I’m not sure whose idea it was to go to Aguas Calientes, a park 20 minutes from the house where Biz, Toad and Alan lived. All three were teachers at The American School in Guadalajara. We were squeezed into Biz’s VW Jetta, a car he drove there from the states. Biz was driving which was good because Toad and Alan were totally whacked. Biz’s novia Julia sat in the front seat in between us. Toad and Alan were in the backseat. We stopped at a friend of Biz’s to get more blow. It wasn’t that good and cut to shit but it did the trick. I looked out the open window. The warm air blew in and covered me.
“What the hell? Where is this place?” Toad said. He twisted around and looked out the back window. “If we get stopped we are fucked big time.”
“Will you shut up, Toad?” Biz said, looking at him in the rear view. Toad was a short, intense guy from Florida. He was fluent in Spanish but refused to use it. He ate at Taco Bell in Mexico and that says it all.
“O.k. Alright.” Toad elbowed Alan. “You got the joints?”
“Ow. Yes,” Alan said, “just like I told you five minutes ago. Don’t hit me.” Toad began to poke and punch Alan.
“Stop it!” Alan said. Alan was about 15 years older than us, who were all in our late 20’s. He was a good guy. There was not much he was interested in except drinking and reading. He had taught all over the world as a teacher for The American School network. I looked out the window. Lots of trees and blue sky and whisps of cumulus clouds. Low ranch style homes lined the motorway, half obscured by flowering bushes and trees. I had been in Mexico for three weeks and didn’t know where I was going next. Julia’s brown thigh rested against mine. She was wearing short black shorts. She had round hips and lips as ripe as a raspberry. She loved Biz. But she was Latin and touch matters less, or more, down there. I wore shorts too and our thighs were slippery with sweat.
“Ed,” Biz said, “this place is known by the locals. It is gorgeous up in there.” Biz was from West Texas. My friend Josh used to call him the white snoop doggy dog. He was mellow, and not always stoned, just a good guy with a good heart. He loved his girl, teaching 4th graders and baseball.
We turned off the motorway onto a two-lane road that burrowed into a lush jungle forest. We stopped at a tienda and I bought a case of beer. Toad forgot to bring the cooler. I asked the lady for a box and bought a bag of ice. A few hundred meters down the road was the park. Three guys were at a little shack that was the gate house; the corrugated roof was falling down in the back. Thick vegetation surrounded the small structure and it seemed as if by the minute it was closing in around it, swallowing it up. The guys were sitting on stools and all wore cowboy hats, jeans and boots. There was a small fee to enter the park. The guy who took the money from Biz had a big marijuana leaf belt buckle on his waist. “Gracias, amigo,” he said, staring blatantly at Julia’s piernas.
“Finally,” Toad said.
“I am so excited to get out of this car,” Alan said.
“Why? Why Alan?” Toad said, poking him once.
“Toad. If you do that again, I’m going to…”
“What Alan? What are you going to do” Alan leaned forward on the seat.
“Are we almost there?” he said.
“Yes, we are.” Biz said. “In fact, we’re here now.”
Biz parked on a hill where a few other cars looked like their driver’s just said, “fuck it we’ll park here.” Which is what we did. We all got out. Julia stretched her arms over her head and her shirt lifted up and revealed a tight belly and narrow hips. Her breasts, free from a bra, shook, firm and perky. It was hot and muggy and no wind blew. We followed Biz down a narrow dirt trail to the river. There wasn’t much water running. It was low and shallow. Small and large stones cluttered the expanse and the banks were flat and seemed to disappear into the surrounding jungle. Further down there were two families. Kids jumping from rock to rock and the adults were lying in the shallow water. Further below were thermal baths. I carried the cardboard box of beer, already dripping from the melting ice. It felt cool on my belly and wet my shirt.
We followed the trail through thick jungle and up a steep incline. At the top we walked for a few more minutes to a clearing where there was a waterfall, its mane of bubbles and air and water tumbling forty feet to a black pool below; the water white and frothing where it hit. The jungle spread out green all around us and the sun was bright and hot. I noticed a few other trails continuing from the clearing into the wood. I sat on a big rock and Alan sat next to me. A cool breeze pulsed from the water and drops of moisture made a light mist over us.
“Should we smoke this now or what?” He said. “Toad can be such a douchebag.”
“Why is he like that?” I said.
“He’s just a dick. That’s it. Sometimes that’s just how people are.”
Toad, Biz and Julia stood looking down from the top of the waterfall. The water came from a small river that narrowed and disappeared like a black serpent into the overhanging trees.
