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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Panama Canal Cruise — September 28, 2010 – Day Five

Day five began with a bang. We got up at 0630 hours to get ready for our Acapulco shore excursion, get breakfast and meet at the bus assembly are at 0830. We spent an hour looking for Kathy’s passport. We searched everywhere and could not find it. Things were looking black. But because it was Kathy’s birthday we finally found the missing passport in the rear compartment of her wallet. We made the bus in time for the tour of the city and the see the famous cliff divers of Acapulco.

The city tour was average and the guide was average, All he kept saying was to be happy. It was hard being happy with his droning monotone voice. He gave us a lot of information about real estate in Acapulco and how the rich and not so famous are buying/building 10-15 million dollar homes and resorts on the outskirts of town, where there were once marshes, farms and mango groves.

We took a tour of this area and saw the big new hotels and resorts where a weekend could run upwards of $5,000. The average Mexican laborer earns about $25/day for 8 hours work (about 300 pesos). We passed groups of day labors waiting to get picked up for work — lust like Home Depot. There is a lot of wealth to be seen in Acapulco, but also a great deal a land of contrasts.

The old Acapulco of the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s is no more. Most of those hotels are gone or turned into low budget hotels. All the upscale neighborhoods are on the outskirts of the original town of Acapulco. Even the Mirador Hotel where the divers perform looks run down and not well visited, except for the buses bringing the tourists for their hour stay to watch the divers, but a drink and hopefully a few souvenirs from the gift shops.

The tour guide told us that at its height a few years ago Acapulco was getting about 150 cruise ships each year. It is now down to 95. Compare that to Cozumel with its 1,500 cruise ship stops each year and you can see what has happened to the once famous Acapulco.

Everywhere you looked or stopped there were armed security guards. Banks, stores, gated complexes, hotels, shops — everywhere. We even saw a police pickup truck with two policemen in the rear manning a 30 cal machine gun. Mexico has a serious drug related crime problem. I did not ask the tour guide about this, I didn’t need to — it’s known all over the world. 28,000 murders is tough to hide. Fortunately we did not see any problems. The only glitch we had is we had to change buses when the belt on the AC unit of our bus blew and the AC went out. It sounded like a gunshot and I thought we might have some excitement for me to photograph. It took about 15 minutes for the replacement bus to arrive and we were on our way in air cooled comfort.

We arrived at the Mirador Hotel, home to the cliff diver show, about 30 minutes before the show, just in time to do some shopping. This big ticket items in Mexico are silver and gemstones. However, the Chinese are beginning to undercut the locals with silver jewelry. I suppose the Mexican government will have to impose some restrictions.
The cliff diving lasts about 30 minutes and there are seven divers. The guests are seated on various levels of the hotel’s patio dining area. When you enter you’re given a choice of drink from a piná collata to a bottle of water. I choose the water. Once you make your way to he terrace level that will give you the best available view you can sit at a table and view the show. I choose the best vantage point to shot photos.

There are seven divers in the show, They swim over to the base of the cliffs and then climb the steep cliffs to the top, about 130-150 feet, where there is a little shrine. As the divers get ready to jump off they go over to the shrine and make devotion before diving.

They perch on the edge of the cliff, wave at the people and then jump. There was one double tandem dive and all of the divers do some sort of diving maneuver, such as a jackknife or back flip, The last diver goes to the very top of the cliff for his dive and leaps the 22 feet needed to clear the rocks. It’s quite spectacular and well worth the time and money to see.

The diving dates back to the 1930s when the Mirador hotel needed a promotion to increase business. The divers were it. There are 55 living divers, with 25 being active today. The retired divers become consultants to film companies and other attractions where diving is used. They travel the globe sharing their knowledge and experience. The greatest danger to the divers is blindness. As the hit the water at a speed of 50 mph there is tremendous pressure put on the retina and will cause blindness in time, this why the professional life of a cliff diver is seven years. When you look at the photos of the divers, in the gallery, note that I took a burst of sequence shots at 6 frames per second with a 300mm lens so you could see a complete dive.

Once the show was over we made our way through the gaggle of locals selling their wares, such as blankets, pottery and other useless trinkets to fill your suitcase with to the bus. As usual we had to wait on one “special” couple while they continued to shop or something. There is always one couple that doesn’t have to be on time, they are special people. You could tell this one, she had on the $200 dollar fashion sunglasses and $400 fashion purse.

When we got back to the ship we were famished due to missing breakfast. A quick trip to the Windjammer cured that. A nap was in order after lunch. Now I have to get ready for diner where we are having something special to celebrate Kathy’s birthday.

Click here to view an updated version of my Panama Canal Gallery.

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