01.10.2012 - 19.10.2012
Returning home from Kerry marked a new phase in my life as a rambling rose. Let me explain. The intention behind my career break was to create a space to be more open to where life might be leading me. To have concrete plans would defeat the entire purpose of being open to going with the flow. So, while I wanted to walk the Camino and to do some Woofing, that was as far as I had allowed myself to plan. My hope was that many opportunities would unfold over the summer and that by Autumn, sure I´d have a long list of exciting things to choose from. As I drove home on September 17th I acknowledged how these wondrous new opportunities had somehow evaded me. I had no plans. Not a sausage. And so began a fortnight of day and night goggling which lead to a plan of Central America for the winter. That left six weeks with not much to do. Where could I go that was not too far away, affordable and warm? Spain it was.
Arriving from autumnal Ireland, the first thing that strikes you about Spain is the light. It has a clarity, sharpness and colour that is utterly different from the mellow, subdued, saturated heavy light of Ireland. It gave me a kick. I had planned to spend a couple of weeks on the Costa de la Luz, the Coast of Light, which runs westward from Malaga to the Portugese border and at a number of points is less than 10km away from the Moroccan coast. My first stop was wild and wonderful Tarifa. I have always associated Tarifa with a very moving song from the 80`s called Radio Africa. Over the years I have conjured up a very romantic notion of the place in my mind. I therefore laughed to read in my guidebook that until reasonably recently, Traifa had the highest suicide rate in Spain. They reckoned this was in account of the unrelenting Levante wind and high unemployment. With the invention of kite surfing, the unrelenting wind has transformed Tarifa into one of the top kite surfing places in Europe. Suddenly there are jobs and prospects and Tarifa drops from number 1 position. For me Tarifa had an amazing energy. The Atlantic oceon crashes into the Mediterranean sea a few metres from the town centre, Morocco is so close it looks as if you could touch it and boy oh boy does the wind blow. Walking anywhere near the seafront, your face is sandblasted within an inch of it´s life. It was all so wild and dramatic and exhilarating, but also bloody cold. So after a day I headed to Cadiz, a wonderful port city;exotic, friendly and home to the best freidurias (fried fish shops) in Spain. And then to my home for 10 days, the town of Conil de la Fronterra.
Conil is a small town and now resort famed for an 8 km stretch of untamed beach. I had a very simple plan in being there, to live a simple life and not do very much. Maybe a beach walk in the morning, a bit of meditation before lunch and some late afternoon snoozing on the beach. Perfecto. I managed to bag myself a rather run down but cheap, bright and airy apartment, one minutes walk from the beach and a few minutes walk into the old town. The neighbour was sweet and given it was out of season, quiet. Within minutes of arriving into my new home I had a brainwave. I was going to spend my time there naked. Simple as that. So even before my bag was unpacked, my clothes were ceremoniously removed and I began my new life in the buff. I have no doubt my urge to be naked was connected to not having my own private space for 6 months. But whatever it was about, I certainly took to the whole escapade like a duck to water. It seemed like the most natural thing on earth to be brushing the floor, cooking my meals and pottering around the apartment in a state of undress. The only time I felt slightly silly was in the evening time when I might sit on the sofa to read a book. Somehow it felt a bit awquard, like my boobs got in the way of my reading. Bizarre I know.
The next issue to be sorted was the beach. As I`ve said before, Conil is blessed with a beautiful sandy beach which stretches away from the town. There are no sunbeds, no cafes, no anything really just a broad, pretty empty slice of sand battered by Atlantic breakers, sand which gets wilder and wilder the further you walk from the town. I had heard that the nudist area was a couple of kilometres from the town, so on day 2 I gamely set off to check it out. My reaction to other peoples nudity was very interesting. As I walked along the waters edge and the first naked person came on the horizon I looked straight ahead and pretended not to be looking, while of course desperately trying to get a good gawk. A trickle of men in their 60`s and 70`s came next, completely at ease with themselves. Once again I tried to get a good look without being caught. And so on and so forth. But when I happened upon a family, fully in the buff, playing a game of rounders, I knew it was time for Nora`s nudity to go public. Yes, it was time to get my kit off. I remember the first time I went topless. I was about twenty and on my first ever backpacking trip. I strategically placed myself behind a rock, removed my top, held my breath and lay very flat on the beach towel in an attempt to appear invisible. This time there was no one around me so it wasn`t such a big deal, but somehow it felt like I was chickening out. I knew instantly what I had to do. In Conil, like many a Mediterranean beach a regular pass time is to go for a walk along the water`s edge, to promenade. Because it was out of season there weren`t a huge number of people doing this, but their was a steady trickle of people, people in swim suits. Suddenly my life was divided into the clothed and unclothed. My task was to walk to the water, go for a swim and walk back out again, paying no attention to the clothed people strolling by. Now this was tough. I sat on my towel for at least thirty minutes trying to psyche myself up. No only was I in a tizz about exposing myself, I was sure I´d chicken out of getting into the water. I am not of hardy stock and hadn´t even been able to lower myself into the Southern Adriatic in May, never mind the blooming Atlantic in mid October. After quite a number of false starts I made a run for it and found myself in the water, battered by crashing waves. I was still wearing my watch and semi expensive sunglasses which in the excitement I had forgotten to take off. It was totally exhilarating and I was so proud of myself. As I walked through the clothed people and back to my towel I was surprised at feeling a sense of exhibitionism. I hadn´t been expecting that, but I liked it. Very quickly I became very at ease with being an unclothed person. My dash to the water was replaced by being at ease dandering along the beach for an hour or two each day. I was often amused at other peoples´reaction to me; they did exactly what I had done that first day, namely trying their damndest to look as if they weren´t looking.
Being naked did have one downside. This was related to one of the local Don Juans. On my first day he had hissed at me as I walked past, a rather annoying spanish way of getting your attention. I had said hello and walked on eager to avoid his attention. Although I have been traveling on my own since I was 18, the amount of unwanted male attention has risen exponentially since I hit 40. It is has no connection to me becoming more gorgeous as the years progress. It is the Shirley Valentine effect, minus the romance. Namely that men (sorry about the generalisation boys) assume if you are over 40 and alone on holiday then you must be number 1, desperate and hence number 2, willing to shag anyone, anything. Add a bit of nakedness into the pot and you know where I am heading. So, when I am lying on the beach that afternoon and feel a shadow come over me I know who it is. I delay sitting up and opening my eyes and when I do, there he is, Don Juan with his John Thomas dangling right in front of me. He starts to speak to me in Spanish. I tell him I don´t speak Spanish while averting my eyes. Back and forth this goes and I decide to begin giving him one of my death like stares. He decides to make one last stab at seduction. He points way behind him to his towel and using gestures and whistling noises, suggests that he bring it over to my towel. I start to laugh and can´t stop. He realises he has failed and scarpers. By the time I had stopped laughing he was no where to be seen. That was the comedy highlight of the trip. The rest of the time I lived a quiet low key existence. It was just what I needed.