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Crete, Greece: Matala, Days 8,9 &10

Laura and Max

Laura and Max

Final Days in Matala

Our last days together seem to be to be one long day in retrospect.  Eating, reading, sleeping, drinking, dancing, laughing, rinse, repeat.

Max is leaving in a couple days and already I miss him preemptively.  In between laughs we’ve had some serious conversations and he’s shone a flashlight into some of my dark psychic corners.  While sometimes uncomfortable, his intentions are good and I place some of his comments in the “work on this Laura” mental file.

Hans decides he has to move on from Matala.  Max, being quite chivalrous, wants to make sure that when he returns to Germany, I am in good hands back in Crete.  Over our last sunset gathering, he makes an agreement with Hans that we will all meet up back in Chania and then Hans will guide me around Crete after Max goes home.  I love this idea although I had nothing to do with its arrangement.  Hans leaves the next day.  His presence is missed.

Meeting Mark

After our last evening with Hans, Max and I go our separate ways for the evening.  I end up in a tavern listening to live music (American rock and roll is the standard here).  Soon I end up talking to an intriguing German man named Mark (name changed to protect the innocent).  Mark and I have good conversation and he suggests that I meet him at Red Beach the next day.  I hadn’t heard of it.  He describes the route.  Sounds easy enough.  I tell him I’d probably come with Max.

A Most Awkward Day at the Beach

The walk to Red Beach in Matala.

The walk to Red Beach in Matala.

Traveling humiliates and teaches on a daily basis.  But this day was a doozy.

Max and I left town to find Red Beach.  It was a steep ascent up the village cliffs for about 15 minutes and the sun was beating down.  Blue arrows, directed us on the path and reminded me of the Camino.  At the top, Max wasn’t in the mood for further hiking and turned around while I continued on.  The scenery was breathtaking – like no landscape I have ever seen.  The descent to the beach was difficult with crumbly rock easily giving way underfoot.  It took a lot of effort not to slide.

But when I arrived, I realized the challenge was ahead.  Every single person on the beach was entirely naked.  Everyone.  Uh oh.  Trying to appear not to be gawking and simultaneously searching for Mark is a challenge.  Fortunately he is close to the entrance of the beach.  He greets me, seemingly without embarrassment.

My internal dialogue goes something like this:  Oh my God Holy hell What to do oh my god calm down keep it cool no big deal what is your problem don’t act weird this is fine it’s normal there are families here grandparents and kids fat people thin people no big deal WHAT IS YOUR PROB…E…LEM Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God I don’t think I can do this.

While I would hardly describe myself as uptight,  I am clearly American, and I can not emphasize how absolutely difficult this exercise turned out to be.  I lay my towel on the flattened beach chair beside Mark and slowly undress with the grace of an epileptic burlesque dancer.  Clothes come off, then are draped back over myself in a spaz of modesty.  I contort my body into ridiculous positions to hide fat but there is no escape. Can someone turn off the lights?  He’s not looking at me, right?  Oh God, who’s looking at me?

I finally adopt a plank position on the lounge.  And I lay there almost motionless for four hours while my heart beats out of my chest with anxiety.  My eyes occasionally open slightly to observe how one goes about normal conversation while naked with strangers.  Occasionally Mark will say something to me and my body, prone, flat and frozen like a corpse, stays motionless while my neck owl-swivels turning towards him.  My eyes stay fixed on his.  Until he’s not looking.  And then they curiously follow the contour of his body until I reach his toes and then they fix on the deep clear blue of the Libyan Sea.

Mark gets up often to swim.  I would love to swim, but the idea of standing upright amongst all these people is a straight up impossibility.  Damn this.  I can’t stand feeling so anxious.  As the sun goes down, I decide, before I am invited by Mark, to return the next day and slay this dragon.  All these European people can do this.  Why can’t I?  What is wrong with me?  Why is my body so shameful?

Slaying the Dragon

Sunset at Red Beach

Sunset at Red Beach

And so I return the next day, sans Max.  I am psychologically prepared.  And chemically prepared.  I bring a cold beer for myself.   Mark is there again.  This time, it’s easier.  Undressing, I repeat: “I can do this.  I am going to do this.  I am doing this.”  And I did it.  And after moments of anxiety, rather than hours, I was there on the lounge enjoying my newfound freedom and the feeling of the warm wind and the hot sun.  After an hour, I was hot and I rose and walked that 40 feet that seemed as impenetrable as the Great Wall yesterday.  I looked at that ocean: “You are mine” I thought.

In a moment I was floating in the warmest water, being carried and buoyed by the salt.  I turned circles in the waves, looking at the vastness of the sea, the golden cliffs, the towering, crumbly mountain, and the pink and brown fleshy bodies of every shape, age and size on the beach.  I spent nearly an hour in that ocean relishing it.  An hour in heaven.  That I would never have had if I hadn’t pushed myself through the fear, the anxiety, the self consciousness.  Not only was it a funny (in retrospect) and enlightening experience, but it’s a metaphor for how I want to live my life.

What is your nude beach?

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