This is what we thought Bondi would look like.

I thought I dreamed this at 3 a.m. when I was trying to get the kid to sleep. I guess it was real.

Right up there with Waikiki, Copacabana, and Venice, Bondi Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world. Pronounced “BOND-Eye”, this less-than-a-mile expanse in Sydney’s eastern suburbs has a rich history as a hardbody hangout and a surfer’s paradise. Though we are neither hardbodies nor surfers, for some reason we felt it necessary to check out Bondi.

“Bondi” is an Aboriginal word meaning, approximately, “noise of water breaking over rocks,” but I suspect its second definition is “noise of green surfers screaming in abject panic.” The waves are so notoriously large and dangerous that Bondi’s lifeguards rescue 2,500 people per year—about 85 percent of those rescued are tourists. At any given time, the water has up to five different rip currents, constantly changing and shifting and wreaking havoc with those brave enough to endure them. On February 6, 1938 (or “Black Sunday,” as the locals call it), a series of freak waves hit the beach—waves so furious they reached out and pulled people into the water. Five died, and 250 needed to be rescued.

Oh, one other thing. For years, Sydney’s Water Board maintained an untreated sewage outlet near the beach; until the mid-nineties when the sewage outlet was closed, people supposedly reported seeing floating “Bondi Cigars”—think the swimming pool in Caddyshack.

I stayed out of the water.

But by time we got to the Beach from our 380 bus in Sydney, the sun was gone, it was cold and windy, and the beach was almost post-apocalyptic-looking. The waves were scary, but no surfers. Hardbodies? Not a one, unless you count the massive birds circling us in hopes of breadcrumb handouts. The whole thing reminded me of those depressing, rocky British beaches where everyone is pasty and miserable.

Did we go home? No, we did not. We could tell Hannah badly wanted to go into the water, so Sarah took her in to splash around and watch her rub icky Bondi sand all over herself while I searched for the nearest lifeguard. Later, as the wind began whipping the surf into our eyes, I was given the Sisyphean task of cleaning the sand off the kid while she was rolling around ever more in it. No, I’m not much of a beach guy.

I much preferred the hours afterward, when Sarah and I drank Victoria Bitter at an outdoor café along the main promenade while Hannah the Sand Creature slept. For an hour, we had a lovely time talking like adults: Our conversation had nothing to do with poo or formula or crawling. Unfortunately, new parents can’t really enjoy such moments, because in the backs of their minds they’re wondering just how they’re going to pay for it later. Hannah slept and slept and slept, and in a moment of Parental Selfishness, we decided to let her do so.

Sure enough, as were laying down in our beds that night, utterly exhausted, that’s when she popped up, wide awake and ready for whatever adventures that this trip had led her to believe were coming. We were a little drunk and ready for nothing but the oblivion of darkness.

Instead, for the next five hours, we took shifts trying to get her to sleep, which involved all kinds of tricks, none of which worked. At 3 a.m., I found myself pacing up and down Pitt Street with my daughter, delirious (me, that is), hoping the sound of sirens would lull her to sleep. They delighted her instead. I begged and pleaded, which caused her stare at me curiously; she was considerably more interested in my begging and pleading than in going to sleep.

This is the dark side of traveling with an infant.

Can’t remember what time she drifted off, but I can tell you: the next day was a total washout. We paid God Knows How Much to fly across the world so we could take turns sleeping in our stinky, itchy little youth hostel bed all day. I have no idea what our baby did during that time.


Photography: Courtesy of Jeff Ruby