13. Lightening Strikes


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Thanks geckorockresort.com

We found a spotlessly clean taquería perched on a platform of concrete raised up perhaps three feet above the pedestrian mall with thatched umbrellas shading a collection of very tall, very tiny round tables. Fernando showed me how to eat the tiny folds of tortillas stuffed with sessos, cabeza, and al pastor (brains, cow cheeks and marinated pork) slathered in picante salsa and introduced me to Mexico’s popular icy, sweet tamarind drinks. He regaled me with the story of his three years in Germany with a German girlfriend he met in Cancún while he was working at a resort. She spoke a smattering of Spanish, but he knew no German.

Entiendo tu frustración,” I said in tentative Spanish. I felt the same way—frustrated. Here I was with a young god, and all I could do was gaze at him and hope that he didn’t think I was too stupid. Gazing wasn’t that bad, actually.

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I ate my tacos al pastor, which is pork sliced very thin and layered over a giant skewer that revolves in a heating element and cooks continuously until the skewer is empty. The meat is reddish in color and has a vaguely honey-baked ham flavor. The best al pastor, I came to find, was cooked on busy city streets and dusted with exhaust carbon and automotive lead by every passing bus and car, but Taquería La Concha in Puerto Escondido turned out a pretty good al pastor, too. We drank our tamarindos and gazed in each others’ eyes. I ordered a Tres Equis and as I sipped it, he said he didn’t drink, wooing me with his clean living.images-6

Meanwhile, Gerardo had lumbered past us, drunker than before, slurring epithets under his breath and swearing at the people he ran into. On his third pass, he happened to look up and see Fernando. He staggered up the steps, poured himself into the empty chair and began an obnoxious diatribe against Americans in Spanglish. We paid our bill and hurried out into the evening, leaving Gerardo behind, muttering indignantly.

It was too early to go to the club, but we searched out the stairs that led to it and the village beyond. From the stairs, we saw that Puerto Escondido wrapped around a shimmering, open-ended bay, that stretched south from the point where the lighthouse stands, around to a natural outcropping of rock that juts up through the sand into the water. Most of the town is built on the mountain, but the tourist section is drawn along the littoral, right in the sand. The main street was converted to a walking mall with a few hotels, restaurants, and many shops.

Fernando and I stood side-by-side on a bougainvillea covered wall and watched the sunset. Lightning arced between us.

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Thanks zicatelaproperties.com

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12. Ditching Gerardo


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Fernando, Parsley, and I set off to the video bar with Gerardo lurching behind us. Fernando took my elbow, urging me to walk faster, yanking me into the video bar where the Minnesota Twins were crushing the Atlanta Braves in their second World Series win in five years at the Metrodome across four big screens crammed into the small bar. I found William glued to a screen, clutching a sweating Corona. Four empties littered the bar in front of him.

I sidled up and seated myself next to him. “Are you hungry?” I asked. Fernando took the stool next to me and ordered coffee.

“Not yet. It’s only the fifth inning. I’ll grab a bite here.” His eyes never left the game.

“How’s the food?” I looked around to see who was there and what the food looked like. The patrons were mostly American surfer types with long sun-bleached hair and fabulous tans. There were a couple of seedy-looking men sitting alone, sipping beers. Soldiers of fortune in between wars? Dealers waiting to score? Spies? images-4The few women mostly hung with the surfer crowd: bleached blonds in mini skirts or short-shorts and bra tops with maximum tans and fresh faces. Even the bartender was a middle-aged gringo, graying at the temples, but looking good in a light blue guayabera-style shirt and white jeans. An escaped nine-to-fiver down for a surfing holiday who never went home?

The bar was decorated in surfer regalia: a couple of boards floated under the thatch, plastic Hawaiian leis draped surfing photos, a few colorful croton plants stood in the windows, and a ceramic sculpture of a woody with boards on top sat atop the jukebox, which played every surfing hit from the image1960’s and competed with the TVs.

Let’s go surfing now, everybody’s learning how, come on a safari with me.”

