Her breasts weren't identical, but they rhymed. Naked, shaking her black curls, she emerged from the sea as if swept in on the waves. Her dark skin radiated sunlight refracted by a million drops of salt water. She seemed to sizzle. I was one of three men who sat together on the sand, entranced by her every movement. We were in the middle of awesome scenery -- Mexico's Caribbean coast, an epic poem of surf, sand and palm trees -- but at the moment she was the natural beauty that moved us. No one else was present. She bounded toward us; my pulse raced so fast my wrists hurt. She stretched out in our midst, letting the lucky sun do what I aspired to do -- caress each part of her molten form.
My traveling partner Erik and I had not set out on this journey in search of voluptuous nudists. Though I give the subject plenty of involuntary thought, we hadn't discussed it at all when planning the trip. We sought something more than beaches with beer and babes. We could have easily dallied with divorcees in Cozumel or snorkeled with topless office girls at Playa del Carmen. But we wanted to dig deeper into the culture, to meet people who thrive on next to nothing, to feel rhythms thousands of years old. Of course, we'd welcome surprises. All we needed was a comfortable base camp from which to penetrate the mysteries of the Yucatan.
"Restaurante y cabaqas de Don Armando" fit the bill. The amenities were few, but the clientele was young, hip, good looking and extremely casual. Most of them were Europeans in their 20s, on extended holiday, and everyone acted like they had no place else to go. Guys in cutoffs and women in sarongs lounged around, immersed in thick novels in German and Italian. As we surveyed the room, tanned dudes nodded to us coolly; women smiled. Like the heaps of limes and bowls of salsa that lined the counter, the scene was tart and appetizing.
During our second evening there, a couple in the cafe caught my interest -- or rather, one of them did. Her tangled mass of black hair cascaded around a heart-shaped face. She wore tattered jeans and a thin peasant shirt not quite up to the job of containing its restless cargo. Silver jewelry, the rustic handmade kind, punctuated her bronzed skin. Her eyes gleamed with mischief. She had a companion; he had two eyes and a nose, I think, I really didn't notice. When Don Armando announced to the crowded dining room, "Claudia!" she jumped up to claim her plate of steaming seafood. She then consumed the meal with a voracious, single-minded fervor. She plundered the lobster's inner recesses with her tongue. Butter dripped off her fingers and ran down her chin. She guzzled her beer. I envied the lobster, the willing victim of her lust.
"You're staring," Erik pointed out.
"Sorry. What were you saying?"
"I'm trying to get your thoughts on what to do tomorrow." I focused long enough to agree to explore the nearby Mayan ruins of Tulum early in the morning, before the tour bus onslaught, and then head into the jungle to locate Coba, another ruined Mayan city. With that settled, and with Claudia feeding spoonfuls of sticky flan to her companion, we retired to our cabana for the night.
In the early morning light, Tulum's silent stone buildings and spectacular setting fired our imaginations. What did the Mayans do in these tiny chambers? Wouldn't this one be a perfect spot for wild sex with a beautiful stranger? I found myself hoping for another Claudia sighting. As we headed back, two hitchhikers wagged their thumbs; one of them was Claudia. Erik didn't need to be told what to do. He screeched to a stop, and they clambered in the Volkswagen's cramped back seat.
Her companion, named Marco, spoke very good English; she, not a word. They were Italians, winding up a typically extended European holiday of six weeks. They had seen much of Mexico and Belize, and were now debating how to spend a few final days before flying back to Rome.
To my delight, we all hit it off. Claudia looked even better by day. Her flashing eyes and smile seemed up for anything. She followed the conversation by prying quick translations out of Marco. He was a sweet and sincere guy. When he suggested the four of us spend the afternoon swimming and soaking up sun, Erik and I did to our plans what the Mayans had done to their cities -- abandoned them.
On the beach, as soon as we were out of sight of the cabanas, Claudia pulled at the bit of cotton batik wrapped around her. It fluttered to the sand, useless. She scampered toward the tourmaline sea decorated with only bits of silver on her wrists, ankle and neck.
Marco explained, "She thinks a bathing suit is for, how do you say ...?" He made a box shape with his fingers.
"Squares!" I answered. "We left that crowd back in Cancun. I'm especially glad not to be around them today."
"Not ever!" he grinned.
We men, two of us paler, weaker, with thicker waists and thinner blood than Claudia, nonetheless followed her lead and shed our clothes.
