Tuesday, May 7, 2013

*331. IN THE SWIM OF THINGS

SINK OR SWIM.  Every summer, Kapampangans beat the heat by going to their favorite swimming holes, like this Sta. Rita teen in a period swimsuit posing before a natural pool. Ca. 1920s From the Gosioco Album, CKS copy.

The heat of summer is upon us, and amidst this stifling sizzle, we find ways to fight off the searing temperature. Many find welcome relief in going to air-conditioned malls or theatres, while others choose to cool off with a tall glass of Razon’s halo-halo and maybe, a refreshing iced buco juice or melon shake from a roadside stall. Still, for some, the best way to beat the heat is to find a watering hole or a pool to go swimming in.

 Before the advent of modern water resorts and their fancy swimming pools, Kapampangans living by the banks of the Gran Rio de la Pampanga fended off summer heat by simply take a dip in the shallow portions of the river and swim with the slow current for a kilometer or two. Picnickers, on the other hand, preferred the baƱos (baths) of Arayat-- swimming holes fed with the cooling spring waters that descended from the mountains.

For many Kapampangan youths in the 20s and 30s, Arayat was the equivalent of Antipolo, its forested slopes offering a shady refuge, dotted with many natural pools believed to contain medicinal properties. The baths of Arayat would soon be expanded and organized into the Mount Arayat National Park, a protected recreational area that continues to operate today.

Magalang benefitted from its proximity to Arayat, as the town too, had many natural swimming pools that were regularly visited by local townsfolk and tourists from nearby provinces. Similarly, in Mabalacat, Mascup River in Barrio Bana was also a favorite camping and swimming spot by excursionists during summer vacations. Entrance was always free.

As far back as the 1900s, the more adventurous American servicemen stationed at Camp Stotsenburg, delighted in the wild, rampaging waters of Bamban River. Whole troops regularly went to swim here to escape the tropical heat, but swimming was always a challenge as the river was crammed with stones and large boulders. In Porac, Mayamit Falls was another option, but the arduous trip to the waterfalls is not for the faint-hearted.

Early swimming pool resorts made their appearance in Angeles in the late 30s. Paradise Resort was a favourite summer haunt. Standard swimswear included bloomers for women and one-piece swimsuit for men. In Abacan, Balibago, the Del Rosario Swimming Pool opened to the public in 1958. It featured an adult pool with a diving board and two kid-sized pools and were always full-packed with families during the summer break.

The housing boom in the 60s also resulted in the establishments of residential villages with their own clubhouses and exclusive pools. Villa Angela was one such subdivision, and I would remember swimming in the village pool along with the fathers of Sacred Heart Seminary. Marlim Mansion, located at Severina Subdivision in Balibago, was one of the first high-rise hotels to feature a swimming pool as part of its modern facilities. By the mid 70s, Olympic size pools were the standard in Forest Park in Angeles and Yap Park in Dau.

Today, of course, water sports facilities abound in Pampanga with dizzying modern features and themes to cool the hot and harried Kapampangan. In Fontana, Clark Field, there are water slides and pools with machine-generated waves. Clearwater offers more than just swimming, but also kayaking. In Apalit and Mexico, I have seen water resort complexes with fantasy themes that are more like amusement parks than swimming places. Why, we even have our own Boracay in Pampanga, aptly named Poracay!

So when the next heat wave strikes, look around—there’s always a body of water near you: a river, a brook, a resort club or a village pool. Get into your swimsuit, grab a rubber tire, and plunge right in!

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