La Playa Part I - Barceloneta Beach

The pivotal turning point in our trip was the beach. It was the highlight of the overall experience. To finally get there meant the start of actual recreation. Imagine being in France among people and just being exposed to what we're supposed to like. Spain was about tying to find what we didn't know we liked. At least that was what it became for me. 

I never had the beach; I grew up with lakes. Yeah, we had the Jersey shore and NY's Coney Island but in the 80's these weren't perfect destinations especially for a family. So when we moved to Florida there was no real interest in the beach. We honestly didn't know what to expect so we avoided it. Lakes and parks were very conventional. It wasn't an ordeal to get to one and there were hot dogs. Florida had plenty of lakes and we sort of upgraded to natural springs. It was the same thing, public bathrooms, pavilions with bbq pits - just with bubbles and alligators. My first and only experience with a real beach complete with sand was at night. I was fifteen years old and rushed to a last minute school camping trip. I had no idea what I had been pulled into and I didn't know there would even be a beach. However, Florida has primitive camping islands on the west coast that give you woods on one side and uncharted beach on the other. The boys invited me out for a flashlight lit smoke session under a blanket of stars. I fell in love with the beach. At the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons.

So having spent my entire life swimming with ducks and walking the sandbar at midnight I was excited for an actual dayside beach. I'd eventually see Cayo Costa, Daytona and New Symrna under the sun but I never lingered. I never played volleyball, swim out further than a few feet or lay out with Coronitas. So now traveling there was this notion that I'd be able to swim to Morocco, be invited to a bonfire with hot Spanish men or touch waters shared by rogue pirates - I was anxious. My ignorance kept me hopeful just waiting for this great beach day. It was very disappointing to head out and not find a beach in Barcelona. We then lingered around this massive boardwalk area knowing it was somewhere nearby. Unlike Florida or New Jersey there was no sign to point us in the right direction and no big box shops selling neon t-shirts. We seriously had to set out on some expedition. When we set out to go again there was an overcast. I recall getting dressed in a very obvious coverall with my gigantic sunhat. I left the room to stop by the atm before people were out and those that were on the street stared at me. Spain wasn't the staring kind like France so I was baffled. It was because I looked like a sun happy tourist when it was only 70 degrees outside. By afternoon it was almost 90 and things were promising. We simply go to the stopping of yesterday and walked past it keeping northwest. Then came the dive shops, the bums being harassed by policia and the exquisite breeze of a shoreline. Wepa. La Playa.

The biggest takeaway is that the Spanish lived for the beach. The sand was heavily populated. It was also the Forth of July so whatever Americans had joined us had their "flair" on. There were so many young people and children, babies really. No one was afraid to get in the water. Also, no one was afraid to let it all hang out. I completely forgot the European concepts of nudity on the beach. Not too far behind actual boobs on the beach there were lots of Speedo shorts. There was a couple in front of us where the woman was topless and the man was in very tight booty shawts that had letters on them spelling out "B-A-D". This set the tone for La Playa for the entire country. Now having never experienced such exposure I couldn't help but look. My friend found ways to occupy herself having been an avid beach goer. I was in awe of all the nipples in a 100 foot radius. A plethora of European nipples in all there outward, pale pink and freckled glory. I've seen them in foreign movies but not bouncing above waves and laying on a towel near my feet. I've seen them in high fashion magazines not momming children or drinking a Fanta just like it was a regular ole day.

I was faced with finding ways to distract myself. I didn't really want to swim in heavily populated waters. I have no reason to "lay out". So I attempted to snack, read, play games and listen to music. In between these activities my friend did lay out attempting to tan herself and then swim off the sweat. So most of the time I was not really talking to her and trying to mimic whichever direction she turned to possibly talk. After an hour or so I began to like the silence and attempted to meditate and forget she was even there. That became impossible with the constant cries of "water, aqua, beer, cerveza" or "would you like a massage" or "please steer clear of the rocks". Some of these were from actual peddlers approaching us and more vital calls were over some magical loud speaker system. After a while of that I gave up and sort of melded into the tanning mode of everyone else and resorted to swimming once I was so hot I thought I was going to explode. It felt like that is what we all were doing - melting and then diving into the water to mould back into shape. Once in the water the current at the shoreline was rough. I felt the water hitting me in my face just standing there. Once submerged I wondered had my swimming skills decreased from inactivity or was I finally experiencing riptide. Meanwhile, she would get up and go on a swim worthy of laps in a private pool. She went out so far with precision form that I couldn't even find her. This behavior worried me especially because I felt the water was a little rough for jazzercize.

So four hours later - a first for me; I couldn't believe I'd lasted that long. She'd finished tanning and lapped a few times so we embarked on more dangerous beach activities. She pointed to an area closer to the shore, a tad out of the sun and nearest to a rocky area for climbing. We moved our towels out and concealed our valuables to brace a decent area of algae covered rocks. After climbing a small barrier she informed me that she wanted to go further. So I opted to wait it out right there and just then the tide seemed to rush in. You could see other brave souls stuck out there as the water was crashing in. There were people at the mid point fighting to get back to where we were. So we took a few selfies and climbed back to our end. We then showered, dressed and walked the rest of the beach seeing Barcelona beach life at its finest. There were clubs, dive bars and a constant smell of steamed shrimp. I thought we were going to turn around and visit shops we'd passed. I really hoped for authentic Pura Vida bracelets at a nearby surf shop. We wound up going in a wider u-turn that lead us beyond stores to normal civilization including a ton of senior residences and civil services establishments. So not only did we find the beach but we'd found where actual people lived which is hard to do in Barcelona. We raved on about swimming anywhere but the Atlantic or the Gulf assuming we had touched so special tropical sea nearest to Africa. We were actually at the Balearic much closer to France. We'd "tested the waters" but hadn't made it yet. It was great training for the next great la playa - Malaga.

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