We spent only one day in Acapulco, but it seemed like two. One day was all about the countryside and the sea tortoises, the other was about the new Acapulco and its ancient marketplace. Taking it nice and slow, as befits a story about tortoises, let’s start by spending some time in the country.
With Manolo, a private guide, we drove far out into the countryside to visit a national sea tortoise refuge center. Here, the beaches are patrolled, so that the tortoise eggs can be gathered almost as soon as they are laid. They are brought to this sandy field, where they’re buried for most of the 45 days it takes them to incubate, each clutch of eggs being marked with its expected hatching date. When they’re about to hatch they’re moved to a small enclosed pen, where the babies are safe from predators.
Groups of tourists, school children, and anyone interested in the preservation of the tortoises come to the refuge and pay a small sum for the privelege of holding the the baby tortoises gently and setting them free in the open ocean.
These are our own personal tortoises, ready to swim away from us as soon as we’d met. We walked them to the surf line and watched the waves take them. Only one tortoise in a hundred released at the refuge will survive to be 5 years old. If they make it that long, they can live to be 130 years old. I’ll be wondering about our tortoises for the rest of my life, and although the odds against them are so enormous I can’t help but hope.
The refuge is surrounded by coconut palms
and the building itself is thatched with coconut palapa, as are most of the structures in the area.
The visitors are protected by the omnipresent Mexican security forces, armed with AK-47s “not because it’s dangerous but just in case” Manolo told us. I’ve seen more machine guns than I can count in the past few days.
Leaving the tortoises to the mercies of the ocean, we headed even deeper into the countryside,just to see how people live in the rural part of the state of Guererro. Snapping pictures as we drove past, we saw little shops,
a rural pharmacy,
and a collection of homes. I’m ashamed to admit that I asked if this was a picnic area. Some of the houses are so rudimentary that I couldn’t even recognize them as habitation. I kept looking for a school, but Manolo told us that there’s no compulsory education in Mexico. Thinking about that, and about these houses, really made us wonder how Mexico can pull itself into the modern world.
We managed to convince Manolo to take us to a real Mexican restaurant for lunch, not one for gringos. In this pretty open air spot,
surrounded by flowers and right on an estuary, you first choose your fish from a tub of fish in ice, and then they clean and grill it over wood for you. Half of it was slathered in a garlic sauce, the other half in adobo. It was some of the best fish we’ve ever eated, served with hand-pressed tortillas, sopes, frijoles, guacamole, and a couple of delicious salsas. Manolo told us that he’d eaten there right after he met his wife, but had never been able to afford to go there again. It’s a restaurant for rich Mexicans, tourists from Mexico City. The people who live in those palapa-topped sheds right across the river could never eat there, since the bill for the three of us came to $60 with a tip. They had talked us into choosing a fish that was too big for the three of us, but I was glad that Manolo was able to take the leftovers home to his four kids, who are not likely to be eating there anytime soon.
While we ate we watched this man mending a net
and this egret doing some fishing of his own. Then we set out to see modern-day Acapulco, but I’ll let you digest all this for a bit before we go there.