What Makes The Best Beach?

I ran across this article in Conde Nast Traveller identifying what the writer considered to be the 29 best beaches in the world. It’s an interesting list that might make some Americans mad, because no beaches in California or Florida make the cut, whereas beaches from Scotland (which has two in the top five), Ireland, Iceland, and Canada–not normally associated with beaches–are represented. The only American beaches to be featured are Honopu Beach in Kauai, Hawaii, which looks gorgeous and comes in at number 11, and the only beach on the list that I’ve been to: the vast, sprawling beach in Okracoke, North Carolina, with its signature grass-topped dunes, which comes in at number 27.

What makes the best beach? It’s obviously a subjective determination that is influenced by personal preference. For me, it’s a combination of things, like the qualify of the sand, the color and condition of the water (I’m not a surfer and don’t need huge, crashing waves), and whether it’s so crowded with people you can’t really notice the beach for all of the people on it (which is probably why no beaches from California or Florida make the list). Ideally, I also like a beach you can walk, and a beach with some natural beauty nearby–like hidden beach in Palawan, the Philippines, shown in the photo above, which is number 19 on the list.

Based on my personal interests, I think the best beaches I’ve been to are the snug little beach at the foot of the long flights of wooden stairs at the Ti Kaye resort on St. Lucia, which is surrounded by jungle and rugged hillside, and the sweeping crescent beach at Nueva Vallarta in Mexico, where you can walk for miles. My guess is that everyone who likes a beach vacation now and then will have their own personal list of favorites.

The Conde Nast Traveller article did teach me one, thing, however: if you’re going to Scotland, be sure to take your beach towel and flip-flops.

On The Black Sand Beaches Of Ladispoli

Last night we drove from Rome to Ladispoli, a seaside town on the western coast of Italy, on the Tyrrhenian Sea that separates Italy from Sardinia and Corsica, There we had an excellent seafood dinner with lots of clams, oysters, octopus, and shrimp, an Aperol spritz to kick off the festivities, and some terrific wines with our meal.

Our restaurant was right on the Ladispoli beach, which has very dark, almost black sand. It was an overcast evening, and the beach attendants had already neatly folded and stashed the lounge chairs and closed the umbrellas when we arrived. The waters were calm, and the sky and the sea looked like an unbroken curtain of silver behind the black sands and the orange chairs.

The Shell Seekers

I like shells. I have a bowl of shells on a table in my office, and whenever I take a beach vacation, I try to bring home a shell or three from my trip to add to the collection. Looking at the bowl reminds me of happy hours walking on beaches.

The beach on Sanibel Island facing the Gulf of Mexico is a haven for shell seekers. You see dozens as you walk past. They’re always moving slowly, staring intently at the sand, bending and stooping to get a closer look at the shells deposited by the surf, always searching for that one, perfect shell that other shell seekers may not have noticed.

For the shell seekers, the pickings are good on this beach. As the photo below reflects, the volume of shells is extraordinary; in some places it’s like somebody dumped a truckload of shells, and you’d need a shovel to sift through them all. But the shell seekers don’t mind volume. In fact, they welcome it. They’re on a kind of mission, and they’ve got nothing but time.

Uncommon Grace

This lovely snowy egret, white feathers ablaze in the bright sunshine, walks the beach with a stately, deliberate grace and a commanding gaze — its attention all the while directed at the surf, and detecting fish that might be caught unawares.

It’s a beautiful bird. The fact that it’s a ruthless hunter, too, just makes it all the more interesting.

The Pelican, Briefly

On our trip to the beach yesterday we sat next to a tree where a pelican nested briefly. He used his long bill to engage in some personal grooming and then peered out over the bay, surveying his domain. A few seconds and several flaps of his wings later and the pelican was off, skimming a few inches above the water and on the lookout for prey.

The O.B.P.

The Obligatory Beach Photograph (O.B.P. for short) first became part of Americana in the mid-50s.

