Let me admit, right out of the gate, that I am once again a few days behind here. I’m about to write about Sydney despite the fact that it’s my second night in Melbourne, and something about that feels almost… illicit. As if I’m cheating on the city I’m currently supposed to be dedicating my full (and well deserved) energy and attention to. But you know what? I’m too exhausted from tramping around this lovely city all day, too lethargic from two glasses of boxed red wine (oh yes) to leave my bed tonight and explore more of Melbourne, and there’s a band playing outside my hostel window that’s rendering the Tom Waits in my headphones pleasantly redundant. So I’ll write instead, and I won’t feel bad about backtracking. Because, as much as I can’t wait to pen an ode (or several) to Melbourne, we have unfinished business – and, more importantly, unshared pictures – from Sydney that I can’t bear to skim over.
Namely: Bondi Beach.
I cannot tell you how far from the Sydney city center Bondi Beach is. That’s because the string of buses we managed to catch there were so irregular, infrequent, and, frankly, probably incorrect, that it was mostly just a pleasant surprise when we realized we’d finally made it. The beach, gorgeous as it is, was not quite my speed – there was more posturing and plastic surgery than Malibu and more glitzy sidewalk bars than South Beach. But there was also, just at the end of the beach, an absolutely mind-bending coastal walk allegedly leading all the way to Coogee Beach.
Now, I say “allegedly” because Coogee Beach is where Hayley had told me the path led, and that’s where we had every intention of following it to. The path was literally gouged out of the side of gnarled cliffs, the orange and pink and sand-colored rock faces protruding around and over us like bulbous stalactites. Down below, the waves were exploding on the boulders at the foot of the cliffs in foamy claps. I was instantly convinced I’d be able to walk this path forever, even without Hayley’s promise of beer at the Coogee Beach Hotel at the end of the very long road.
And then, only about a half hour into the trek, we happened upon this:
Now, this is a very odd appreciation to have, I realize, but I love naturally occurring amphitheaters. Any place people spontaneously gather to witness random acts of nature – sunsets, celestial light shows, the emergence of web-footed little friends from the sea – well, to me they just feel like invitations to get comfortable while nature shows off. And that’s something I’ll stop for.
The big attraction at this particular spot was the surfing. And I mean that for both the dozens of burly dudes with boards down in the water below and the rotating cast of lanky European guys with fancy cameras on the rocks above. About every 15 minutes, a new guy with horn-rimmed glasses, an ironic T-shirt and a French accent would sit next to us and start adjusting and re-adjusting the focus on his DSLR, trying to get, no doubt, an Endless Summer shot. His girlfriend, invariably, would sit by his side rolling her hair between her thumb and forefinger like a cigarette, paying him no mind, before finally dragging him off to some place a little more exciting.
In any case, here’s what’s so cool about watching that many surfers crowded into such a small patch of ocean: there is a constant show. Any time it starts to look as if a good wave is coming, you can see who is going to go for it and who is going to duck under it or be toppled over by it. You can see who’ll manage to ride it all the way in to shore without being knocked off the board, who takes the fall when two surfers are about to run into each other, and who gets shot up off the tip of the board like a party popper at the pinnacle of a particularly violent wave. I could easily have sat there for hours but, as is often the case, we stayed only until it started getting a little too cold.
By the end of our coastal walk – which is to say, at the trail’s Bondi Beach entrance – the sun was beginning to set.
“Will the surfers stay out, do you think, once the sun goes down?” Hayley asked me.
“I don’t think so,” I told her. “Too dark. Too dangerous.” And then I asked her to take my picture in front of the sea of surfers, regardless, largely because I am a nerd. I handed her the camera and she stood for a few moments lining up the shot and looking confused before saying, “What… wait. What’s that behind you?”
Looking over the horizon, you could see the moon starting to poke its way up out of the ocean behind us, even as the sun set in back of the hills in front of us.
“Is that supposed to happen?” I asked Hayley. I’d never witnessed such a blatantly simultaneous sunset and moonrise but, I figured, toilets flush the other way down here – maybe everything is just a little different?
“Well I’ve never seen it just come out of the ocean like that!” Hayley confirmed. “And would you just look at the size of it! It’s a good job I noticed it!” (you’ll have to picture me speaking in a very bad fake Yorkshire accent there, as that is the only way I know how to imitate Hayley).
The moon, we later learned (OK – Hayley later saw on the news, if you’re going to be a stickler), does not always just come out of the water like that. In fact, evidently this never happens at Bondi Beach. And if it were to happen (according to this alleged news source), the moon would normally appear about 14% smaller than it actually did.
So what did we witness? A freaky anomaly? Nature putting on a show? A moonset?
Well, I know one thing: those surfers? They were probably just happy for the light.