A town called David.
I was in a town called David. And there was a black cat by me first thing in the morning. That much I remember.
He was making some sort of noise, a cross between a meow and the word “why”. It was all very surreal and haunting and didn’t half make me think I should just turn around and go back to bed. But the sun was trekking up into the sky with a gusto that was to be admired, and in any case, I wasn’t even in a bed, I was in a hammock, so my decision was already made for me.
I was somewhere in rural Panama. A town called David. Which is also my Dad’s name. I don’t think there was a connection between the two but I’d never explicitly asked him if he’d had towns named after him, so it was impossible to completely rule out. I do know he had been to Panama when he was younger though. I’d ask him what to do when I got there and he’d say “the Panama canal, son” then stare into the distance, his eyes glazing over like maybe he had done terrible things in his time there.
Either way, the black cat was drinking out of an old cup someone had left on the ground from the night before. I hoped it was water in there and not rum. But you really can’t be sure in Panama.
David had a way of making you lazy. The town that is, not my Dad. He’s all about making you a better person. Do you think I’d submit self-indulgent stories, quite sporadically I might add, to a blog that I routinely forget the password for, if he didn’t expect the very best?! No, he’s a top bloke and he deserved to have this town named after him.
But back to the town called David, it had a way of making you lazy. Maybe it was the sapping heat of Panama in January, typically the dry season, where the mercury slid into the 30’s. Or maybe it was the cheap booze, with Panama’s local drop ‘Balboa’ offering a convenient buzz for a fraction of the price of the Aussie beers I’d been accustomed to back home. In any case, it was all too easy to wake up with plans and find the sun setting, many hours later, and the only progress you’ve made is a couple of trips to the hostel swimming pool – a popular destination for the hostels eclectic guest list.
Originally, I’d had plans to be out of the town called David in a couple of nights, only stopping there en route to Panama City where I anticipated bigger and better things for my time in Central America. But just like that, 5 nights had passed and I was still lounging by the hostel pool like a lizard, high on his own self of bohemian importance.
The People You Meet
In many ways this place felt like something out of a zany sitcom, or the type of poorly written novel that I’ve always told my Mum I’ll write. It had a domesticated Coati, a member of the racoon family that’s native to Central America, who interacted with hostel guests when he felt like it. I’d love to share some interesting facts about these cute little characters, but all I learnt during my time in David was that they loved raw eggs and that they try and bite you if you annoy them for too many selfies – which are two character traits I can certainly respect and admire.
I never asked for his name and he never demanded that I call him by one. It was a relationship of mutual respect and I felt pleased we were able to sit in long periods of comfortable silence, he up in a nearby tree and crushing raw eggs with his teeth and me, sitting in a hammock trying to remember what my travel money card pin number was so I could withdraw more Panamanian Balboa, which was the national currency – which also makes it a fantastic name as it means Panama has the same name for their currency and their national beer, which is something I can get behind.
But he wasn’t the only strange character at this hostel for lost souls. The volunteer bartender was a woman in her 40’s. I suspect she’d recently read ‘Eat. Pray. Love‘. She told me her husband was back in Austin, Texas and that he understood her need to let her spirit run free and see the world.
I can only hope my mid-life crisis sends me to a nice hostel too.
The guy at the front desk on the other hand was not a volunteer. He actually worked at the hostel. And it showed.
“Stop spilling your beer in the pool”
“Don’t feed the Coati Pringles”
“You still owe me money for the last 2 nights”
He was full of rules and firm language and I suspect that had something to do him getting the gig. But he gave excellent recommendations and as I sat at a local eatery, with fresh Ceviche on a plate before me, I was happy he’d given me such a hot tip, even if the restaurant owner looked suspiciously like his cousin.
Then there were the classic hostel guests who you’d find anywhere in the world.
There were 3 young Aussie girls, because it is actually impossible to travel overseas and not run into another Aussie. I haven’t seen the studies myself but I’m telling you it’s a fact so you can take that to the Panamanian bank.
The 3 Aussie girls were young and pretty and full of energy, which didn’t settle well with me as I was maybe one of those things on a good day. Though I made a mental note to swing by their regular spot by the pool and impress them with tales of my life growing up in white middle class suburbia when I found the time.
