Getting naked at Playa del Torn, Catalunya

Getting naked at Playa del Torn, Catalunya

I knew next to nothing about naturism in Catalunya until I began setting myself personal challenges.  I had never taken off my clothes off in public but I felt that I needed to give it a go.  I am a mentor to people with low self-confidence and low self-esteem helping them achieve self belief through a series of personal challenges – and as it’s only right to practice what I preach I am always looking for ways to stretch myself.

Luckily I have the perfect challenge partner in Debs who is often even more up and ready for things than me and so the other summer we decided to push our boundaries and discover how much self empowerment we could achieve. Click here to read more on self empowerment

Make sure that you continue reading to the end of this article for the tale of a very funny incident that happened on the nudist beach at Playa del Torn in Catalunya last summer!

Getting naked at Playa del Torn

The first challenge that we set ourselves that summer was to visit a naturist beach.

Playa del Torn beach, Catalunya

Playa del Torn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Close to the town of Hospitalet de L’Infant on the Costa Dorada in Catalunya there is a large naturist resort – i.e: naked people as opposed to a naturalist site where you go bird-watching and such-like.  It is important that you do not get the two words confused!

This resort, complete with pools, restaurants, and campsite attracts naturists from all over Europe and it’s on a wonderful position up on the cliffs behind a long stretch of soft golden sand. Playa del Torn (or Platja del Torn in Catalan) is a large public beach with a lively xiringuito (beach bar) down on the sand where people from the local area mix with the campers.  During the summer months a little gazebo is set up on the beach where you can get a fabulous full body massage from Albert who normally works in Barcelona and the occasional beach vendors wander along selling artisan jewellery or sunglasses.  The beach has a lovely friendly family atmosphere in the locality of the campsite and the beach bar whilst further along the beach is gay friendly.

Debs and I parked the car near the beach of Playa del Torn and we set off along the cliff path which runs next to the campsite.  We had not taken more than 10 steps when a woman came out of a gap in the low hedge from among the camper vans and walked along in front of us wearing absolutely no clothes and carrying a loaf of bread under her arm.  Walking past the caravans and the tents I could see that everybody was carrying on their daily business – playing cards, standing and chatting around the barbeque, reading or cooking BUT the majority of them were stark staring naked.  Toddlers chased each other around yelling enthusiastically and groups of teenagers hung around looking cool (most of the teenagers were wearing bikini bottoms or swimming trunks for modesty.)

I suppressed my giggles as we walked down the steps to the beach where a volleyball game was in progress, feeling like I was in a Carry On film.  Reaching our chosen spot with as much space around us as possible Debs and I stripped off our clothes – and I promptly lay down flat and stayed flat for as long as I possible.

As the day went on I progressed to swimming in the warm sea – what a fantastically liberating feeling that is with no bikini – and I had a massage from the wonderful Albert.  The massage was a piece of cake after the trauma of booking my session with him.

Tickets needed to be bought at the bar in the xiringuito – and my personal challenge was to buy mine without covering up and wrapping a sarong around my body.  All well and good and I was feeling quite pleased with myself as I crossed the hot sand – until I wove through the tables to the bar (it was lunchtime and busy) and it dawned on me that my bare bottom was head height to the diners faces.  Of course there was a queue at the bar and I had to wait there, standing with my naked bum just inches from a poor man’s dinner and feeling the insides of my stomach curling up with embarrassment!!!!

I managed to relax later on as Albert kneaded all of the knots out of my tense muscles whilst I lay in the shade of his gazebo.  He told me that he worked as a masseuse in Barcelona but that he decamped to the beach for his work during the summer.   When I confessed to Albert that it was my very first visit to a naturist beach he replied how brave I was to actually have a massage (naked) right out there in the public eye and I realised that I was beginning to enjoy myself.

Personal challenge achieved I felt great as Debs and I returned to the car – in fact we returned to Playa del Torn many times throughout the rest of the summer and we progressed to drinking in the bar and then making friends with groups of both campers and locals.  It was idyllic standing and sitting around chatting as the sun went down and the moon came up over the horizon and looking back, it was always gratifying to realise how relaxed I had become with my own body image.

