This technicolour dream palace is indisputably special. Possibly a little “special needs” too.
What is it?
You may well ask. For this, my friend, is an inflatable waterpark.
Occupying 5000 square metres of apple-green Astroturf in the middle of nowheresville, Luzon, EK Biki comes complete with dangling sharks, inflatable dragon slides, slightly forlorn clownfish and, weirdly, an Olympic-sized paddling pool.
All, like the giant hamster’s wheel and spinning top on which Z spent many happy minutes scrambling, entirely blow-up.
To add a further note of the bizarre, it caters entirely for non-swimmers.
How on earth did we discover this hidden treasure?
Well, there’s a sorry tale…
Saturday morning didn’t get off to the best of starts. Z’s go-karting date with a friend, tentatively arranged via email, did not materialize.
So, to make up for it, I suggested we visit the Enchanted Kingdom, a theme park 30km outside of Manila with a triple loop rollercoaster, an ATV track, karting track, log flume, a Spaceport, plus sundry other delights.
This being Manila, of course, 30 kilometres translates as three hours. Yet, after a taxi to the bus station, a bus to Santa Rosa, a walk, and a tricycle ride, we arrived at the hallowed gates of the Kingdom.
Only to find it shut.
On a Saturday.
I am amazed Z didn’t cry.
I certainly felt like it.
And I’m supposed to be the adult here.
“Yes,” said the chap on the door. “It is closed for a private event. Smart communications,” he added, with a note of quiet pride that a corporation that size should have picked the Enchanted Kingdom for its annual jolly.
“Ah,” I say, looking warily at Z, now facing his second big disappointment before lunch on a Saturday. “Is there anything else to do in Santa Rosa?” I ask, trying not to sound desperate.
I guess the closest equivalent to Santa Rosa in England would be Slough (where The Office was set). Only smaller. And with more junk food and mechanics. But, of course, with much better weather and mountains in the distance.
“Yes!” says the chap, beaming. “We have a waterpark next door.”
My relief knows no bounds. I nearly hug him.
We wander off. Walk past the entrance to the waterpark (we were looking, as one does, for high towers of slides spiraling through the air). He – and he really is a lovely guy — chases after us, redirects us, escorts us to the door and explains the procedures.
I recognize the surreal vista instantly, from a photo in a listings magazine I had looked at and dismissed as clearly rubbish. Z, on the other hand, seems positively enthused.
We enter. We have no swimwear.
One bikini. Polka dotted.
Z’s verdict? “I think it’s nice. You look a lot less fat in that than you do in your swimsuit. I think the swimsuit does something funny to your tummy.”
One pair of swimshorts. Age 9. (My verdict? Very cute.)
Two black lurex swimming caps. (Compliant with regulations. But make us look like members of a sect on the CIA hitlist.)
One sachet of runny sunblock. $1.50, since you asked.
I contemplate buying some floral shorts to wear over my swimwear, to comply with local standards of modesty. But we’ve just spent almost a whole day’s budget. Plus Z thinks I’ll regret it.
Now, to be fair to the waterpark, had it been, say 20 minutes, or 40 minutes, even, away from where we were staying, it would have been a really pleasant afternoon out. And with a staff-guest ratio of more than 1:1, queuing was certainly not an issue.
Within seconds, Z was well away. Racing down the bouncy slides. Entering the water with a vigorous splash. Rolling in the giant hamster wheels and cackling.
OK! I think. I’ll get into the spirit of this.
I join Z in the dragon pool and attempt a swim. The water is no higher, at any point, than his waist. That’s my lower thighs.
Now, I know that many working class Filipinas (and probably their menfolk too) can’t swim. But, all the same, one would think that a waterpark might contain a place where one could indulge should one wish.
Not this one…
Z invites me onto the Octopus slide and scrambles up. I note that none of the Pinay moms are sliding with their kids. Even the dads, in fact, are just hoiking them up and letting them go.
Due to the gap between the slide and the water, I require a leg-up from one of the attendants.
This is, both literally and metaphorically, bruising for both sides.
