengers.”

Perhaps it was dangerous. Spiders, rats, crazy drivers of brakeless taxis, drug sellers, even machine gun toting police. But  when I think of Acapulco, I prefer to remember the breath-taking sunrise through the windows of the ship’s bridge, the launch trips between ship and shore. I see the vivid blue Pacific ocean shimmering in the Mexican sunshine, cool green hills surrounding the bustling township, laughing children at Porte Marquez

Peter Austin retains the memory of Mexican boys diving for coins thrown overboard by passengers.

Linda Harrison fondly recalls horse draw carriages along the promenade.

For crew member Tasos Koroneos , who visited the port often, it was the joy of water-skiing in Acapulco Bay and doing circles around the Australis.

And of course, none of us will ever forget those daring Elvis look-alikes doing their 135 feet dive at La Quebreda. 

Today, the peaceful little village of Porte Marquez is no longer the one I visited 50 years ago. Perhaps I should have been prepared for the photos I found on a recent internet search, yet they still made me gasp in horror …

Alas, nothing remains the same, but our precious memories, photos and souvenirs are Acapulco’s special gift to each of us.  WE were there WHEN

  With many thanks to Chandris facebook members Steve Mullis, Tim Roche, Maxwell Hines, Judith Martin, Neville Fenn, Allan Marshall, Peter Austin, Linda Harrison, Tasos Koroneos for their wonderful contributions.

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