Nude at 100 Paces

[Not to be confused with my post on 100 Naked Places!]

So a few weeks ago, while staying at Vera Playa, we decided to exploit a particularly lovely morning with a leisurely walk down the beach. Having done my homework before departure for this, our first visit to this famous naturist town on the Andalusia coast, (you can read that report here) I had a pretty good sense of the general layout of the authorized naturist zones, as compared to the nudity tolerated zones, well delineated on the most excellent map on the Vera Playa friends webpage where the color fades away to indicate, “You have now left naturist wonderland! Have a nice day!”

Playing 100 paces at Vera Playa

Playing 100 paces at Vera Playa

Of course, I didn’t bother to print out the map before heading off to Spain, and it seemed less than practical to lug along my MacBook as we meandered down the broad sandy shoreline, simply for the benefit of adhering to these rather arbitrary borders on this Spanish beach where the law reads that any beach can be a naturist beach, as long as you don’t offend the locals. Well! That pretty much clears things up! How far can we walk naked until we should turn around or cover up? And how do we assess the attitude of the locals as to their collective threshold for taking personal offense?

How about this for a possible guideline: As long as we can see another naked person, it’s all good!

Naked or not, here we are!

Naked or not, here we are!

Intellectually, that policy makes a lot of sense to me, though in practice, the margin of error related to such real-time-decision-making is incredibly wide. For starters, how does one identify “the locals,” and once having done so, how do you determine whether or not they are offended? That topless middle-aged woman reading a book on the beach – is she a local? How about that nude woman simply lying out, working on her all-over tan? Is she a local? And what about that naked guy walking the beach about 100 paces in front of us? He doesn’t seem to be offending anyone. Oh wait! He’s not naked!

As we close in to about 70 paces, we notice he’s wearing one of those little nylon bathing suits that European men seem to prefer, in a color that might be best identified as “skin tone.” And it turns out one of the nude women is, in fact, only topless, adorned by a very small piece of fabric that, even at 50 paces, has created the appearance of one who is fond of that natural look below the waist. We turned this into sort of a game, “I can tell if that person is naked at ___ (fill in the blank) paces!” Followed by discrete, observation-based research during which we each had to adhere to the golden rule of the nude beach – DON’T STARE!

Clothed in the shadows

Clothed in the shadows

Long time Vera Playa patrons might be appalled to learn that we (quite by accident!) walked all the way to Garrucha, which is most definitely beyond the delineations of the naturist zone that adjoins Vera Playa. It was a Tuesday morning in May, so there were few tourists on the beach, and you could see life running full tilt up in the city near the port. Our pace accelerated as we were eager to walk the length of the beach, but we weren’t too crazy about getting in trouble with the local authorities for indecent exposure, and even more so, we are typically very sensitive about doing anything under the banner of pushing the envelope (e.g. being naked where you’re not supposed to) as that may well lead to negative consequences for the authorized naturist area down the way. But, alas, we were able to adhere to our “naked person in sight” rule for the duration of our outing, thanks to a couple of liberated young women who had settled in for a good read not far from their mainstream hotel.

But finally, to my point! Assuming “a pace” is between two and three feet (For the purpose of this argument, we’ll stretch the truth a bit to equal “one yard.”) and most of us can easily visualize the length of a football field as a measurement of 100 yards, it turns out that it’s really quite difficult to discern whether someone is naked or not from the distance of 100 paces. In fact, in many cases, depending on the color, cut, or size of the swimwear, it can be difficult to tell if a person is naked at 50 paces, or even 25 paces if that person is fond of flesh-tone bathers. And having gone that far, I have to say that even at 25 paces, depending on juxtaposition, lighting, and I truly hate to say this… body condition, it can be very difficult to discern whether you’re looking at a topless woman, or a “well endowed” man. But alas, regardless of breast size, topless men have been socially acceptable for nearly a century now.

Swimsuits required in Trinidad!

Swimsuits required in Trinidad!

What I find most intriguing about this topic, however, is the nuance of just what people find offensive about public nudity in the first place, when one really needs a very keen eye to discern the degree of nakedness when that person is more than at arm’s length. I find this particularly curious in the United States, where there are only three officially recognized nude beaches in the entire country. THREE! And the recurring theme at the official and non-official nude beaches in America is the ongoing problem with gawkers – those people who feel compelled to stand along the cliffs of the California coast to gaze upon the naked people playing Frisbee on the beach below. Really? At the distance of 200 paces, can you even discern who is naked, let alone, the corresponding genders or body proportions? The more resourceful voyeurs may arrive with binoculars and telephoto lenses, but really, is it worth all that? It’s sort of the same argument of watching a football game on portable TV while you’re sitting in the stadium so you can actually see who did what on the field, but in this case, you’re not trying to identify the players, but very specific (and relatively small) body parts. So much work for so little reward!