I weigh over 60 kilos. My assistant weighs, I would say, about 50 kilos. I am 5’7”. He is maybe 5’3”.
He genuflects. Offers me his knee. Not wishing to appear rude, but having a good idea of the likely outcome, I stand on it, gingerly, one of my legs on one of his.
The poor guy’s leg gives way under the unexpected weight.
I fall into the water, with a polite “ooh, silly, silly, fat, fat me” giggle, not to impute his masculinity. It being knee high, I hit the bottom. Not pleasant.
I notice Z gesturing from the top of the slide.
Assistant and I try again, and, with some really heinous wriggling, I achieve the inflatable steps. They are designed for kids. I have to force my way between the inflatable sides.
Even before I whiz off the slide at impressive speed and hit the bottom of the paddling pool with an equally impressive crunch, I am realizing that this park is not for me.
Exiting my second slide, I hit the floor feet first. Now, that hurts.
On the third, I catch a finger. That really hurts.
On inspection, all joints are working, but I take this as my final warning that sliding at velocity into knee-high water is NOT A GOOD IDEA.
We have some fun with the inflatables. Although, again, when scaling a giant wobbly model of Uranus the knowledge that the water on which it is floating won’t worry the metre measure does not induce confidence.
Z, as any child would do, swings off the side, yodeling, raised six or seven feet above the surface of the water. I yell at him to put his feet down, and explain that falling from that height into shallow water is NOT A GOOD IDEA.
Nobody else is yelling at their children. Although, to be fair, nobody else’s child has asked the attendants to bring in the most lethal inflatables the park has to offer, then swung off them at heights way above the surface.
I give up. Retreat to our personal marquee. Explain to Z why I am giving up.
“Well, I hit the bottom, too, Mum,” he says.
“I know you hit the bottom, sweetheart,” I say. “But I weigh more than twice what you do and when I hit the bottom it hurt.”
Knowing full well how pathetic it sounds, I continue, “I hurt my finger on the last one, and I’m worried I could break an ankle.”
The boy is not impressed. I don’t blame him.
I haz cheezburger. I figure I deserve it.
I push Z around the Olympic pool in the hamster’s wheel.
Eventually, we agree that we have juiced the place, and head for home. Well, Manila. Thirty kilometres and three hours away.
In the way of days that start badly, Saturday continues badly. At the bus station, we pick up a jeep for Remedios. Are dropped on Remedios Street, not Remedios Circle. Get lost (I have left our map behind). Pass cross-streets which I can’t orient on an East-West axis but to understand that they are THE WRONG WAY.
At an especially unappealing petrol station, we are picked up by a “good Samaritan” cab driver who takes us on a pricey magical mystery tour, which even I can tell is TOTALLY the wrong way.
Though, without a map, all I can do is squeak, “Quirino?! No, no, no. Why are we going from Ocampo to Quirino?! We go to Adriatico near Remedios Circle. That way!!!! You know Adriatico?! You know Remedios Circle?!” while the guy pretends not to speak English.
Note for tourists. If you don’t look Filipino, are not hailing a cab, and a driver stops for you just because you’re looking lost, he is going to screw you into next week. Just like they do in London. If you’re forrun…
We go for dinner at Zamboanga, where I have been meaning to go for a while. It specializes in seafood. I knew it for Mindanao cuisine. Z chooses to hate seafood.
It’s expensive. We are both in a vile mood. The floor show does not significantly improve it. Although Z decides he likes mussels.
At one point he utters the baleful line, “It’s a good thing neither of us is telepathic. Otherwise, you’d know what I’m thinking.”
To cut to the chase, as a single parent, single child family travelling longterm one really does have to communicate. We talk about why we are in a vile mood, and with whom.
We agree the only people we have to be cross with about our crappy day is each other, which isn’t fair on either of us. We further agree to improve matters with Toblerone and a film.
We go to the Seven-Eleven. Buy Toblerone. One large bar each: white for me, fruit and nut for him. Retreat to our hotel and watch X-Men on the laptop, with Toby the Toblerone soft toy on standby. It’s, actually, a very nice end to a rather disappointing day.