The promise of a wild swim had drawn us down to the dried up bed of the Rio Higueron. Traversing the steep slopes through mango and avocado groves like cumbersome mountain goats, I realised where you go down you have to come back up. A daunting prospect even in the late afternoon in Southern Spain, the concrete still hot enough to slowly fry an egg. But we were committed to finding the Pozo Batan, a small reservoir that I had read about before arriving in Frigiliana. Strolling along I began to fantasise about the soft cold water rinsing the film of dust and sweat from my arms and legs. I imagined the suspension of my body, blissful weightlessness, completely connected to the water.
Growing up on the coast in South Wales, I have always felt an affinity with water. This relationship is materialised by a habit I indulge when visiting bodies of water. I collect small stones, pebbles and shells, just one from each location. In limiting myself to one I not only ensure my collection remains manageable, but I also placate my mum and dad who are increasingly irritated by my substantial and growing collection.
Each step brought us closer to the pool; I could almost feel the water now. Earlier that day my mum had inferred that out of fear of potential drownings in a secluded spot, the local council might have fenced off my oasis. Ignoring the niggling voice in my head and hoping the rumours proved false I forged on along the basin.
The sun passing behind the top of the valley submerged us in warm shade as we followed the natural curving line of the arid riverbed. Rounding the apex my face fell. Huge iron fences, at least two and a half meters high, rusted in the evening light. We would not be swimming. The water was a true blue, even turquoise in the shallower sunny spots. But I was not in it: looking at it and walking around it, but not in it. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a car, my pulse quickened, it was a police car. Despite knowing that we weren’t breaking any laws my mouth became dry and my palms slippery. I was beginning to form sentences in my head, explaining that we were only looking and not trying to break-in (even though I wanted to). The officers started their engine, rolling over the uneven ground towards us. I held my breath as we moved between the bushes and shrubs obscuring their view. Several scenarios most involving my arrest and or death forced themselves through my mind. Ultimately my anxiety proved completely unnecessary as the car just crunched off down the riverbed and out of sight.
Turning back to my oasis, finding the feeding river, we followed it upstream. “What would we do if a wild dog were to attack us right now?” My mum’s throwaway comment set my amygdala to high alert, finding that my head didn’t want me to follow the stream further I sat down beside it. Tentatively I reached down and let the flow course around my fingertips (hoping I wouldn’t find it was a stream of sulphuric acid, it wasn’t). Benign, cool and soft, it would have been perfect for swimming in.
Dejected we walked back along the basin toward the roads snaking up the sides of the valley and to our “apartamento”. Absentmindedly my eyes scanned the ground and there it was, my stone. Our walk wouldn’t be fruitless after all. It was a perfect fit, cool and reassuringly heavy in my hand, a perfect swap for the lost promise of a swim.
I like to think that my anxious thoughts about electric fences and electrified or poisoned water wouldn’t have stopped me from swimming, I can’t be sure but they would certainly have made me hesitant. I recall fleeting feelings of relief as I realised the pool was inaccessible. I would not have to overcome my anxiety or ‘expose’ it. Now I wish I had been able to, but I will have to be content with the stone. The next time I come across an oasis I will swim in it.