After months of carrying my swim cap and goggles around South America, I have accepted reality: I am not going to need them. I bought the two luxury items in Punta Arenas, Chile last November in preparation for free swim at the city’s public pool. That’s the only time during my eight months in the southern hemisphere I’ve actually been able to use them. With this — and my backpack’s ungodly weight — in mind, I decided to take drastic action: I left my swimming apparel in the room of my hostel in Chile’s Atacama Desert, one of the driest places in the world.
I swam competitively through high school and have continued regular trips to the pool in all the places I’ve landed since then. Though my 100-meter freestyle is nowhere as fast as it used to be, swimming continues to be very important in my life. Thus, I did not give up on the dream without a fight. I searched out public pools in every place I visited, but found myself foiled every time.
Here’s the collection of excuses that finally defeated me:
- Sorry, the pool’s empty for its holiday cleaning. Try back in January!
- The pool is only open on weekends. Sucks for you it’s Tuesday.
- You cannot pass this gate. You are not a member of the club. Go back to your home.
- You must pay $17 to use this pool for an hour. We need exact change.
- The pool’s easy to find. Take the red line to the third stop, then the green line to the fourth stop. Walk four blocks north, two blocks east, and you’ll find it in an unmarked building.
- The pool is five feet long and full of kids on foam noodles. Probably won’t need those goggles.
Alas, I hope someone in the dry, dry Chilean desert has found a use for my cap and goggles. Given their location, it probably won’t be lap swimming.
As a sidenote: We spent a lot of time exploring the arid terrain around the desert oasis town of San Pedro. It’s hard to believe this dry landscape can be found in the same country that boasts the glacier-covered Torres del Paine National Park.