23. Some Sick Halloween Joke?



Fernando and Jerry didn’t notice when I slid off my bench and wandered off to inspect our surroundings. The trailer park sprawled over a half block of level, tree-studded land between two boulevards. Huatulco, a sleepy backwater tourist destination, didn’t have much traffic and sounded far away. Our host’s wife had taken their older son to his school for an event, and Jerry had charge of the newborn baby—a pickled-looking, week old girl sleeping in a portable cradle on the table. My heart clenched. This father toked bowl after of bowl of potent dope. What about the tiny life? Even their abode, an old travel trailer, was too small for a family of four.


Crafting in the Rain

I listened to the birds in the trees and watched a couple of hens peck around deserted picnic tables. Jerry’s homestead lay near one of the streets and I noticed few people on the sidewalk, but one group caught my attention. A mother hurried several children past the park, around the next corner and out of sight. It wouldn’t have been noteworthy, but on their tails came an aroma lacing the salty air I found both familiar and alarming.

“Do you smell that?” I asked the men.

Mota,” replied Fernando and gestured an offering with the pipe.


“Malathion!” I exclaimed in English.

“No, thanks. I mean that chemical smell. What is it?” I looked over my shoulder toward the street again. A dense fog-like cloud enveloped the street, billowing toward us, and my tongue salivated with a greasy taste. What was it? Some sick Halloween joke?

Jerry looked blank for a beat as the drone of a plane approached us, “Get in your bus. Close the windows and cover your faces!” He grabbed the baby and bolted to the door of his trailer. “Don’t come out for at least forty-five minutes,” he shouted and slammed the door.



The bug bomb slithered closer. Fernando appeared confused. He hadn’t understood the man’s directive delivered in English and didn’t realize that we were being fumigated. I grabbed Parsley by the scruff of her neck and pushed her into the combi, pulling Fernando in after me, “Veneno, poison!” I grabbed some towels, dampened them with bottled water and wrapped our heads.

The closed bus heated up into a stagnant swamp of sweat and dog breath. I feared that Parsley would die. Her eyes looked dull; she panted heavily and slobbered all over the towel I held on her snout.



An hour and a half later, the air cleared and the day returned to its warm placidity. We clambered out of the bus. The poison left a slick over everything it touched. Dead insects littered the table and ground. I saw a dead bird and I wanted to leave. Fernando wanted another toke, and knocked on Jerry’s door, but the American refused to answer.  “Thanks for the tokes—we’re outta here.”



What kind of town poisoned its air and citizens? A town that hosted Club Med—that’s what kind.


Club Med  Pinterest

22. I’ll Take Another Hit

October 31, 1991

Halloween dawned over the beach. We woke up and prepared a leisurely breakfast with plenty of coffee. Fernando, a great short-order cook, chopped the serranos, cilantro and tomatoes into salsa fresco. According to Fer, tortillas should not be crispy, but moist and pliable, and stored in a cloth to stay hot. I stuffed the steaming tortillas into my mouth as they came off the comal while he scrambled eggs into the salsa.

 When the eggs and half-kilo stack of tortillas were ready, He taught me how to properly use a tortilla as a fork. Fernando’s way was to tear off a bite-sized wedge of tortilla and scoop up the eggs, pour a healthy dollop of salsa on top and pop the bite into his mouth. His  huevos mexicanos, cooked over our camp stove, count as some of the best I’ve tasted.


After breakfast I cleaned up and we settled in with our books. We had the whole day to think up something to do. I assumed we wouldn’t be trick or treating  as Mexicans celebrate All Saints and All Souls days, November first and second, and not All Saint’s Eve, but my October 31, 1991 turned out to be one of the spookiest I’ve experienced—no costumes needed.

I wanted to go into town and buy ice and fresh food, but that meant breaking down and stowing our furniture and equipment back into the combi. Once we shopped, we’d have to set-up camp again. Maybe it would be better to go in the afternoon when it got hot.

We lounged in the early sun, sipping coffee and sharing bits of our books and gazing at each other in that silly way of new lovers. I can squint up my eyes and peer into the memory, but the title of the book eludes me. All I see is Fernando—and we didn’t get much reading done in that first month.

Warming up with the heat of the day, we raced each other down the slope to the surf, and Fernando dove in. The waves came in too fast and strong for me and I was afraid to swim. I preferred the gentle rolling surf of Pto. Escondido and suggested we go back there. Anything was possible. I had plenty of time and money, and with a native speaker who knew something about VW engines, I could do the exploring I’d come for.

