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For Acapulco the siesta is over. On the hot sands where youngsters peddle sun hats and coconut milk and glass-bottom-boat rides, on the heights where the bougainvillaea undulates at the breezy bidding of the Pacific, in the plaza where babies suckle and endless echelons of swallows come at twilight to rush the trees like bleacher fans—in all of Acapulco the sound is the same. The sound is the slosh of new mortar, the clink of the pick, of brick on brick, as day on sun-washed day this mushroom-shaped indenture on the sea becomes Miami-in- Mexico.
Already, if you count each posada, each chrome-and-glass air-conditioned inn, there are 150 hotels on hand. Flushed and fattened on tortillas, tacos and tequila, 10,000 sunburned souls now can sleep away the night—or at least the useless hours between bo�te and beach.
And there will be more room soon. The 13-story skeleton of the Acapulco Hilton has risen on the curve of the bay. Its supper club will be perched on an offshore rock reachable by cable car from the lobby. The superswank Villa Vera, with just 11 rooms, will offer a private swimming pool with its best suite, not to be confused with the general pool for the other 10 roomers.
Although there are enough sand strips to set aside a Morning Beach and an Afternoon Beach, both have become so crowded that the resort's most ambitious new layout, the Pierre Marqu�s, is building its 180 Mayan-motif luxury suites on the Playa de Revolcadero 10 miles down the coast from the center of town. If Acapulco decides to follow the lead of Oilman Paul Getty, who is footing the bill, there will be unlimited room to expand further. As you stand on Revolcadero Beach and look southeast, the broad border of sand simply runs out of sight.
The siesta is over in Acapulco because the sun shines bright and hot all year long except for patches in the August dewy season. And, counting all the sandy coves, there are 32 beaches, and you can hunt for white doves, and out in the sea the sailfish cruise the blue as thick as sardines. A boat costs you less than $30 a day; the best of hotels get about $10 a day with meals, and at two joints you can dance the mambo on the sand with your shoes off. For $99, most of which you can pay later, Air France will fly you nonstop from New York to Mexico City, and $9 more will put you in Acapulco. I know a place, an American-run guest house in a palm grove, where you can while away the winter at $5.05 a day, meals included.
It has been a long sleep, but Acapulco has been Boomville before. For three centuries, which came to an end in 1820, Spanish galleons sailed the route from the Philippines loaded with cloves and cinnamon, damask and satin, silk and taffeta, ivory and bone, pearls and fine wood furniture. Once a year the China Ship, as it came to be known, sailed into Acapulco. Its goods were unloaded and transshipped overland to Vera Cruz on the Gulf and then shipped across the Atlantic to Spain.
The arrival of the China Ship in Acapulco caused bells to peal in Mexico City, reachable then only by a mule track known as the China Road. With the goods off-loaded in the Pacific port, Acapulco staged a fair that lasted from mid-January to the end of February. It was one of the most famous annual expositions of the day, bringing merchants from all Mexico, from far-off Peru and from Spain itself, swelling the population of 4,000 to a jam-packed 10,000.
With Mexico free from Spain after the War of Independence (1810-20), ship lanes closed, jungle grew over the mule path and Acapulco went to sleep. It slept a sound siesta for a hundred years, or until a road from Mexico City was scratched out in 1927. Three years later Carlos Barnard, an accountant for an oil company in Tampico, worked his way to Acapulco by mule. With $1,100 he bought a piece of land at the edge of La Quebrada, a cut that had been chopped in the cliffs to permit ocean breezes to cool the town. He built three cabins on the edge of the cliffs, opened them in 1932. The sailfishing was marvelous. Barnard bought a 23-foot Chris-Craft, had another boat built in Manzanillo, hired captains, pushed sailfishing. With his three cabins and a cantina, but with the road from Mexico City little better than a wagon trail, Barnard nearly starved. In their idle hours his bar boys began to bathe in the narrow channel formed by two cliffs that rose vis-�-vis. Soon, bar boys being boys, they were climbing the rocks. Then jumping off. It got to be such a good show they began to pass the hat.
It wasn't, as legend persists, Errol Flynn sailing into the harbor on the deck of a square-rigger that woke up Acapulco. It was the war that sealed up the routes to other playgrounds. And it was the schoolteachers. "They came," as an oldtimer recalls, "by the jillions, buying up the junk in town, staying at little eight-and 10-room hotels for $3.50 for three meals." Then from Mexico City came a California promoter named A. C. Blumenthal, and with him a blond Swiss orchestra leader named Ernest (Ted) Stauffer, once of Bern. One moonlit night in June of 1949 Stauffer, between marriages to Faith Domergue and Hedy Lamarr, sat on a rock at La Quebrada and sketched a fantastic nightclub. It would be built in bands around the cliff, each band a single tier, wide enough for one table. It would have the world's most electrifying floor show: the diving boys of La Quebrada. He and Carlos Barnard went into business. They bought a four-masted 300-foot schooner that had run the Pacific for 70 years. After its retirement Hollywood had used it to film Mutiny on the Bounty. It was brought to Acapulco as a nightclub but it was caught in a storm and wrecked on the beach. Its priceless hardwood timbers were used to shore up the terraces. The Raspa, a stamping dance of the era, was then popular, and Stauffer decided to use reinforced concrete struts to support the dance floor, which literally hangs over the sea.
On his cliffside terraces Stauffer serves flamboyant dishes of flaming shrimp, such international concoctions as Swiss enchiladas. He flies his steaks in from Mexico City, serves them for $1.60 U.S. Chicken comes dished up in a coconut shell, and for lubrication there is the coco loco, a mix of tequila and coconut water. But nothing could be more intoxicating than the swan dive twice nightly from the top of a 126-foot cliff.