Before setting up camp, I want to explore my area first. There is still plenty of time left before dusk, so I continue peddling to investigate a pavilion I can see up ahead. There I find a place that, along with shaded tables, has a small museum, a gift shop and a snack bar. There are also clean restrooms, and to my delight, free showers. I buy myself a burrito to eat while resting at one of the tables.
The crowds are thin today. But this is the middle of the week, and I know the up-coming weekend will be different, so I return to the beach below and climb back on the bike. It is time to go find a good spot to set up my tent one more time.
I head back south and pass by the few campers who have already claimed their spots. Another hundred yards or so beyond the last one I find a clear area bordered by two large patches of morning glories. The site sits in the cool evening shade of the dunes. My small dome goes up fast, and I unpack the bike.
Although I am pleased to find this site apart from the crowd, I still have an uneasy feeling of being too close to people, and while busily arranging my things, I am wondering if I made another mistake when I hear a voice out front.
“Hey there, in the tent.”
I turn and look out my doorway to see a pair of hands resting on a pair of tanned and hairy knees.
“You have a lighter we can borrow?”
I go out to meet Frank who has a big pile of driftwood set up not too far down the beach. Loaning him my lighter gets me invited to a bonfire he tells me he is preparing. He seems friendly enough, so I accept. But before he leaves, he adds,
“Oh, and if you have a spare can of beans lying around, bring it along with you. I’ll be cooking up some fish.”
This is how I get to meet a loose band of beach bums that inhabit this place called Malaquite. Frank quickly opens the can I donate and sets it near the coals to heat while he prepares his catch of the day. The others lounge in the sand around the fire, and on no time we all begin to feast and swap stories of how to survive on the beach.
Frank has two main methods -- fishing in the surf daily and donating blood in town every other week. Horse has a part-time job close by where he cleans out the holds of ships, along with collecting aluminum soda cans the tourists here are always tossing away. Each can, he tells us, is worth a nickel up at the pavilion snack bar. Frank and Ray both go dumpster-diving in town on Thursdays. That’s the night the bakeries pitch out all of their old baked goods, Ray tells me.
“Man, everything is wrapped in its original package, so it’s all still good.”
Horse gets up to push a log into the fire, and as he goes to sit down, he jumps up in the air and yelps, and then he laughs as he hops around in the dark on one foot.
“What’s the matter?”
“I just got sand-bit.”
I have to ask.
“What is that?”
He grins and explains.
“You are always stepping on something out here that either burns, bites or stings. I call it getting sand-bit.”
On the way back to my tent, I vow to keep my flip-flops on for awhile.
A steady breeze blows during the day, but dies off in the late evening. In order to keep from getting sunburned, I put up a shade tent down close to the water. It is nothing more than a lean-to made from a tarp. Over the next several days, I add to the spot by burying the ends of two large pieces of driftwood, and then attaching a hammock between the two posts. Now I have a sleeping tent set up back near the dunes, and a day camp here next to the waves.
Frank comes walking by one morning, carrying a pole and wearing his hat filled with fishing lures, and he shakes his head at my set-up.
“Now that is style.”
I can only toast him from the swinging hammock with a tin cup filled with my tepid tea.
The tide always brings new things to the shore, so the early mornings I go beachcombing. One day it’s jellyfish. Some days it’s tar balls or thousands of small crabs. A man recently found a valuable gold coin, so I keep my eyes opened.
Today is a strange one, though. I see what looks like a large head of lettuce laying up ahead, and as I get close I discover that it is indeed just that. The thing looks fresh and crisp, too.
A little farther I come upon several bunches of carrots laying on the beach. Then I spot some nice tomatoes. Then I find cucumbers and oranges and radishes and lemons scattered here and there, and each and every item looks perfectly fresh, as if they had just been gently placed on the sand at the edge of the ocean. But by whom, I wonder? And is it fit to eat?
I do collect three firm avocados that I come across, but I dismiss the other items. I hate avocados myself, but Jennifer is quite fond of them.
Horse stops by my tent early one morning.
“Hey, we are going to go look for cans. Want to come along?”
My food supply is starting to get low, mostly due to my new-found friends’ forthright way of constantly asking for donations, as well as my inability to say no to them. And it’s an unpleasant task, reaching inside garbage cans and stirring it around just to find a empty can, but I get used to it soon enough.
Horse gets another bright idea one evening. He wants to write a book someday, he claims, and is certainly a creative person in his own way, so I won’t fault him for that particular idea. But he goes over the top with his next scheme. He devises a plan that he claims will make us all a big pile of money.
He says he knows how to make up a concoction that will pass for cocaine, and of which we can sell to the tourists here. It is simple, he tells us, so we listen.
All he needs is enough cash to acquire specific over-the-counter drugs, mix them together, and we can then make hundreds in return. We have a ready market here, he reminds us, so after some persuasive arguments we agree to go along.
He borrows Frank’s old car, and he and our cash both take off for town.
After three long days of silence, we get concerned about our money. Frank is more worried about his rusty beater. But Horse does finally show up on the fourth day, empty handed and grinning all crazy-like. After he calms down a little, we get the lowdown on what happened.
He succeeded, he tells us, in step one and two, and with no problem at all. But when it came time to selling the stuff, he hit a slight snag. Outside a convenience store, he encountered a man who had a big interest, but the fellow wanted proof. So they went to this buyer’s apartment nearby to test the goods.
It looks like cocaine, the man said to Horse.
It tastes like the real deal, they both agreed.
It even had the burn that followed after snorting it up your nose, Horse excitedly claims to us.
Apparently, it was some high quality stuff too, but that is when temptation set in. For at that point, and over the course of the next few days, they both sat back and enjoyed the whole batch until it eventually disappeared.
Horse will tell anyone who wants to listen that it was indeed the best damn cocaine he ever had, and his only real regret is that it’s now all gone.
Bunk cocaine is what he made, and bunk cocaine is what he got; Horse just never seemed to get the irony.
Next: HOLE WARS