I watched Fer swim and contemplated our next move. As it turned out, we headed back to the bus to make love until beach visitors disturbed us and we deemed the time right to head into town. Parsley didn’t like beaches anyway and grinned from her spot under the bus as we packed up. Beaches were too hot and shade-free for a German Shepherd, and she took offense at sand falling in her water and food. She’d grown accustomed to living by salt water in Sausalito and enjoyed swimming in the calm bay, not crashing surf. But she liked the bus and rode like a queen until the day she died.

images-5We wound into Santa Maria de Huatulco, found the trailer park and our new friend. Fernando wanted to take Jerry up on his offer of an overnight, although I wasn’t so keen on the idea.  I hankered for a hot shower in a hotel in Puerto Escondido.


images-2The tops popped off the Coronas and the three of us settled around the oilcloth covered picnic table, crowded with ashtrays, baby bottles, dishes, packaged food, books and magazines. In the open space between the trailers, vans, campers, even a boat on a trailer, the pipe appeared. My compatriot lit the bowl.

UnknownFernando reached for the pipe before our host finished his toke, a clue as to his ‘overnight’ motivation. When my turn finally came around, the pot tasted sticky with resin and hit me quickly. I passed after a couple hits. Weed in Mexico tasted fresh, not like the harsh, dried up stuff I’d pretty much given up in the ’70s. Marijuana never was my drug of choice. I didn’t like the feeling of separation and paranoia when I smoked. I wasn’t opposed to a little recreational use, but I preferred the sociability of beer and margaritas, and by the 1990s, I’d moved out of my youthful “hippie” phase, although some might think living in a VW bus and traveling around foreign countries smacks of the freewheeling hippie caravans of the ’60s.      images-8

I drifted off into my own thoughts while the men blathered in Spanish. Unbidden, Sam’s image crept into my mind. My behavior in Zipolite had been inexcusable, so much so, I felt the shame flushing my cheeks. I’d been mean and inconsiderate to someone who cared about me and had come when I needed him. He didn’t deserve the treatment he got—and his kindness wasn’t going to make me love him. Didn’t I have the right to my adventure? My thoughts started that familiar spiral downward. I shoved Sam back into a dark closet of my mind and bolted the door.

I smiled at Fernando and held out my hand. “I’ll take another hit.”



21. Es Mi Destino


October 30, 1991

Fernando and I skedaddled out of the Señora’s Zipolite compound in the early morning, making our way back to Ruta 200 through beautiful Puerto Angel and south down the heavily forested two-lane coastal road to what I think of as Hualtulco Bay, a nameless curve of coast west of the town of Santa Maria Huatulco. The entire area is called Bahías de Huatulco, the Bays of Huatulco —there are nine of ’em—and none called Huatulco.


It didn’t take us long to establish our routine. Fer loved to drive the combi, a pleasure I didn’t share, wrestling the cumbersome beast around the sharp mountainous curves of coastal Oaxaca. He possessed infinite patience with UYOLKAN, “heart of sky” in not quite grammatical Yucatecan Maya. He understood her limits and was happy to promenade at a pace I found gruelingly slow when I drove.

IMG_0010I had plenty of time to see Mexico once Fernando became my chauffeur. That morning he took pride in showing me his country, stopping as often as I wanted, allowing me to photograph anything that caught my eye. While he drove, he talked. And talked. And talked. Notes in my dictionary, never far from my reach, tell me I looked up words having to do with Mexico’s history, politics and social order.

Although I spoke very little Spanish, I fell under Fernando’s magico from the moment we met, and I understood the gist of his dissertations. The problem was, I simply couldn’t respond. When I really needed to say something, I resorted to English, but Fernando spoke Spanish and German—no English.


Fer had lived in Munich with a German tourist he’d met while working at a Cancun resort. He thought he would marry her, but found living in Germany was not for him. He struggled with the language. He hated the climate and the rigid culture. He’d felt isolated and lonely, longing for the land of mañana so much, he came home. Remembering what it was like, he did all he could to make my experience more pleasant. I loved him for that. Although sometimes frustration got the better of me, we got by in a simple, child-like Spanish when it was necessary to communicate with full understanding, mostly regarding common daily necessities like finding food or gas, feeding the dog, stopping for a beer and finding a bathroom.

While Fernando talked incessantly when we drove, conversation wasn’t our big connection in Huatulco. Once we got away from Zipolite, Sam and Gerardo, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. I quickly learned the true meaning of caliente.


Fernando’s thick golden-brown hair curled onto his neck and waved off his forehead, highlighting his gorgeous sea-blue eyes. Sexy plump lips grinned around straight white teeth, and he had a way of appearing like an innocent puppy—so adorable I just wanted to pet him all the time. I’ve never met a man who looked better waking up grimey with sweat, rumpled clothes sticking to him, in the back of a VW bus in a PEMEX station, three-day whiskers scruffing his face. Sam couldn’t compete with the sheer sex appeal of this Mexicano Macho. Fernando turned out to be the quintessential Latin Lover—in all its connotations.


Our first night in Huatulco counts as one of the top-ten hottest nights of my life. I have a visceral memory of the feel of Fernando’s smooth skin next to mine. The rasp of his beard on my cheek. The faintly sen-sen scent of his breath. The burning trails left by his lips across my thighs. I can feel the weight of his arm as it draped over my shoulder. Our relationship was founded on a tactile communication, but later, as my Spanish improved, our connection to one another diminished.

images-2We landed on a large deserted bowl-like bay surrounded by dark green forested mountains. We drove right out onto the sand and set up camp, the only folks there on a late Wednesday morning. The wild, empty beach sloped down to the frothing surf— not your average tourist beach with gentle waves, but crashing, thunderous surf colliding with shore.


