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Body Paint, Memories, and the Margarita Road

It turned up in my Facebook memories the other day: a photo of me holding a large framed poster of three beautiful women. They were on a beach in Brazil wearing only g-strings and body paint. That poster and those women have been part of my journey on the Margarita Road for over twenty-four years.


I first met the lovely trio in 1999, long before moving south. Cheri and I were visiting the island of Cozumel, just off the coast of Mexico’s Caribbean shore. While looking over the usual piles of t-shirts and coffee mugs found in most tourist-town gift shops, I spotted something different. Something special.

Hung on a wall in the back of an open-air shop was a brightly colored poster of three bronzed beauties, their bodies painted with vibrant tropical plants and animals.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

The picture exactly captured the lure of the tropics—natural beauty enhanced with a whimsical, adventurous spirit of freedom. And a beautiful beach, of course. It encompassed everything I thought paradise should be.

San Francisco

I bought the poster immediately and took it back home to San Francisco. We framed it and hung it above the shelves in our little office just off the kitchen.

I was delighted to find this photo of the two artists with the models on the day of the photo shoot.

I later learned that the photo was taken on the iconic Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by German photojournalist Michael Friedel. Brazilian artist and body painter Albery Seixas Da Cunha was the poor guy tasked with painting the bare skin of the three women. (What a tough job that must have been!)

For several years, these exotic women kept me company, never failing to make me smile even through long, dreary winter days. Eventually, they helped inspire me to go searching for my own vision of paradise.

Playa del Carmen

Clearly, I could not leave my lovely friends behind when and Cheri and I took off on our ten-year adventure in Mexico. The poster went with us to our new home south of the border.

When we built our margarita bar in Playa del Carmen, we gave the girls a well-deserved place of honor, hanging above the bottles of tequila and rum. From their center stage vantage point, the three tropical princesses oversaw the nightly events that accompany playtime in paradise.

The Luna Blue Bar in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, circa 2009

Romance, secrets, music, a bit of danger, and lots of laughter drifted over the poster for a decade…along with smoke from Cuban cigars, the heat of tropical humidity, and the ravages of the occasional hurricane.

Oh, the stories those girls could tell if only they could speak. And what conversations they inspired!

In addition to parrots and leopards and exotic fruits, the girls’ body paint seemed to include a secret message. The bare back of each of the models sported a painted letter, together spelling out “LTU.”

Many an evening was spent over margaritas in my bar listening to people wonder what those letters stood for. I heard such ideas as “Love To U,” “Louisiana Tech University,” and even “Lose The Undergarments.”  People were more and more creative with their guesses as the drinks flowed.

Now, I knew that LTU was an acronym for the German airline that had commissioned the poster as a sexy advertisement, but I kept that to myself. Who was I to ruin everyone’s fun?

Back to California

The amazing view from my writing desk

When Cheri and I sold our hotel and bar in 2015, I couldn’t bear to leave my three girlfriends behind. So, I took the poster off the bar’s wall, and the ladies came home to California.

Back in the States, I discovered the girls from Ipanema, like all of us, had not been immune to the passage of time. The vibrant colors had begun to fade. The wooden frame had rotted in spots, allowing water to stain and fray the edges of the poster. Mold had formed in areas, and some sections of the print had stuck to the glass, causing parts of the photo to pull away.

Luckily, the photo I had come to love for so long was still salvageable. A little trimming of the edges, the use of support backing, and a new frame gave the poster a second chance.

I hung it in the reading corner of my writing room. It was here the girls lent their inspiration, as I wrote Driftwood: Stories from the Margarita Road, my novel about life on a tropical beach.

My three muses still hang in my office today, forever playing on the edge of a blue sea and still doing what they always did best: filling my heart and mind with dreams of the Margarita Road.


  1. Gwyneth Thomas says:

    I happened upon this post via Facebook, via your name on Jorge’s newsfeed. Life is locked down just now and dreams of roads once traveled swirl in my head: memories of sitting on swings in the early evening at Luna Blue are still fresh… The Lovelies, as I called them, flanked the wall, with a garland of bikini’s tacked to the rafters, with denizens and momentary “residents” who parked their brains for that week sat on the bar… just a reminder of how vibrant and fresh we feel when we are doused in the sun, lubricated with tequila, blessed by the incense of smoke from Cuban tobacco. Luna Blue was our Home, where we hovered together, raged against the cold of March weather, and from there, we ventured into the neighborhoods, and way, way down 5th. Each year, the trip down the street grew shorter with pickup trucks and construction materials lined up along the side. The jungle was being eaten by the teeth of commerce, and the charm was threatening to be swallowed by yet another Big Concern. I haven’t been back for some time, fearful of losing those corners, which remain in my amber-hazed nostalgia of an American who is concerned with experiencing a slice of Real Mexico. New businesses provide economic opportunity for many who may need the income, but at what expense? The exchange of shopping at The Gap, or Wal-Mart versus shopping “local” (a luxury these days) for a steady paycheck means eroding your country and culture for the mighty dollar/peso/euro. Thank you for keeping it real. And for so long.

    • ANTHONY HEAD says:

      Thanks Gwyn for your sweet and eloquent reply. Playa has changed since those days…whether for better or worse i will leave for others to judge…but we did have the privilege and pleasure of being there at a special moment in time and space. We were blessed.

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