From my vantage point under a palm tree on the front lawn of the Princess Hotel, I glanced out occasionally from beneath my straw sombrero, wiggled the toes protruding from my new handmade sandals and pitied the poor turistas as they frantically dashed about.
I had, after all, been in Acapulco four days and was learning to relax. The culture shock was wearing off: the climate, the luxury sitting in the lap of poverty, the machismo attitude of automobile drivers and the wonderful, friendly Mexican people.
"Hey, buddy!" a boy's voice said. "How about a ride back to Las Brisas?"
"Ah, un hombrecito! " I said, "A little man! Sure, I'll give you a ride. Let's go. I'm tired of this place."
He had spotted me as a Las Brisas man because of the pink jeep parked near my palm tree. The Las Brisas Hotel - a series of casitas (little houses) perched their upon tier up the mountain overlooking Acapulco Bay - is pink and white: Everything is pink or white or both. It rents jeeps to guests, which we were.
My wife and her sister and brother-in-law, Carolyn and Frank Sass of Triangle, Va., had wanted to come to the luxurious, Pacific Ocean-front Princess to look at it and sample the shops. As we had come in two jeeps, and my aversion to nonstop shopping was not a secret, I had no compunctions about leaving a note in the second jeep and sailing off down the road with my new friend.
"You work at the Princess?" I asked. "Sure," he said, "I guide Americans." "You learn to speak English in school?" "Naw, from Americans." "How old are you?" "Fourteen." "how old do you think I am? Eh?" "Heyyy, maybe 48, huh?" "No, no, you're way off I'm 49!"
"Heyyyy, buddy, how close can I get?" He leaned over and whacked me on the shoulder and we laughed at each other in delight. We had crossed the barriers and made contact.
The road started up from the seashore plain to wind over the mountain to Acapulco Bay. I applied steady pressure to the accelerator and concentrated on guiding the jeep around the crawling buses and through the thickening traffic.
After a minute or two, I felt another whack on my arm. "You okay" the boy said. "You good Mexican driver."
Later, when I proudly recounted the story, my brother-in-law wasn't that impressed. This was Frank's first visit to Mexico and even though I had tried to prepare him he reacted to the traffic the same way I did on my first visit: with total astonishment.
There is really no way to describe the traffic. Most Mexicans drive with complete abandon. Our motto was the line Frank used repeatedly during the more than 1,000 miles we drove in Mexico: "I never saw anything like that before in all my life."
Forthe first-time visitor, the line can be used for virtually everything in Mexico - from the incomparable beauty of the setting of Acapulco, to the smiles on the faces of the average Mexicans, to the marvelous shopping bargains available in the right places, to the stinging smog of Mexico City that is making one of the most striking cities in the world all but unbearable.
The smog is much worse now than in 1968,M when my wife and I spent about seven weeks traveling around Mexico in our pickup truck/camper. Upon arriving then in Acapulco, we had vowed to return someday for a winter vacation at Las Brisas, one of the world's top resort hotel. So, 1977 was the year, and we urged Carolyn and Frank to go with us.
We planned a 16-day trip, leaving Dulles airport aboard Braniff International the morning of Jan. 29, in zero degree weather. A little more than six hours later, after a stop in Dallas, we got off the plane in Acapulco. The temperature was 86.
Our itinerary called for a week in Acapulco and then eight days traveling in a rented car to Taxco, Cuernavaca, Mexico City, Morelia and Guadalajara. We flew out of Guadalajara on Feb. 13, aboard Mexicana for Dallas, changed to Braniff and proceeded to Washington's National Airport with a stop in Memphis.
The shock wasn't so bad on our return: We left Mexico with the temperatre in the 70s and arrived to find it in the 30s.
Naturally, we had heared about the so-called "bandit problem" in Mexcio before we left home. And we had heard about problems Americans have had with Mexican police and Mexican jails.
Our attitude was simple: We would avoid the area where a few Americans had trouble with bandits (near the city of Culiacan on Mexico's west coast), and we would obey Mexico laws and thus avoid difficulties with police.
And so we had no problems. Except with Mexico City's acrid smog.
We love Mexico City. It is basically a clean, magnificent attributes: The Avenida de la Reforma surely is among the world's broadest and most beautiful thoroughfares; the lighted Zocolo (huge city square) is breath-taking at night; Chapultepec Park is one of the finest big-city parks in the world, and its Chapultepec Palace where the Emperor Maximilian and Carlotta reigned spectacularly and briefly is unique.