Outside of them there were people from all countries who, like me, spent lazy hours under the sun, while there was also a traveling group of professional tattoo artists heading back home from a recent tattoo convention, with the constant hum of their tattoo guns during our stay drifting into the silent Panama night skies like a room full of dentists in training.
I have several tattoos myself, so I took it upon myself to nod and say “G’day” when I walked past one at around 6 beers past lunch – I found it much easier to tell the time using these methods than conventional numbers, but he must not have heard me as he scowled angrily in my direction and briskly brushed past, squeezing me off the pathway and into a nearby bush.
Need a Leg Up
Finally, among this motley crew, there was an American man, somewhere in his late 50’s. He had a strong accent, a shaved head and seemed to enjoy doing crosswords if his thick book of crosswords was any indication (and i’m razor sharp when it comes to connecting the dots like that).
Oh, and he also had one leg.
He used two crutches to assist in his movement, but he’d obviously lost the leg many years ago as he seemed at ease with moving around on the one remaining leg, while the limb itself appeared to have completely healed, though he did wince in pain from time to time when he would rest the amputated limb on a piece of furniture.
To be quite honest, his lack of a leg didn’t seem to slow him down at all though. He would move around on the one he had, while the other, amputated at the knee, followed him everywhere he went. They seemed inseparable in that regard.
I can’t for the life of me remember this man’s name. But I do remember that he loved diving into the hostel swimming pool for a lap or two. I couldn’t blame him, with three pretty young Aussies poolside it was a chance to exhibit some athletic prowess among the wider aura of sloth-like behaviour that seemed to pervade our little slice of Panamanian paradise.
This one legged man had a pair of blue shorts that, when I saw him wearing them, told me two things.
One, he was about to head in for a dip.
And two, that I was going to see an old man’s balls.
Every time he pulled himself from the pool, his loose blue shorts would snag on the edge and reveal his two little blokes to the world. The same thing would happen when he lay poolside, which makes me think it was done with great purpose. But we were in central Panama, spending our days under a searing sun and avoiding the man at the front desk for fear he’d try to make us pay for things just because we’d broken them, and I couldn’t fault him for having the stones to reveal his stones.
While he loved a swim, the one legged man was often feeling under the weather during our time together and as the days passed in blissful relaxation I saw less and less of him, excluding his balls of course which were seared into my retina and remain the first thing I see when I wake up screaming each morning.
Jungle Fever in a town called David
I’ve heard there’s a limit to the amount of cheap seafood you can eat and local beer you can drink – I haven’t reached that limit, and by God I’ve tried, but I’d heard from travelers much like myself, i.e. in debt and highly self-indulgent, that you had to change up your routine to stave off jungle fever. So, when the hot sun lowered in the clear, blue Panama sky of a days end, I’d often turn to the hostel ping pong table for a cheeky paddle, and a chance to show those cute Aussie girls that I was a strapping young lad who could handle the proverbial heat.
Now I’m no Roger Federer, I haven’t been for years, but I can pong with the best of them. My top spin has bottom spin, that’s the level of finesse we’re talking about on the tables. And after a particularly long day of lying almost dead still, sleeping, and eating cheese, I’d been hitting the tables hard. It got to the point that there were no challengers left and I found myself out the front of the hostel with just me, the table, and the one-legged man who lay quietly in a hammock, no doubt deciding whether to do a crossword or expose his testicles.
It’s also worth noting that I’m no action man when it comes to go-time. I’m more of a ‘GI gotta go’ than a ‘GI Joe’, so when the man with one leg stood up I thought nothing of it. I’ve seen people stand up literally hundreds of time. It was only when he turned to me and muttered something unintelligible, something that was never a word in any language since the dawn of time, that my Spidey senses began to tingle. Then, when he reached for one of his nearby crutches and missed, starting a chain reaction that would define my time here, my time relaxing in a town called David came to a crashing end.
It all happened like it was in slow motion, only, the slow motion had been fast forwarded, so in many ways it was a lot more like regular speed when I think about it.