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People munched piles of fries with ketchup, meat sandwiches that resembled hamburgers, and one guy even had a ballpark frank. Everything came with frijoles and rice instead of potato salad and pickles, but this was Mexico.

images-2English cheers and boos erupted around us and Fernando squirmed. Gerardo, who had managed to find us, sucked up his third tequila slammer. He was having trouble balancing on his bar stool.

“What do you want to eat?’ I asked Fernando in a low voice.

“Tacos.”

“I love tacos,” I lied. I’d never tried real tacos in Mexico, but I was one of the lucky tourists—I could eat just about anything I wanted without getting diarrhea.

Fernando glanced at Gerardo whose head sagged almost to the bar top, grabbed my arm, spun me toward the door and ran me out into the fading sunlight. Parsley, determined that she loved this new guy, bounded at his thigh happily as he escorted me up one side of the mall and down the other in search of tacos, talking the entire time in slow, simple Spanish I could almost understand.

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Pto. Escondido audoquín circa 2000

10. On the Beach


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Parsley and I rambled through the sand with towels, lotion, water, book, hat—the acoutrement for a day of leisure by the sea. I found an unoccupied weather-beaten wooden chair under a thatched umbrella stationed in front of a funky beachside restaurant playing some good ol’ rock-n-roll.

On Sunday morning, both tourists and locals staked claims to the beachfront real estate sloping gently to the surf. Kids ran in and out of the water splashing and laughing; girls basted themselves with coconut oil and stretched out to roast in the sun; images-2surfers carrying their boards, stalked the perfect wave; young men milled around the restaurants making deals in low voices and admiring the women in loud voices, “Mamacita!” Lot’s of laughing, hand slapping and greetings of “Que onda, guay?”

Mothers, aunts and grandmothers sat in the shade of the palapas and fussed over picnics, children, and each other. A wiry, dark-skinned ten-year-old came up and asked what I would like to order and returned with my first Negra Modelo of the day.866391095

Sam never showed up and I passed a relaxed beach day drinking beer, meeting people, eating fresh fried fish, swimming, and eavesdropping on the local gossip. In the afternoon, a band set-up and played reggae. A handsome kid asked me to dance. He was probably no more than twenty, but he was charming and claimed to have some “killer mota.” It wasn’t hard to convince me to hook up with him later that evening at a popular salsa club on the hill. Hannibal promised that I would get “muy prendida,” stoned, and he could teach me more Spanish. William joined me for the afternoon. He planned to checkout the club with me—after the World Series game ended. I bet myself that Sam would refuse to go. Where was Sam, anyway?

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As the surf calmed and evening shadows lengthened, I packed up, paid my bar tab and Parsley and I trudged back to Las Palmas through the soft sand. Sam, it turned out, lay in bed, miserable with a debilitating case of turista and told me to go out and leave him alone.

¡Que suerte! I wouldn’t have to drag an anchor on the town that night.

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9. Runny Eggs Seasoned with Snipe


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Sam chose the most gringo-style restaurant on the walking mall for breakfast. His limited taste in food ranked high in my canon of reasons to break up—but not as high as becoming a nark when his private investigation firm tanked.

Runny eggs seasoned with Sam’s snipes for breakfast. I envied the fishermen their happy banter and delectable smelling tidbits served from the giant blue pots. It didn’t matter what trivial disagreement we argued over, for me it was always about the same thing and I was still angry about it: Sam took a contract job with the DEA chasing cocaine dealers through the jungle in Belize two years before, straining our relationship to breaking. I threw him out one night in the midst of a lamp smashing, shouting match on our houseboat in Sausalito.

Although Sam had followed me down to my language school with a suitcase of clothes after the camper burglary, I was enjoying my single status and not rushing to make up. He hoped I might change my mind, but I resented his presence. Why couldn’t he understand that I didn’t want him there? This was my big adventure. But devastated at the loss of my five suitcases and the lack of concern on the part of the Oaxaca police, and with only the jeans and t-shirt I was wearing at the time, I called Sam.

