National Geographic : 1964 Dec
EKTACHROME(0 NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY Lanterns in hand, net on shoulder, a fisherman heads home with his daughter, who met him on the beach at dawn. By unwritten law, he fishes only in his own spot on Acapulco Bay and tol erates no trespassers. He and five hundred others daily harvest five tons. Acapulco con sumes three tons; Mexico City gets the rest. 870 them-and to defend Acapulco, El Castillo de San Diego was built in 1616. It was destroyed in the earthquake of 1776 but replaced by 1784 with the present star-shaped Fuerte de San Diego. When Jose Maria Morelos took the fort in 1813 in the Mexican War of Independence, the saga of the galleons was ending. The Mexican rebellion, Spain's involvement in the Napoleonic Wars, and the competition of English and American trading ships finished them. For more than 100 years Acapulco drowsed, with only a brief awakening during the California gold rush, when gold-seekers crossed Mexico over land from Veracruz to take ship again on the Pacific side. Then it reverted to the fishing village it had been when the first Spaniards arrived, sometime between 1521 and 1530. The Indians they met called the place, in the Nahuatl lan guage, Acatl Poloa Co, which means "in the place where the reeds were destroyed." Lost City of the "Pretty Ladies" But even these primitives were Johnnys-come lately. Earlier clues to the ancient history of Aca pulco are to be found in the hills of La Sabana on the outskirts of town. At a little store named Ciudad Perdida, I inquired after the lost city (estimated to be more than 2,000 years old) that the name commemorates. The proprietor, Ranulfo Pachecos, drove with me a mile or so down the road, then led me through fields to a place where boulders were engraved with hideous faces and crosslike symbols. A few shards still lay scattered on the ground. "Perhaps you have heard of 'the pretty ladies of Acapulco,'" said Sefior Pachecos. "Here is where they were found." These curious little clay heads pose a mystery. Their beauty differs from that of Mexico's Indi ans; one resembles Marlene Dietrich (sketch on map, page 853). Archeologists disagree, but Dr. Alejandro von Wuthenau of Mexico City's Uni versity of the Americas writes of the pretty ladies that they "indicate the possibility of European and Asian contacts with the pre-Columbian peo ples." So Acapulco's international flavor could be older than it seems. Acapulco's modern era opened with the road from Mexico City. Completed in 1927, this fol lowed the mule trail by which traders once came to the Acapulco fair. Hannah and I drove it in 1947, a rugged two-lane mountain highway that took a day and a half to transit. Thanks chiefly to ex-President Aleman, this road was superseded in 1955 by a wide new highway, cutting the time for the 260-mile course to six or five hours depending on whether you are an American or an uninhibited Mexican driver.