At 10:30 and 12:30 each evening at La Perla, the Stauffer-Barnard nightclub, there comes a roll of drums. Then down a long stairway that leads partway to the sea strides a diver clad in shorts, holding in his uplifted arm a flaming torch. At the end of the stairway he flips the torch into the sea, climbs down the rest of the rock face hand over hand. At the water's edge he jumps in, swims the 10 yards or so across to the opposite shore, then climbs the sheer cliff rising there. At the top he pauses for applause from the diners on their terraces across the way. Then he steps to a little candlelit chapel, kneels and prays, rises and walks to the edge. He watches carefully until a wave nears the chasm below, then suddenly the floodlights go out, a fiery blanket of paper and kerosene is ignited on the cliff opposite, the diver springs and dives by the light of the flame.
Diving from the cliffs of La Quebrada, once a bar boy's lark, has become a glamorous profession in Acapulco. One leading diver, Raoul Garcia, is now married to Marcia Reagan, a New York model. Some 20 divers make their living at it, the youngest 15, the oldest, now in semiretirement, 30. All are knit in an organized guild which divides its members into four-hour shifts. They will jump for tours, individuals or cameramen at a more or less standard rate, but the day's biggest plum is the twice-nightly floor-show jump at Perla which pays $10 plus whatever the hat brings in from onlookers not on club property. A diver in need of immediate cash sometimes peddles his Perla diving turn to a comrade at a premium weeks in advance.
Of the 800 dives bought by the club last year only three were canceled because of stormy weather. Stauffer has taken his divers barnstorming to a water show in Chicago, to the world high-diving championships in Panama. Although an American was killed on the Quebrada cliffssome years ago, no Mexican has ever been injured from a dive. The only casualties have been one broken wrist suffered at Panama and severe shock at Chicago when the Bureau of Internal Revenue announced the tax the divers would have to pay on U.S. earnings.
On the 12th of December the divers celebrate the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, with a jumping fiesta. The local padre climbs the rocks with them, and the boys cluster around the cliffside shrine and sing chorals. Then one by one they somersault off the cliffs or dive with a cape held behind them or, with all the lights turned out, they jump from the heights carrying a flaming torch.
While no other hotel can offer the spectacle of the diving boys, which indeed some guests can see from El Mirador's cottages now rambling all over the Quebrada cliffs, there are other delights too. The Club de Pesca, owned by a former policeman who made good selling Chevrolets and Pepsi Cola, is the resort's only large completely air-conditioned hotel. Encamped flush on the bay, it has its own fishing dock, its own fleet of charter boats that will take the fishermen out for sail and marlin, supply tackle, bait, crew, gas and lunch for $29. It also keeps on hand a quartet of speedboats for water skiing, a catamaran with sails and aqualungs. There are two swimming pools, one salt, one sweet; and set amid beds of yellow copa de oro and pink and green tabachin bushes are two dozen bungalows, each with bedroom, glass-walled living room looking out on its own private garden. The tab is $22 a day for two people with meals.
The handiest hotel to the beach is the Caleta, which overlooks Morning Beach. With a new 100-room addition to its 150 rooms it will be the largest modern hotel in town, eclipsing the Majestic, which sits like an immense fluorescent ship on the heights, commanding a magnificent view of the harbor. Out on the point is the Prado Americas, with its blue-and-white-striped pool and a miniature golf course, but it is so far from the beach that work is soon to begin on a funicular that will carry guests to the sands in mechanical style. High on another hilltop, with nothing but the blue Mexican sky and diamond-scattered sea and white ocote trees for shade, is the quiet Los Flamingos. It has a pink-and-green bar, and dining room with glass doors to screen the breeze and a small hilltop pool set in red brick and laid with mats. The winter rate: $10 a day. The innkeepers: John Wayne, Fred MacMurray and Red Skelton.
A GUEST HOUSE IN A PALM GROVE
For half the rate in luxury hotels, or to be exact, for $5.05 a day, you can live at Las Palmas, a guest house set in a seaside palm grove and operated by John Sutherland, an ex-mess officer in the U.S. Army. There are 25 rooms in the place, each with bath. There is no bar, but there are hammocks slung between palm trunks, and at the edge of the lawn a beach used both by bathers and fishermen in dugout canoes.
Whether you stay at Las Palmas or the Mirador or the Flamingo, no visitor to Acapulco, beyond a first-night man, has ever been known to wear a tie or, for that matter, a coat. Acapulco frowns too on Bermuda shorts and laughs over long stockings. The Tianguis Bazar, run by Peggy Pe�a, a redheaded American, and next door, La Quebrada, operated by Babs Clyde, a black-haired Swede married to a celebrated R.A.F. hero, both offer the shortest of shorts. Mme. Pe�a sells bullfighter pants and skirts of colorful embroidery adapted from native Guerrero costumes. She has fish-net caps studded with pearls, black bullfighter blouses fringed with white lace, good-luck fish that button on the shirt. They are guaranteed for good fishing and, since guaranteed, are returnable. An adaptation is the Acapulco rebozo, long enough to lie on and appliqu�d with good-luck fish. Guaranteed for good fishing on the beach.
La Quebrada has jackets of unbleached manta cloth for both men and women, and hand-painted and hand-screened poplin shirts by Jim Tillett of Mexico City. It has designed bloomer shorts for ladies, with a tight-fitting leg; sandals of jute and patent leather for ladies, and leather sandals for men (black for evening), both at $3.50 a pair. Down the block, Jaime's has Eisenhower jackets of unbleached manta cloth, paisley shirts made of Mexican handkerchiefs bought in local markets ($6), and shirts with zippers on both sides to taper male waists ($5).