First published in the Lafayette Journal & Courier, Lafayette, Indiana, 1977
By COLLEEN McGUIRE and TOM McGUIRE
From the border town of Nogales, Arizona to the remote beaches of Acapulco, our bus bumps over a rough 1,700 mile stretch of road that zigzags wildly across the mountains. And fifty hours later, after numerous delays and transfers, we arrive in the bustling cosmopolitan city of Acapulco.
Acapulco, it seems, is not capable of supporting the many thousands of people who live there, not to mention tourists from all over the world. The city is hectic, and. frenzied pedestrians scatter aimlessly through the streets, dodging wild motorists and ignoring the pleas of beggars who infest the sidewalks.
Deciding this boisterous atmosphere is not for us, we catch the nearest bus destined for Pie de la Cuesta, a tiny village laid out haphazardly along a mile stretch of scenic coastal road about 10 kilometers from Acapulco.
Pie de la Cuesta is sandwiched on one side by the tremendous Pacific Ocean and on the other by a magnificent fresh water lagoon.
Our campsite is called Playa Safari. Graciela, our landlady, charges a reasonable rental fee ($5 per week per person) for a cabana facing the ocean.
Despite its proximity to Acapulco, Pie de la Cuesta is amazingly secluded. Our electricity consists of one dim light bulb. There are no showers, no cooking facilities and no toilet to speak of.
Occasionally Graciela cooks us batches of genuine Mexican enchiladas, complete with Mexico’s notoriously hot chili peppers. She kneads her corn dough on a “metate,” which is a large flat stone used by most natives.
For grinding purposes, she uses a mortar and pestle. Because Graciela lacks the facilities of a modern kitchen, the preparations for a festive meal consume her entire day.
Life here in this peaceful ocean hamlet is lethargic and uncalculated. No one seems to be in a hurry. No one seems to be concerned about the chaos that plagues big cities. Although the standard of living may appear pitiful and impoverished, Graciela’s philosophy is hard to dispute: “We are poor people, but we are tranquil people.”
A typical day for us starts with the obnoxious screeches of roosters who awaken us at dawn. After climbing out of our sleeping bags, we make a beeline for the ocean. The powerful waves play volleyball with our bodies; it seems like we are tumbling in a giant washing machine.
The Pacific Ocean boggles our minds. The foamy white breakers crash ashore with such intensity that it makes swimming in the turbulent waters hazardous. . Most natives shy away from the treacherous undercurrents of the Pacific, and instead retreat to the lagoon.
The lagoon is a sprawling body of water that serves as a bathtub, a washing machine and a swimming pool for most of the inhabitants. Dense forests of palm trees decorate the gentle banks. Children romp in the warm waters. Women scrub their clothes. Long-tailed birds soar gracefully in the sky. Boats carrying peasant fishermen float by lackadaisically.
Surrounding the town on the south are titanic hills covered with lush vegetation. At night, when the sun explodes into a kaleidoscope of colors, the silhouettes of the distant mounds are a majestic sight to behold.
The natives of Pie de la Cuesta still rely on the same primitive shelters that protected their ancestors 1,000 years ago. Most of the dwellings are little more than a few boards nailed together with a palm-fringed roof. Some structures are made of mud and stone. The wealthiest families live in colorful brick houses. Electricity is a luxury.
On the whole, the people are warm and friendly. But learning to trust people is a difficult task which requires a keen sense of perception. We constantly have to be on the lookout for “banditos.” And the eternal fear of being intimidated by the Federates also contributes to a mild state of paranoia. It is hard to accept the fact that our little seaside paradise is plagued by thieves and corrupt officials. So what else is new?
So far nothing drastic has happened to us. We have made many friends. Most of the beach vendors peddling fruit and cheap trinkets recognize us.
Balancing a cumbersome basket atop her head, the tamale lady approaches us with her product. She keeps the tamales warm by packaging them in wide broad leaves folded like an envelope. We each buy one, only to I be faced with the problem of how to eat it. Finally she i shows us that we must unwrap the leaves which hold the tamales. She laughs good naturedly at our ignorance. We, in turn, laugh while eating our unusual snack.
Something unusual is always happening. Several days ago a group of gypsies pulled in at a vacant lot near our campsite. Their business enterprises are vague, and we suspect they are professional banditos. But their lifestyle is extremely interesting to observe. Excessively loud music blares from their trucks. Women coquettishly stand around, dressed in outlandishly colorful garments.
An American friend was inveigled into dancing with an old gypsy lady who insisted that they could dance all night. Her toothless grin and excess energy completely bewildered him.
The day we entered Mexico, the peso began doing crazy things. Since we are not economists, it baffles us why we receive eight pesos (64 cents) more to the dollar than before. It’s like we’re being handed free money.
Because our money value has increased, and because it is not yet the tourist season, we plan to spend a couple more weeks at Pie de la Cuesta before heading south into the entrails of Central America.
Until then, we can be located in Graciela’s front yard, playing in the Pacific Ocean, living a primal fantasy.