Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

November 2, 2006

Spain (Andalucia)

The airport was almost empty at 6am on a chilly Thanksgiving morning, which was predictable, considering that it was not a German holiday. This also meant that our plane was only half full for our nearly three-hour flight to Granada, Spain. We were in search of warmth and sun over a federal four-day weekend, since it was already getting more than cold enough in Landstuhl to start complaining about it, and craving one last taste of summer. It was neither warm nor sunny at first in Granada, seeing as how the city was at an elevation of just over 2,000 ft., but at least we could get by with a light jacket and no gloves, unlike in Germany just a few hours before.

Our first stop was at the rent-a-car desk, where we got a cheap, puke-yellow Kia Picante that we drove into the very narrow, maze-like streets of central Granada and parked deep in the bowels of a parking garage. We actually had a hotel reserved for the night, but a guaranteed parking spot on the crowded streets anywhere near it was not part of the deal. In fact, the room itself was almost not a reality, for when we entered the hostal (hotel), the manager immediately told us that he had no rooms to rent. Well, this is when it is good to be able to speak the host country’s language, and we explained to the guy that we (Rob) had made a reservation over the phone. The manager shook his head and asked Rob who he’d spoken with, and Rob said that he’d arranged the accommodations with a woman. The manager then gave his wife a very long dirty look, and perhaps thought we couldn’t understand much Spanish or didn’t care, and then very publicly chastised her for not marking it down in the reservation book. Well, she seemed completely un-phased by his lashing, and calmly suggested to him that room #7 would be good for us. And he responded by giving us a half smile and the key, and wished us a fine evening. Well, our 35-euro room (18 euros more for parking) was about the size of a cracker box, but clean, and had a dilapidated piece of exercise equipment on our tiny balcony that through our un-lockable patio door, offered a splendid view of a brick wall five feet away. But it was home, and we loved it, because we could then get on with our explorations.

The main sight in Granada is the imposing Alhambra palace, the place where Christopher Columbus pleaded with Queen Isabella for ships and supplies to sail off on a grand expeditionary journey. Built more than one hundred years before Columbus was even born, on a hillside overlooking the city, this gem of Moorish architecture has survived the ages and various changes of more than a few different ruling parties. We first got lost in the orange-laden trees of the palace gardens, inside of a maze perfectly made from tightly trimmed Juniper shrubs. And then continued on to the main attraction in the Alhambra itself, the Nasrid Palaces, which is a series of elegant royalty rooms with intricately carved walls, colorful tile floors, and vaulted ceilings that appeared to be filled with stalactites. Under the rules of early Muslim law, the Palace architects were not allowed to carve any images of living things, so they inspired themselves by carving the phrase “Only Allah is Victorious” (in Arabic) a mere 9,000 times on the walls, ceilings, and floors.

The fog layer that had covered Granada most of the morning began breaking apart after noon, and the resulting sunlight offered us numerous fantastic perspectives of a truly fantastic place. We compared it all to other great Moorish architecture that we had seen, such as the Alcazar in Seville, and the mosques in the great imperial cities of Fez and Marrakech in Morocco. And we agreed, that this was something really worth seeing. Our explorations eventually ended atop the main tower of the Alhambra Alcazar, which offered awesome views of the world’s original Sierra Nevada mountain range. And beyond its snow-capped peaks, we could see the clear blue skies above Spain’s southeast Mediterranean coast, … where we knew we could eventually find some true warmth.