I still don’t know what I was thinking! I was fine, Parsley was fine, and they were only clothes after all, but Sam and I had enjoyed traveling together— Australia, Belize, Mexico—camping or sailing or touring, it always was an adventure. Somehow—the shock and sense of violation after the robbery—I forgot another of the canon: I am the adventurous one. Left up to Sam, we’d have sat in a seedy hotel bar drinking Miller and eating grilled cheese sandwiches on Wonder bread, and that’s exactly what he wanted.

I agreed that I would put up with him‑as a friend‑ if he brought me some new clothes and a printer for my portable Toshiba computer. I was ecstatic that the ladrones—thieves—hadn’t found the secret compartment built in between the front seats that held the computer, my Nikon camera and lenses, and the pullout Clarion tape deck I installed before leaving. They weren’t very astute robbers because they left behind the 350 hp Honda gas generator that plugged into the electrical system and ran the computer, printer, and lamp anywhere I chose to stop and write.

Breakfast over and our provisioning accomplished at the under stocked and over priced tourist grocery store, we returned to camp to put on bathing suits and get ready for the beach. Three months in Mexico and I had lost an entire dress size.

“Must be the salsa!” I told Parsley as I slid out of my dress and into a new bikini and sarong for my day at the shore.

“Your turn,” I said, stepping out of the bus and smoothing the netting back into place.

“Why don’t you trot over there and meet the guys from California. I bet they want to go to the beach with you.”Sam spoke in his most obnoxious tone and gestured his hairless, perspiration damp pate toward the orange combi. images-1

Now what was he mad about? I glanced over to the lifeless bus whose license plate read: Mexico DF—Distrito Federal.

“It’s from Mexico City.”

“Whatever. Take them to the beach,” he said.

“Aren’t you coming with me?” I hoped Sam didn’t hear the hopeful glee in my voice as I walked off toward the gate, Parsley at my side.

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8. I Can Really Pick ’em


 

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Photo by kateburtonblog.co.uk

The laughter of fishermen woke me at 7:00 A.M., the camper already a slow cooking oven in the heat. A sheen of sweat covered my skin. I stretched and pulled myself out of the sheets to look through the no-see-um netting Velcroed into the door opening. The edge of the bay lay about seventy-five feet away. Tiny waves foamed onto the shore where the jolly pod of fishermen clustered, cleaning early catches, mending nets, or preparing to launch the green, yellow and red pangas. Catcalling and laughter between boats drifted my way, but gulls, squabbling over bits of discarded fish guts, drowned out the fishermen’s conversations with their grating calls.

Four or five stout women in shiny dresses appeared, hefting gigantic blue enamel pots and baskets laden with steaming tortillas wrapped in bright napkins. They began to dish up breakfast for their men into clay bowls. The rich smell of tortillas and roasted chilies got my stomach to rumbling.

Sam sat in the shade in one of the folding oak “archaeologist” chairs and watched the scene. “It’s about time you woke up.”

My shoulders tensed. “It’s barely seven.”

“I’m ready for breakfast. C’mon. Hurry up.”

“Did you make coffee?” I asked as I hauled myself out of the camper and into the cooler, dappled shade of the coconut palms.

Sam hadn’t bothered—why did I ask? I grabbed my towel  from the locker and ambled off to Las Palmas’ bathhouse.

Luxuriating in the warm stream of water, I complimented myself on my ability to pick a park and thought about the trailer park I’d stayed at in Puerto Vallarta.

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My bus had limped into town after losing a shock absorber on my first harrowing trek down a drenched and treacherous mountain road, and I hadn’t taken the time to check-out the facilities before paying the tariff—triple what I paid elsewhere. It turned out the park was located just south of a pig farm and the breeze off the Pacific blew through the sty into my windows. To make matters worse, there was not another soul camping there. If I hadn’t been so tired from the arduous drive from Mazatlán, I might have noticed the lack of company and the barnyard smell, but I paid the twelve dollars and went to bed.