A naturist beach is a great leveller.  Without clothes on people usually soon realise that not even the elegant couple who turns heads as they walk across the beach lives up to the media driven image of perfection once they remove their clothing.  Cellulite, flabby bits, scrawny bits and dangly bits are everywhere.  Bodies are decorated with both tattoos and scars, boobs may be missing and piercings glint in the sunlight.  It all seems less important somehow.  Smiles, facial expressions and laughs become what define beauty and we can all wince together at sunburn in delicate places.

Scarlet Jones naked at Playa del Torn

Scarlet Jones naked at Playa del Torn

Snorkelling in the dark

My second personal challenge that summer was to attempt a night time snorkel.

I am not at all confident out of my depth in water and I am terrified of waves in the sea.  Debs and I had already spent the day snorkelling around the rocks in the little bay of Sant Jordi d’Amalfa on the coast of Catalunya and the sea was lovely and calm as we made our way up to the beach hut at dusk where Plancton have their base.

We were given our equipment – a wet suit, snorkel and mask, an arm band with a flashing light and a waterproof torch while the instructors told us how we should conduct ourselves and pointed out some of the things that we could expect to see.  And we set off BUT we turned left instead of right and walked down to the next bay where the sea was anything but calm.

I had already told one of our instructors how nervous I was and she (Eli) stayed by my side as I got into the water.  I was only waist deep but the waves were crashing over my head, and whilst terrified I pushed through beyond the breakers until I was out of my depth.  The rest of the group struck out for the sea while I attempted to sort out my mask which kept on leaking.  Eli took my hand and we swam slowly out – and then I panicked.  I had a vision/premonition/past experience – I don’t know – but I KNEW that if I continued I would surely drown.  I can swim but all of a sudden I lost the ability to keep my head above water and I just had a dreadful recurring feeling that I was going down under the waves.  I panicked even more as I noticed Eli backing away – I could hear a little voice from my swimming lessons as a child saying that you keep your distance from a drowning person – but Eli pushed the dive float to me and waited patiently while I got my act together talking calmly to me, but I knew that the overwhelming fear that I was feeling wasn’t going to go away.  I had to get back onto dry land immediately or I would be feeding the fishes.

Clutching the float as if my life depended on it we made our way back through the crashing breakers.  I was so relieved to be back on the damp sand and promising Eli that I would now be fine she went back to join the others while I sat and watched the shooting stars above me in the dark sky and thought about my experience.

Had I failed at my personal challenge?  No.  Of course not.  I had pushed myself to get into the rough water in the dark in the first place and whilst I had failed to snorkel in the dark I had given it a go.  Would I do it again?  Probably not!  I had tried my best and I can see no real reason to attempt it again.

Driving on the wrong side of the road

I was initially nervous about driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road in Spain, but it didn’t take long before I was zooming around everywhere.  I got lost plenty of times (no surprise there) but I enjoy driving and it’s a dream in Catalunya because apart from in the town centres there is very little traffic.

I used to be very afraid of heights until my year in South America.  In Peru I eventually got used to careering around the Andes in chicken buses with the drivers high on the coca leaves that they chewed, both to stay awake and also to counter the altitude sickness, but I was still very nervous the first time that I had to negotiate a truck down a narrow track from the mountain in Spain where I was staying.  In fact, I put the trip off for ten days until I ran out of food.  A friend offered to deliver me supplies but I stubbornly declined – this was just another challenge which would prove to me that I was capable of coping by myself.

So early one morning I set off down the mountain. Nope, not in the truck but on foot!  I wanted to see for myself where the ‘dangerous bits’ were as well as the passing places.  Because I could take my time and look where the dodgy bits were I began to relax although it did take me nearly two hours to hike back up to the house.

To celebrate my epic hike in the heat I opened a bottle of wine – which of course also had the effect of postponing the inevitable until the following day – but I am pleased to say that I eventually made it down the hairpin bends and now I hammer up and down the mountain like a rally driver!

