Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Road to Puerto Escondido

Photo by NicolasAlbuquerqueWolf. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Suddenly we smelled the ocean in the air, and we smelled it for an hour before we saw it. The sky was so blue and warm and salty and alive, and the hills were covered with big towering jungle trees, and we had beer and everything we needed, and we were getting somewhere. So when we came over the top of that one last big hill and saw the ocean spread out to China, we started laughing, and Sue just about yanked my head off so she could kiss me hard on the lips.

Down there at the ocean's edge we could see a border of white where the waves broke, and just in from that was a big city with a few big hotel buildings. It turned out it was like the Americans were playing Monopoly up and down the Mexican coast and this was their Boardwalk—except this was Acapulco. We never did care much for the resort towns, but then we didn't know what we were in for.

We drove past a statue of a naked lady or mermaid or goddess, and she had green brass dolphins all around her, and someone had put a bra on her to cover up her titties—out of modesty or a joke. We parked in a big hotel parking lot and walked along the beach to stretch our legs. We felt as though we were in an ark of happiness coming off the ocean in waves. We bought lime popsicles from a vendor pushing a cart along the beach, and it was the most real popsicle we ever ate because it had the pulp and the seeds and, I swear, a zest of the peel too. It was getting pretty late in the day, so we went back into the hotel to see about something for dinner. There was a fancy restaurant off the lobby, but there weren't many customers in there, and those who were there were in suits and ties.

—Shit, Dwight, I don't know if they'll let us eat in here.

—Why the hell not? We're Americans, ain't we?

—Not anymore. Besides, we're just wearing jeans and smelly old T-shirts.

But the guy in charge treated us like we'd just walked off a yacht and took us to a nice table in a private corner like we were going to make romance, and the staff put big potted plants around us so we had our own jungle. Then in quick order, one man, who wore a suit just to carry a pitcher, poured us some water, and another man brought us menus and said "Good evening" in excellent English.

—This evening the chef's specialty is huachinango al horno.

Sue blurted laughter, and I kicked her lightly under the table because we were supposed to be in a serious place. The waiter's face darkened.

—That's red snapper from the kiln.

He went away, and we decided he meant the fish was baked in an oven. People were staring at us, so we hid behind the potted plants and our menus, which had English on one side and Spanish on the other. I listened to the people at the other table talking.

—Dwight, have you noticed the prices in here?

—Yeah, don't panic. They're in pesos.

—Well, let me do a little translating for you. If I'm doing my arithmetic right, a hamburger costs around ten dollars.

—Ten dollars American?

—Yep.

—Deer rifle's in the truck...

—Don't even think about that down here. You gonna hold 'em up for a burger an' fries?

—Well, maybe a shake, too.

She looked sad. Sometimes it frustrated her that I was a Boggs boy and there was nothing that could change what I was.

—I'm just kidding, Sue.

—So what are we gonna do?

We walked outta there and found us a mercado in the Meskin part of town. We had some fish stew in a little diner and bought ourselves some blankets, and then we drove down the coast until we were in wild country again. We stayed on the beach that night.

In the night the water was filled with tiny glowing blue dots, and whenever we walked on the wet sand, those dots glowed in our footprints. We spread the blankets on the sand and slept there. The water slapped the beach hard a few times in the night and woke us up, and we made love, but mostly we slept like soldiers after a war.

There was no bridge over the Rio Bravo, and men lashed Franklin's truck onto pontoons and ferried it to the other side. They took us across in a little motor boat as if we were an afterthought. All that cost us about five bucks. The coastal highway took Sue and me up and down hills along cliffs on the ocean, and we were suddenly among a bunch of little buildings alongside the highway—a Pemex station, a restaurant, a farmacia. Down below was a main drag on the inland-most part of the beach, and the road was made of sand. Along that road were shops with roofs of corrugated tin; restaurants with floors of pounded earth, open sides and varnished smooth tree trunks holding up thatched roofs; a couple of motels like castles of whitewashed adobe with flattop turrets; a campground full of trees pregnant with coconuts; and fruit & vegetable stands. There were some houses between the main drag and the highway, and some more up in the hills above the highway. That was Puerto Escondido, and that was where we landed.

There was something muffled about the place. I mean the ocean waves were always rolling in, wave after wave, and you could smell marine life in the air, and sometimes you could smell hints of what life just gave out on the beach to rot, but too there was a quiet in the sounds of the place, and even in the slow deliberate way that people moved.

It was like a bunch of lead had been taken off our necks because we felt light and happy in a way we never felt before.

There was a barracks of Federales in Puerto Escondido, and sometimes a soldier in his fatigues with an M-1 rifle in his hands would stand there at the barbed wire fence around the campground where we stayed for a dollar a night, and he would stare at people in the campground. We didn't take it personally because they watched everyone and not just us.

We bought a couple of hammocks and suspended them between coconut trees and just laid there for a long time. Late in the afternoon we went for a swim in the ocean. When we got back to our hammocks Sue fought with a comb  in her long blond hair.

—I can't get out these snarls.

So we bought ourselves a pair of scissors at the farmacia. We sat on the beach that night by a campfire we made, and Sue cut off all my hair, which was pretty easy because it wasn't all that long. Then I cut off Sue's hair, which was really hard because I loved Sue's hair. We buried our hair in the sand. We laughed and cried at the same time together, so we were like four people in one person.

In the daytime people brought all sorts of things into the campground to sell, and we got quesadillas and tamales, but the tamales were different from the kind we knew back home because they were square and wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn shucks. Instead of the reddish chili gravy sauce that comes with tamales in the north, they were richly coated with mole sauce with all those pulverized chilis in it so that it tasted so earthy. That earthiness was so appropriate because I felt like I was in a fertility cult of one and Sue was my goddess. Near the barbed-wire fence was a water facility with toilets, showers, and a big sink where you could wash clothes. Sue and I took showers together because it was the only private time we got to be naked together. In my arms with the chilled water running over us she felt softer, warmer, and more delicious than ever, and changes were happening to me too because I had never left so much of myself behind in a woman before. She complained about how I was keeping her dripping wet until lunchtime. The people in the campground didn't pay us any mind, but sometimes the Meskins would give us dirty looks like we were doing something wrong, but we didn't care. We didn't make much noise—our expression happened in the many liquids coursing over us and between us.

This is an excerpt from a novella that I started in grad school and that I might yet bring to a new stage of completion. Thank you for reading it. —mw.