In the morning when I went to the bathhouse for a shower, I found, as the night attendant had claimed, the water was hot and would last as long as I would, but he neglected to mention the reptiles, insects, and mad dogs who would be bathing with me. That shower room was filthy. It was the first hot shower I’d encountered since Tucson ten days before, and I couldn’t touch anything—including the water. I  learned my lesson—check first—and then moved to a hotel.

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“The showers are great, Sam. This park was a good choice.”

“I’d be more comfortable in a hotel in Huatulco. Can’t you hurry up?”

How had Sam managed to survive without a Hilton in the jungles of the Peten while he chased drug runners for the DEA?

FullSizeRenderI pulled the embroidered drop-waist ropa típica sundress, bought in Oaxaca City after my suitcases were stolen, over my head and we left Las Palmas to rustle up some breakfast.

The orange combi glowed through the palm trees in a shaft of sunlight as we passed.

7. All I Wanted Was Some Dinner


Las Palmas Trailer Park hunkered in a coconut grove at the north end of the bay. The camping spaces, defined by the trees, had brick barbecues with metal grates. Although the park was sparsely populated, I felt safe enough because of the tall chain link fence separating me from the beach, but Sam complained that it was too empty.

“Where are all the surfers staying?” He asked, squinting his eyes into a frown as if the surfers purposely hid.

I ignored him and checked the bathrooms. They worked. They had real toilet paper rather than rolls of brown crepe paper that might be left over from some celebration a decade past like the t.p. at Pepe’s Trailer Park in Zihuatanejo. The shower water even felt warmish—a plus.

“The bathrooms are okay. We’ll stay.”

We staked our claim halfway to the beach entrance. I sat in the wide side door of the combi and gazed toward the mouth of the bay across a fleet of low, open boats drawn up on the sand like colorful beached whales, but I didn’t start to unpack. Instead I thrust a folding chair toward Sam and handed him one of the Pacifico beers I picked up at the tienda. I figured he couldn’t talk if he had a beer bottle to his lips.

Parsley was giving me that “feed me” look. I fixed her bowl.

“That place smells good,” I said of a tiny taco joint visible at the edge of the trailer park. “Let’s get dinner.”

“Are you nuts? Looks worse than the roach-coach back home.”

“Then what do you want?”

“Aren’t there any coffee shops here?”

Parsley finished eating and we strolled onto the esplanade.

“What about that one?” I pointed to a place tucked under a thatched roof with blaring salsa music.

He looked at a menu posted by the entrance. “I want a hamburger,” and walked on.

“You won’t find a Lyons.”

We strolled to the end of the esplanade, reading menus and quibbling over which to choose: too dirty—too expensive—no hamburgers. All I wanted was some dinner. A quesadilla, tacos, whatever.

“Isn’t that where you’re supposed to meet William and Kathleen?” He thrust his chin toward a dumpy looking cinderblock building with faded paint and peeling trim, squatting at the edge of the street. An old sign said “Sports Bar” and the familiar flicker of television lit the interior. Sam trudged up the several steps to the door. “They have hamburgers.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.” I said when we stepped inside. A sports bar, indeed. Two huge TVs showed games and the patrons crowding the small, smoky room shouted and cheered in English.

Sam marched toward a table, but stopped and threw himself into reverse like a cartoon character when he realized the smoke was coming from numerous joints passing through the crowd. “Let’s get out of here.”

I looked forward to the World Series and that Acapulco Gold.

We settled on a restaurant across the esplanade from Las Palmas. Our waiter brought a dish of scraps along with the bowl of water we ordered for Parsley. My huachinango mojo de ajo was fresh and grilled perfectly. The fish was so delicious, I forgot to fight with Sam.

After dinner with our bellies full, and our attitudes toward one another more kindly, Sam and I cruised with the flow of tourists, lovers, drunk surfers, and locals, noting places to explore in the coming days before we returned to Las Palmas to set-up camp.

Palm fronds clacked in the gentle sea breeze and the balmy night smelled fresh and salty. Sam snored inside my no-see-um-netted bus. I was lost in Gabriel Garcia Marques’ Love in the Time of Cholera when an orange combi pulled into our trailer park close to midnight. I paid little attention. Parsley, on-duty at the edge of my tiny circle of light, kept watch on the two men who emerged from the VW, set-up camp and disappeared back into the bus, pulling the door closed behind them with a thwunk.