Fernando had not participated in the setting up of my combi campsite before. He was interested in how I’d built my rolling home, what I’d included and how it all worked. The combi gave him stars in his eyes. There is something compelling about being able to go as you please, dependent on no one and nothing except PEMEX, Petroleos Mexicanos,and money I’d inherited from my grandfather. But even the illusion of freedom is exhilarating.

On Playa San Agustín, I taught Fernando how set up camp and made some lunch. He immediately got the hang of threading the canopy through the track and staking it in place with telescoping poles and lines tied with truckers knots then whipping the folding chairs off the roof, hanging the canvas seats in place and  “¡ya, listo!” Ready to eat.

After sandwiches, we settled Parsley under the bus, locked the doors, and took off down to the water to swim. About this time, a pickup trailering two jet skis pulled out of the forest onto the beach near our camp. We sauntered back and soon Fernando had engaged the driver in conversation. It turned out he was an American, Jerry, living in Huatulco in a house-trailer with his Mexican wife and two children. She worked at a school and he played at the beach with his jet skis. That day, he and his little boy and a couple of other adult friends came out to ride the skis. I can’t remember how they got them into the water, or how Fernando convinced them to let us ride one, but I do remember us jetting across the bay, my hair streaming behind me in the wind, as we bounced from wave to wave. I felt exhilarated and scared and clutched Fernando tightly around his waist. We zigged and zagged, sending up great rooster tails of spray and passing sparks of electricity between us.


The mouth of the bahía yawned wide, but two or three rocks jutted up, forming small islands on the ocean side. The heavy, grey-blue water surged and chopped into white caps as the wind came up. I worried about capsizing, but Fernando raced us into the wind and across the wind and with the wind until we flew. Neither of us wanted to give the machine back at the end of our ride.

Jerry, invited us to spend the night at his trailer park. He and Fernando had hit it off, probably because they each had foreign “spouses” in common. We had other plans, and wanted our seclusion.

By late afternoon Fernando and I were alone. I set up the sun shower off the back of the bus, a brilliant piece of low-tech technology, consisting of a heavy plastic bag, clear on one side and black on the other that holds a couple gallons of water. A two-foot hose with a red shower nozzle at the end attachesat the bottom and a cord for hanging to is tied to the top. When left black-side up in the sun, the water heats to as hot as I ever wanted it. I had devised a way to set up a heavy plastic curtain and the sun shower off the back of my camper, but alone on the beach, we skipped the curtain and washed off the salt with a shared “tank” of hot water in glorious nature.images-5

Clean, dry, and back in shorts, we wandered down the beach  devoid of shells, driftwood, seaweed and trash—a perfect white crescent in a perfect green and blue bowl. The energy that arced between us had taken on a faint tinge of cerise. And I was holding the hand of a perfect man. In our short acquaintance, Fernando had treated me, and my dog, kindly, gentlemanly; he held my door, my towel. He helped me to sit and stand. He carried my parcels. He drove my car. And he looked at me with a visage of warm loving acceptance that I had never before experienced. I had fallen under his spell, and I felt certain he had fallen under mine. I knew Fernando and I were destined to be together.


We wandered to the water at the base of the cliff that jutted up from the beach and formed the right boundary of the bay. There, atop the rock face grew a giant Nopal cactus with broad flat paddles, and swooping down to that cactus, a dangling snake gripped in its talons, an eagle.


Fernando grabbled me in a bear hug and danced me around the sand. “I knew coming home [from Germany] was the right thing to do! That’s the symbol of Mexico. See it, see it? That’s my symbol. I’m cien por ciento mexicano and I’m back in my place. And now I’ve met my Anita. Es mi destino—it’s my destiny.”

One wouldn’t think it possible to ramp up the energy between us any more than it was, but this eagle with the snake, the symbol for Mexico displayed on the flag, supercharged the emotions and sensations running through us. Was this love?



20. Two Roads Diverged


We picked up our towels, suntan lotion, books, slipped on our flipflops and started the trek to the south end of the beach. The sand felt coarse and the tide frothy on my feet at the tide line. I picked up tiny limpet shells and colored stones.  Empty and clean, few shells, pieces of driftwood or flotsam lined the intertidal zone. This was a deserted beach, quiet except for the surf and the crunch of our footfalls. There might not have been homesteads along it. There weren’t any pangas. Didn’t the people who lived on the beach go to it? My sense of unreality grew stronger. Nearing the structure we’d seen from the north side of the cove, I realized that it sat empty, too. A former beach restaurant definitely closed for beer. I plopped down in the warm sand just beyond a tiny cliff carved by the waves.

