By: Erin Salb
In my last blog, I mentioned having my toes in the sand and my feet in the sea…and hinted at baring my breasts. Part of the appeal of the Greek islands is the call of the Mediterranean: crystal clear waters and endless stretches of beach. I also imagine for some the intrigue lays in the topless sunbathing!
Crete has an abundance of beautiful beaches and each one has its own draw: some are more remote while others are big tourist destinations; some attract locals or campers while others allow not just topless, but nude sunbathing. I visited many of these beaches: I spent my 27th birthday at Falassarna drinking champagne out of the bottle; I enjoyed a weekend of camping and hiking at Sougia; I floated the day away in the shallow waters at Elafonissi. To name just a few of my many beach excursions and experiences…
However, the beach that most exemplifies my Cretan existence is Kalathas. By no means is Kalathas the most beautiful or largest beach on the island. In fact, to many it is probably barely distinguishable from the countless others that dot the coastline around the area of Chania. It is a well-known beach though and frequented by locals and tourists alike. I guess in a way I represented both…
Kalathas beach lies in an alcove formed by the coastline, and therefore is crescent shaped. It is situated northeast of downtown Chania. Like many of the beaches in Crete, the mountains jut up in the background so it makes the entire area feel dwarfed and sunken. You are nestled between peaks and waves. The colors cascade down the mountain: lush green settles into brown rock crumbling into tanned sand melting into sapphire sea. I never tired of the sight.
Kalathas has 3 trademarks: the rock island a short distance from the shore, the signature white and blue umbrellas, and Bobby.
The small rock island is within swimming distance from the shore. My friends and I would often swim out to the island and jump off the rocks. Of course, this always had to be done before we consumed too much ouzo…and this is where Bobby comes in. I am not sure what his real name is (as Bobby is obviously not a Greek name), but Bobby was as much fixture at Kalathas beach as the blue and white stripped umbrellas because he owned the little drink and snack hut. Although, I’m not sure I ever purchased or consumed a snack from there. Bobby loved to drink and loved for the regulars to drink with him. I distinctly remember one afternoon where I sat down at the bar with my big bottle of (still) water, fully intending not to drink that day. Bobby took my water bottle, threw it away, and placed a glass of ouzo on the rocks in front of me. My good intentions blew away over the Mediterranean (as they often seemed to do in Chania) and ouzo replaced water as my beverage of choice for the day. It was not a memorable experience, probably because I can’t remember most of it! But that was a typical day at Kalathas with Bobby!
Kalathas was also the first beach where I braved semi-nudity…otherwise known as (gasp) going topless. It was my very first trip to Kalathas beach. I had gone with some Swedish girls I was friends with as we all bartended down at the harbor. Here I was the only curvy brunette among the crew of lithe, blond bombshells, and the only one with my top on. I finally got the nerve to remove my top and I will never forget how liberating it felt to feel the warm sun and cool breeze on my bare skin. What had I been missing out on all these years?! That was only the first challenge, however. It is one thing to feel comfortable (and daring) in your skin while lying on a beach chair; it is another to walk boldly down to the water that way.
I wasn’t sure of the protocol. Did one have to put their top on before walking down to the water? If the sand was hot, were you allowed to run? What were the rules, if any, for going topless?! The moment was inevitable though and I sat in a puddle of my own sweat baking under the Cretan sun until I couldn’t possibly last another minute. I had gone beyond glistening to full out drenched. There is nothing sexy about sweaty, topless sunbathing (in case you were wondering). I finally came to a seated position and protectively crossed my arms over my chest before standing up. I held them there for a minute, took a deep breath, and then dropped them before boldly taking off across the sand. I was careful of my pace so as not to draw even more unnecessary attention to myself! Was it the longest journey of my life? Absolutely not. Did it feel like it? Absolutely! But I made it without incident and was rewarded for my bravery with a much needed float in the water (which also left me wondering if that was acceptable…). From that day on, I owned it! Going topless became like second nature to me and I grew accustomed to tanned breasts and outfit-ruining tan lines being a thing of the past.
In fact, I never gave going topless a second thought again until my mother arrived for a visit. Of course, I took her to Kalathas. Once we secured our spot on the beach, I settled in the chair and removed my top. My mom gasped and exclaimed, “What are you doing?! There are children on this beach!” I gave her an exasperated look and replied that those children have seen more than their fair share of breasts and that she should loosen up a little, we were in Crete after all. On that day, I was definitely the local and she was definitely the American tourist (because the European ones would be topless right there along with me). During her entire stay in Crete, she never did take her top off so we missed out on that mother-daughter bonding experience!
Kalathas will always be more than just a beach to me. I developed friendships under the blue and white striped umbrellas. I learned how much ouzo really is too much. I got a great tan. I overcame fear. I laughed…a lot. But most importantly, I fell even more deeply in love with Crete.