6. Puerto Escondido


The late afternoon sun angled toward the Pacific, painting our first view of Puerto Escondido a rosy gold that blushed across the buildings, fanning up the hillside from a strip of sand. Puffs of cumulus clouds congregated above the ocean, and reached toward the lighthouse that presides over a point rising sharply behind the old fishing village and marks the north corner of the mouth of the bay. The cobbled waterfront thoroughfare, shaded by tall coconut palms on the beach side was closed to all but foot traffic. We parked and walked.

Trees, bushes, and vines, blooming in a Crayola rainbow of colors, cascaded down the slope from every wall, gate and rooftop on the opposite side of the street. Stone steps twisted up between the tourist and surf shops, restaurants, bars and tiendas that brimmed with ripe mangoes, succulent papayas, trays of astringent smelling limes and oranges, and sweet, bee-attracting pineapples. I craned around corners and doors, snapping pictures, and hoping to discover the mystery of each enticing passage as it disappeared around the high, glass-topped stone walls.

Parsley strained against her leash, sniffing the smells with gusto. For an old girl she maintained her curiosity, and in Mexico, everything smelled interesting to a dog.

Sam stopped in front of a bar and sniffed the air. “Aren’t surfers a bunch of stoners?” he asked, wrinkling his nose.

“Keep your DEA badge in your pocket.”

“What are you getting at? It’s a Marin County sheriff’s badge.” Sam’s look would have frozen hell. “Let’s get going. Quit taking pictures. I’m tired and hungry.”

I focused my lens on Sam’s familiar frown. Click. Click.

“Put that damn camera away.”

A trio of pedestrians turned toward us, inquisitive.

“Quit nagging me. You’re such a stick-in-the-mud,” I said and raised my eyebrows at the tourists, as if to say it was out of my hands.

“You’re selfish and irresponsible. I’m going to find somewhere to sleep tonight.” He spun on his heel and stalked off in the direction of the parked camper. A sensation of giddy lightness came over me, and I grinned at the passers-by.

“Are you coming?” He demanded from several feet away.

A slight gust of wind rattled the palms. “I thought you were leaving,” I said, slowing my pace.

“Don’t sound so happy.”

5. Coin Toss


I stabbed my index finger onto the dot of Pochutla on the map. “We go north on the Pacific Coast Highway,” I traced our route. “Look. To Puerto Escondido; there’s a trailer park.”

“Puerto Escondido? The surfer-dude hang-out?” Sam banged his beer bottle onto the scarred tabletop in the tiny restaurant tucked into the center of Pochutla where we’d stopped to rest. “We’re going to Huatulco—to Club Med.”

“Sorry, Sam, everyone else is going to Puerto Escondido.” Everyone meant a couple of the other students from our language school. “Anyway, you agreed to meet William tomorrow night for the World Series. There’s a bar with satellite TV.”

“That must have been the tequila talking. God, I hate baseball. You want to see your new boyfriend from the Instituto.”

My stomach clenched in irritation. I resented myself for being so transparent. It was true. William, a classmate from my language school, was handsome, witty—new, and we were attracted to each other. But old Sam was there.I bit back a rejoinder. What purpose would it serve? Instead, I pulled a 1000 peso coin out of my pocket.

“I’ll tell you what—I’ll flip you: Quetzalcoatl says we go north and the eagle with the snake points to Huatulco. You toss.”

I shot the coin across the table. Moisture from the storm hung heavy in the hot coastal air, and I was anxious to get going; anxious to let the rush of air through my open window cool me and drown out Sam’s tiresome accusations. I’d heard enough of his entreaties and his wallowing jealousy. What had I been thinking when I agreed to spend the next ten days traveling with him? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

He flipped the peso into the air and it bounced back to the table clanking dully.

Quetzalcoatl—I won—we’d go north to Puerto Escondido.