“Nothing there. I think I’ll catch a few more rays before lunch.” I said, spreading out my towel.

“We’re leaving.” Sam’s voice sounded petulant.


I hopped up, ran into the surf, dove beneath a breaking wave and paddled in the cool swells. I was too tired to think, but had I considered my situation, I might have realized that I was giving up the old blackened pot for a raging forest fire. What was that I read in some self-help book? If you feel like you’re on fire when you meet, you probably are?

Fernando joined me in the water, but we kept our distance. I wasn’t ready to slap Sam upside the head with it. I saw Sam wander up the beach into the shade with Parsley and swam to shore. Fernando bobbed beyond the breakers for a few more minutes and returned to his towel. I stretched out on my stomach after slathering myself in sunscreen and drifted into a nap.

The sun had shifted lower in the sky by the time I woke up. Fernando lay next to me, still sleeping. My skin burned a bit. I raised my head, looking for Sam and Parsley, but the palapa was empty. I flipped over and reached out to wake Fernando. Before I realized it, we embraced each other and began kissing like teenagers.Unknown

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” It was Sam crossing the sand at a near lope, Parsley happily bounding beside him.

Busted! Fernando and I flew apart and sat up. Where had Sam come from? He was spying on us, well, not hard to do—we were right out on the beach.


“You think I don’t know what you’re up to? I’ve been watching you carrying on under my nose,” he said, spittle flying from his mouth as he loomed over me, hands in fists. “I’m leaving. Get up and drive me to Oaxaca.” He turned and stormed off in the direction of my VW bus.

Sam wasn’t going to get very far unless he stole my ride, because I wasn’t about to drive the eight hours to Oaxaca with him.

!Se va! He’s leaving,” I said and grinned. I suddenly felt elated. A great weight lifted from my chest, and I threw my arms around my new novio.


Fernando and I sat on the beach for another hour. Slowly we wended our way to the señora’s compound to get cleaned up and see about dinner. My combi was right where I left it next to Gerardo’s, but Sam and Gerardo were nowhere in sight. I unlocked the combi to fix Parsley’s dinner. Sam’s suitcase was gone, but he’d left all his dirty clothes flung around the bus. While I gathered up the dinner things, Fernando wandered the compound looking for Gerardo. Eventually Gerardo appeared from the señora’s kitchen.

Hola, Gerardo. ¿Qué onda?” Fernando greeted his friend.

“You fucking slimeball,” he yelled, rushing Fernando.

“¿Qué pasó?” Fernando sidestepped the swing Gerardo took at his nose. The momentum rocked Gerardo off his trajectory and he stumbled, almost falling on his face. Fernando steadied him, but Gerardo shrugged him off.

“Her boyfriend left—took the bus back to Oaxaca. Now you’re leaving me and going with her? I saw her first.” Gerardo’s voice rose. He shrieked,”¡Ladrón! Thief.”


The men shouted at each other in rapid fire Spanish I couldn’t understand. I figured that Gerardo had a jealous hissy fit. He should have driven Sam back to Oaxaca.

We ate a silent, tense meal. After dinner, I settled down with my book and Fernando went to shmooze the señora. Peeking around the combi, I could see him gesticulating and hear angry words. It didn’t appear to be Fernando’s evening.

Soon he was back, attempting to explain that the owner was throwing us out because my husband had left and Gerardo blamed Fernando, or I think that’s what he said. It didn’t matter. We would be out of there first thing in the morning and I was probably driving back to Mexico City, about two days away. I’d better get some sleep.

I went to bed in my bus with my dog. Fernando returned to the Orange combi. In the morning, I paid the woman for our luxurious stay and packed up my gear. Fernando and Gerardo yelled at each other some more. What a mess. I didn’t know if Fernando would come with me or not, but as I made my final check that all was properly stowed and battened down, he tossed his bag into the back and slid into the driver’s seat.

“Let’s go to Huatulco.”


19. D-Day


The moon, a shrouded crescent, slipped into the Pacific during breakfast. Fernando and I had dragged ourselves off the beach just before daybreak but the heat in my combi forced me up to join Sam and Gerardo at the coffee pot.

“What time did you come in?” Sam asked, eyes squeezed to narrow slits.

“One?” I took a gulp of Sam’s weak coffee. Tepid. “Why didn’t you drip this into the thermos?”

“Yeah? My clock said it was five.”

I flicked the coffee into the dirt. “I’ll make another pot. Move.” I pushed past Sam’s chair and began to rummage around for the coffee making supplies. We’d spent the night on the beach? Time had shifted from normal hours and minutes to something non-dimensional—a perpetual now, marked only by the rising sliver of moon who had projected her pale beam across the placid sea in transit to the eastern horizon. I tipped purified water from the garrafón into the kettle and set it onto a burner.

Buenas días,” Fernando greeted us as he came around the bus. He yawned and rubbed at the scruffy looking stubble on his chin.


. The old guy went fishing. Give me a couple of pesos and I’ll get a fish for breakfast.”

