Thursday, August 2, 2012

On the Bathing of Mules

There is a place on the lakes, at the end of the lake known as the Tomilla (because of the thyme that grows on the hills there, I imagine- I haven’t noticed more there than in other places but someone must have done), there is a sort of swimming pool known as the Baño de las Mulas (the bath of the mules). It’s about 30 feet on a side, though one side is just the rest of the lake. The others are a natural shallow bank, easy to get into the water from, a low concrete wall, and a dam. The dam was built to control the flow of water into a channel that once powered a small hydroelectric plant. There were once a number of them along the string of lakes, but they are all long abandoned, as the local demand for electricity became much too great for their capacity. They are interesting relics of an age that thought we had come as far as we could go.

This dam happens, then, to create a kind of pool, about three feet deep everywhere, which was presumably, at one time, used for washing mules made dirty by toiling on the dry earth in the hot sun. It’s a nostalgically bucolic image, though whether anyone actually took mules there to swim I couldn’t say.

Nowadays people swim there. There are a couple of good bars on the water’s edge, it’s almost impossible for children to drown, and there’s an area for parking your hippy van, setting up your picnic table and sunshade, turning the radio up loud, and trying to find a free spot of water to splash about in. On summer days, especially at weekends, you can’t move there. I go past it often on my wanderings, and contemplate, slightly bemused, the human ability to have fun because that’s we came for, whatever the circumstances.

Out of season, but when it’s still warm, it’s a good place to cool off and to watch the pike that swim lazily out of the rushes upstream to do a lap or two of the pool. For the moment, I shall only see it in passing.

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