Photo by Geoffrey Grahn
It was a budgetary compromise — it’s not like I get off on running around naked in public.
We were in search of a romantic desert hideaway, my husband and I, to celebrate our first anniversary. Given that we typically travel in a beat-up Honda (with part of our vacation fund set aside for AAA) and stay at places where you bring your own soap, this time we sought total indulgence. We had seen The Player — we wanted mud baths and mineral pools, candlelit dinners with far too many waiters. But within our (limited) price range, only one place was luxurious enough: Villa Escondida, a nudist resort in Palm Springs. As our getaway weekend neared, the idea became less absurd with each checkbook calculation. We’ll stick together, we rationalized while ogling the brochure, which pictured a heavy wooden door opening into an idyllic oasis. We’ll hole up inside our private bungalow and enjoy the amenities. It was affordable.
Two days later, we’re standing outside a walled compound with what I’m beginning to think is far too much luggage. Distant waves of laughter, accentuated by the occasional splash, waft over the white stucco wall. My sweater is feeling increasingly thick, and my shoes too tight. Tentatively, I lift the heavy iron knocker. How bad can it be? I assure myself. It’s not like they’re going to greet us at the reception desk and run our credit card through stark naked.
Gabriela, a voluptuous Venezuelan beauty, checks us in, and, well, I concentrate on making eye contact. She and her husband, Tom, a stout, jolly-looking fellow, run the place, and let’s just say that this couple’s dry-cleaning bills must be next to nil. Neither wears a scrap of clothing all weekend, but for a faded sarong Gabriela occasionally drapes around her shoulders or waist. Still, as advertised, Villa Escondida is truly an exotic escape: a dozen or so clean, luxury bungalows scattered around a gleaming pool, with lush ferns, swaying palms, a trickling fountain and air scented with jasmine. A sunken hot tub gurgles, and a lone hammock swings silently beside a wall awash in ivy. Except for a few people lounging quietly in separate pools of shade, the villa appears empty. “Where is everyone?” I ask. And, like in The Player, Tom whispers, “They’re hiding.”
Later that day, I glimpse the other face of Villa Escondida, which has transformed, it seems, into the kind of place conservative suburbanites might have escaped to in the ’70s. At 5 o’clock sharp, the blender starts up and the distinct sound of crushing ice cuts the air. The overhead speakers click on, and “get down, boogie-oogie-oogie” oozes out. All at once, the previously scarce guests — mostly middle-aged and doughy — begin to migrate toward the pool. And there they stay for the next few hours, bobbing up and down in the water, snug in various flotation devices.
As I linger on the patio with a turquoise-plastic margarita glass in hand, still clinging to the sheer floral wrap I purchased upon my arrival, it strikes me how much care these people have taken in dressing themselves to be naked. The women are obsessively groomed, with smooth, even tans, fresh pedicures, long painted fingernails, lots of makeup and jewelry. The men, too, sport an accessory or two each — a braided gold chain, sunglasses, a floppy “Gilligan” hat — making them appear that much more naked. There is a deliberate lack of hair among this crowd. Nearly all the women are completely shaved, or have styled their pubic hair into a narrow triangular sliver. Several of the men have gone south with their razors as well, and one has even taken it to his eyebrows. By comparison (sun-phobic and pale as I am, and too busy to wax weekly) I feel as if I’ve shown up for a black-tie affair in flip-flops and cutoffs.
The main topic of conversation among the nudists is — not surprisingly — nudism. They boast about prepaid “all you can eat” vacations in Jamaica at a resort called Hedonism, where the motto is “Be wicked for a week!” and where they proudly choose the nude beach over “the prude beach.”
“Hedo II or III?” a particularly buff male guest asks his slightly softer new buddy. “I’ve been to both of ’em.”
“Hedo II,” the buddy replies. “Bob Marley gave a kick-ass concert there last year.”
I don’t interject that Bob Marley, in fact, died 19 years ago. Instead, I tread back to our room. On the way, I note a stack of “adult” board games (Talk Dirty to Me, etc.) by the barbecue, and I am sick with the thought that I have become the kind of person who vacations, nude, with people named Ted and Sherri from Orange County, to the still-throbbing beat of “get down . . .” Our anniversary getaway has become an Ang Lee movie.
Tom’s is the first voice I hear in the morning. The complimentary breakfast spread, it turns out, is set up outside our door. Peering through the blinds, I make out a few guests, clothed to different degrees. One woman is topless; her male counterpart is in shorts; another man is fully bare, one leg thrown over the chair next to him. I’ve been to nude beaches, but while that seems natural, sexy even, breakfast in the buff with a group of strangers is entirely different. Needless to say, we take our time before leaving the room — shower, shave, even suffer through ESPN SportsCenter. And by the time we arrive at the breakfast buffet, there is no one left.
Facing my inhibitions head-on, I lose the sarong, even the flip-flops. I am just beginning to get comfortable, slipping easily through the warm air while arranging a plate of fresh fruit, when I hear voices approaching. I turn around to find my fellow naturists on their way out to go sightseeing — dressed head to toe, from their baseball caps to their laced-up shoes. It’s an anxiety dream come true: There I stand in my birthday suit, plate in one hand, smile stiffening on my lips, facing a crew of color-coordinated tourists. In broad daylight.
We kept to ourselves after that, having broken nearly all the dress codes at the nudist resort. Food was good, though. And unpacking was a breeze.