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.

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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.”

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11. 100% Mexican


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Hola. Hallo! Do you want a drink?” a pale, soft-looking man with black hair greeted me in heavily accented English. One of the orange combi neighbors.

I smiled and walked over to introduce myself. “Hi, yo soy Ana,” I said as I extended my hand.

“My name is Gerardo from the north of Mexico Ceety,” he replied pumping my hand a bit longer than necessary and breathing what I took to be the exhaust of a tequila distillery.

Did everyone in Puerto, Escondido speak English? Gerardo appeared to be thirty- five, or slightly older. It was hard to tell because, up close, he had that worn look of an alcoholic. After a minute or two of polite small talk in a combination of my broken Spanish and his slurred English, I declined his offer of a cocktail and made an excuse to leave.

As I turned to go, the door of the orange combi slid open and a slender man of medium-build with light brown hair curling into ringlets onto his forehead and neck stepped out. He wore an ancient pair of flowered Hawaiian Baggies with dress tassel loafers. Dazzled by his golden aura, my feet rooted into the sand, and I melted into jelly knees and rubber elbows with a wildly beating heart. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He looked young, sleepy-eyed and innocent, but something in his manner said he was older. He sauntered over to me and took my hand. Summer flowed through him and the world tilted in its axis.

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Fernando Leon, a sus órdenes.

He introduced himself, his smile lighting up his sea blue eyes.

A mantra: Fernando. Fernando Leon. Fernando of the orange combi, from the north of Mexico City. I was holding his hand, gazing into the vast Pacific of his eyes when I heard myself inviting him out for the evening, drawing him toward the esplanade. “Voy a encontrar unos amigos en el club de salsa anoche. No quires venir? Te gusto bailar?

Then I remembered Sam, sick in my bus.

¡Espérame, espérame!” I ran to my bus and leaned in to tell Sam I was off to the video bar to meet with William and Katherine and surreptitiously slipped condom into my tiny black suede shoulder bag along with a fistful of pesos and my lipstick.

With a final, goodbye, I skipped off across Las Palmas my excitement a cloud of sparkling particulate whirling around me.

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8. I Can Really Pick ’em


 

Boats

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.