19. D-Day


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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.

“Coffee?”

. 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?”

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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18. On My Way


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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.

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“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.

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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.

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17. Danger and Good Fish


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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.

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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.

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 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. . . .

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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.”

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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?

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            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


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http://www.epicurious.com

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.

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clubmedplanet.com

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?”

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expedia.ca

“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.”

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