Monday, May 16, 2022

Sand from Acapulco, by Araceli Martinez Ortega

HomeLatin AmericaSand from Acapulco, by Araceli Martinez Ortega


I cannot stop looking at the hills, full of poor houses and lights.
  I cannot stop looking at the blue sea, at the breaking waves, at the boundless bay.
  I cannot stop savoring the salty smell of the sea and the breeze on my skin.

From the hotel balcony, there is an amazing view of the Acapulco Bay.
  My friend Jerry and I don’t want to leave the balcony.  
”I do not want to leave the hotel,” he protests, tired from walking around Acapulco non-stop for five days.
  “I’ve never walked so much in my life and I’ve lost weight.”

I cannot stop looking at the green hills that surround Acapulco. On one side of the hills live the poor and on the other side, the rich.

Acapulco and I are discovering each other. I was born here, but 22 days later I was brought to Sinaloa, in the North of Mexico, where I grew up. My birth here was an accident. There are no family roots ̶ no connections at all.
 My friend Jerry, a Mexican raised in the Bay area, makes me realize that most of the natives have a dark-chocolate skin color and an accent similar to Cubans. I wonder where this mixed race comes from. Their skin is dark, but their features are different from African-Americans.

Crossing the streets is an odyssey in Acapulco. My friend is hysterical.

“Here the driver comes first and the pedestrian second,” he says.

He’s right. Cars don’t stop at red lights. I feel like a scared cow when I cross the streets.

In Acapulco, peddlers are truly an army. One day my friend and I decide to visit one of the most popular beaches, Caleta and Caletilla. Sitting on the beach, we are approached by a different peddler every couple of minutes. They sell everything imaginable ̶ beautiful crafts, jewelry, clothes, and all kinds of food: sweet breads, deserts, tacos, Popsicles and ice creams. There are women selling massages on the beach. They bring their own massage beds and oils.
 Jerry buys some bread but starts to feel dizzy from all the peddlers. I decide to get away by going for a swim. I float on the sea in corpse pose. I am finally relaxing, feeling the sun on my face. It’s just me, the sun, the soft waves, and the breeze.

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“Watch out! Watch out! A boat is coming,” a woman yells.

A boat selling all kind of craft works.

I swim out of the way just in time for the boat to zip by.

When I return to the beach, my friend Jerry is about to have a panic attack from all the peddlers buzzing about him. We decide to leave. The peddlers trail us and beg us to buy a ride on a yacht. Only when we reach the hotel, do we get a break. A rope (and security guards) keeps them away.

I ask a security guard about them, he tells me that the peddlers pay taxes to the city and that they are unionized. They get to peddle only on certain sections of the beach, and they cannot invade other sections.
 I tell Jerry that I really admire their perseverance and sales skills. Peddling takes talent. They aren’t begging; they’re selling stuff. They’re working for a living and feeding their families. It’s better to bother the tourists than to steal. It is better that they stay here than go to the United States where they will suffer discrimination and humiliation.

In the evening, Jerry and I check out La Costera, an avenue renown for its nightlife. While walking there, a man approaches us and gives us suggestions on where to go. He gets a commission for every client he sends over.
 The man convinces us to check out a nightclub and discreetly tells us that somebody might approach us and offer us cocaine, pot, hash or pills. In fact, someone does offer Gary drugs in the men’s bathroom.

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When our seven days in Acapulco are up, my best friend Tom picks us up from the hotel in his car. Driving out of Acapulco, on the way to Mexico City, Tom drives through a red light and a police officer makes him pull over. The cop asks for his documents and tells him that he will have to pay a 5,000 pesos ticket; that’s about 500 dollars. In addition to issuing  Tom a ticket, the officer wants to confiscate my friend’s license plate and his driver license. The officer says Tom can get them back as soon as he pays the fine, but Tom doesn’t want to drive all the way to Mexico City without a driver license, and he doesn’t want to drive back to Acapulco just for the license plate.

Tom and the officer start to argue.

“Stop!” I say.

I turn to my friend and say, “Give him money.”

I offer my friend 250 pesos. My friend refuses and grabs 150 pesos from his own pocket. The officer says, “I never do this, but I am going to accept this money because you are not from around here. I hope I will not get in trouble.”

The officer leaves happily.

Tom cannot believe what happened. I tell him, “What do you expect? They make a miserable salary. The government is forcing them to ask for bribes.”
That concludes our trip to Acapulco.
 Despite the reckless drivers (including my friend Tom), despite the peddlers, despite the drug dealers, and despite the crooked cop, I want to return to Acapulco. The blue and green Acapulco sea, the breeze, the beauty of La Quebrada, a cliff where divers jump into the waves, compensate for every inconvenience. I even bring some sand from Acapulco back home with me.

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After the trip Tom decided to buy real-estate in Acapulco.

Editor: Maria Ginsbourg.

Araceli Martínez Ortega is a Mexican journalist who has lived in California in the last nine years. This collaboration is about her personal journey through Las Americas and wherever she goes.



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