May 26, 2011

La Quebrada: The Dare-devil Divers

The cliff is 35 meters (125 ft) high. Jagged fingers of rock poke out from the crashing tide. From the top, it seems a long and treacherous way down, yet the diver lights a torch and waits. There is one moment, one perfect moment. In a mixture of knowledge, skill and instinct, the diver sees and seizes the moment. He jumps. Crowds of watching tourists hold their collective breath, watching his fire flare fall and the pin-prick sense of his body with it. He is lost to the waves.

La Quebrada

Then he rises again, triumphant and swimming back to shore with a huge grin. The next one takes his turn. These are the La Quebrada Cliff Divers, one of Acapulco's most famous sights; and they really do know what they're doing.

Let us make something quite clear from the onset. This is not an activity that is encouraged for tourists. It is a spectacle, performed by those with training in the feat. Many divers come from a single, extended family, who have been doing this for generations. The rest are members of the La Quebrada Cliff Divers Club, which was formed in 1934, especially to ensure that the safety tips were passed on. No-one wants to see a vacationer crumpled at the bottom.

La Quebrada translates as 'gulch' or 'ravine'. It refers to the location itself, part of Acapulco's stunning, Pacific coastline. There is plenty of fishing to be had out there. When the divers are in downtime, then spectators can watch the pelicans soaring down to capture their food. It is believed that fishing is the genesis of the human cliff diving too. Nets snagged on sharp rocky outcrops had to be freed somehow.

La Quebrada

The ravine is overlooked by a cliff path, where the Hotel El Mirador has two platforms with first class views of the procedings. It is from this hotel that the sports footage, commonly broadcast throughout the Americas, is filmed. Patrons can pay US$3.50 (30 pesos) to stand on a broad balcony; or considerably more to dine in the La Perla restaurant, with its terraces above.

Superstars have launched from this cliff. The most famous of all was Raul García Bravo, who made over 37,000 dives. He was the star of several commercials, including Timex watches and Johnnie Walker whiskey, which aired throughout the USA and Mexico. During the 1970s, when ABC Wide World of Sports popularized the dives, in their extreme sports slots, it was García who caught the imagination of the public.

In 1963, Elvis Presley's film, 'Fun in Acapulco', featured many local cliff divers, including Raul García. García took his last dive in his mid-60s. He has now retired from the sport, handing over his crown to the younger generation.

La Quebrada is in the old part of Acapulco. Many people prefer to walk to the viewing areas, as it is a very scenic stroll. However, taxis are relatively cheap to reach the spot. The best spots to witness a dive are from the top of the cliff. Small VW-cabs wait at the bottom, especially to convey tourists up the slope. It costs roughy 20-30 pesos to hitch a ride up the steep bit. Arriving half an hour before the performance is advisable, in order to grab the greatest vantage points. (The most favored place is at the bottom of the steps, right at the front.)

The shows are daily, lasting around 25 minutes. The first at 1.30pm, then hourly from 7.30pm through to 10.30pm. It is only the latter where the divers carry torches, as visibility is still strong at the earlier slots. Afterwards, the divers will stand at the top of the stairs, holding a bucket in which to collect tips (10 pesos or a few US dollars is appropriate); otherwise the spectacle is free of charge (unless you're watching from Hotel El Mirador). They will also pose for photographs.

Souvenirs are able from the gift shop in the Hotel El Mirador, or from various shops in the area. Wandering vendors may also shout out their wares. These include food and drink booths.

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