"She's a beautiful woman, Marco," I said, stating the obvious. Perhaps he
"Yes, she is. It's been interesting traveling with her. She is very
intense and demanding. I would not want to be her lover."
"You're not her boyfriend?" I asked, incredulous, and failing to disguise
"No, not really. We're good friends, and we sleep together sometimes, but
she's not really my type. She insists on total freedom to do what she
wants. Sometimes that's very hard." He glanced at me as he spoke, but
otherwise fixed his gaze on Claudia as she romped toward us, sea water
I didn't quite believe him. I thought Marco was perhaps in love with an
unpossessable woman. Not his type? She could charm the pants off the pope.
Although Marco didn't show it, she must be torturing him by frolicking
through Latin America with whichever strangers she fancied. And how easy it
is in this setting to follow the whims of desire. Mere hours ago, Claudia
was an alluring stranger in a cafe; now we were intimate acquaintances, our
inhibitions crumpled in a heap on the sand.
What was she thinking? Without words, I was left with the language of
looks, posture, attitude. I couldn't tell; I looked for a sign. Perhaps
Erik and Marco would decide to do something together, like take a hike. But
then what? Perhaps I could impersonate a lobster. With more sun on my
unprotected hide, that would soon be plausible.
The sound of boats crashing through the surf caught our attention. The
sailors expertly negotiated the waves and slid their crafts onto the sand,
jumping out to pull lines and drag them out of the water. The men were
almost black with sun. They wore nothing but swim trunks. We pulled on our
shorts, Claudia applied her sarong, and the four of us ambled over to watch
them. Their gear was basic: long, open boats with high prows to bash the
waves, large outboard motors, swim fins and masks and a few knives. The
bottom of the boats were thick with tuna, halibut, lobsters and crabs.
In our halting Spanish, we asked them simple questions. Yes, they fish
for a living. Yes, they go out every day, just beyond the reef. No, they
don't work for a large company, they sell directly to the local
establishments. Such as Don Armando, yes.
"I'll have the tuna," Erik advised the fisherman.
"I want lobster," I said, "but I bet Claudia wants the biggest one." Marco
translated for her and she agreed, laughing.
The scene pulsed with the eternal rhythms of men and the sea, reaping the
timeless harvest with bare hands under a hard blue sky. Then, one brawny
fisherman produced a cell phone and made a quick call. Almost at once a
late model Jeep Cherokee appeared on the beach. The men loaded everything
into it except the boats, which were simply left on the sand, and drove
off, stereo blasting ... timelessly up-to-date.
We headed back to the restaurant. Dinner was a swirling blur of butter
sauce, beer and hormones. I meant to indulge cautiously, mindful of the
perils of turista, but I forgot. We dined, we clowned, we carried on. I
charmed, I conjured, I mimed. I teased Claudia into teaching us colorful
Italian expressions for bodily functions, and she applied herself with
glee. But as the evening wound down, I knew she would spend the night in
Marco's hammock, or perhaps her own, but not in mine. I fought the
disappointment, but it fought back, tormenting me all night.
In the morning Marco dashed any further hope. "We've decided to head up the
coast," he said. "We have to get to Miami for our flight home."
We sent them off, embracing as if we were old friends, and for a fleeting
moment I captured her in my arms. Claudia was every bit as huggable as I
hoped, but it was only as good as good-bye. Marco shook hands a final time,
pressing a folded paper into my hand. My heart rate doubled. Instead of a
love note from Claudia, it was Marco's address in Rome. "Look me up
sometime," he said.
I watched them hike toward the highway. They'd have no trouble getting a
ride. Erik and I were back on our own, aware that we'd willingly discarded
our quest for deep meaning in favor of 110 pounds of unbridled woman,
prancing before us, then vanishing untouched. Did this mean we were just a
pair of dopes with sperm for brains, like the tourist types we sought to
"You were the one that tried to will her into your hammock," Erik pointed out.
"True, but you didn't seem to mind when she Coppertoned your back."
"That was exceedingly pleasant," he admitted.
With very little discussion, we agreed: Claudia was more than a babe. She
was closer to a wild animal, and any self-respecting explorer would gladly
lurk in the bushes to study her mating habits. The only real question was
how to continue without her blood-stirring animal nature. We chose the next
best thing: lunch. I ordered another plate of Don Armando's lobster -- hot,
succulent, wet with butter and helpless in the path of my desire.