With the Baby Boom underway, the American economy growing rapidly during the Eisenhower years, and airlines and superhighways making travel easier than ever before, American families were vacationing in record numbers. Often the vacations were beach vacations, and the father of the family, equipped with his Kodak, took the first crude examples of the O.B.P. When the brood returned home, the neighbors were invited over for a slide show after dinner and drinks, and the O.B.P. was displayed to bored viewers to prove that the beach vacation had in fact occurred.

The O.B.P. quickly became ubiquitous. Camera-wielding travelers tried every conceivable angle, technique, and gimmick, even as camera technology advanced, but the O.B.P. endured without material change. It always featured sun, water, palm trees, and sand, without any significant distinguishing characteristics. After all, tropical beaches look pretty much the same, wherever they are found, whether you see them pictured in a slide show, in home movies, or in family photo albums — but by then, the overwhelming expectation that the O.B.P. would be taken left travelers unable to resist.

With the advent of the internet, blogs, and social media, the audience that was required to endure exposure to the O.B.P. widened, and the first creative variation on the O.B.P. in decades was discovered, when photographers decided to position a beer bottle or rum drink in the frame, or took the OB.P. from a chaise lounge so that their crossed feet would be visible at the bottom of the frame. Usually the post included the expression “aah!”

The O.B.P. is here to stay. Long live the O.B.P.!

Beachwalking

I’m a big fan of walking in all of its many forms, but I think I may like beachwalking best of all.

Beachwalking has all of the positive attributes of walking generally — fresh air, exercise, feeling your body get into an almost mechanical rhythm while your mind has the freedom to roam wherever it wants to go. But beachwalking has a number of plus factors, too. It’s pleasantly hot, for one thing. There are soothing surf sounds and seagull cries in the background, rather than traffic noises. You’re barefoot, and you feel warm sand between your toes. And if you’re on the right kind of beach, you can walk for miles, uninterrupted by crossing streets or cars or traffic lights or other reminders of civilization. It’s an opportunity to work yourself into an almost trance-like, zen state.

Yesterday I walked for miles on a basically empty beach, plodding along until I came up to a stone jetty and had to turn around and trod back again. I thought about nothing but sand and sea and the distant goal. It was a wonderful journey.

The Perils Of Plastic

We’re staying at a terrific little beachside resort on Ambergris Caye in Belize.  It offers snug, thatch-roofed cottages, excellent food, a beautiful beach, and an infinity pool, among many other amenities.  Every day, resort workers rake the sand, cart away excess sea grass that has washed ashore, and leave the beach in the pristine, white sand state that resort-goers demand.

Just down the Caye, however, is an unattended section of beach, and here we get a glimpse of the impact of our plastic, disposable, consumer culture.  Belize lies at the western end on the Caribbean, where the prevailing winds blow.  On this section of beach every imaginable bit of disposable debris — a huge range of differently sized bottles, jugs, tubs, bits of strofoam, storage containers, and even soccer balls — have collected on the sand, mingled with the sea grass.  It’s disgusting, and unsightly, but mostly it’s sad.  Whether through thoughtlessness or inadvertence, the human plastic culture has left its ugly mark on an otherwise pretty beach on a fine, sunny morning.  If one small section of beach is bears this gross collection of crap, we can’t really begin to imagine the impact of the junk on the sea as a whole.

Toes In The Sand

IMG_2279Every few years, I want to take a warm weather vacation after the weather turns cold in Ohio.  I want to put toes in the sand, hear the crash and thrum of waves on sand, feel the radiating sunshine pulsing on my bleached white brow, and drink a cold beer while the condensation beads up on the bottle.

I want to see turquoise water against yellow brown sand, sit under a brightly colored beach umbrella or covering made of palm fronds, and read a book in bright sunshine.  I want to walk on the gritty sand, look for an interesting sea shell or two, and watch a sailboat scudding across the waves and framed against the far horizon.

In short, I want to get as far away from my normal day-to-day existence as I possibly can.  This year, the destination is a few stops in the Windward Islands.  We’re on our way.