But first, we took a lazy city bus ride through the tight, winding streets and distinct neighborhoods of Granada, before ending up again on foot in the midst of the historic center. We spent some time exploring its tiny alleyways in search of Christmas gift ideas, because “any excuse to go shopping is a good excuse”, I told Rob. The narrow atmospheric alleys held a surprising collection of Moroccan wares, all still present day links to a Moorish past complete with gypsy ladies handing out fragrant rosemary. And for a little while, it felt as if we were right back in Africa. The stalls were packed to the gills with carpets and lamps and teapots and colorful garments, and once again I swore that if I ever had to fill an empty house with beautiful handmade goods, I would get it all in Morocco, … or even old town Granada. In fact, it may be easier in Granada, because the shopkeepers were amazingly docile and not in the least bit pushy. Although it’s probably more fun in Morocco, with the high-paced haggling and bargaining that’s part of every transaction completed or not. I found some cool things right off the bat, and my sudden accumulation of Arabic wares made Rob begin to wonder if it would all fit in our luggage bags. And while we were right there in the neighborhood, we also visited the Granada Cathedral, and it was a beautiful, well-lit giant cavern of a place. We decided to take a break for a while there, and got quite relaxed sitting in the pews listening to soft choral music playing over speakers attached to towering stone columns.

When darkness fell and the city lights came on, we somehow suddenly became very hungry, and gave up on the idea of trying to find any type of local Spanish cuisine to fill our bellies. Instead, we picked from a large assortment of doner kebab places that were practically on every corner, seeing as how gyros were of Arabic origin. But the shop we chose didn’t have the usual selection of normal toppings. And we ended up with an interesting monster lamb doner to share, topped with shredded cabbage, pickled beets, tomatoes, corn kernels, mushrooms, green peppers, diced cucumbers, and a very spicy and tasty sauce all inside of a soft tortilla shell. And wow, it was the best kebab we’d ever eaten. And we went straight back to get another one, and even asked if they would be open for breakfast.

Back at the hotel afterwards, all that we then lacked, was a hot shower before bed. But we should have known what that might entail in our unique hotel. Guess what happened every time someone within the entire hotel flushed the toilet. Needless to say, our wake-up showers the next morning were quick ones. Then soon afterwards, we were driving out of Granada, and heading for the coast in search of the sun. The fog had returned overnight, and there was just one giant mountain range to deal with between us, and the Promised Land. So I floored it, and enjoyably stick-shifted our car through sharp curves and evergreen forests like a possessed racecar driver. Then at the summit, we could see the sun reflecting off the distant sea, and then we dropped down a long, never ending series of switchbacks straight from the misty clouds, into a virtual desert oasis.

The towns we first entered into were suddenly rich with colorful flowers, Wanabana trees, fig trees, ripe orange trees, and stately road-lined palms that were often fixations for Christmas holiday decorations hanging over the streets. Along the coast, the sun played hide and seek with the edge of the fog bank, but the obvious sudden warmth of the air outside was a most welcomed, caressing sensation. We stopped to stroll a beach and eat olives, after the sun finally came out for good. Rob was quickly without his shirt on and suggested that we perhaps get into our shorts. Well, right then, I suddenly had no recollection of packing any shorts for myself, just my bathing suit. Rob didn’t see it as all bad that I’d forgotten my shorts, because he had two pair. And he also informed me, that during his research on the area, that he read lots about there being nude beaches and entire communal developments dotted along the coast, which catered to the naked. So he thought, that maybe I wouldn’t need any shorts after all.

As we drove a roller coaster road northeast along “La Costa del Sol”, with nothing more than a vast horizon of sparkling ocean beside us, the land we clung to became very parched and vegetation patchy. With only 4 inches of annual average rainfall, this stretch of paradise is a prime location for growing plants such as tomatoes. Their method for doing so quickly became evident. For long stretches along the shore, the most prominent sight besides the mesmerizing Mediterranean was a seeming sea of greenhouses and plastic stretching unending for miles at a time. Sometimes, the mountains reached right into the ocean, and their slopes were painstakingly covered with wall-to-wall greenhouses packed with every type of plant imaginable, all with special underground irrigation systems.

With late afternoon, came stiff winds from the south, which seemed gale force when we drove out to the lighthouse of Cabo de Gata National Park. It was a mountainous and bleak environment, both also majestic and very serene. We took a hike high along a spectacular cliff top trail, where the wind was howling with fury. We sighed with relief though, when the trail worked its way down around to a sheltered side of the hill that eventually led down to a quiet and secluded beach. On our hike back, we watched small clouds magically form, and then disappear only moments later, over a towering cape summit that must have been cause for the spectacle. We also discovered an inhabited cave, with a bed in it, a chair, a flashlight, and a knife, but nobody there. Having not seen a single soul on our entire hour and a half hike, we wondered if anyone was spying on us from afar spying on them.

