Sunday, February 24, 2008

Acapulco Excerpts from 2001 diary

ARGH, 2 days till our Cancun trip is feeling like a long time, and I thought it might ease the anticipation pressure if I went back to my 2001 Acapulco trip diary and posted some of those entries online….sort of a Cancun preview for blog readers as well. I made notes during our May 2001 trip with Craig’s parents Craig Sr. and Olga and fleshed them out in the fall of that year after taking a severance package from work. It was nice to lose myself in writing about a sunny-clime trip since the novel project I had wanted to focus on got off to a rough start. My self-prescription was, I might be able to make my novel sound more real if I practiced my nonfiction style by writing a formal trip journal. My dad described the finished piece as “that diary of everything you ate and drank,” and my cousin recently commented, “Your writing style has evolved a lot since then…” I can't an’t argue with either assessment, which is why the text below is a very small extract from the original trip diary.

Eye to eye with dinner

Our first night we changed for dinner, which meant putting on fresh shorts and shirts with the same sloppy shoes. I admired Olga’s red-print elastic-gathered top, which I thought was very flattering. She said it was comfortable for the climate and she was proud to have found it, as well as a blue-print version, at their neighborhood Wal-Mart in Florida. Craig made fun of his dad’s new shorts (from Target), saying, “Dad is stylin’!” – I admit I have never seen so many pockets attached to one pair of shorts, but since Craig Sr. didn’t carry around enough stuff to fill all the pockets the look stayed pretty trim.

Driven into town by our personal cab driver Mike a.k.a. Miguel a.k.a. Miguelangelo (Olga communicated with him in Spanish but we native English speakers called him Mike), we could see the sharp-rising mountains to our right and the city lights ahead. As we got closer we saw a lot of restaurant and nightclub neon, but due to darkness and humidity (clouds) we couldn’t see much of the water, and couldn’t assess the total view.

The restaurant Miguel had recommended (Olga relayed to us, “Local people eat here!”) did look non-touristy, at least non-chain-like. Although the larger, newer buildings were air conditioned, this place was open to the street and had only ceiling fans for cooling. It specialized in seafood but the menu was large enough (in Spanish and English) that I was sure I could find something I’d be comfortable with (uh-oh, that had been my same thought at the seafood lunch buffet, during which I had been afraid to eat anything except high-acid salsa and much-boiled rice).

Craig Sr. said he wasn’t hungry, too many pina coladas (I thought blaming his lack of appetite on alcohol was rather an exaggeration, since at home he only eats one meal a day anyway), but he did order a shrimp cocktail. Craig Jr. and his mother had an appetizer of shark tacos, which looked decent – but I couldn’t get past the idea of what was in them and how recently it had or had not been swimming around. I considered ordering guacamole but I wasn’t yet past the point of obsessing about raw vegetables. (Those particular worries were unfounded - thanks to my avoidance of all things raw, constipation became more of an enemy on the trip than diarrhea.) I nibbled at some chips, which Olga made a point of saying were different than the chips at home – that fact was kind of obvious, these chips were thicker (tougher but still tasty) because the tortillas were thicker (made from coarse-ground ingredients).

I had ordered a Pepsi to drink since the timing of dinner seemed a little close to my poolside alcohol, but unfortunately the soda came Acapulco-style – meaning, in a warm bottle with a glass of ice. I had always heard that if the tap water is unsafe, the frozen water is unsafe and after a few nervous sips I gave up and ordered a Corona instead. Since my stomach felt kind of upset (probably from eating almost nothing all day), I made a non-classy attempt to drink the Corona quickly, hoping I could build up some gas and have a burp of relief.

For my entrĂ©e, I was most interested in snapper “A La Veracruzana.” I thought I remembered from cooking shows what that preparation consists of but just in case, asked my interpreter Olga to check with the waiter. Duh, the waiter answered Olga’s question in English, “It comes with tomatoes and olives.” This sounded very palatable, but uh-oh, when the dish arrived I saw that the cook hadn’t used fillets but had panfried the red snapper in its entirety (scales, fins…eyeballs). I was enjoying my trip so far and didn’t want to spoil things by reacting in a provincially squeamish (American) manner…but I found the sight of those well-cooked fish eyes totally revolting.

I started out by spooning off some sauce from the center portion of the fish (nowhere near the eyes) – the sauce was very good, rich in tomatoes, peppers and onions. Noticing my slow speed in attacking the dish, Olga asked if my food was OK, and I replied that it was delicious but I didn’t enjoy having eye contact with something while I was eating it. After Craig Sr. reached over and kindly perched a tortilla chip over the nearest eyeball, I was able to swallow a few more bites. The dish was well prepared by its recipe standards but I just couldn’t get comfortable with the concept. It had a nice crisp outside, but I wasn’t sure if the scales were meant to be eaten – but when I forked away the scales, I lost good sauce in the process.

Craig had ordered a perch dish that had an odd-sounding description, and when it arrived we saw that the large fillet was encased in an omelet. He offered me a bite (in relativity, it seemed like a safe haven after my snapper) – it did taste very pleasant but he said it was almost too filling. Olga had broiled shrimp, which she said was good, but I was struck by the appearance of it – the tails were left on and the shrimp had gotten very close to the flame, so that the whole dish looked unappetizingly dark (charred shells…yum).

