Post 60 – The Pago Pago Intercontinental Hotel

An overhead shot of the Pago Pago Intercontinental Hotel, in front of the mountain known as Rainmaker.

An overhead shot of the Pago Pago Intercontinental Hotel, in front of the mountain known as Rainmaker.

The pre-pubescent bathing beauties stood poised around the edge of the pool, equally spaced and smiling fiercely, hands above their heads as they prepared to dive into a production number that would showcase their new swimming skills. They wore matching two-piece white bathing suits patterned with large red hibiscus flowers that had started life as lava lavas.

Chrissie was second to last in the line as she waited for the music cue. She spotted her parents sitting in the crowd and had to stop herself from waving. This was not only her very first water ballet but also her first two-piece suit, and the impulse to tug up the top was almost as strong as wanting to wave. The knot from the halter was digging into her neck but she didn’t dare put her arms down for fear of ruining the tableaux.

The swimming pool was the star of the newly opened Pago Pago Intercontinental Hotel, a 100 room luxury hotel built by the government with the hope of attracting tourists to the most beautiful harbor in the South Pacific. A sweeping curved driveway edged with colorful tropical plants led guests up to the cool, dark lobby. Overlooking the bay, the inn had a fine-dining restaurant, a coffee shop, a poolside bar and several freestanding cabins shaped like fales that stood right at the ocean’s edge.

Before the new structure had been built, the only real alternative for overnight stays had been the Rainmaker Hotel, a charming if slightly seedy inn that gave the impression that the sheets might not have been changed since W. Somerset Maugham had his infamous meeting there with Sadie Thompson. The Intercontinental was brand new and quite beautiful, with views that were dramatic and breathtaking. It had been built on the site of the old Goat Island Club and completed in 1965 as part of H. Rex Lee’s grand plan to modernize the island, along with the new power plant, schools and airport. The whole island was buzzing with excitement about the new hotel.

Unfortunately, the hordes of expected tourists had been slow to materialize, so the ex-pats took it upon themselves to keep the place busy until the crowds showed up. The poolside bar in particular was very popular.

The pool itself was the only cement freshwater swimming option on the island, and the local children could not get enough of it. The water was sparkling blue with no sharp shells or poisonous coral and a lot easier to swim in since it had an edge to hold onto. Because the rooms were not filling up as quickly as the proprietors had anticipated, they looked for other solutions to keep things afloat. Swimming lessons were an obvious choice, and the Pago Pago Amateur Swimming Association was born. Many of the children could already swim but seemed to suddenly forget all their water skills if it meant an opportunity to hang out at the pool. Classes were organized for all ages and Chrissie and Karen were deemed poor enough swimmers to be allowed to participate. Kathy and Carolyn had foolishly already learned in the ocean.

swimming_certificateThe water ballet was part of the graduation ceremony for the oldest group. Having reached “dolphin” status indicated that they could swim 25 yards, tread water and do the backstroke. It did not guarantee that they could do this simultaneously and in matching swimsuits, but the audience was a pretty forgiving bunch of critics, having been sitting in the bar for the entire ceremony.

The first strains of Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles” blasted out from the PA system. One by one, the young swimmers dove off the edge and swam to the center of the pool where they formed something close to a circle. Forward stroke, turn, flip, backstroke! They swam with the intensity and precision of an Ethel Merman production number. Unfortunately, it was Esther Williams who did water ballet and this was more like the former than the latter. But there was a lot of splashing that obscured most of the poses, so the audience was left with the impression that something in unison was going on.

As the swimmers went underwater and kicked themselves into handstand position, Chrissie surreptitiously tugged at the knot in her halter. It was choking her and she needed all the oxygen available to make it through the last sequence. Finally, the swimmers pushed up off the bottom of the pool and shot straight up in the air in a shower of bubbles to join hands for a triumphant finale. The audience applauded and hollered and each girl felt like a beautiful mermaid as they took their bows. Chrissie could finally breathe and the air felt wonderfully cool as she beamed out at the audience, proud to have been a part of such a finely tuned troupe. It was only after the second curtain call when the splashing had calmed down that she noticed something floating in the pool. Something white, patterned with large red hibiscus flowers.

Later, wrapped in a towel and with her mother’s assurances that “nobody had seen anything, ” she relived the moment when the audience had stood up and cheered. If that’s what it took to get a standing ovation, so be it.

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