There was a campground nearby, near a lagoon where flamingos migrate to from Africa during the summer, and we’d of course brought our camping gear with us as we usually do. Long and hot uninterrupted showers at the campground felt really good, and so did supper going down seated on our tent tarp in the dark. In the middle of our eating though, an orange tabby cat wandered close from the shadows, and my headlamp lit his eyes green in the night. He was quite scared of us, but willing to hang around and accept pieces of bread and cheese that I threw to him. Rob even gave in, and let me feed him some hard Spanish salami cut into bits. Suddenly, nine more cats appeared from under the hedge, probably attracted by the gorging growls of the one I was feeding. Half of them were kittens, and they were all wild. I broke out a package of sweet bread (Magdalenas), and had a great time throwing bits to them all. None of them would let me pet them though, although I tried. But they would get very close to accept food, and of course, were constantly attacking each other in fits of flying claws and hissing for the tasty prizes tossed their way.

I put some bread on my palm for a black kitten I liked who kept getting closer and closer, but instead of taking its offered treat, it mistook my thumb for a piece of salami, which left three neat bloody holes. I ignored my wounds and had Rob cut up a little more salami, as our guests constantly circled us in the dark like lions looking for their chance to pounce. Eventually, after quite a lengthy feast of bread, cheese, crackers, salami, and some potato chips, they seemed to fill and slowed way down. But Rob was convinced we’d created monsters, and would have to hang what food we had left from a tree limb for when they got hungry again later. But there were no disruptions during the night, and about half of the cats came back for breakfast. And this time, one of them finally gave in to being stroked on the head. So I eased my cat cravings for that day, by petting and feeding it until it was full. But not before it also made a little mistake, and bit me too at one point.

The morning was a song of sunshine, and as we continued our drive up the coast, Rob was crazed with the warmth and wanted to take pictures of cactus, palm trees, then collected eucalyptus leaves to rip apart and smell all day. I wore Rob’s other pair of shorts, while we walked barefoot on a good-looking beach we’d found that led to an outcropping of rock that we scampered over, which dropped into a clear, turquoise-green sea pool. The sun just felt heavenly warm out on that rock, and Rob just couldn’t resist the lure of the water and decided he had to go for a swim. He also figured that there was no real need to soak his shorts either, in a land where skin was supposedly as good as a swimsuit. So, in he went, and seemed to cherish the refreshing chill of his diving entry. I removed my top and did some quiet sunbathing instead, while he splashed around like a dolphin for a good while. We could see some people far off in the distance, but they may have been naked also. And then with some eventual further exploration of our little rock playground, we discovered a cool natural whirlpool in the rocks. It was steep-sided with water filling and emptying from it through an underwater entrance we could sort of see from above. Well, Rob jumped right back into the sea again, and after sizing up the situation, swam underwater through the 10-foot long tunnel in the rock, directly into the pool. Well, I couldn’t resist the lure of the beautifully clear water either, and also jumped in. I lasted about only 2 minutes in the cold water though, and then climbed up the steep walls to get out, instead of swimming underwater through the opening to the ocean. What a great rush that was!

It was nice to get back in the car with dry shorts on, although our skin was a bit sticky and salty from our swim. And then we continued on our way up the road to a place called Vera Beach, that apparently was quite well known for the communities built up along it, where being unclothed was perfectly acceptable. We went in search of some examples of this for curiosities sake, but the long, sandy expanses of Vera Beach were virtually deserted, due in part perhaps because of the afternoon wind that had kicked up again and was cause for a slight chill. Or maybe because it was the off-season, and no one was even in town anyway. Most of the restaurants and surf shops did seem quiet and even closed up. And the blocks and blocks of condos and apartment complexes that cater to the masses, also looked mostly vacant. So, we just kept on traveling on, and soon found another quiet coastal mountain back road perfect daredevil driving, and then a small beach with a great collection of stones for collecting.