When we finished our meal it wasn’t yet time for Miguel to pick us up (we were feeling very pampered that we had him on retainer), so we walked up and down a few blocks of the main strip. Still in very good vacation humor, Craig kept exclaiming how clean the streets were – I won’t say the streets were disgusting, in fact they were cleaner than I expected…but my shoes were sticking to the sidewalk, plus I saw at least one mangy-looking dog. I’m sure that due to all the fastidious tourists that must be pampered, Acapulco is much cleaner than a lot of Mexican towns…but it’s no Disneyland.

Waterfall and other attractions at The Princess Hotel

Mike/Miguel was running a little late on Wednesday and as soon as the other cab drivers saw us walk toward the street, they tried to get our business. When Olga told them we were waiting for Miguel, one of the drivers (a fairly young guy) told her in Spanish, “I’m Miguel’s father!…I can take you.” This lie was delivered with such shamelessness that she had to laugh. Olga got quite a bit of mileage out of this bit, introducing Miguel to his new dad (ha-ha) and saying things like “hi, daddy,” every time she saw the other driver after that (he always grinned).

Our first stop with Miguel was the closest hotel not part of our timeshare complex, an older Fairmont resort called The Princess. This place made both our resort the Sea Garden and the sister resort Mayan Palace, where we could participate in activities if we underwent a timeshare upgrade spiel, look quite “nouveau” in comparison – the Princess had an Indian style that was well designed and attractively aged, meaning it seemed much more realistic than the Mayan. The main building was patterned after an Aztec temple – greenery dangled from the room balconies, which were built in graduated rows, and the top level had a decorative border that resembled ancient writing. The whole effect appeared somewhat ancient and overgrown.

The interior lobby featured low fountains with ledges of waist-high cobblestone, arranged in twisting patterns almost like a maze. The interior walls of the fountains were inlaid with bright blue stones that I thought night lighting must make especially pretty. In front of the main door, the marble floor had what I thought was an Aztec god-face designed into it, with evil-looking eyes, nose triangle and mouth inlaid of colored glass. While we were standing in the lobby discussing what direction to explore, pink flower petals from the indoor balconies drifted down past us to float on the fountain pools.

There were several swimming pools on the property, all with landscaping enhancements like waterfalls and rope bridges. Non-swimming ponds (good-sized but with dirty-looking water) were stocked with swans and flamingoes. Olga was especially struck by the swans since her mother had a special love for them, so Craig took several photos of swans (swimming in scummy water but still beautiful). The largest swimming pool had a sunken bar that one could swim to (I know this is not an uncommon feature for today’s beach resorts, but somehow the Princess made it look extra classy) and a waterfall one could swim or walk through. Even the Princess’s beach access, which wasn’t all that far from the Sea Garden and Mayan beaches, had an attractively well used appearance (a little less newness, a little more scuffing) that added to the romance of sand and waves.

Ocean vantage point

Wednesday was our first chance to really see the town and mountains in daylight – steep rock was to our right, and water was to our left and could sometimes also be viewed ahead, intermittently visible through twists and turns of road. Miguel pulled over at a vantage point where we took some photos to capture the view of the water from our height on the mountain road. We could see large stuccoed homes below interspersed with tree-filled, brambly areas, and directly below us there were bushes with colorful flowers that really added to the framing of our photos.

The vantage point parking was next to a small office building that had workers inside, and I admit it was a luxurious feeling to be a Lotus-eating picture-taker while on the other side of the glass, people were working for a living. Miguel had seen the view many times before but he got out of the car when we did, I think in order to feel the breeze. Walking back to the car and glancing at his pleasant, politely smiling face, I noticed for the first time th
at his nose was in really bad shape – Miguel had a relatively light complexion and I’m sure he didn’t have the money to invest in the gallons of sunscreen he would need to protect his skin cells in this climate/latitude/altitude. I’ve seen sunburned noses before, but Miguel’s had especially variegated colors and looked like it already had scar tissue. I got a big dose of white-tourist-guilt while looking at him, probably enhanced by the fact that I continued to slather myself in SP-45 every day of the trip, rain or shine.

Acapulco Sunset

That evening was the first time on the trip that we didn’t have an activity even semi-scheduled, so Olga asked Craig and I for suggestions on what to do. My main idea was to return to the Princess Hotel and see how the evening lighting changed the lobby – also, Craig and I had talked about trying to take sunset photos at the beach. We heard other guests brag about the great sunsets they had seen but we always seemed to be inside or turned away from the horizon at the crucial moments.

We put on long-sleeved t-shirts in anticipation of a temperature change when the sun went down (it was usually cooler at the beach) and trooped across the road. There weren’t many people around, but far down the beach we could see a cluster of fishermen working with modest nets and buckets, trapping something when the tide went out. Craig went to get a closer look at the fishermen since we had arrived a little too early for the sunset.

On his way back Craig spotted a sand crab’s hole near the concrete curb of the pool area. About 20 minutes were occupied with trying to take the crab’s picture – the crab came out of his hole a lot but somehow knew to scuttle back under the sand every time a camera was raised.

The sky was still slightly overcast, so it was hard to tell exactly where the sun was. The streamers of pink against the blue-gray clouds were pretty but we kept waiting for something more dramatic – however, when the sky only got progressively darker we decided to go with what was there. We ended up with several attractive shots of Craig and me, but unfortunately the ones of his parents, taken a few minutes later, are too dark (I think of the four of us, my skin is the most reflective).

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