While living in Southern California, my two daughters and I always enjoyed our trips to Mexico. We especially liked Baja, and through a realtor friend of mine, I leased a beach house on the south side of Ensenada bay in an area called Agua Caliente, a community of American ex-pats. We enjoyed summers playing in the surf, collecting seashells, and exploring the rugged Baja coastline.
Each morning we strolled down the seashore to a little ochre-colored restaurant nestled on the beach, separated from the water by only a small stone and mortar seawall. The rugged cinder-block building had defied the Pacific Ocean for many years, and was as quaint as it was strong. The layout of the interior was purely Mexican, the whitewashed stucco walls were accented with painted red flowers and green banana stalks, and large windows facing the ocean made the restaurant seem much bigger. Roughhewn wooden tables were surrounded by brightly painted wooden chairs and brown ceramic floor tiles.
The small proprietor and her daughter divided their time between serving their customers and tending to the thin strips of meat hanging on open-air racks just outside the back door of the kitchen. This Mexican version of beef jerky would be rehydrated and pounded until tender; the reconstituted meat would be an ingredient in our favorite breakfast dish, machaca con huevos. She would fry the stringy meat along with onions, bell peppers, and scrambled eggs, then scoop onto a plate and serve with rice and beans – delicious!
We had slept in, and the beach and sunshine made for a happy morning as we trekked barefoot down the shoreline toward the restaurant, past the hot springs where the warm sand squished up between our toes with every step.
We climbed over the short seawall and staggered through the door with sandy feet, tousled hair, and sleepies still in our eyes, and, sitting on wooden chairs around the table we liked so much, the one in the corner with the panoramic view of the beach out the large windows, we ordered our usual machaca con huevos, along with ice-cold Cocas in glass bottles.
The girls and I were only getting settled into our morning meal when the creaking of the door signaled her entry. Even though I’d had numerous fantasies about a lean, tall, big breasted woman coming into my life, I was still surprised and delighted to see the woman who entered and sat down at the table near us.
“Do you think it’ll warm up?” I asked.
It did. We had exciting chemistry from the start. During breakfast she and I decided to take a two-mile run down the beach, and in the following days we spent more and more time together.
She was a good storyteller, and we’d sit around in the evenings at my beach house, me drinking whiskey straight, and the girls requesting more stories. She told stories that left us in delighted awe, and sometimes tears. Sometimes it would be me saying, “Tell us one more story!”
She acquiesced anytime I wanted sex, and sometimes had difficulty keeping all her clothes on at any given time. My girls grew accustomed to seeing her walk around the beach house in various stages of undress, dispelling any notions they might have had about our chastity.
A week went by, and even though she was a school teacher from Arizona and had the entire summer off, she needed to make a few calls in order to extend her vacation.
So the next week there were four of us walking down the beach. The ocean lay calm under a cloudless sky, and the waves coming onto the shore arrived not as ocean waves, but merely ripples like the waves children make in their wading pools, and made the sound of a babbling brook, washing one row of tiny seashells upon another with each successive slap of the water. We were carefree.
“Samantha! Samantha!” came the sound of a man’s voice from behind us.
Samantha turned, stunned for a second, and then recovered. “Joe, what are you doing here? What a surprise!” Samantha said as she hugged the man strongly. “Joe, meet Rick and his daughters.”
Joe and I shook hands and I said, “Hello.”
“This is my boyfriend Joe,” Samantha said.
I suddenly realized I was in the middle of a tenuous situation, and my knees went weak as my heart pounded in my chest. “Pleasure to meet you,” I muttered.
“We’re just meeting up for breakfast, want to join us?” She asked Joe.
“Sure, I’d love to. I was so bored in Arizona, and I decided to come down to Baja to be with you for the rest of your vacation. Surprise, huh?”
“Yes, totally,” she said as she smiled at him and glanced at me nervously. The girls rolled their eyes at me and wagged their heads, as if to say, `Dad, how do you get yourself in these kinds of situations?’
We continued plodding up the beach toward the restaurant. We sat at our usual table and ordered our machacas and Cocas, but tension hung in the air, threatening to pull all the oxygen from the air. Even the Latina waitress caught on to what was going on, and as she took our orders, her large dark eyes gave me a stern Catholic scolding. I cringed under the power of her accusing gaze, and thought she must be related to the Pope himself.
“Joe, you’ve got to try the machaca. It’s shredded beef, and they mix it with eggs when they cook it.” This was about the last intelligent thing I said that morning, for as the meal progressed, the conversation turned in an uncomfortable direction.
“Thank you, I believe I will.” He said to the waitress, “I’ll have what he’s having.”
She smiled at him, and shot me another stare of condemnation that would require several mea culpas and some Hail Marys to mitigate. I smiled back at her with my best look of innocence, but that didn’t cut any ice with her, and on top of that, my daughters turned coat on me and joined the waitress with that same Pope-like stare.
“Have you been having fun down here?” He asked Samantha.
She could only blush, “Yes, I’ve been having a lot of fun. The grunion are running, and we caught some last night.”
“Who?” He asked innocently, still very much the gentleman.
“The whole neighborhood,” I volunteered. “A bunch of us were down at the beach catching them by hand. We cooked them over an open fire right on the beach.”
“Yes, they were quite good,” she confirmed.
My heart began to beat harder again. I started feeling lightheaded and a little punk (pardon the pun). I tried my best to give a genuine smile, but was hampered by the scowls given me by my girls, and of course, the waitress, who now stationed herself behind the counter where she could watch me better.
She served our breakfast, along with Coca-Colas all around, and Joe dug into his food with enthusiasm, followed by my daughters and Samantha, with me bringing up the rear. The machaca smelled so delicious I wanted to eat the whole thing, but my appetite had slowed down to a pitiful crawl as I tried to keep an upbeat countenance in the face of my dire circumstances.
“What else did you do?” He asked.
“Oh, I went diving at La Boufadora one day, and another day I took the car and went sightseeing. Mainly, I’ve been babysitting Rick’s daughters quite a bit and having fun with them.” Another blush.
“Cool,” he said as he inhaled his machaca. “I hope the grunion are still running tonight. I want to taste them cooked over an open fire like that.”
“Yeah, they should still be running,” I offered.
The girls ate their machaca while they watched my every pathetic movement. I wanted to simply eat my food and get out of there, but at the rate I was eating, it would have taken an hour and a half. Not only that, but I couldn’t eat it. My machaca was unappetizing now, and I toyed with it with my fork, and every now and then I took a small bite and chewed thoroughly while I listened to the happy dialogue between Joe and Samantha. Breakfast seemed to go on for hours.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Joe asked me.
“I think I drank too much tequila at the grunion feed last night. You want mine?”
Joe quickly traded plates with me and ate my breakfast, and carried on a lively conversation at the same time, with me only contributing a lame yes, no, or an occasional grunt in an effort to sound conversational.
Breakfast finally over, we all walked back up the beach, Joe happy to have experienced machaca for the first time, and me wishing I could have eaten mine.