Since that summer I have also ridden my motorbike over to Spain crossing the English Channel on a twenty four hour channel ferry and riding solo down through Spain during an epic storm.  On that journey I was so glad that I had been perfecting my Spanish because I got horribly disorientated in Bilbao and I needed to ask directions.  My phone had stopped working, the name and address of my hostel had disintegrated and my map was in soggy pieces.  I squelched into a bar where half a dozen men leapt to my attention and helped me before sending me out into the rain again, this time in the correct direction.

 

facing my fear of heights

Facing my fear of heights in Catalunya

Immersion in a foreign language

Catalan is the first language of the majority of the people in this region of Spain which is great for me and others who are learning to speak Spanish.  Because Spanish (Castilian) tends to be the second or even the third language here, people often speak slower and can use simpler vocabulary.

I loved speaking with Andres who farmed close to the place that I was living that summer.  He was extremely patient with me, rephrasing words or acting out verbs so that the conversation flowed as best as it could although I did have one hilariously epic language-fail one evening.

I was a bit flustered as I answered the door and invited Andres to sit and wait while I finished up my conversation with a technician in the States.  My laptop was open on the bench as I was in a ‘live chat’ with the other guy.  In my best Spanish, or so I thought, I explained to Andres that my website was broken but there was a man in the States who was going to look at it and mend it remotely from his end.

I didn’t really understand why Andres abruptly stood up and shot out of the door mumbling something about going to check on his plum trees in his field however I returned to my conversation with the expert on the other end of the chat window.  Twenty minutes later there was a tentative knock at the door and Andres hesitantly poked his head into the room.  After assuring him that I was finished and my computer was now functioning perfectly I got on with the business of cooking dinner, wondering why Andres kept giving me strange looks.

Halfway through our meal Andres began to chuckle as something obviously dawned on him.  It turned out I had mispronounced the word for webpage.  I had put the stress in the wrong place which totally changed the word and therefore the meaning.

I had apparently informed Andres that my VAGINA was broken but there was a technician in the US who was looking at it down the camera on my computer – and I just needed Andres to wait for fifteen minutes whilst it was mended!!!!!

It’s always a bit daunting when you don’t speak the same language and you need to communicate.   It is the easy option to only mix with people who are the same as you and avoid difficulties; but we also communicate via body language, facial expressions and sign language and the results when you make the effort can be so rewarding.  Learning another language is another way to stretch your comfort zone.

 

Rio Ebro at Benifallet

the Catalan countryside

 

If you would like to know more about how you can receive a personal challenge that is emailed to you every fortnight, drop me a message and we will arrange a free call and I can explain more and while you are about it, sign up for my email list and get regular updates and more of my stories sent to you.

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And now for that funny story that I promised you.

Our friend Toni and his partner make lovely artisan jewellery from natural products that they sell at Playa del Torn and we have got to know them over the last couple of years.  In keeping with the naturist element of the beach they wander up and down selling their products whilst wearing no clothes.

One day after spending some time chatting to Debs and I, Toni and his partner continued walking along the beach – Toni was holding a tray with some little shell anklets on it.

A sudden gust of wind blew the jewellery into the sand – with one piece ending up between the butt cheeks of a guy who was lying face down and asleep.

Toni was in a quandary.  Everybody watching held their collective breath as Toni made several attempts to pick the anklet up from the guy’s crack.  He decided to go for it but just as his grip tightened around it, the guy woke up and rolled over onto his side.

A dozen or more of us who were watching collapsed with laughter at the frozen tableau.  As the guy rolled over his bum cheeks had gripped the anklet tight – he froze as he looked up and saw a naked guy bending over him and holding whatever was trapped between his buttocks.

The guy’s wife was also laughing too hard to explain to her husband straight away as Toni backed away and his own partner was creased with laughter as she collected up the rest of their jewellery.