His hand grazed his crutches, swinging past them like he was trying to put out a candle with a sock full of orange peels, before coming to a rest by his side. Now I’m a man with two legs. Two arms too. Mum says I have half a brain, but could a man with half a brain become the self appointed ping pong champion of the hostel? No, I don’t think they could and if you think I’m wrong I’ll send David to fight you (my Dad, not the town called David).
In any case, I know how easy it is to balance with both my legs. Sometimes I’ll go a whole week without toppling over. But this poor bloke, who wasn’t feeling well for several days now, didn’t have that same luxury. His standing foot slipped from where he was standing (a very poor choice of words that doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny), causing his foot to slip roughly a foot down (see, I did it again), as he crashed sideways into a huge stone pot holding an equally huge plant (the plant was not stone, it was made of plant).
His head hit the ground and a trickle of blood appeared by the side of his face while his amputated limb looked red, sore and tender.
Debris flew into the air as the pot he crashed into toppled over and exploded into pieces on the ground. The cascade of dirt spilling across the tiled floor creating an almost artistic spread. But there was no time to spread vegemite on a piece of toast let alone enjoy this artistic spread, because the one-legged man lay in the centre of this mess, unable to stand without the aid of his crutches and still moaning with words that actually weren’t even words.
I zipped over to him with all the speed of a Coati stealing eggs from a local vendor, drunk out of his mind on Balboa, not even sparing a moment to place my ping pong paddle down in the International Ping Pong Federation’s guidelines for safe paddle placement, and tried to lift him up.
Now, it’s worth noting that I wasn’t blessed with exceptional upper body strength. In some sort of macabre twist of fate that probably gets a chuckle from the fates when they get together for parties, I was also not blessed with exceptional lower body strength. So it was a challenge to get him up off the ground across the board.
Like the colour of a banana paddlepop that has melted in the sun.
That’s how I’d describe the colour of his vomit. He was only moaning at first, but soon started bringing up the most vivid yellow bile that spilled down his shirt and onto my arms.
And still, I couldn’t get him up.
Then he started to urinate, losing control of his bladder, and adding another fluid to the growing pool of colours that encompassed blood, urine, vomit, dirt and no short measure of sweat what with the hard yakka I was getting stuck into, both scorching the ping pong table and trying to get him back up on his foot.
And still, I couldn’t get him up.
This town called David was testing me, that’s for sure.
I get by with a little help from the front desk
As soon as it had begun, it was all over. I’d found help with a mate of mine who had worked with me to get this poor chap back up again, and the bloke at the front desk was sharp as a tack, calling for an ambulance and asking me to stop leaving dishes in the sink almost simultaneously.
I remember the ambulance that pulled up looked a lot like a normal car, and I made a mental note to ask if it was just a normal car the next time a man with one leg fell over and hit his head and starting throwing up and losing control of his bladder.
I walked back to my bed after it was all over. After 5 days of sloth-like behaviour in a town called David in rural Panama I’d been thrust into the action without warning. Was I a hero? Those would be your words, not mine. No matter what way you look at it, it would make for a better email back home than the usual, which was asking for extra money from my parents and saying I had been getting enough sleep when actually I hadn’t.
With all the excitement of the day I had wanted to stop by the pool on the walk back to tell the three pretty Aussie girls about my triumphant run at the ping pong table, but I smelled a lot like vomit and blood and urine, so I thought better of it and took the long way back to avoid them.
I ended up leaving the town called David the next night. I wanted to enquire at the front desk about whether the one legged man was going to make a full recovery, but I knew the bloke behind the desk would demand I pay for the several towels that I’d borrowed and lost during my stay, so I thought it best to leave quietly.
In any case, the small town called David is a lovely place to get away from it all and if you like weird mammals, cheap beers and colourful hammocks, then David may just be for you.
I give it 5 Coatis out of 5.
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Inked and Abroad note – Despite the cliffhanger style ending, I did hear that the man eventually made a full recovery and returned to the hostel to do crosswords and get his balls out after a few days in hospital. Though my hot run at the ping pong table has not been matched since.