“Sam, do you have a couple of pesos? Fernando will buy a fish,” I translated.

“Why should I buy your boyfriend’s breakfast?”


I could hear the slap-slap-slap-slap of hands patting balls of masa to flat corn pancakes, and fished into the cargo net hanging over the seats for a five thousand peso note, about forty-two cents. I handed it over to Fernando. “Get tortillas, too.” He could go charm the fishwife and close that “bad eye” that cast a withering stare in our direction.


After breakfast I donned my flower patterned maillot and we went down onto the beach.Scan

Fernando  looked sexy in skimpy aqua and black zebra-stripped bikini trunks and Sam, dowdy in my canvas “outback” hat, wore a white undershirt and black leather tennis shoes, his legs, jutting from the stone-colored shorts, white as a cadaver. The men smiled at each other, Fernando like a cat about to spit and Sam in disgust.

Fernando & Hal

 “D Day” October 29, 1991.  Fernando Leon Torrens vs. Sam H. Miller. 

The sense of non-dimensional time overcame me as we lounged in the sun near the spot where Fernando and I had stopped time the night before. The sand was thick near the cliffs marking the end of the beach. We conversed in a desultory Spanish. Fernando knew almost no English and how tired we were made it hard to do much beyond give each other goo-goo-eyes. Gerardo had stayed back at his vehicle to drink. Parsley, panting, left the hole she had been digging and stretched.


“You want to go for a walk girl?” Sam asked her.

“She probably wants water,” I said and poured a cup from my bottle. She lapped it greedily. My dog wasn’t much of a sun worshipper. “Let’s go down the beach and see what we can find. Doesn’t that look like a beach restaurant?” I pointed into the distance.

“Yeah. Maybe they have beer.”

18. On My Way


I lit the Coleman lantern and Emiliano Zapata tottered off to his

“Where’s the lantern fuel?” Sam asked as the Coleman sputtered and faded.

“In the cabinet. Can you stick in Dr. Loco while you’re inside?” After eating, I was feeling frisky—maybe a little baila to “Muevetè” would be in order. Dr. Loco’s Rockin’ Jalepeño Band was made up of a bunch of university professors and students, some from Stanford, and often played in the Bay Area. I’d bought a cassette at a concert at College of Marin, one of my two tapes in Spanish. This would impress Fernando, I thought.


“Let’s listen to Simon and Garfunkle.”

“Sure, after.”

“Trying to impress your new boyfriend?”

Oh, good lord, Sam had to go. Where was Fernando? It was completely dark and the roar of the waves breaking on the shore sounded closer and louder than before. The heat radiated out of the sandy ground in the cooling evening air and millions of stars pierced the navy blue sky. It would have been perfect, if only. . .  .

“Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson . . .” played. I glared at Sam, but it was hard to be angry with Simon and Garfunkle singing. He screwed a new canister of propane onto the lantern, set the Coleman onto the table, lit it with a soft pop, sat down, and tossed the empty to me.

c162b144abb3bfff188c3ecbc020b781“So we’ll get out of here in the morning and go to Huatulco. Club Med. Without the Mexicans,” he said. “Hand me my book, would ya. It’s on top of the cabinet.”

“Sure,” I answered. I tossed the spent canister into the garbage bag and handed him a dog-eared paperback. Fernando had just stepped over the low wall surrounding the “house” and my stomach did that little baila—butterflies dancing—as the Maná song went.

“Hey. What’s up with the old lady?” I asked him, gesturing toward the wing chair.

“Religious. She doesn’t approve of men and women traveling together. I said you and Sam are married and she relaxed.” He drummed his fingers in time to the “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin Groovy)” and smiled. “Me gusta mucho Simon y Garfunkle.”images-2

“Hey, good musical choice, Sam. Fernando likes them too,” I said in English, and then in Spanish, “So you think we’re safe?”

“Ask him if these bandits are going to rob us in the night,” Sam demanded.

“We’ll be okay,” Fernando said.

“Okay? He said Okay?” Sam leaned around the hissing lantern to see me on the other side of the table.

“Sam, you’ve studied more Spanish than I have. You can understand him. We’re okay, and tomorrow, after checking this place out, we’ll leave.”

“What do you mean? We’re leaving first thing. As soon as it’s light.”

I rolled my eyes at Fernando, who could see me clearly. He jerked his head. “Come on, let’s go check out the beach,” he said.

“What did he say?”

“Fernando wants to know if we’d like to walk down to the beach.” Parsley perked up her ears at the word walk.

“And just leave our stuff alone? You go with your boyfriend, I’ll stay and watch camp,” he said, his words trailing off into the implied it’s what you want, poor me.

“Come, Sam. We’ll lock up. Everything will be fine,” I said crossing my fingers behind my back to mitigate my lie and stood up. Parsley woofed and bounded from under the table, snuffling and wagging into Fernando’s open hands. They’d already fallen in love, and I saw the shadow of recognition cross Sam’s eyes. He knew what was coming, perhaps before I did. If my dog loved him, I would too.

