South to Acapulco

(Editor's note - Technical difficulties with uploading pictures right now. I will add them when the Wifi connection is better.)

The coastal road running south out of Zihua towards Acapulco doesn't really run along the coast except for a few spots where it sidles up and offers spectacular views of virgin beach and crashing waves stretching for miles in either direction. Because Mexico is a land of opportunists, if not a land of opportunity, a restaurant or two has typically planted its flag along these spots and we enjoyed our first free night of camping at La Barrita, a beach area recommended by the On the Road in Mexico FaceBook group, which offered a big, dirt parking lot, basic bathroom facilities - a pipe with cold water spilling out of it that passed for a shower, and toilets with no seats and a bucket to fill at said pipe to encourage flushing - and not much else. This group is apparently more focused on free than amenities, but we did have an outstanding octopus dish with garlic and oil at the restaurant where we camped so I would give it a thumbs up overall.


The surf is pretty rough along this coast - even in Acapulco, which we may all think of as an ideal vacation spot, several people drown each year - but it was so dang hot at La Barrita that we never considered not swimming, and if the Mexicans are doing it, it must be okay. During our frolicking, the rolling surf washed a dead seal onto the beach - it stunk even worse than you would think a quite dead seal with tendrils trailing from the holes where its eyes once were would smell, but that didn't stop all the local kids from poking it with their fingers - and I had to help the hombres lift the thing into the back of a pickup truck so they could drive away and do who knows what with it. R and I were impressed, and happy, that a bunch of guys who didn't seem to be marine biologists, and may have moments before been drinking vast quantities of beer, it being late Sunday afternoon and all, acted quickly to remove the foul thing from the beach where people were enjoying themselves and not thinking about dead seals or what they might smell like.


Mostly though, the coastal road winds inland up and down mild grades and through mango groves and coconut plantations, past random piles of trash and areas of scorched earth where previous random piles of trash have been burned, and into dozens of two tope towns where young entreprenuers have taken it upon themselves to have one guy repaint the topes so they are visible from a distance and the other guy stand there with a cup asking for contributions. I gladly throw a few pesos in the cup because, first, it encourages their industriousness, and second, as a driver in Mexico, I appreciate being able to see the tope before its right there in front of me and I have to slam on the brakes or bounce over the thing at high speed.


We found the pleasant Acapulco RV park right on the beach in Pie de la Cuesta - a spit of land between the ocean and a lagoon on the outskirts of Acapulco. We didn't plan to spend anytime at all in Acapulco - it being a big city with a nasty reputation for crime and scams - but for the second time on this trip, our credit card information has been stolen and used by someone in the D.C. area to purchase lip balm at Rite Aid. We tried to have new cards shipped to us in Zihua, but that didn't work out, so we arranged to pick up the package at the UPS office in Acapulco.


Coconut and J had no interest in going into the city, and R and I didn't fuss over it with them - it was eleven in the morning, 100 degrees, and all we had was an address for the office and a GPS map that only intermittently showed where we were. The RV park, on the other hand, was fenced and locked, shady, breezy, and had a small pool. Plus, aside from the nice lady that ran the campground and an adjacent store, and two guys doing maintenance work, we were the only people there.


R and I started our city adventure by taking a local bus to the city center which was home to a bustling, throbbing, sweltering market, and then taking a VW Bug taxi, the driver of which liked to use his horn, could only come to rest inches from the bumper of the car in front, and did not stop at traffic lights, even when it required him to pass the 20 odd cars stopped in our lane by going into the oncoming traffic lane, before going straight through the red light. Fifty pesos and eight harrowing minutes later while we wondered if the kids would know what to do if we never returned, he deposited us on a street in Acapulco which did not appear to have a UPS office on it. After some asking around, though, we knocked on an unmarked garage door and were handed a package that contained our new cards. We were amazed, again, at how business gets done, and a little impressed with ourselves that we had actually figured it out.


