PUERTO ESCONDIDO, Mexico — I came south to learn if the old Puerto Escondido still exists.
Well, it does. Only it is threatened, this little fishing village beyond Acapulco on the road to Guatemala. For one thing, they paved the main street, Avenida Perez Gaspa. For another, Puerto Escondido is being invaded by Europeans as well as Americans.
Still, some compare Puerto Escondido to Zihuatanejo as it was 20 years ago. That was at a time when Zihuatanejo was a maze of broken streets and ancient pastel buildings. In Zihuatanejo I used to get an emotional high; the village had personality and character and a simplicity that is rare among resorts these days.
Probably it would have remained unchanged. Only the developers moved in next door at Ixtapa to install hotels like those in Cancun. And so they figured they had to spiff Zihuatanejo up too. Otherwise, they argued, the big spenders doing tours from Ixtapa might be turned off.
The same thing is occurring beyond Puerto Escondido. South of here, the developers from Ixtapa have created a resort that takes in 18 miles of magnificent coastline.
The village where all this is occurring is called Huatulco, and until this year fishermen and their families lived in shanties on the beach. Now they are being resettled inland in modern homes with hot water and TV sets. Only given the choice, they say, they'd prefer being back on the beach--enjoying those smashing sunsets in place of "Miami Vice."
Midway between Acapulco and the Guatemalan border, the $1-billion project at Huatulco will be bristling with 25,000 rooms shortly after the turn of the century. Presently, though, Mexico is referring to Huatulco as its undiscovered riviera.
One hotel is already open, the little Posada Binniquenda. On Dec. 12 Club Mediterranee will introduce four pueblitos containing 500 rooms and five restaurants. The $28-million property (Club Med's biggest in Mexico) features three swimming pools, three beaches and a dozen tennis courts. This plus three squash courts, an air-conditioned fitness center and an arts and crafts workshop.
Club Med promises that no one will be bored. The resort will feature cookouts on secluded beaches, sailing, windsurfing and tours to the Mayan ruins of Palenque and Oaxaca. The package price for a week at Club Med will range from $910 to $1,130 per person, including the round-trip air fare from Los Angeles.
In the spring, Sheraton will begin flagging down guests at Huatulco. So will a five-star luxury hotel, the Veramar. Meanwhile, a new jet-age airport is in the works along with a golf course that's to be surrounded by villas and condos, all of which means adios to the old life.
By the turn of the century hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers will be settled in Huatulco. The developers say it will be bigger than Cancun. Currently, though, the coast is lined with dozens of uninhabited beaches. It is where the Spanish used to sail and pirates came ashore to spook the locals.
We drove down to take a look the other day and stopped for lunch at Al Fuentes' restaurant at Maguey Bay. It is just a shack on the beach with card tables and folding chairs and palm fronds to keep off the sun. It's not a very classy place, but the seafood is fresh. Al catches everything himself. What's more, the shack doesn't cost him a peso. As a result, lunch for four of us came to less than $8.
That's cheap, amigo, even for Mexico.
At Tangolunda Bay, which is where Club Med and the other hotels are getting ready to open, another entrepreneur is getting rich feeding the workers at a second makeshift shack on the beach. Some days she earns as much as $2,000, which indicates how many laborers and carpenters are involved with the building of the new resort.
Her days are numbered, though. When the hotels open she'll be out of business. Rich and idle.
Meanwhile, back in Puerto Escondido, merchants and hoteliers are making hay of all the publicity Huatulco is getting. This is because attention is being focused on their village as well. As a result the tourists are pouring in.
From Acapulco, 250 miles north, a paved road sweeps past beaches and there are streams that flow from the Sierra Madre where women do their laundry and leave it to dry on rocks lining the banks.
Occasionally the road passes little villages with signs advertising Carta Blanca, and other times it is necessary to slow down for pigs and chickens. It is the same with another road that twists over the mountains from Oaxaca. The chickens and pigs have the right of way. So it is best to fly. Either by DC-3 from Oaxaca or by jet from Mexico City.
Small hotels line the beach at Puerto Escondido. None rates five stars, but the best of the lot is Paul Cleaver's 30-room Santa Fe. It features cowhide chairs from Guadalajara, tile from Puebla and lamps from Oaxaca. (Cleaver put in telephones only after the government insisted.)