Sam got up and pushed past me into the bus “I’m going to bed. Take your key.” he almost spat the words at me.

Fernando had followed the exchange closely and asked, “¿Todo esta bien?”

Si, vamanos a la playa, yes, let’s go to the beach,” I said and grabbed my chair.

 He grinned and grabbed his.

“Night Sam,” I said as he slammed the camper’s door shut.


Fernando and I skirted around the silent hovel, guided by my flashlight. I flicked it off when we cleared the house and hit the deep sand shining under the brilliant sky. The waves breaking onto the shore rumbled peacefully, a lion purring in its slumber. The rich odor of un-groomed seashore tantalized my nose—it smelled like home or the home in Sausalito’s Waldo Point Harbor I’d given up to come on this crazy adventure. 10libI felt a little prick of hot tears at the corners of my eyes. For just a moment I missed my houseboat and my funky Schoonmaker Building office, my eclectic bunch of bookkeeping and tax clients, my family, and yes, even the almost ten years I’d shared with Sam—but that had ended when he signed up as a contractor with the DEA and left to chase drug shipments through Belize and the jungles of Guatemala. He left me behind and I’d learned to live just fine without him, thank you very much. And now I was on my own quest. But what was I looking for?images-6

Whatever I was after, the ghostly white beach, the rich balmy air, the gentle roar of the surf, the luminescent foam cresting off the waves, and a hot guy slipping his hand into mine as we trudged to the tide line was lighting me on fire. I trudged into my future, giddy with anticipation. The Past wasn’t going to hold me back, no matter how nostalgic—I was on my way.


17. Danger and Good Fish


thanks BudgetTravel.com

The orange combi cruised the hard-packed sand track, turning into one beachside compound after the next. Fernando hung out the window and asked anyone who would talk to him what the rate for car camping and meals would be. The locals eyed us—two buses with city slickers and gringos. They weren’t having anything to do with us. We scouted until the mid-point of the broad cove. A señora agreed to put us up for a modest price—something in the region of five dollars a day for all of us. We’d get the use of the outhouse, a water ration, and comida in the afternoon. Fernando signaled me to pay her.

“Why doesn’t he pay the woman?” Do you know what you’re in for?” Sam smirked at me, tedious man.

I opened my combi’s side door to get my purse and let Parsley out. Chickens and mongrels scattered in a cacophony of yips and squawks. Parsley ignored the dogs but chased after the nearest hen. I sprinted after her, zig zagging across the sandy yard until I grabbed her tail and she stopped. The yard cackled and crowed until the dust settled.

“This is not going to work out,” I said, panting, my dog secure on her leash.

Fernando thanked the woman; we revved up our buses and slowly moved on down the sandy road.

At the end of the cove, a family took us in. The dueña was a skinny, short woman with dark scraggly hair and a shiny navy blue dress topped by the ubiquitous plaid pinafore. She looked shifty to me, but she only wanted a couple of dollars a day for each combi, and she would give us food. The compound was a hovel. The fences were falling down and overgrown with beach tolerant shrubs and vines. The one-story house perched atop a concrete slab with two windowless sides supporting a large over-hanging corrugated tin roof, which gave the whole thing the look of a carport. Everywhere metal rusted and flaked, including an unidentifiable piece of machinery as well as an old pickup in the yard. The chickens lived in a small pen enclosed by rusted wire and a goat strolled through the compound nibbling weeds, rags, tin cans, and geraniums. I watched him wander into the house to be chased out by a couple of grubby kids.


I paid for the night, thinking of Club Med in Huatulco and began to unload the table and chairs, the stove, and my dishes for dinner. We weren’t getting electricity in the deal.

Fernando and Gerardo busied themselves in the cabin of the orange combi, Parsley sniffed out her new territory, keeping out of the way of the goat, and Sam pouted in the shade once I’d gotten the canopy up. I handed him a beer.

The sound of the beer caps popping off brought out our hostess’s father, a cheerful, wizened coot in a straw cowboy hat who looked a bit like Emiliano Zapata. A sullen teenager appeared, and slouched just out of conversation range like a wannabe orbiting the fringes of the hipster high school group. He watched our every movement.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Sam said.

The Mexican’s side door scraped open and my heart made a little somersault as Fernando stepped out and ambled over, Gerardo on his heels. I motioned my head for Fer to come to the door and whispered, “Sam doesn’t think we’re safe here.” I handed him a couple of iced Victorias from my cooler.beer_4955

“I don’t either. Let’s invite the old man and the kid for a beer,” he said and raised one of the bottles to the old man and another to the boy with an inviting look. “Oye, viejo, joven. ¿Cerveza?”

