Mexico: Beyond the Bubble
by Mark H. Bloom with Jason Scholder
Acapulco de Juárez, on the western shore of Mexico, is a tourist magnet—more popular than the Alamo, Alcatraz, and Antarctica combined. The daring exploits of the La Quebrada cliff divers have aroused honeymooners for decades. The white sands of its picturesque beaches have seduced lovers for as long as lovers have seduced each other. The young and reckless still flock there, driving a booming nightclub scene that starts at 2:00 AM. Choosing Acapulco as a vacation destination is like having a one-track mind in a two-car garage.
But even places that are popular vacation destinations and trendy resorts have neighborhoods to avoid. Here’s my version of Paradise Lost.
If you check a map, you’ll find Acapulco far from any borders, but if you step outside your hotel onto the strip that stretches northwest to southeast paralleling the beach, you’ll find that all the “locals” are actually from somewhere else. Mexico City, Yucatan, San Diego. If you want to discover the real Mexico, you’ll have to travel northeast, away from the shoreline.
The bubble that is Acapulco’s tourist town extends less than a half-mile from the shore. Once I left the well-lit, well-kept, well-patrolled streets, I entered Acapulco, the Big City. It was like wandering the mean streets of East LA on a blistering July day, the kind of day when tempers flare and people disappear without a trace.
In a big city, anything can and usually does happen. Maybe those missing persons turn up hours later after a trip to an air-conditioned mall and maybe they don’t. I’m just saying.
As I hiked inland, I noticed the buildings, streets, even the people grew darker. Aged stucco façades gave way to concrete and steel. Elegant cobblestone avenues decayed into crumbling asphalt. The smiling faces of shopkeepers morphed into furtive glances and penetrating stares.
Then I entered the barrio. Surrounded by big city blight, I paused to get my bearings. I suddenly became aware that I didn’t belong there. A hand reached into my back pocket, and I spun around instinctively. But the sidewalk behind me was deserted. Was it a slick pickpocket or just the cold hand of fear grabbing my ass?
So close to the opulence I left behind, I’d entered a land where, not only didn’t the locals speak English, their Spanish wasn’t too good neither. I’d entered a place where the usual rules don’t apply, but the usual suspects do. Suddenly my wits, my intelligence, my very sanity came into question. Why had I come here again?
I could be turning bronze at the beach. Instead, I was sweating for a much different reason. Tucking my tail between my legs, I turned around and headed back. No one physically threatened me. No one even approached me. But I knew, the way you know when a Republican wordlessly reads a new climate change bill. First it’s the marker, then the scissors. Next thing you know, you’re history.
I clicked my heels as I wished, prayed even: “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Home is the bubble. Home is the hotel. Home is where I left my hat — or wish I’d left my hat because nothing shouts “tourist” like a Dallas Cowboys ballcap.
I missed my room in the high-rise hotel, my place by the kidney-shaped pool, and my hokey “Dos cervezas, por favor” T-shirt. Suddenly, the price of a burger didn’t seem so high when viewed in context. As it was, I somehow avoided the vicious gangs, the corrupt police, and the infamous drug lords. Maybe it was the heat. It was probably siesta.
So trust me: you don’t want big city Mexican life; you want the bubble. You’re not here to cross cultural boundaries in the name of political correctness. You’re not here to pay homage to the working class of an impoverished third world country. You’re here to relax.
In Acapulco, your idea of danger shouldn’t extend farther than trekking three blocks down the street to sample the buffet in a non-guidebook-sanctioned hotel. Your idea of adventure should include a soft-shelled taco and some mysterious seafood. Everyone knows not to drink the water, but not everyone knows to stay inside the bubble.
Little Known Fact:
Hotel security in Acapulco is highly efficient since they want their guests to feel completely safe both in the lobby and on the beach. I had eyeglasses and a wallet returned to me within an hour from one mishap. But be forewarned: Once you step beyond the bubble, you’re on your own.
You’re on vacation, remember? Stay near the beach. Shop the stores. Cruise the bubble in search of art, jewelry, or bottled water. Take in the sights. Enjoy yourself. Splurge even. Just keep one thing in mind while you’re there: The Acapulco shoreline isn’t for locals, and the rest of the city isn’t for you.
Mark H. Bloom is a published writer and editor originally from Salem, MA, aka The Witch City, which is another tourist destination. Mark now resides in the scenic mountain town of Asheville, NC. He entertains himself by writing creatively and professionally, editing books, and doing video work. Get in touch with Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his full bio below.