Fun in Acapulco
Updated: Sep 9, 2018
When I was growing up, I had a mad crush on Elvis Presley. Thankfully, out of the seven television stations we could get on our extremely large, olive green, small screened TV, two of those stations (5 and 13) devoted a large portion of their programming to The King. My family was openly derisive of Elvis, and so I hid my infatuation. Thank God for sick days when I was able to have the television all to myself. Memorizing commercials and experiencing sheer bliss if an Elvis Marathon happened to coincide with my malady.
Did I say crush? No. I was obsessed. I yearned for the twins in "Double Trouble" and would have gladly gone to prison if only Jail Houses really did Rock. Truth is, when Mary Tyler Moore fell in love with Elvis (I mean, who wouldn't?) I knew her pain at not being able to have him. (For those of you who are not followers of the King - Mary was a nun and Elvis was....perfect. Swoon.)
I was four years old and still have visions of Elvis in his black leathers singing in-the-round to an audience in rapture. A year later, my father made us watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they made their historic moon landing.
"This is something you will remember your whole life!" My father intoned as we gathered round the television and stared at the blurry images and heard the garbled voice.
Yes I remember. I remember sticking to the Naugahyde sofa and being bored out of my mind, while my three brothers and I tortured, poked, and prodded each other. (Perhaps not Craig. He was probably interested.)
I really had no idea what was going on.
People on the moon did not seem magical to my underdeveloped brain where anything was possible. But when I watched Elvis, I felt the magic. I knew he was energy in motion, quicksilver smooth, a shooting star, better than any moon landing. Even at 4, I knew he was something special.
Fast forward some forty odd years. My happy memories of Elvis remain intact. I have seen and re-seen countless Elvis movies and still clap my hands in glee and anticipation when Elvis completes his Macho dive-off with the utterly charming and debonair Alejandro Rey in "Fun in Acapulco." (You may remember him as the completely divine unrequited love interest in "The Flying Nun." Obviously Sally Field and Mary Tyler Moore helped fuel my fascination with unrequited love...and nuns... and dark haired men with accents.) But now I am actually in Acapulco with my family on leave from a cruise ship and we will be going to the cliffs! Yes, those cliffs. Those touched by my idols, my Elvis, my Alejandro.
As is the way of the Hamilton clan, or those married within the Hamilton clan, or the off-spring of the Hamilton clan, it would be unheard of to actually join a tour. Even the appearance of doing something 'touristy' would be considered very un-Hamilton-like. But I am adamant that we will be going to see the cliff divers As Made Famous by Elvis Presley.
But first, the beach!
The Harbor of Acapulco is not quite the same as it was when the rich and elite came to the shores and vacationed in the 1960's. The harbor is now polluted with a sheen that can only be described as oily. The local fishermen encouraged my brother to help haul in their nets and he did so with excitement, adventure and eventually disappointment when he saw the small amount of fish and garbage that came up after an hour of pulling.
Deflated we rented chairs and haggled with vendors in our broken Spanish and drank Margaritas. Candace, my sister-in-law, accepted a foot massage from a very scary, toothless, and hunched over woman. I am pretty sure she was the inspiration for every single witch cast in a Disney movie. Afraid of the curse I knew would follow should I refuse, I explained I didn't want to give her athlete's foot and mimed that my feet are truly disgusting. (They are.) She looked, smiled in agreement, and then eagerly went to work on Candace.
In hindsight, I am guessing that the two vendors who approached us to parasail across the Bay, had been waiting patiently until they were assured we were drunk enough to accept their very reasonable sales pitch. They were right. However, only David and I were drunk enough, because the rest of the family burrowed their feet in the sand, tilted their hats and feigned sleep.
Truth be told, we thought we were being led to a nearby boat, but instead we were hustled into a waiting auto. With a dulled sense of suspicion, we laughed out loud that we were probably being kidnapped, but were assured by our driver that we were not. Good enough for us! Eventually, we arrived at another beach that had a boat, a parachute, and a little bitty wooden dock to take off and land from because: "You don't want to touch the water. It is very bad for you."
David flew like an Eagle, whooping his excitement at every pass. The Parachute was attached to a small motor boat, and when the Captain signaled for him to land, he expertly steered himself onto the petite platform with the ease of a butterfly. The look on his face was the embodiment of sheer joy.
They made me give up my glasses under protest. "How am I supposed to see in order to land?" I argued.
"You will lose them,” they chided. “We will signal you with our voices and guide you in. We do it all of the time."
They confused my drunken senses with their handsome faces and accents. (Did I mention I have a thing for accents? Curse you Alejandro!)
Lo and behold, I also flew like an eagle. I flew through the air and marveled at the coastal city and glistening black water. It was the City of Elvis and our spirits were one as I envisioned him calling me to the Cliffs of LaQuebrada.
I was awakened from my reverie by the voices of the Captain and my brother down below, but with the wind, distance, and noise, I had no idea what they were saying. Without my glasses, I couldn't see. They were little blurry bugs and their motions could not be interpreted.
I was dunked. Not once. Not twice. But three times. The small wooden pallet that was to keep me safe from the dying and toxic bay eluded my deaf, drunk and blind self. I was eventually saved from drowning by an unbelievably tan French millionaire who had his own tanning dock. He fished me from sea, and I lay there sputtering and spewing black liquid the consistency of molasses from my nose and mouth.
David and the Captain grabbed hold of my parachute that threatened to pull me back into the Bay. I was eternally grateful to the blackened Frenchman. He was amused by my crash landing, the sheer size of my brother, and the fact that any people could be that pale. Intrigued, he invited our family to spend time with him at his mansion and to travel around Europe on his yacht.