He handed Sam and Gerardo theirs and offered the unoccupied camp chair to the grandfather. The old man shuffled over, accepted a beer, but squatted in the sand, and called for the boy. I turned up the tape deck—Linda Rondstadt’s Canciones de Mi Padre, Fernando took a quick turn to the salsa beat and grinned at me before squatting down with the old man; Gerardo helped himself to my chair and soon the four Mexicans were slapping their thighs and laughing. I trusted that Fernando was winning our hosts over with his charm and wit. The señora scowled from the shadows of her covered patio kitchen, her arms folded tightly across her scrawny bosom.

“Fernando agrees with you, Sam,” I said in English. “It’s too late to leave now, but we’ll get out of here tomorrow.”

“If we aren’t murdered in our sleep. Have you taken a good look at the woman?”

“I sure have. She’s totally pissed off that the old man and her kid are sitting here with us.”

dc8b33d31390ae241292b950cf22bb6bSam craned around to watch the woman lighting a small fire of twigs. She placed a large round comal over it, propped on cinder blocks and dumped the cheap vegetable oil I’d seen street vendors using across the surface. She tossed several gleaming fish on, added the sweet green onions and left the food to cook while she scooped a handful of masa out of a blue napkin-covered bucket. She patted out fresh tortillas, cooking them around the edges of the comal then stacked them in a dingy tortilla towel to stay warm. When the fish was cooked, she piled it and the onions on a platter, added a bowl of red salsa and brought the meal out to us.


 I dished up the fish and onions and the men helped themselves to tortillas and salsa. The grandfather chatted on, but declined to join us in the food. The kid slunk off when no one offered him a third beer. The food was exactly as I’d imagined, even if it did come from a sullen woman’s dirty kitchen, and I fell into fresh fish heaven as the sun, a huge orange ball, sank into the Pacific.

 Finished eating, Fernando dropped his fork onto his plate and trotted over to thank the doña. I could see him helping her tidy up as I did likewise with the dinner dishes. Sam popped another beer and Gerardo staggered to his combi, and poured another copa, as the evening shadows reached into dusk and Linda Ronstadt crooned tu solo tu, eres causa de todo—you, only you, you’re the cause of everything. . . .


16. Paradise Found



Sam stalked back to our campsite with Parsley in tow and glared, his arms tightly crossed over his chest, at the Mexicans lounging in our chairs. I introduced the men and busied myself with collecting up the cups, maps, books, and miscellany that littered the table to begin packing the combi for the drive south. Fernando shook Sam’s hand, made some polite remarks then left. Gerardo was determined to cause trouble, but Sam didn’t have a clue what he blathered on about. Gerardo had already downed three of my six-pack. He and Sam should have ridden together—they made quite a pair.

“You actually spent time with that drunk?” Sam scoffed at me as we finished tying down the cargo on the bus’s roof.

“You should have seen him last night. We ditched him. Fernando doesn’t drink.”

“Just smokes pot.”

“Haven’t we had this conversation? It’s called mota here, anyway.”

“So you want to drive off to some beach and smoke mota with this guy?” Sam sneered.

“Sam, my adventure in Mexico is about visiting as many of the out of the way places I can, to take pictures and lie on the beaches. If you don’t want to go, stay here. I don’t care. I didn’t invite you on this trip and you’re not going to spoil it for me—as hard as you’re trying.”


Our Zipolite caravan commenced just after two o’clock, Gerardo’s orange combi in the lead. Reggae, Sam’s least favorite music, blasted from the Clarion tape deck. I cranked it up louder for “Lively up yourself, and don’t be no drag,” and received several thumbs up from surfers carrying their boards across the highway. Sam was not amused.

We doubled back toward Pochutla, but turned left when we came to the junction with Ruta 175. The flat coastal lowlands gave way to green forested hills and there was no evidence that we were only about five miles from the Pacific. We twisted our way down a sandy, hard-packed road to a bluff above the rock and jungle ringed bay of San Ángel. This was the postcard perfect sleepy fishing village. The brightly painted and rusting trawlers bobbed at their buoys and the familiar pangas littered the narrow beach.

I turned down Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come for the breathtaking sight as we rumbled over a bridge where the mouth of the creek fed into the bay. If Zipolite was anything like San Ángel, I was on my way to paradise. The sun descended toward the horizon and I salivated at the thought of a margarita and fresh dorado mojo de ajo melting on my tongue at the first beach café we found.

The orange combi pulled over, and Fernando hopped out of the passenger door wearing his ridiculous tassel loafers. I pulled up behind them, idling.

 “We’re here,” Fernando said.

images “This is Zipolite?” I looked around. A stretch of blinding white beach sloped to the surf. A few scrubby palms dotted the top of the beach and a series of hovels and animal enclosures, mostly overgrown with trumpet flower and bougainvillea vines, were strung out on either side of the road. The dense jungle crowded up against the sand. I didn’t see any restaurants. My stomach growled.

“Look for somewhere to park,” Fernando said. “We have to negotiate a place with one of the families.”

“We what?”

“Follow me,” he said, clopping back to his ride.

Sam scowled as I hopped back into the driver’s seat. “So there’s nowhere to stay?” He demanded. “Your new boyfriend doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“It’s an adventure, Sam. Relax.”