“Can you jump this?” Toad said.
“I’ve done it,” Biz said. “It’s a rush.”
“How do you get back up?” “There is a trail that leads back to the one we came up on.”
“Are you going to do it?” “Nah. I want to smoke.” Biz turned and left Toad standing there. Julia threw her arm around his shoulders and they walked over to us. Alan sparked the joint. None of us knew what day it was. We had been rolling for 3 days straight. The school was on vacation, so the boys had the week off. As far as I knew Julia didn’t work. She was the daughter of a city cop. We had been snorting coke, drinking beer and smoking endless joints from Biz’s trash bag of Mexican schwag. Julia did not do coke. She pulled a big hit and handed the joint to me. I took a hit. A loud sound of branches breaking came from the forest and the trail that twisted behind the waterfall.
“What’s that noise?” Toad said, walking over to us.
Two guys on horseback came through the dense forest. They emerged on the hill so the heads of the men and horses showed first, then the rest of each man and eventually horse appeared as they entered the clearing. They wore cowboy hats and white button-down shirts; jeans and cowboy boots on their feet. The sun glinted off one man’s chest. It was a badge; Sheriffs. To say there was tension in the air would not be adequate. The space in the clearing, through the trees and in the canopy was thick with an instant pressure. The sheriffs stared down on us from their magnificent steeds. The instant I saw them I put the lit joint under my heel and pressed it down onto my sandal. No one said anything. The horses were large and one was brown and one was black. The two men had mustaches, of course. They observed us from beneath the brims of their cowboy hats, eyes in shadow. The brown horse whinnied and shook its mane. Alan sat next to me on the rock and Biz and Julia were a few feet away. Toad stood next to me. It seemed like an hour but in fact it was only half a minute since they appeared and entered the clearing.
“Buenas Tardes, Senores,” I said, confidently and as respectfully as possible. One of the sheriff’s nodded. They walked their horse through the clearing. They did not stop. The other sheriff put his finger to the brim of his hat and they cantered off down the trail we had originally come up. Biz cracked a can of beer, it frothed-over. He held it out and it spilled to the dirt below.
“Fuck,” Alan said.
“Shit,” Toad said.
Biz took a long sip of the beer. Julia didn’t seem to have noticed anything odd. She kissed Biz on the cheek. I opened a beer and it frothed over. I drank a few swallows, my mouth dry as a bone.
“Fuck,” Biz said, “those guys do not mess around. A friend of mine was taken in by them once. They held him for three days. He doesn’t talk about it much.”
“How about we get the hell out of here?” Toad said, opening a beer.
“We just got here, relax,” Alan said. He pulled another joint from his shirt pocket.
“Fuck you Alan. You’re so high you don’t give a fuck,” Toad said.
“I think you’re right, “ Alan said, and lit the joint. I slipped my foot out of my sandal and the roach was stuck to my heel.
“This is still good, maybe,” I said, holding up the flat, burnt roach.
We hung around for a little while but it was different. Everyone’s nervous system had been jolted and the vibrations lingered. All that cocaine was stress-triggered and charged us with extreme paranoia. Biz and Julia went back to the car. Alan was lying on the rock reading a paperback. Toad stood at the edge looking over the waterfall.
“You’re not gonna jump?” I said.
I wanted to fuck with him: “Because you are a pussy.”
“Fuck off. You do it. You gonna do it?” Toad took a step towards me. For half a second I thought of grabbing his shoulders and throwing him over the edge. He was that much of an asshole.
“No. I’m not going to do it. I’ve jumped twice as high from a cliff like this back home in Rhode Island.”
“Yeah, right.” Toad crushed the can and tossed it over the waterfall. It drifted and spun in the air and disappeared in the white bubbles.
We got home without a problem. Alan fell asleep in the back. Toad was introverted and thankfully quiet. Biz and Julia and I laughed about the horse cops. Julia leaned forward laughing and her forehead rested on my thigh, my hand fell on her back; it was warm and wet with sweat. At the house everyone went their own ways. I went to the roof. I had taken to sleeping up there. The sun was just beginning to set. The heat made a mist that hovered above the palm trees and the verdant bushes everywhere, in front of houses and in back yards. The giant aqueoducto seemed to hang in the air, its arches strangely suited to their home in the sky; the grey pillars like wrinkled grey elephant legs. I sat with my legs hanging over the wall and smoked a cigarette on numb lips. I smelled garlic and heard Biz downstairs cooking. He was a good cook.