Yet the hysteria and paranoia about public nudity remains at a feverish pitch, as someone may well be offended by another’s nakedness, to the point that there have been recent citations and arrests on US beaches as a result of mothers helping their 2-year-olds change into a swimsuit – in public – on the beach! Such “reckless behavior” apparently represents child endangerment. Try that as an adult, and you risk being labeled a sexual predator.

grid-cell-28659-1403703499-21Apparently, in the minds of so many, the simple state of nudity can’t be as innocent as purported… by naturists… to be. I defer, once more, to Philip Carr-Gomm (A Brief History of Nakedness, 2010) where he quotes Pope John Paul II, “Nakedness itself is not immodest… Immodesty is present when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence, [had to look that one up!] as a result of which the person is put in a position of an object for enjoyment.” As best I can tell, even the Pope thought it OK to be naked if your nakedness is devoid of the intent of personal exploitation or the desire to offend. But clarification, please! Is that from 100 paces away? 1000 paces away? Within sight of the people behind you on the beach, who decide to turn you in to the ranger for an accidental display of nipplage? How’s a naturist to know?

Those of us who take delight in simple and forthright naturist pursuits bear the burden of seeing ourselves as others see us – naked. It will be interesting to see if the people marketing the nipple bikini (pictured above) actually end up promoting the cause for positive public nudity, or simply stir up another round of hysteria as onlookers pull out the cameras and magnifying devices to discern – “Are those really your breasts, or are they just painted on?” History suggests the pendulum swings back and forth on issues like this over time, but as best I can tell, it’s been a while since the pendulum has moved in a direction that favors the naturist cause.

A thousand paces more...

A thousand paces more…

So much ado… about (wearing) nothing!

Bright Blue Skies at Vera Playa!

After reading about it for years, we finally made it to Vera Playa on the Andalusia Coast of Spain. I’ll admit it, I had my doubts, assuming that this may well be the Spanish equivalent of Cap d’Agde, the (in)famous “naked city” in the South of France that, in my humble opinion, falls far short of Europe’s best naturist destination.

Turns out that Vera Playa is almost nothing like Cap d’Adge, except for the fact that it is a stand-alone municipality where you can walk down the neighborhood streets in your birthday suit, and to most of the locals, it will seem like business as usual. That is, unless you walk all the way across town and go into the grocery store. Seems that will turn a few heads, and most likely, get you thrown out of the market. (A significant difference from Cap d’Agde where the boundaries of the naked world are well delineated by a gate that separates the quartier naturiste.) No such boundary exists in Vera Playa, where the edges are growing increasingly blurry as the textile world encroaches with new condominiums and commercial centers.

Hotel Vera Playa

Hotel Vera Playa

There is an excellent on-line community dedicated to Vera Playa, with an extensive forum, and a vast array of resources, the most useful of which is a map of the beach and the adjacent residential communities. They have color-coded the map (and apparently updated it as things have continued to evolve) to indicate where nudity is expected, and where it is forbidden, while delineating those confusing areas where I think you can probably be naked and nobody will care.

Nudist beach in front of Vera Playa Club

Nudist beach in front of Vera Playa Club

We stayed in the only full service hotel in the village – the Vera Playa Club – operated as part of a large chain of resort hotels in Spain, and marketed as the only fully naturist hotel in all of Spain. It seems there are places on Mallorca and the Canary Islands that could challenge that statement, but to be sure, there is nothing else on this scale. The place has a Disneyesque air about it, (Thinking older Port Orleans resort Disney, not crazy big water park Disney) including a big amoeba-shaped pool with a couple of modest water slides, and a forest of palm trees to assist with the pacing of your exposure to the intense sunlight of the southern Mediterranean. Nudity is required in the pool area, (and it appeared to be 100% compliance during our stay, except for a few children in swimsuits), but nudity is not allowed in any public area of the hotel after 8:00 pm. Hard-core naturists have been ranting about this for years, but I suspect this policy solves a lot more problems than it creates for a seaside resort hotel with 250 rooms.