If you would like to know more about my time in Catalunya you can read some of my other posts here:

Exploring the Ebro Delta in Catalunya

Cat Fishing in Catalunya

The Catalan referendum: an opinion piece by Scarlet Jones

This article has been updated since it was first published in September 2015

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The slow boat from Thailand to Laos

The slow boat from Thailand to Laos

[grwebform url=”https://app.getresponse.com/view_webform_v2.js?u=spPd&webforms_id=13182401″ css=”on” center=”off” center_margin=”200″/]What’s the slow boat from Thailand to Laos like?

I asked this question of everybody that I met.  I wanted to cross into Laos from Thailand in the north but I am scared of water and the thought of two days on a boat was unsettling me. Beautiful, peaceful, fun, boring, best trip ever, boats often capsize……there were a wide range of responses but the majority of comments were positive.

I decided that I had to give it a go – after all, if I promote a course which contains a series of personal challenges then I should push my own boundaries.  Again! (read here about the time I took all my clothes off in public)

The day before my Thai visa expired I squashed into a minivan with my fellow travellers, some of whom would become good friends, for the journey to the small town of Chiang Khong which sits on the Thai side of the crossing point with Laos in the north. You have to love a country which names its land border crossings Friendship Bridges and I was very much looking forward to seeing what Laos was all about.

To accompany this series of articles on Laos, I have published a comprehensive 28 page travel itinerary of my month-long route around Laos. Simply enter your details in the box below to get your free guide.

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The White Temple, Chiang Rai

But before leaving Thailand there was one more treat in store.  We were allowed a very short stop at the White Temple in Chiang Rai.  This temple positively dazzled in the strong sunlight with reflections glimmering off the water which surrounded it and starbursts bouncing off the mosaic tiles.

This was like no temple that I had seen before. After paying your money you cross a narrow arched bridge passing a cluster of stone hands which stretch out of the water as if they are reaching from the depths of hell.  Disembodied heads grimly hang in trees and there are many statues and silver and gold trees scattered around the grounds.

the White Temple in Chiang Rai

Unlike other temples there was little here in the way of religious adornment – it was all about the building, its frescos and the surroundings.  There is a small exhibition at the site but sadly, our driver had been very clear – we had twenty minutes and no more – so I joined my fellow travel companions and we climbed back into the minivan.

Several of the travel blogs that I follow have warned of the rather dubious quality of the accommodation on route to the slow boat – but I have to say that my hotel wasn’t bad at all.  I had my own little wooden bungalow set in nice gardens and there was even a swimming pool.  After checking in I wandered down the lane to get my first glimpse of the River Mekong.

At this point it was wide.  There was quite a strong current flowing and the river resembled a thick brown hot chocolate drink. The sight of it did little to quell my nervousness – if we capsized in that I didn’t rate my chances of survival at all! I tried to ignore my bubbling feelings of anxiety and I returned to my hotel for dinner.  The evening meal wasn’t anything special but it was edible and identifiable and then some of us settled down to watch a DVD before getting a good night’s sleep.

Crossing the border

The next day we were up early and breakfasted, given a small packed lunch and we were back in our minivan for Friendship Bridge #4 and the border crossing into Laos at the town of Huay Xai.

This was a VERY relaxed border crossing where you fill in the relevant form, add a passport photo, hand over the fee together with your passport and you wait around in the shade for your name to be called. Calling is not exactly accurate as the officials don’t call out your name but hold up each passport in turn at their window which prompts everybody in the small crowd to flow forwards to see the picture, somebody steps forward to claim their own and then everybody settles back down and chats until the next document is held up to the glass.

the border between Thailand and Laos

We were then loaded onto trucks and taken to another waiting point where people took the opportunity to sell us snacks, water and cushions as well as accommodation for that night and then, after another short truck ride we were at the river.

The slow boat from Thailand to Laos.

At the river people clambered carefully down the muddy banks laden down with rucksacks and wobbled over the rickety gang plank where a team of workers stowed the bags under the floorboards of the boat.  I had little time to be nervous as I grabbed a seat and the engines fired up with a blast of noise, heat and fumes.