Unfortunately, I was not that drunk; almost drowning by parachute tends to sober one up, although I'm fairly certain David was already trying to figure out how he could get more time off from work.
The ride back to our spouses and kids can only be described as amazing. Like in, "amazing we ever made it back.” Whereas the original ride over was a pretty straight shot - this time the driver veered off and headed away from the beach, toward the hills, and into the city. David and I looked at each other with a little bit of fear, a little bit of disbelief and a little bit of adventure which was probably due to the residual margaritas in our system.
"Uh, excuse me? Where are we going?" we asked nervously.
"We are picking up my sister. She is getting off work from the hospital."
We sat in silence. We had no phones, no money, and no idea who we were truly with or where we were. The only true fact is that we were with two parasail guys in the back of their car somewhere in Acapulco. Eventually we came to a stop in the middle of the city and a woman climbed in. The three of us were wedged in the back seat of the very small automobile.
And… I'm not kidding…she was a nun.
I did not know that nuns still wore habits, but Sally Field and the ghost of Elvis past had somehow managed to sandwich me and my brother in the back of a Ford Fiesta in Acapulco with a nun who looked suspiciously like she could fly.
As the next hour passed, David and I had still not been reunited with our family or returned to our beach of origin, but somewhere between the lack of air conditioning, the smell of diesel, and the hazardous fumes that were now off-gassing from my clothes and body, we had given up hope of ever reaching our destination. Questioning the driver resulted in reassurances that "we are almost there," and questioning the nun resulted in a shy smile and coy turn of the head.
I often wonder how many times the nun's brother had put her in these situations. She didn't shrink back when we picked her up. She got right in. I imagine her rolling her eyes and saying, "Oh no! I cannot tolerate any more smelly tourists!" (But then, because she is a nun, she would have to beg God for forgiveness for being so unkind and calling us smelly.)
When the blue lights came on behind our car, our driver looked back at us and began to laugh at our wide eyes. He explained that his cousin is a policeman and he likes to pull him over as a joke. The police officer played his part well as he rapped on the window and ordered the driver out. We felt a pang of fear and vulnerability. It didn’t seem like a joke. Even the nun sat ramrod straight and eyes forward. We let out our breathes in a gust of immense relief when the two cousins broke from their roles and fell into each other, embracing and loudly guffawing at how scared we were.
The nun waved from the back seat, giggling and covering her mouth with her tiny hand, as though such an outward sign of laughter would appear unseemly.
We eventually made it back to our beach. Candace and the Foot Massager were engaged in a verbal battle as to how much a foot massage should actually cost. I believe there was some spitting and possibly a lifelong curse on the Hamilton lineage; that wherever they travel, flooding, elevator entrapments, food poisoning, and all sorts of chaos will follow. My own husband - feeling abandoned - questioned how long a ten minute parasail trip down the beach could turn into a three hour excursion.
Then he remembered; he was married to a Hamilton.
We walked and shopped our way through the meandering city of Acapulco to the Cliffs and Divers of LaQueBrada. I purchased new clothes along the way, leaving my old ones in a restaurant bathroom - because when you are dunked in the Bay, a miracle occurs and your clothes will never dry.
As I watched the divers climb the precarious cliffs and leap at just the right moment, they appeared to be plummeting to certain death toward the rocky bottom far below. Then - Whoosh! - a giant wave washed in, providing a safety net for the amazing athletes.
I couldn’t stand it! The stress that these young men could die at the slightest misjudgment, gave me extreme anxiety. However, as I turned to leave something caught my eye and I saw a lone diver standing tall at the highest pinnacle.
I squinted and felt certain I could see Elvis standing there. He was framed in the moonlight and he slowly shook the water from his gorgeous black hair. His body glistened and his lips formed a perfect pout. He looked my way, and with a wink and a kiss he leapt from the edge and disappeared into the balmy waters down below. I grasped the rails and searched for him, but I never saw him come up.
The divers congregated for tips at the end of the night. Some of them were children. One of them had a leg that was swollen and tender. They weren’t Elvis and Alejandro. They were my son’s age working a dangerous and deadly job to support their families. I felt dirty and sad. We tipped the boys and my nieces had their photo taken with them. What were we perpetuating? I send up a silent prayer of protection to God, St. Philomena, and for good measure, our very own Sister Mary of the Ford Fiesta.
Armed soldiers with machine guns approached us and told us it wasn’t safe for us to walk through the town at night. They insisted we take a cab to the port and we piled into the only one available. We knew they were probably in cahoots, but happily agreed – hoping that another Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride wasn’t in our future.
The cruise ship blasted her horn twice to let us know it was time to board as we exited the cab and rushed through the silent dock. A breeze came out of nowhere and I felt a warm, moist breath caress the nape of my neck. I heard Alejandro whisper my name and call me back while Elvis strummed his guitar and gently sang, Falling in Love With You.
Before I entered the portal, I looked up, saw the full moon overhead, and remembered my father telling me I needed to watch the first man walk on the moon; that it would be something I would never forget. He was right. I remembered watching the moon landing on that grainy TV screen, just like I remembered Elvis. I was wrong, they were both exciting and magical and those small moments as a child gave me enough power to fuel my imagination and dreams for a lifetime.
The ship blasted the horn one last time and the portal closed. But as they bolted the door, I swear I heard the laughter of the old masseuse echoing in the distance and hoped her curse upon our family wouldn't be too severe.