In the late afternoon, we found and followed signs to a campground at the coast close to where we were going to fly out the next day to return home. But when we walked into the office to pay for a night’s stay in our tent, the receptionist asked us, “Saben ustedes que aqui es Naturista?” which basically meant, “Do you know that this is a Nudist Colony?” We sort of pretended that that didn’t matter to us, and said, “Whatever. Ok.” We were told that we could camp anywhere in zone #3, that the gates closed after midnight, and that their indoor pool would close in an hour. Well, seeing as we’d been dreaming all day of getting that salt finally washed off of our bodies from our swims earlier at the whirlpool, we headed straight for the pool. But when we got there, there were three middle-aged men with goggles on doing laps in the buff. “When in Rome …”, we said, and jumped right in before we’d miss our chance to wash off.

We were good and hungry again as evening settled in and we were finishing our swim, and we decided to put our clothes back on and go into the nearby city of Cartegena, where we again passed up our chance at trying local delicacies when we found a Pizza Hut (remember, Pizza Huts are a bit rare where we currently live). And oh, was that piping hot pepperoni, black olive, and mushroom pizza ever delicious! We managed to get back to the campground in the dark of night and set up our tent with the aid of our car headlights, and without any further sightings of unclothed people. Then, we slept peacefully to the lulling sounds of nearby crashing waves for a solid 10 hours.

In the morning, we woke up, and really began wondering what kind of a strange world we found ourselves within. It was still mid-morning and a bit chilly outside, but once in a while, someone would walk by walking their dog(s) wearing either only a white robe, or only a shirt with no pants. We were the only ones in a tent there in zone #3, which was a large grassy gravel area under olive trees, where in season you might actually find other campers. But all around us for blocks were bungalows ranging in sizes that seemed to be either permanently owned, or could be rented. Each had a small yard around it, some with small porches, and others quite decorated. The campground also had camper spaces, a trailer park, a large outdoor pool (closed for the season), a lounge/snack bar next to it, a store, tennis courts, a children’s playground, a health spa, an actual hotel, and of course communal bathroom and shower facilities, and a separate building for doing laundry and washing dishes.

Our plan for the day was to pack up our tent, and then just stay there in the campground for a while to see how life might possibly conduct itself in such a peculiar community, before we headed off to the airport in Murcia. Well, as we were taking down our tent, our neighbors casually walked out onto their porch buck naked, hung wet towels on a line and sniffed the morning air, waved “good morning” to us, and then went back inside. Well, we next locked our car, and then went over to the campground’s private beach, which was located on a beautiful isolated cove. We found some rocks to scamper on with a view back over the beach and campground, and there spent an hour watching crashing waves. Then a huge thick cloud arrived from over the horizon and blocked the sun, and besides for two guys (clothed) climbing rocks nearby with harnesses and ropes, we didn’t see anyone. But all of a sudden the sky cleared, the temperatures rose dramatically, and the nudists began one by one to come out to play. At first from our distant vantage point, we saw plenty of white robes going to and coming from the bathroom, then pant-less souls off to scrub pots and pans, and then finally a couple of nudes strolling the beach.

We decided to take a slow walk through the bungalow neighborhood to witness what we could, and then head up the hill to the outdoor pool. We saw people sweeping their porches, watering plants, hanging laundry, carrying trash to the dumpster, and even reading the morning paper, … all in the nude. Comically, we actually felt kind of stupid wearing clothes, although no one ever gave us any dirty glances suggesting that we were obliged to join them, and instead often pleasantly greeted us. They were all quite at peace with themselves, and obviously very used to wearing only their birthday suits.

By the time we made it up to the indoor pool for a swim, the sky was really blue, and the air good and hot. We were the only ones there, and we appreciatively then doffed everything, for a good soaking up of the 75-degree heat on the outside deck. But from there we also had a great view over the entire campground, and we were continually astonished with the sight of people just walking down the street naked. They seemed to always care less about doing it, waving to their neighbors as they passed by, and not seeming to realize at all that there was still a world outside the gates through which they’d entered, where everyone was always dressed, … especially in public.

