Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Waterparks and swimming in Armenia
Yerevan is hot. The summer is not as long and intense as in Texas, but hot enough. While it cools down some at night, the days hover in the high 80's-90's and low 100's. We do have a pool at our house, but it has no filtration and has to be drained about every 2 weeks (I would prefer weekly, but it is not up to me). At least there is chlorine. The kids - especially the boys - jump in and out several times a day.
A few weeks' ago we went to Lake Sevan - a huge body of fresh water that covers a significant part of Armenia. It is lovely - surrounded by mountains with ancient monasteries in view. The water is very cold as the elevation is quite high.
We stay at this hotel on the lake that boasts of its own waterpark. The kids were thrilled - 3 whole days of swimming and two water slides! I was thrilled because I could sit by the pool, look up every few minutes and count 3 heads, and return to my book. Now for the reality: it didn't open until noon each day leaving about three hours to kill between breakfast and swimming. And even worse - the slides were for kids at least 10 years old. Madisen had no problem; shy Cole pretended he didn't understand when they asked him how old he was and scooted down just fine; but poor Austin was obviously not even close to 10. Even after I talked/motioned to the lifeguard that Austin could swim, he still couldn't go on. The first full day he watched Madisen and Cole Ryan slide down. The second day, the lifeguard got sick of his sad, pitiful face coming up and down the steps and finally let him go down. Austin was thrilled. And the lifeguards were relieved he could swim.
Now for our Yerevan waterpark experience. We pack up and go with Amy, Sonya, and their adorable new son, Jaden, who is 11 months,to THE waterpark in all of Armenia. Despite the fact that Austin measures exactly 120 cm - the cut off height to use all the slides - the waterpark refuses to give him the correct wrist band and he is stuck in kiddie land. I explain he can swim, I point to the measuring stick. All to no avail...he must stay in the kiddie area, may not go in the wave pool, and can't go on the big waterslides. So two of my kids can go on everything and one can't - a huge logistical headache for mom.
Next problem: glasses. You can't wear them at all. Amy can't see without hers and they are plastic lenses. That didn't matter - they wouldn't even let her stick her legs in the baby pool with them on. I had on cheap plastic sunglasses and had to take those off too.
After about 2 hours in full sun, I make the kids wear their t-shirts in the water. Two different lifeguards told me and the kids to take them off. I said no, pointed to the sky, said in Armenian "big sun", pointed to the kids' skin and said in Russian "red" and refused (I was adamant as the kids had already burned and peeled at Lake Sevan despite repeated sunscreen applications). At one point the lifeguard told me that I couldn't swim with a t-shirt on so I dove into the water and showed him I was quite capable of doing so and said the kids were too. After repeatedly asking why and pointing out other people who were wearing shorts, skirts, and even entire cover ups in the pool, they gave up and just pretended they didn't see us breaking the rules.
Next problem: Kiddie waterslides and Austin. Since he couldn't go down the big slides, the kiddie slides were his only option and not turned on until about 30 minutes before we left. Imagine lots and lots of children rushing to the top of the waiting area that serves 3 different slides with no identifiable line for each one. Now imagine one young lifeguard - obviously childless and just in the job to pick up teen age girls - trying to corral about 20-30 screaming, excited kids all of whom were cutting in front of each other. And then add the parents who were either trying to cut into line for their kids or yelling at the lifeguard for not letting their kid go down next (even when they had obviously cut in line). Now imagine Austin who had been taught at his Montessori school to stand in a proper line and was actually doing it. So Austin can't even get to the slide. I end up having to stand near him telling the kids who are trying to cut "che" or "nyet". He went down exactly three times before we left.
So, here are the rules at the only waterpark in the city of Yerevan: you can't wear clothing to protect yourself from the sun, you can't wear glasses to see, you can't wear sunglasses to prevent sun damage, you can't go down big waterslides unless you are more than 120 cm, and you practically have to fight with other children to get onto a kiddie slide.
But amazingly you don't have to know how to swim - and most people don't. Now, for babies and young children who are only permitted in shallow water, this is obviously not an issue. But here is what is amazing.....at every single slide, and at the trapeze bar, we were asked if we could swim. Cole was first asked and then Madisen. I chalked it up to them being kids. But when the lifeguard asked every one of us every single time.... I got the hint. So, when a person says they can't swim, the lifeguard at the top of the ride yells down to the lifeguard in the pool. The pool lifeguard meets the non-swimmer at the end of the slide or after dropping from the trapeze - from 10 ft above into 12 feet of water (!)- and escorts them out on an approved flotation device.
Oh yeah, babies are not required to wear swim diapers.
I think it is just easier - and maybe even cleaner - to swim in our MBG - mosquito breeding ground - that we call a pool.