Meanwhile, back at camp, J vomited up the eggs I had cooked him for breakfast. The day before, shortly after we arrived at the RV park, J gathered all the fallen coconuts, took our hand axe, and bashed them until he had a jar full of the water. J and I were drinking right from the coconuts throughout the process and this may have been why he vomited and I began to feel crappy on the bus ride back to camp. As a testament that, despite all our failings as parents, we've done something right, Coconut sat J down and made him comfortable, went to the store to get him a cold drink, and otherwise tended him until R and I returned about two hours later with a grilled chicken which I ended up eating myself over the course of the next 8 hours because everyone else wasn't interested in eating chicken and I was, even though I spent the rest of the day and night walking the fifty meters (1 meter = about 1 yard) from camp to the bathroom. By the next day, we were fine.


Being so close to Acapulco, we thought we really should see the famous cliff diving, so we took a room in the city at the Sands Hotel, which was a block from the famous Acapulco bay, which R and I weren't impressed by in the ten or fifteen sweltering minutes that we strolled hand in hand along its surfline. The Sands Hotel has a nice pool, AC, and a playground called Sandslandia that R said looked like a show room for playgrounds because it had equipment stacked on top of equipment stacked on top of equipment. We already knew from our time in Ecuador a few summers ago that playground regulations in some countries, to the extent they exist, have yet to catch up to U.S. standards and that it is okay to have jagged, rusty metal pieces as part of the equipment and cinder blocks, broken bottles, and clumps of weeds to hide other dangers in the "fall zone", so we were more amused than surprised.


The cliff divers, clavadistas, of Acapulco can be seen from a public viewing point, or from the dining room of the once fancy but now faded Mirador Hotel. This turned out to be perfect because it was my Mom's birthday and we were able to justify our expensive meal - J had flambé for dessert - as a celebration of her life and dining in style while watching these brave kids - none older than 25 years of age - jump into the water from one cliff, rock-climb 135 feet up the other side to the jumping platform, and then dive into a narrow channel between the two cliff faces, was definitely an experience that was not to be missed and that she would not have missed had she been physically present. These kid divers, who can only choose this life if their ancestors were divers, might actually have the best job in Mexico because the cost of part of our meal, and the cost to view the show from the public area, funds their weekly wage, medical and life insurance, and a pension. I've not yet heard of any other job in Mexico that provides such benefits.


Another job with benefits in Acapulco is being a police officer, and the other thing we'll remember about the city was that I got stopped three times in two days for going through a red light, and one of those times I wasn't even in the car, but standing in front of it. The officer pointed at the back of the light, he couldn't see the front of the light from where he was positioned so couldn't see whether it was red or green in the first place, and told me I went through it. This was the second time in about twenty minutes that I had been accused of running a light - we'd only been in Acapulco about 40 minutes in total - so I was still amped up from the first time and had just practiced the drill. We'd read plenty about this abuse of power - officer will stop you for some made up transgression - speeding, illegal lane change, running a stop sign or traffic light - and will threaten you with a hefty ticket that can be setttled on the spot for a fraction of the cost - which, of course, will end up in his pocket. It's called the "mordita" (bite) and you can either pay it, not recommended as it encourages further, similar abuse of others, or admit you were bad, and insist on being taken to the station to pay the fine. (In Mexico, traffic fines are paid at the courthouse, they are not mailed in as in the States). Of course, the officer doesn't want to go to the station even if you really did commit a traffic violation because none of the spoils will end up in his grubby hands.


The first cop, a fat motorcycle cop who kept going from R's window to my window reducing his asking price during the process from 1,250 pesos to 300 pesos, we actuallly thought was tryng to help us navigate the bedlam happening in the streets but then it became this game of pay me now and you won't have to go to the courthouse in three days. I wavered after he offered to take us to a nice hotel as part of the deal, but R stuck to the script and kept insisting we go to the station to pay now, then she mentioned something about me being a government employee in D.C. and somehow this became I was law enforcement - me, serial runner of red lights, law enforcement! - and the cop just went away. I considered telling the second cop that I was CIA, but he was much less persistent and after I insisted a few times that I be brought to the station - I considered it bad form to point out that I had not been driving the car at the time I had supposedly gone through the red light - he just let me go.


The next day R set up the GoPro in the front window before we started driving, and we decided that only I would talk and she would act like she didn't know Spanish. Sure enough, after I definitely did not run a light, I got pulled over for running a light, and while I am talking to the cop R starts fiddling with the camera, making a show out of taking it from the window. That put a quick halt to the proceedings and we were out of there in less than two minutes and the cop even let us know that we had missed our turn, which must have been because I was paying such close attention to obeying the traffic signals.