Monday, November 07, 2005

A Canadian attempts to shed her inhibition — and her clothes — on a nude beach in Spain.

Written by Ayah-Victoria McKhail / Cádiz, Spain
Published Monday, November 7, 2005

“Te enseño en una playa nudista cuando vienes.” (I’ll show you a nude beach when you come.) “I’ve never seen so many penises in my life.”

And with that, my friend Beth, a fellow Torontonian, signed off on yet another e-mail to me. She was living in Cádiz, a port city in the southern Andalucía region of Spain where some of the country’s most beautiful beaches are located, and I was going to visit her in two weeks. I had just learned that a nude beach was on the itinerary.

Going nude was not an option for me.

My friend Joe tried to convince me otherwise over drinks in Toronto one afternoon before I left. “No one knows you there anyway, so what difference does it make?” Yet to me, it made all the difference.

I have always equated nudity with intimacy. Being naked with someone makes me – especially as a woman – feel vulnerable to that person. When we’re nude, we reveal ourselves in a profound way where nothing is hidden. The mere thought of being nude in front of people I didn’t know made me cringe.

But I didn’t rule out making a visit to a nude beach. Curiosity, and that sense of adventure that takes hold of me as soon as I board a plane, got the better of me.

This beach is too permissive …

And so, a day after arriving in Cádiz, I found myself — a tall, slender 25-year-old woman — lying rigidly on a beach towel under the searing sun at Caños de Meca, a nude beach 45 minutes from the city centre.

No, I wasn’t nude. I was wearing a low-cut, black designer bikini with ivory-hued straps. The loose ends on each side of the bottoms tied right at my hips. Top and bottom fit perfectly, and flattered my hourglass figure. (Not that I was showing off, lying prone on my towel.)

From that awkward position, I began to take in the sights. This was my first trip to a real, functioning beach. Born and raised in Toronto, Lake Ontario never looked very clean to me, despite those safe-for-swimming “Blue Flags” awarded to the beaches once certain environmental criteria were met. City Hall must have shared my doubts because they strategically placed a public swimming pool directly in front of one of the beaches.

The beach at Cádiz was stunning. Hidden beneath a hilly terrain, we had had to hike down to reach its shores. Golden sand glistened beneath the sun and gentle waves whistled a soothing melody in our ears.

Eventually I mustered up enough courage to check out my fellow beach bums at Caños de Meca. What I saw were far too many harried potbellies, dangling private parts of the young and old, sagging breasts flopping about, and yes, bouncing bums. I saw pierced nipples being erotically rubbed; people sensually lathering sun block on their partners’ most private parts; nude families building sandcastles as they shared refrescos (cold drinks) with each other. Dozens of random strangers willingly sharing their bodies with me.

And there I was: A subdued, self-conscious Canadian in a bikini who, rather than feeling covered up in the midst of all these naked people, was feeling rather naked herself.

I found it difficult to believe that so many people could be comfortably naked in front of each other. But that’s what my eyes were telling me. People frolicked about playing Frisbee, the girth of their bellies visible to everyone in their midst. Lumps, bumps, stretch marks, and all that cellulite we normally try so hard to hide, on public display.

I felt like a criminal, surreptitiously stealing glances at the women around me, comparing the size of my waist, hips, thighs, and breasts, with theirs. When naked men walked by and smiled at me, I couldn’t look. Perhaps it was my conservative Palestinian background, but I felt I shouldn’t look. That I would be invading people’s privacy if I did.

Carlos, a Spanish friend and regular nudist, playing the guitar at Caños de Meca.

And this beach is too restrictive …

My only other memories of being at a beach are from ten years ago when I last visited family in the Gaza Strip. I was 15 and I remember the sense of peace I felt while I was there. At Gaza of all places, it was easy to forget your worries while staring into the vastness of the Mediterranean and listening to the lapping of its calm waves. Everything — from the laughter of the children bathing in the sea to the sight of ladies from the local refugee camp carrying pots and pans back and forth to be washed at the shore — remains etched in my memory.

I wanted to swim in those salty waters so badly.

But I knew that I would have drawn a lot of unwanted attention to myself if I dared take the plunge. We were in a predominately Muslim area and, only in the still of night, when the lurking eyes of men were fast asleep, did a few intrepid women slip off their sandals and lift up their long flowing gowns for a quick wade in the calm waters. I spent my time sitting in a hut drinking diet Pepsi, chatting with my brother, or adding to our growing collection of seashells.

Fast forward 10 years. Here I was on another beach and not much had changed.

For the most part, I had overcome the self-consciousness about my body that plagues most young women my age. But I still wasn’t home free. Even in my bikini, it took me a long while to muster up the courage to get up off my beach towel and take a dip in the Spanish waters, or walk along the shore with Beth. Even clothed, I felt that all eyes were upon me.

I wasn’t brave enough to break local customs in Gaza, and I wasn’t brave enough to follow them in Cádiz. Where did I fit in?

As my friends and I stood up to leave, a middle-aged man with piercing blue eyes made eye contact. Keeping his intense gaze fixed on me, he began stroking his penis. It was definitely time to leave. I lowered my head as I quickly stuffed my belongings into my beach bag and scooted off.

As I walked back up the hill to my friend’s car, I made a mental note to myself to give one of Toronto’s staid beaches a try when I returned to Canada. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Maybe that beach would be just right, for me.



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