2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

Literally Drinking Under the Table in Guatemala

Literally Drinking Under the Table in Guatemala

Beer in Tilapita

I shaped masa into perfect spheres, squishing the dough between pieces of plastic in a tortilla press. The thin tortillas would be cooked fast and hot. Small fish we bought off a boat were frying in oil as tomatoes and cucumbers were sliced and drizzled with a lime. Three toddlers wove around our legs, finally starting to tire after the long day we’d had.

My friend Natascha and I had traveled by bus to Tilapita, a tiny group of houses in the sand on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, across a river by boat from the small town of Tilapa. The first night we were playing in the waves and met four young women between the ages of 15 and 25. The six of us glommed onto each other immediately, following their 17-year-old gregarious de-facto leader to church and then a bar, sitting outside and spying on her crush, then meeting the next morning to see the town. We borrowed a boat and rowed through the swamp, docking by the river and jumping in the calm water close to its banks to swim. Snacking on chips and soda, we walked to the ocean, exploring the shore and playing soccer in the local school’s field in the late afternoon. The six of us had an intimacy that was both exciting and spotty. We had talked for hours—about relationships and dreams and school and work—but had known each other for just a day.

Natascha and I had to head back inland the next morning, so this dinner was goodbye. I brought cold, cheap beer: the perfect supplement to fried fish. My friend immediately hid the beer under the table. Her husband, stepping out of the house, said we’d better not be drinking that.

He left, I apologized quietly, and we all returned to cooking. Their kitchen was outside, with a thatched roof, sandy floor, and a salty breeze coming in from the water. As we cooked, people walked by, family members and friends of our hosts, joking and talking, admiring the feast we had prepared. When I finally finished the tortillas, we sat around the table, picking bones out of the fish and placing its white meat in the hot tortillas, sprinkling salsa and lime on top. We each cradled a beer between our knees, hidden beneath the tablecloth and sweating through the bottles in the hot night. We snuck sips as darkness fell, neighbors becoming more sparse, the aforementioned crush of our teenage friend coming by to flirt. He left and we argued about whether he was good enough for her. We toasted under the table, to fast friendship and to women, awkwardly trying to clink bottles without being able to see them. Laughing, we were a little drunk and a little sad.

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