Summer went way too fast, and was filled with travel, adventure and great times. We had the opportunity to travel to Spain and stay in a friend’s home, which was an extraordinary experience for the kids. It felt so much like our home in Mexico, the sun, the fiesta, the food, the warmth of the people, and more fiesta. Being there was really great for us all, and very hard to leave when it came time to get on the plane.
In early September we decided to celebrate my birthday with some great friends in Acapulco. Though we had very mixed feelings for obvious reasons, we got on the plane and hoped for the best. One of the couples who accompanied us on the trip had hired bodyguards to be with us, and we would be staying in a guarded community outside of the city, so we would safe. I really felt like this trip would be an opportunity for us to heal on some level. It was facing our fears, our demons. This was the first time we would step foot on Mexican soil for the purpose of enjoyment since we left in 2008.
Driving to our destination from the airport, it all seemed surreal. I took a deep breath and tried to stay calm. While winding along the main highway that overlooks the ocean, a fleet of federal police trucks flew by in the opposite direction, with masked agents standing up in the back of it, with their machine guns ready. A few moments later a helicopter went overhead in the same direction, with more armed, masked agents hanging from it. I took another deep breath. It took me three days before I could finally stop looking over my shoulder constantly, but then we both started to relax a bit, surrendering to the tropical paradise that Acapulco can be.
I have been to Acapulco about 8 times in my life, but I have to say that I had never seen it like this. As I took it all in, I realized that that we were practically alone. We went to two of the top restaurants, where you would typically have a hard time getting a reservation on a weekend, but they were completely empty. We were the only table in both places. We went out on our friend’s boat in the bay, and we were the only ones there too….in the whole Acapulco Bay. No swimmers, no banana boats, no jet-skiers, no para-sailors, no yachts. This buzzing city by the sea, is now much like a ghost-town.
On the front of the nightclubs and many restaurants we saw banners that said “Hablan Bien de ACA”, or “Speak Well of Acapulco”. Many of these places have closed, some opening only during Christmas and New Years, and Easter Week and long weekends. My heart was breaking for the people and business owners who make their living on tourism and are really suffering, but is the solution to say good things about a place that can’t yet offer safety to it’s tourists?
On several occasions in the 5 days we were there, our bodyguards would not take us to the places we wanted to go. They said it was too dangerous to visit the lagoon, the traditional market in downtown, the nice shopping areas in downtown were even off limits. We didn’t argue, but it was so sad that we couldn’t feel free to enjoy it like we used to. The strong police presence was obvious, but just because there are federal policemen everywhere, doesn’t necessarily mean you are safe.
When we spoke to the locals, they all had their stories to tell. One had witnessed a shootout in the market, another on the highway, another lost a member of her family as an innocent bystander in yet another shootout, others lost family members to kidnappings in which the paid ransom but didn’t get their loved-one back, 140 public schools had been closed because cartels were kidnapping and murdering their teachers in order to take revenge on the government. The government can’t offer safety to it’s people, so the children stay home behind closed doors. With this in mind, who is going to speak well of Acapulco? Would you really tell a friend or family member to go there?
What is the solution? In my opinion silence and ignorance of the reality is criminal in itself. The Mexican people must demand collectively that the authorities do their job and hold them accountable openly when they don’t. There must be accountability and consequences for the corrupt, and an overhaul of their judicial system, tougher punishment for criminals of violent crimes, murder, kidnappings. Victims who speak out and demand justice are equally important. The understandable excuse for not speaking out is for fear of the consequences in a country where the authorities and the criminals are many times one in the same. So where do you begin?
So we drove back to the airport to depart once again, in spite of it all. We had a fantastic time, just being there, taking in the view, the seductively warm salt water, the intense sun, the extraordinary food, and just being with great friends. The house we were in was a destination in itself, so we enjoyed it thoroughly, and I would go back under the same circumstances.
All international flights in and out of Acapulco have been cancelled, the facade on a whole section of the airport has fallen off, and has not been repaired. Your move Mexico.