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Swimming With The Bitches in Panama

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Written by Matt   
Wednesday, 12 November 2008 12:12
Pools in PanamaI took up swimming somewhere back in college when the equilibrium of heavy partying and physical fitness was thrown off severely by my discovery of an invention called the beer bong. I had always maintained decent shape playing a variety of sports as a child, but there seems a point when the vices of adulthood catch up with the adolescent metabolism, when things like liquor, cigars and sedentary lifestyles seem much more fun than activities in the park. The first pool club I joined on my own was in Richmond, Virginia and was actually dedicated not to swimming but to the sport of squash. One of the things that always annoyed me was that membership was the same for squash players as it was for those of us who preferred instead the vegetable. Something too, that always annoyed me, were the older men in the locker room who made it clear that being naked is something that's enjoyed more with age.

"You see the Redskins game last night?" they'd ask one another, as if fully clothed and standing somewhere public like the train station. I never quite got the logic or pleasure of locker room behavior there, so accordingly most of my time was spent in the pool.

The pool itself was large and entirely segmented into swimming lanes, a separate pool to the side was devoted to leisure and children. It was this fact that spoiled me from the first lap, seeing as though most other pools are multi-use: one portion is for lap swimmers and the other is for, what I like to refer to as horseplay.

In Panama, there are really only two pool options that I'm aware of and both pale in comparison to anything I'd pay for at home. Albrook is my personal favorite, though I like it the way I like thunder: a lesser of two evils.

The Albrook pool is in a small compound that was turned over from the Americans to the Panamanians back a few decades ago and one which truly looks its part. The tiles in the pool still remain that same outdated turquoise color that was popular in the fifties and the locker rooms need a serious revamp. It costs $2.50/person to get in and ironic to all its shortcomings, the staff is an incredibly picky bunch, fussy about things like showering before entering the pool and people with long hair wearing swim caps. It's not unlike the lecture I once got at the door to a tacky dance club in Myrtle Beach: "You need a shirt with a logo to get in," the bouncer said. I told him it was an Armani shirt, that Armani shirts didn't have "logos" (while making air quotes).

"No shirt with no logo, no service," he said.

It was my first morning at the pool in Albrook (near El Rey supermarket) that a group of kids entered my swimming lane, their heads popping up like a squad of small otters. I don't know why, but I regard the sanctity and privacy of my swimming time much like religious folks regard the confession booth. Being Jewish, I never quite grasped the experience of a confession chamber, but according to friends, it's a time where no interruptions are allowed: the way I like to think of my swimming lane.

As a result of my need for isolation, I get extremely flustered when one of two things take place in the pool. First, someone like the children at Albrook enter my lane and pose a threat to what I call homeland security. Second, someone, usually a polite older person, asks to share a lane with me. While both may sound far removed, it's the paranoid concern that overtakes me: the fact that I may bump into someone in the middle of a stroke. While the severity of such an accident isn't terribly dangerous, a far bigger implication is the disruption it causes to my swimming chi.

I was describing my paranoia to a friend the other day who took an issue with my argument claiming that everyone has the right to use the lanes. "If you want a pool for you self," my friend said, "why you don't just build one in you house?" Before I could retort with something witty or make fun of her poor English, I was stuck with the realization that, to the best of my knowledge, there does not exist an indoor pool, with lanes, for public use, in the entire Republic of Panama.

Having traveled the rural United States quite a bit, I'm not a stranger to general infrastructural deficiencies. I've been to towns with no mall or only one stoplight, that kind of stuff doesn't startle me. But when observing an entire country, one that supposedly plays host to a banking hub and a world-renowned trade route, which lacks even one official indoor pool, I was forced to laugh out loud: the way you might upon seeing a library with no books.

The other pool option I am aware of is in Clayton in the Ciudad de Saber, a place that just exudes wisdom and academia. Why it's referred to as "The City of Knowledge" I don't know (can someone comment on this below?) but from the first time I heard of it, I envisioned a Hollywood movie with someone like Bruce Willis or Tom Hanks playing the role of a living angel.

While considerably cheaper than Albrook, Clayton's pool has dirty water and lots of dancing children. This is a good place to bring your kids, not to train for a triathlon. It's also a little further for those coming from the City. The last time I was there, somewhere in the middle of my eighth lap, I became surrounded by a group of middle aged women who complained incessantly about their husbands. I liked to think that I was swimming with the bitches. For more bitches, there also exist a number of fancy real estate developments with private pools, though I've yet to come across one that's well suited for organized laps.

Swimming in Panama certainly isn't as accommodating as it may be in everytown America, and for someone picky about their facilities there's not a whole lot to choose from. You can either grin and share the pool with other swimmers, or you can build one at home for you self.

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Have you tried the Patria pool?
written by Cristhian G. Solis G. , November 12, 2008
Hey Matt,

The Patria pool was built by the President's late father. He actually built an entire sports city and a zoo, with soccer-athletics field and a large Gym for basketball events and others, which lately hosts boxing events. It's over by the Horse Racing track. Omar Torrijos was a popular leader for actions like that. The sports city was built for some Interamerican sports competitions back in the 70's. To get there just find your way to the Horse Raicing tracks, since the area is right before it.

I actually don't even now that pool is open to the public or also being remodeled. When I was a child, the only use for it was sports swimming and training, no dancing kids or bitches, hehe. I'm 33 now so probably a lot have change. Why don't you check it out.

Your buddy,

Cristhian
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written by soltero , November 12, 2008
For public *indoor* pools, I think you're right -- I don't know of any. The Four Points Sheraton and the Marriott both have indoor pools, but I think they're guests-only. However, at least two city hotels will let non-guests use their outdoor pools (and other "spa" facilities) for a relatively small, per-day fee. (but it ain't $2.50; I think maybe around $6?). The two I know of: Radisson Decapolis and Veneto.
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written by browsing , November 15, 2008
Matt,

Cristhian is right, there's a nice complex currently being remodeled in Juan Diaz. There's also another pool in front of the lottery building on ave. cuba, which is covered. There are lots of neigborhood public pools, such as in san fransico and bethina.
When you think about it, with the weather we have in panama, why go to the expense of building an indoor pool? I'm sure there are other things that can be done with that money.
Thanks for the article Matt, keep'em coming
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 November 2008 12:19
 
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