There is much more - the huge, modernistic anthorpology museum; the Polanco section of beautiful villas, nice restaurants and convenient shopping areas all of which inexplicably reminded us of London - but everything is marred horribly by the putrid air.
And that, too, remainds us of the London of old - before the people finally realized after centuries of burning soft coal in millions of fireplaces that the smog was killing them.
Mexico City is described as being located in the bottom of a bowl. The city is about 7,800 feet above sea level, but it is surrounded by mountains that are 2,000 to 3,000 feet higher. As we drove out of the bowl headed for Morelia, and rose into the mountains, we could see, feel and smell the air becoming clean again.
Mexico City's air is so bad it is sinful. Much as we love the city and its people, we shan't return to the capital until breathing is less of a gamble. It is easy to avoid the "bandidos"; it is impossible to avoid the air pollution.
Ah, but joy lay ahead as we breathed deeply the pine-scented air on the road to Morelia, one of the few forested sections of Mexico north of the tropical jungles. The road from Acapulco to Taxco, Cuernavaca and Mexico City had been hit, dusty and disheartening because of the total poverty of the people in the countryside.
The road to Morelia wasn't pave with gold, but the people were noticeably better off: Their homes were several cuts above the earthen and reed hovels between Acapulco and Mexico City. There were more domestic animals and the people were better dressed.
The reason was very apparent: water. Water means life in Mexico. in the arid areas, the patches of green around a water hole or tiny, trickling stream are oases just as surely as if they were in the Sahara.
But even with the water, poverty is rampant. Awareness of it cannot be fully dulled even though you may fly into the country and then move in a big, fancy car from luxury hotel to luxury hotel and plush restaurant to plush restaurant, as we did, before you fly out again.
But we told ourselves that perhaps it wasn't so bad because of the warm weather and the apparent happiness of the people we saw. We had to tell ourselves this, agter spending a week lolling about Acapulco being waited on hand and foot and gorging ourselves with delicious food gorging ourselves with delicious food served so boundteously, that after two days we had to forego lunch in order to be able to give a good account of ourselves at dinner.
At one point, Carolyn "complained" to a waiter that we were being given too much to eat.
"Ah, senora," he said knowingly, "better to have too much than too little."
The service at Las Brisas is wondrous to behold. Breakfast arrives at your door every morning; soon a man comes with a net and dips the hibiscus blossoms out of your swimming pool; then another man comes and picks fresh blossoms off the bushes around your casita and places - not tosses - them in the pool: maids bring fresh towels to cover sunning pads by the pool and are in and out all day and all evening cleaning up as you mess up. We decided they must watch from somewhere and the minute we left they would rush in and clean up.
(Did I mention the swimming pools? These are one of the features of Las Brisas.Some casitas have private pools; some share with one other casita and others share with several. We shared with Carolyn and Frank.)
We benefitted from devaluation of the peso, assuredly, but not as much as some stories would have you believe. It did not take the Mexicans long to raise the number of pesos they charged for food and drink and other things Americans want.
But there are some controls, especially on hotel rates, so the devaluation decreased the cost to us of some things. For example, our Las Brisas casita cost us about $58 per day instead of the $68 we had expected to pay - plus 4 per cent tax. The service charge was $3 per day - and well worth it. We had expected to pay $24 a day for a jeep, a flat rate including mileage and all the gas you want from the Las Brisas service station. We actually paid $18.
From start to finish, we went to the best restaurants we could find. Not counting cocktails and wine, we paid anywhere from $3 to $10 for absolutely wonderful meals. The average probably was under $5 per person.
Our most expensive meal was a fancy place in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, where the roof slanted this way and that, and vines and trees and bushes bloomed everywhere while outside a huge fountain danced under flashing colored lights. The restaurant was Del Lago and we paid about $14 each, including a nice Mexican champagne.
Everywhere we went we felt welcome; we saw no sign of anti-American attitudes. Our experience was of a definite pro-American attitude. Of course, we were primarily on the tourist route and our presence meant money to the Mexicans. But our reception was the same off the beaten track and whether or not we spent money.
On the tourist route, most restaurants now serve purified water and take more care withthe preparation of fresh fruit and vegetables. An American with "Montezuma's revenge" is a somewhat unhappy and subdued American. That is not good.
Three of the four of us felt twinges of the Aztec Two-Step for a couple of days apiece, but not enough to cause more than a slight pause in our Trencherman's Progress from one fabulous meal to the next.