Diamonds Are Forever

If you have driven the length of Acapulco in the last year, from Barra (near the airport) to Pie de la Cuesta from head to toe, as it were you will have seen many changes: Improved roads at both ends, a new plaza in Caleta, and a mammoth shopping center, hotel and cinema complex on the way to the Naval Base in Acapulco Dorado.

Go further, past the Convention Center and upwards towards Las Brisas and you will see svelte new high-rises, pointy, twisty, curvy condos shining in the evening sun. But it’s when you reach Puerto Marques and the crashing Revolcadero Beach, the area referred to as Acapulco Diamante, that jaws start to drop.

It’s transformed; packed tight and gleaming with businesses.

Gone are the days when there was nothing between the legendary Hotel Princess and the airport (5 minutes drive in the 1970s), and longer gone, in the late 1950s, when the chic Hotel Pierre Marques was the only building to grace these shores.

“When I was a boy, I remember when my father, who was a taxi driver, came to the hills here to hunt pheasant and tigrillo, a wild cat a little bigger than a domestic cat,” says Baldomero Regules from his office that overlooks giant washing machines and tumble driers that recall the early space age.

“You don’t see them anymore, but that’s why that hill there by Las Brisas is called ‘Cerro del Tigre,’ ” he explained.

Baldomero has worked for 32 years in the landmark Hotel Princess, built outside Acapulco in the late 1960s.

“The Princess was 15 or 20 years before its time,” says Balderamo. “When it was built there was nothing even similar in Mexico.”

He says it was the first hotel to have a salt-water pool and its own water from a sewage treatment plant that reclaimed, even in those days, 70 percent of the used water for irrigating the golf course and lagoons.

This early display of environmental good sense has carried forward into ecological thinking today. The hotel now called the Fairmont Acapulco Princess is committed to recycling. On World Beach Cleanup Day it rounded up three tons of garbage. They have set invaluable examples for others to try to follow in a tourist destination plagued by bad news of bay pollution.

Balderamo now in charge of six million pounds in weight of washing every year (2,300 sheets every day, during full occupation) saw all the business bacchanalia of the hotel’s early years, before the Hyatt was built.

“I remember 5,000 bottles of champagne for a poolside event, and when IBM had four-day parties,” he says.

It began with all the fanfare befitting the international jet set of the day and it continued that way. Howard Hughes hid out here from the FBI in the last months of his life.

“The epoch of the Princess was one of exclusivity,” Balderamo says, recalling the visits of Henry Kissinger, presidents and dictators, when he worked in the food and drinks department.

“I attended Marcos from the Philippines and remember it well, because there was a tremor during his stay. He was with Imelda and two kids in the penthouse. To help them get over the shock, before suppertime, we sent up a pitcher of margaritas. There were bodyguards all around and only two of us were allowed to enter the rooms.”

The Princess’ marble floors have been trod by an array of public and incognito figures, from Sylvester Stallone, María Félix and Kevin Costner, to arms traders, people decked in kilos of gold, and Lolitas of varying degrees of fame and talents. Actors, heartthrobs and politicians are still among the guests today, such as Pierce Brosnan and Bill Clinton (who honeymooned here all those years ago with Hillary) who visited recently.

So are middle class families from Mexico’s three major cities, and many also request permission to come for their wedding or quinceaños photos. It remains a site of innovation and caché, a mode of the last two years being the Engagement Proposal Package. This built up after various creative and moneyed youngsters asked permission to give the ring here, one Canadian family going so far as to have written “Will you marry me?” in fireworks in the Revolcadero beach’s night sky.

The current fashion is to start with a swim in the pool, a three-hour yacht ride, a visit by the young woman to the prestigious Willow Stream spa in the hotel, followed by supper and sometimes a video of congratulations from friends and family.

This icon of Mexican tourism’s past is surprisingly accessible for a visit, and lodging costs are not as high as you may expect. Prices are on par with the Pierre Marques, practically next door, the other hotel personage of the area. This welcoming, two-story hotel was built in 1957 by high profile billionaire Jean Paul Getty, while the Princess was built by Daniel K. Ludwig, so low profile he was known as “the invisible billionaire.”