Happy Birthday, Heather! I stay back to work, hand-wash some laundry, pick up a fish sandwich at Bibi’s On The Beach. Ali Sun and friends go to Starfish Beach. I miss out on an adventure here and there, but I need to retain the discipline of working while we travel.
Waiting at the bar, I look east towards Solarte and Bastimentos, 180º view of the ocean and islands.
The tide is low, a local carries a bike thirty yards out to a ten-foot boat. He paddles out through the modest waves before he fires up the two-stroke outboard, heading around the rocks towards Bocas Del Toro.
Evening approaches, we take a water taxi into Bocas Town, we feast on Indian food at Om Cafe. Sunanda works wonders with local produce and meat – tikka masala without the coconut milk is a revelation.
Down below, bar meets used book shop. The heavens have shined upon me – the blue ping pong table is a beacon of light beckoning me, the sirens sing their irresistible song. I challenge owner Dave to a quick game to 11. He claims home court, grabs the good paddle and the good side. My paddle looks like an eight-inch wonton, bloated with crimped, water-damaged edges.
The legal rules of table tennis require the server to toss the ball in the air around twelve inches before striking. Dave cradles the ball in his hand until the moment the paddle hits it, spinning it like a whiffle ball. House rules in a lawless town.
I miss a couple forehands. I’m down 2-7 in a hurry. Dave drinks something amber on the rocks between each point. I claw back, I’m down 7-8 at the turn. Dave takes a 9-7 lead, its the last point he’ll ever win against me. At 9-9, I put away a forehand far beyond his reach.
I can see defeat in Dave’s eyes, or is it the bloodshot giveaway of one too many drinks? I smell victory, which smells exactly like a musty tropical book store with a bar. Dave the Owner hits the ball into the net, I have triumphed 11-9. I am undefeated on Bocas Del Toro.
We shake hands, I sprint out to meet my party, which inexplicably left during the monumental comeback. I catch up to them at the boat dock. This has been my favorite Heather’s Birthday ever.