 I hoped he wasn’t right.

15. Now There Were Two

imagesThe sun shone directly overhead, filtering through the palms that faintly clacked in a freshening afternoon breeze. I lounged in my folding sling chair reading a novel, Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley—it was on the bestseller list in October 1991 and Sanborns, where I shopped in Mexico City, carried all the bestsellers—but I couldn’t concentrate. images-2The orange combi remained parked at its campsite, and I had that sinking feeling in my solar plexus. Fernando was gone and I was going to be stuck with Sam forever. At least I could buy books.

            Sam, in the meantime, paced, fidgeted and complained.

            “Take Parsley for a walk, why don’t you?” I said.

            “Aren’t you going to the beach?”

            “No, too much effort. I’m reading. Find somewhere for dinner.”

            Sam shambled off in the direction of the sports bar, towing Parsley behind him like a reluctant dinghy. She glanced back at me with a mournful look on her face. I felt guilty for disrupting her peaceful slumber in the shade, but no one on this bus got a free ride, and her job today was to entertain Sam. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Maybe I’d drop Sam in Oaxaca for the next session and then go on to Mexico City. Maybe I should go home. Really, what was I doing in Mexico?


            Like the grating of stone pestle on stone mortar, the unmistakable sound of a VW bus side door opening ground through my bones. liquefying my body, all except for my now racing heart. I maintained my cool, nose in book, dying to turn around. With my luck, it would be Gerardo, hung over and mean. I read the same sentence six times.

            “Buenas tardes, Anita.” He greeted me from his camp.

            It was him! Fernando. “Hola. Sleep well?” I called back

            “Sí, gracias. Tú?” he said, his tassel loafers crunching the packed sand.

            “Come over. I have coffee.”

            Fernando and I drank a carafe of fresh coffee and I made him some eggs. The frisson between us crackled. He talked about all kinds of things, most of which I couldn’t understand in his rapid fire Spanish, but he slowed down when the topic came around to Zipolite.

            “Where’s your friend?” He asked.

            “Sam’s taking a walk with the dog. Gerardo?”

            “Still passed out. Let’s go when he wakes up.”

            “Go to Zipolite?” I had to repeat things to make sure I understood what Fernando said.

            “Bueno, let’s do it. I’ll get my things.”

            He was going to jump Gerardo’s ship and ride with us? I wondered how you say, “hold your horses” in Spanish. But the problem was solved when the combi door ground open again and Gerardo clambered out. He trudged over to join us. The energy surrounding him was like a swarm of angry black bees. I handed him a cup of coffee and he sat down. Fernando outlined the caravan plan to him. Gerardo didn’t appear pleased, and they argued briefly but he calmed down when he learned that Sam was going too. This was going to be interesting. Now there were two guys to ditch.

14. They Might Be Gay



October 28, 1991

An aspirin, a cool shower, the plate of eggs scrambled with chorizo I made, and a pot of coffee soothed my hangover. The orange combi showed no signs of life. How could they sleep in that tin can in this heat? Fernando couldn’t have slipped out without Sam or me noticing, could he? I itched to see him. I kept my back toward our neighbors, but my ears were tuned in. I felt like a teenager sitting by the telephone waiting for some boy to call. Sam made it clear that he detested Puerto Escondido:

“I’ve seen everything here.”

 “Pot-smoking surfers turn me off.”

 “I don’t give a damn about your classmates from the Instituto.”

 “There’s nowhere I can eat.”

Paying attention to Sam’s inane and querulous conversation was torture.

 “I want to go to Club Med, do some sightseeing, rent a sailboat,” he finally said in a petulant voice.



That wasn’t a bad idea; I loved to sail. Sam had sent me to sailing school in Richardson Bay before we bought a boat in the mid-eighties, and later I crewed for a friend until she deemed me expert enough to sail our boat by myself, but the problem with sailing alone was there wasn’t anyone to take the tiller when it was time to moon the elegant diners at the Spinnaker. And the problem with sailing with Sam at Club Med was—Sam.

“I had something else in mind,” I said. Fernando had said something about traveling to a place called Zipolite, notorious as being one of Mexico’s two nude beaches. “There was some talk of getting up a caravan to a cool beach farther south. Ever heard of Zipolite?”



“Oh, you and the pot-smoking Mexican from the VW bus are planning to go?”

Was he reading my mind? “All of us, Sam. Maybe some others from the club too.” I talked too fast, mentally crossing my fingers against the lie.

“When did you plan on mentioning it?”

“Right now. I don’t know if it’s going to happen.”

“So what is it between you and that, what’s his name?”

“Fernando and Gerardo. We’re travel friends,” I said. Sam and I had traveled and he knew how, after a night of shots and laughs in some backwater bar in Baja, or Belize, or the Outback itself, the folks Sam and I meet become instant friends.

 “Anyway,” I said crossing all my fingers, “they might be gay.”