Privately, Rob and I were making jokes like crazy, in an attempt to understand what the motivation was to form and partake in such a community. It just all seemed a little odd to us. Perhaps it has to do with feeling some type of pure freedom, or being truly part of nature. But it’s one thing to be naked on a beach, and seemingly another thing entirely, to walk around the rest of the day like that. Saves laundry detergent, we guessed, and having to shop for clothes. It certainly keeps no secrets, and you don’t have to think about what matches. While Rob was trying to take pictures of the street scenes down below, others began arriving at the pool and caught us with our pants down. But they didn’t care. In fact, they arrived without anything on themselves. There was an older couple, a mother with her young daughter, another couple with their son, and two maintenance men (clothed) who tended to the rose bushes.

Rob thought it would be a good idea, if he went to get the car and drive it up to the pool parking lot so that we could have access to our soap and shampoo to use while showering under the pool shower before we left for the airport. Then I dared him to walk down to the car completely naked, and although he thought about it for a second, he refused and put back on his sweats that we’d been wearing around all morning long. But he ended up being gone for what I thought was quite a long while, and when he came back, he was all giddy with a wild look in his eye, and said that I needed to see what he’d just seen on his walk to get the car. He proposed that we do what everyone else was doing that fine sunny morning, just to see what it was fully like, to make a roundtrip walk down to the beach for a swim, through the neighborhoods, and then back to the indoor pool, … all in the nude. So the dare was on, to see if we could find from experience, the allure of living in the buff. I accepted his proposition, but with reservation, and kept a light sweater on (unzipped) for the first part of the way. We of course both had on our flip-flops, and of course Rob wore his baseball cap.

Keep in mind, that the majority of the naked people staying in the campground that we encountered, were part of the older crowd, with an average age of somewhere between 50–65 it seemed, using added telltale signs besides just wrinkled faces and gray hair. Most of them were also out of shape (pear shaped), and do we dare say, quite fat. So it wasn’t quite like glancing through the pages of Playboy, and sometimes it was just better to look away. But how could we ignore the one guy who was repairing a flat tire on his bike, or the other guy who was dangerously power drilling a hole in a piece of wood for some reason, or the fellow who was pounding awning stakes into the ground with a huge mallet, or the couple we saw playing tennis wearing only tennis shoes, or everyone else we saw chatting and eating lunch around picnic tables, or those walking straight into the general grocery store without a single stitch of clothing on them. And for those who were too lazy to walk to the store, they’d just jump in their car (nude) and drive there. Or, we even saw one older jolly beer-bellied guy slowly riding his bike to the store, who was wearing nothing but sandals and a silly grin. Rob deeply regretted at one point though, not being able to carry his camera with him (no pockets), because we came upon a priceless photo op. A very contented snoozing naked fat lady reclined fully in a lawn chair in the baking sun, with a long yellow flyswatter resting on her thigh, presumably to protect all of her mounds of exposed skin with a minimum of effort or fuss.

Throughout our walk, we felt alternatively embarrassed, a bit crazy, fleetingly actually calm at other times, and often confused about why anyone would willingly live in and partake in such a lifestyle. I concluded that everyone must be on some kind of a similar social understanding, where clothes couldn’t be used to make an impression on other people. Rob thought that perhaps everyone may have had some odd type of clothing claustrophobia, or that they suffered from bad allergic reactions to cotton, polyester, and wool. In any case, in our opinion, most of the people we saw would have looked much better with clothes on.

Once back at the indoor pool, we showered and dressed for our drive to the airport. It was funny though, because once outside the gates and back into a normal town and society, it was strange for about 10 minutes to see fully clothed people walking the streets, but also a welcomed relief. We also stopped before we got to the airport in a mall parking lot to do some last minute packing and to change into long pants for the flight. And there we were, struggling like crazy in the front seat of the car trying to get them on, whereas only a short time earlier, we could have stood completely out in the open to change our pants, … or not wear them at all.


September 2, 2006