I was perfectly placed in the middle of the boat – which was interestingly fitted out with rows of old car seats cobbled together haphazardly.  As our journey got underway, the back of the boat did indeed turn out to be very noisy and the front was where an impromptu party got going but I could read, work on my laptop and chat to my new friends in relative comfort.

boarding the slow boat

The journey on the river through the mountains was beautiful.  The river was mostly calm and wide, but every so often it would race faster past spiky rocks and bubble alarmingly in whirlpools. This was the dry season so many of the rocks were sticking up proud from the surface – it must be far more difficult to navigate when they are hidden under the water.

The boatmen must know every inch of the river although I was warned by many Thai’s not to ride on the fast boats as the drivers are reckless and can be careless. Those longtail boats would accelerate past us at high speed but they have a tendancy to hit hidden rocks and they capsize with alarming frequency.

This is probably a good time to remind you to get your travel insurance.  You can get a quote here from Alpha Travel Insurance

On the slow boat we had time to appreciate the huge cliffs hanging over the narrow chasms and we could watch the water buffalo bathing in the shallows. We could see how the farmers had reclaimed the silt beaches at low water to plant out rows of vegetables and small boys sat with herds of goats whose bells tinkled as they drank.  We pulled over to rickety wooden jetties to pick up both parcels and people or we were met by dug-out canoes in the middle of the river that transferred ladies and babies to us for their journey south.

on the slow boat

I spent my first night in Laos at the small riverside town of Pak Beng   My new German friend Miriam and myself clambered into the back of a truck for the transfer to our hostel for the night.  Pak Beng has grown up to service the tourists and villages who travel the river and is packed with guesthouses, bars and bakeries…and furtive guys who come out of the shadows and offer you weed and opium.

Choosing croissants and beer we had a good time at one of the bars before a good night’s sleep. We breakfasted on a deck overlooking the water and watched a couple of elephants chilling on the beach with their mahout before stowing our rucksacs on the (different) boat and grabbing some seats.  This time, we weren’t so lucky and we had to sit on hard wooden benches so I was very glad that I had spent 40 pence on a cushion.

The scenery changed as we rounded every corner and we spent the day chatting and mixing with the other passengers, taking photos and generally relaxing.

views from the slow boat between Thailand and Laos

The second day was a little bit cloudier and we did get a bit chilly as the wind funnelled along the river and I got a bit fed up of just eating snack food but I am very glad that I chose the slow boat to Laos, despite my fear of water.

Close to Luang Prabang we passed the caves high up in the cliffs – called Pak Ou this is the place where many pilgrims and tourists come by small boats to visit the 4000+ Buddha statues, and then we rounded a bend in the river and came to our final stop – a set of stone steps cut into the steep river bank and we were at the end of our two day transfer across the border on the slow boat from Thailand to Laos.

more views of the river Mekong
  • [grwebform url=”https://app.getresponse.com/view_webform_v2.js?u=spPd&webforms_id=13127101″ css=”on” center=”off” center_margin=”200″/]Don’t be tempted to take the fast boat – their safety record is poor.
  • Take a cushion, food and water and a good book or some music.
  • Make sure that your camera battery is fully charged.
  • You don’t need to pre-book accommodation in Pak Beng. It is a compact town with hostels and hotels to suit all budgets and where plenty of touts wait to greet you when the boat docks.
  • Pak Beng has ATM’s, plenty of places to eat and drink and some really good street food
  • You are not obliged to take the slow boat from the Friendship Bridge 4. You can head north once you cross the border and visit a very rural mountainous part of Laos or even branch off from Pak Beng after one day on the water.
  • You may find yourself on a ‘party boat’ – you can choose to join in or the boats are large enough for you to distance yourself you want to sit and chat or read.
  • The boats now moor up some distance from Luang Prabang so unless you want a long hike into the town I would recommend that you take one of the trucks. These have a fixed price with tickets issued from a little office on the river bank and they will drop you at the central roundabout in Luang Prabang

My favourite guidebooks are those from the Lonely Planet  You can get your guidebook here

If you would like to know more about personal challenges and how you can push yourself out of your comfort zone, you can read more here

 

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cruising on the slow boat from Thailand to Laos

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