Followers of my blog probably know that I rely rather heavily upon (and contribute frequently to) Trip Advisor, acknowledging that while you can’t please all the people all of the time, it’s good to know where to set the bar on the anticipation scale before you get your hopes up. Vera Playa Club has taken a few hits in recent years as the place just celebrated its 25th year, and according to a few self-proclaimed ‘knowledgeable sources’ out there on the web, even though this hotel is only open from April to October, they run at the lowest capacity of any of the Senator Playa Hotels. This statistic was not evidenced during our stay, as nearly every lounge chair was filled around the pool during this particular weekend in late May. In any event, complaints about peeling paint and worn loungers are sad, but true, though I will note in the same breath that they were painting one of the main corridors during our visit. Is it a top flight, four-star hotel like a Hyatt Resort on Maui? Not even close. Is it one of the fancier naturist “resorts” we’ve ever been to, with a nice pool complex and most of the cushy hotel amenities you expect at a beach hotel? You bet! For the record, having read the recent reviews, I was pleasantly surprised by the amenities and condition of the place. My wife – while really enjoying the place, had only my filtered reports for setting her preconceptions, and thus, gave it lower marks on the luxury scale than I.  I confess, I was clearly intoxicated from the over-abundance of sunshine and palm trees!

View from the hotel

View from the hotel

Acknowledging once again that our stay was on the shoulder season, at an excellent rate including breakfast, one couldn’t help but notice that the median age of the guests left us feeling like one of the young couples at the party; a sensation we don’t enjoy very often nowadays since our children have all graduated from college. There were a few young families, and couples in the 30-something arena, but they were by far the minority. But given that it’s another month until European schools let out for vacation, we were surprised to see any families at all.

What was remarkable, however, was to see so many aging naturists, some with significant disabilities, navigating stairways, tiles floors, and other pool area obstacles that can be hazardous to the young and nimbly athletic. In fact, it was heartening to think that this is a place where I could be very comfortable twenty-five years from now, meaning I’ve scarcely hit the midpoint of my naturist life! I met one British woman who had traveled extensively though naturist France with her husband, but now that she is alone, she simply makes a bee-line to Vera Playa. (Easily accomplished with several options for non-stop flights from the UK to nearby Almeria.)  An important step in my own naturist journey is my growing appreciation of the inherent beauty of aging. One’s skin tells a lifetime of stories.

Walking past the condo developments

Walking past the condo developments

Of course, there is much more to Vera Playa than just this hotel. In fact, to read the banter out there on the web, the hotel is merely a distraction to the very heart and soul of the place. With a fair number of year round residents, many of the surrounding condominiums are owned as vacation homes; rented out when not occupied by the owners. On this particular sunny Sunday afternoon, the beach attracted a good crowd, with a more balanced demographic, including several young families with children. We developed a particular fondness for the Cota Zero beach bar, the rustic little shack right in the middle of the playa nudista. Good bar food, friendly employees, cold beer, and endless entertainment in the people-watching department were all on tap here. No shirt? No pants? No problem! We didn’t bother to check out the other eateries on the beach with naked clients, but even during shoulder season, it seems there are more than a few choices.

Meandering toward Cota Zero - our beach bar of choice!

Meandering toward Cota Zero – our beach bar of choice!

We were a bit taken aback by a couple of clubs of a tawdry nature down the street from the hotel, especially since we arrived on a Saturday night, and the fashion show was starting early as guests were assembling for a party across the street. Once again, nothing like the outlandish displays we’ve seen in Cap d’Agde, but it did make me wonder how I would explain the promenade to my 13-year-old daughter had we come here on holiday back when she was that age. But again, I say that knowing full well that we have friends who would say, “What, you took your kids to a nudist hotel?” Simply observing what struck me as an odd juxtaposition, just a few steps from the doors of a family-oriented resort.

So now we have another favorite naturist place, though it’s a long way from the place we typically call home. As beachfront property becomes an increasingly precious commodity, I hope the Vera Playa folks can hold their ground in protecting this naturist haven from those eager to don wet, clingy nylon. As an aside, federal law in Spain dictates that any beach can be a naturist beach as long as you’re not offending the locals. For many years, this proved true anywhere in Spain, until nudity (and perhaps the accompanying less than altruistic behavior) became commonplace on the streets of Barcelona, and legislation was amended to ban nudity in that Bohemian mecca.

I can only hope that’s not the leading edge of a sharper sword. Naturism is a good fit for Spain, and the perfect attire for Playa Vera is nothing at all!