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Come fly with me

4 March 2007

 Time for the annual invasion of the gringos… don’t get stupid and tossed out of El Palladium:

Gunther Hamm (Reuters)

ACAPULCO, Mexico, March 3 (Reuters) – U.S. spring-breakers are guzzling beers and slamming back tequilas in the Mexican Pacific beach resort of Acapulco, unfazed by a violent drug war that has killed police and left body parts strewn about town.

Famed for its cliff divers and sweeping bay, the once glamorous resort city has seen daytime shootouts between police and drug hit men who have dumped severed heads in public as part of turf battles that killed 2,000 people in Mexico last year.

Gunmen disguised as soldiers killed seven people in an attack on two police stations in February and heavily armed federal police now patrol the resort day and night as part of a nationwide crackdown by new President Felipe Calderon.

But with the beachfront strip largely unaffected by the violence, college students are packing hotels and vast dance clubs in what officials hope will be record numbers, most of them blissfully unaware of the drug war raging nearby.

“We don’t necessarily think about any of that, it’s more just coming down here and having a good time,” Western Michigan University student Caitlin Murray said at the Copacabana hotel’s pool, scene of wet T-shirt and beer-drinking contests.

Hundreds of students splashed, danced and yelled to hip-hop music behind her as youths in giant boxing gloves slugged it out in a ring for a top prize of $100 and a bottle of tequila.

Nearby, federal police with machine guns frisked drivers and searched cars for drugs and arms at one of many checkpoints aimed at keeping tourists safe from Acapulco’s darker side.

If Caitlan (and Garth and Wayne) would put down their beer googles long enough to notice, Acapulco is a seaport with ¾ million people living there, most of whom are the long-time descendants of smugglers. They go about their business — and their shady business — without ever coming into puking range of most Spring Breakers.  Or tourists. 

Ever since the ex-sailor turned monk, turned accidental sailor (the ship’s pilot died and he was along as chaplain) Andres de Urdaneta discovered a “back door” to the Philippines in the 1560s, the place has made its living from transshipments, often illegal ones. Until 1814, the Philippines were part of Mexico, tied to the “mother country” through the Manilla galleons out of Acapulco. A lot of the locals are of Filipino descent (which, in the totally illogical racial system of the Bourbon era, made them “negros” and not “chinos”… who, to confuse things, were Mexicans of indigenous and African descent). Mexican culture has a Spanish overlay on an indigenous one. Filipino culture and art sometimes looks Mexican, having not a Spanish, but a Mexican, overlay on its Malay culture. It’s through Acapulco that the Philippines became a Catholic country, the missionaries and monks shutting back and forth through the port.

That’s a clumsy way to run a colony, but given the transportation problems of the times, it was easier sailing out of Cadiz. There were some administrative problems. In the late 1500s, a ghost took up sentry duty in front of the Viceroy’s Palace in Mexico City. People who met the ghost said he was Filipino. SOMEBODY had to let the Viceroy know there’d been an epidemic in Manilla and the new Governor he’d sent out a few months earlier was dead. I guess protocol is pretty strict in the next world too… why the dead Governor’s ghost could just report in …. um… person (spirit?) isn’t part of the story.

The long distance from Spain (and a long-long distance from the afterlife) was an open invitation to creative business ventures. Up into the late 1700s, Spanish colonies could only trade with the mother country. But, given the chance to acquire silks, spices, gems, and knick-knacks from China at cut-rate prices, Acapulco was a smuggler’s paradise. It was such a great business opportunity that the Mexican “piece of eight” became the preferred foreign exchange medium throughout the far east.

Even after Mexican independence in 1821 (and an American pirate played an important role in Acapulco history during the War of Independence), Acapulco remained Mexico’s Pacific port… and main smuggling outlet… inlet… whatever. Until San Francisco became the main Far Eastern port, it kept its importance. And after. 

An Italian pirate sold Vicente Guerrero to dictator Antonio Bustamante when ex-President Guerrero was looking for passage out of the country, after his overthow.  It was the early 19th century version of “swiftboating.’  Guerrero, who was of African and and European descent (guys like Barack Obama are no novelty in Mexico) was a little too much on the people’s side.  And he’d pissed off the U.S. when he freed all Mexican slaves (and started accepting U.S. slaves who would jump ship in Acapulco and elsewhere, having their own ideas about property rights… like not being somebody else’s property).  Bustamante’s supporters started a campaign to discredit Guerrero claiming that a head wound he’d received during the War of Independence left him a little wacky.  The conservatives in the legislature were easily convinced to impeach Guerrero on the grounds that he was insane.  Maybe he was, trusting foreign pirates in Acapulco. 

In the early 19th century there were all kinds of revolutions up and down the Pacific to keep the gun trade lucrative (not to mention Mexican taxes, that made Asian goods profitable — porecelins then, cheap electronics now). 

California’s enterprising trans-Pacific informal traders (i.e., pirates) had to work somewhere, especially after the gold rush led to more government control in San Francisco.  During both the French intervention and the Revolution, it was a favored location for bringing guns into Mexico. And, opium had to come into the Americas from somewhere.  After poppy production started in the hills of Guerrero, it had to go out somewhere, Mexico not being a particularly large market (besides, it was legal, and what was the fun in that?).  During Prohibition, it shipped a lot of whisky to thirsty gringos. And now… other transshipments go through.

It’s always been a decadent place, and for a while was a favorite of the “jet set” (jets being new and all).  Away from the American gossip columnists, and — unlike Las Vegas — having water, it was the place to go for sleazy affairs and cheapy Mexican divorces in the 50s.  What do you think Frank was singing about, the joys of air travel?

Before we show you today’s tourists, here’s Frank and (this being a Mexican site and all) Luis Miguel flying away…

OK… now here’s what los springbreakers  really come for —

Party – and smuggle on – dudes!

One Comment leave one →
  1. J.lalande permalink
    5 March 2007 2:22 pm

    How do I send you the V olvo parts. Their is a great auto repair shop in Sudbury Ontario Canada, The owner Joe,is European & has fixed my Volvo for 5 yrs. I now have a van. He was so very dependable in finding me parts that whereaffordable & compatible with the Volvo,half the price,& twice the warrantee. Call Joe at Southridge Auto. In return,you could offer him your expertise quidance in finding affordable but impressive lodgings for him & his family. He’ll be your friend for life & take good care of yr aoto needs.
    I spent a lot of time in Acapulco in past years. I left my heart there.If its cooked eat it! If you can peel it eat it! If the natives sell it on the beach you can eat it. Have fun,be safe,always carry $20 on u to bribe misintended officials.
    Aste Luego,

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