After our fulsome week of markets, temples, and feasting in Ubud, we were looking forward to getting back to the coast. Keen to experience Bali’s world famous surf and do some yoga, we headed to Canggu. This laid back beach town is located between the fancy boutique hotels of Seminyak and the raging party scene of Kuta. It feels like an urban hipster beat has been dropped in amongst the rice paddies and dusted with Hindu offerings. Plaid-wearing cyclists are replaced by barely-dressed surfers, but beards still abound. Canggu’s streets are separated by lush green fields, the restaurants shut down early, and excellent local and international food is available for very reasonable prices. This little haven is just coming into its own but, with several international resorts going in, the small town vibe won’t last for long.
After taking a taxi from Ubud we checked into our new digs, the FRii Hotel, on the outskirts of the main strip and just a short walk to the beach. We settled into yet another paradise complete with a beautiful pool and a rooftop restaurant offering panoramic views of the Pacific. After a few days of trying to surf and enjoy the beach with a baby, we were joined by Finlay’s uncle, Ian Hawks! The end of the week, and our time in Southeast Asia, was punctuated by a tattoo gift for me. Then the whole family celebrated being together by consuming huge quantities of Indonesian food while overlooking a sunset sea.
Choice of accommodation was becoming more and more important as we learned what it’s like to travel with a baby. Having a baby means spending a lot more time at home-base, so it really makes a difference having a nice one. While walking the area we were won over by the Frii Hotel. Frii is a modern four-story building with a rooftop bar and restaurant. Every room has a balcony that faces the ocean, or opens onto the pool which runs the length of the building. Breakfast (which we negotiated in!) was an all-you-can-eat Indonesian and western feast including fresh eggs made to order. Meals are served on the roof, which had large padded bench seating for Finn to lie on while we ate and took in the panoramic view. All-day food options and a pool meant we never really had to leave, and could bring take-out back to eat on real plates up top. Key features for us turned out to be the outdoor space, room to move around in our private space, a large comfortable bed, and coffee making equipment in the room. The last one is especially nice, because it meant slow mornings and all day coffee. This was helpful in gearing up for the day’s adventures, while recovering from a night of sporadic sleep. Steph says “Coffee used to be key after I stayed up all night drinking. Now it’s equally important, because Finn stays up all night drinking.”
Surfing is one of the main draws in south Bali. With unbroken ocean to Antarctica there is consistent long-period swell breaking along the infinitely varied shores. This creates excellent surf conditions for beginners and professionals alike. Being in the former group ourselves, we thought Canggu’s beginner-intermediate breaks would be a good place to get our sea-legs back and then challenge ourselves. The waves were intense! But, like doing any outdoor activitiy these days, managing the logistics and experience of baby Finn was the biggest challenge. Because our hotel was located a few blocks up from the beach, we would have to pack up and head out together then set up on the beach if we wanted to take turns surfing like we did in Baler.
Our first chance to surf came on a rainy afternoon with big swell. I was determined to try despite the less-than-ideal conditions. Steph (wisely) watched from shore, huddled under an umbrella and wearing Finlay, while I repeatedly got rocked by waves far to big for my skill level and exhausted paddling endurance. Finally catching one good wave, I rode in to shore and promptly got slammed in the head by my board trying to scramble from the aggressive beach-break. Still grinning from the ride, I said to Steph “Wow! Catching just one good wave makes working hard and getting beat up for an hour totally worth it!!” To which she responded “Thomson, it’s been about (looks at watch)… twenty minutes.” We called it a day and went for beer.
Our second surfing session was a similarly unsuccessful and hilarious attempt. The next day was sunny and very hot. We carefully thought through what we would need, who would go first, and how to set up on the beach so that Finn would be safe and comfortable while we took turns on the surf board. After diligently setting everything up in the sand together, Steph fed Finn and went out first. This would give her the maximum surf time before having to rinse off, dry off, and feed again. I stayed onshore to supervise Finn and make sure Steph wasn’t getting swept out to sea. Finlay’s multilayered, carefully engineered, sand and sun isolation system survived about 10 minutes of her exploring spirit. Then it was a constant two-front war to keep her slobbered hands and mouth free of sand, and her pale skin free from sun. Eventually Steph came in and we traded off, but soon afterwards a hot and gritty Finlay put an end to our surf-day. Baler proved to us that it is possible to surf tag-team style with a baby, and Canggu showed just how valuable it is to have a place right on the beach.
Though I surfed alone a few more times during our stay, with much greater success, Steph cut her losses and focused on Yoga. Even that required careful timing and execution. If yoga starts at noon, prep begins at breakfast. The morning schedule must be lined up so that baby feeds right before mom leaves. We were quite successful at making this a positive experience for Finlay (and dad). Most importantly, Steph got some extremely rare solo time to care for her mind and body.
Sorry, there’s no photographic evidence that Steph ever got a moment to herself…
A couple days before our flight to Europe we were joined by my brother, and Finlay’s uncle, Ian (Tarzan) Hawks. Ian had been pursuing his Dive Master certification on the nearby island of Flores. Unfortunately, a medical issue meant that he couldn’t complete the course this year. Fortunately for us it meant he had some unexpectedly free days in Indonesia and we were all able to connect in Canggu! Due to his nomadic lifestyle, Ian had not seen Finlay since she was just a few weeks old. He clearly loves her to pieces, and was astounded by the changes she’s gone through in just a few months (as are we!). Finn was able to get some solid Uncle Ian time in. She often used him has a human pacifier and enjoyed being read to during her fussy periods. For me it was pure joy to share a small part of these parallel journeys, fatherhood and travel, with my brother. We got some quality time in while caring for Finlay, catching waves, sharing tales of shark encounters, and devouring heaps of local food.
Steph gave me a tattoo for my birthday this year. On our final evening in Bali, I was finaly able to fulfill the gift.
This tattoo was not a spontaneous one, but something I had been ruminating on for seven years. In 2008 my best friend Liam Finlayson died as a result of depression. He ended his own story at a time when I was struggling to continue my own. His death caused a sea-change in my life, and I feel my tale will forever be an epilogue to his. This tattoo remembers him, and it speaks to his passion for reading, writing, and language. The theme is ‘Unfinished Stories’. Like a beloved book interrupted and put down, his life leaves me wanting and wondering.
Our daughter Finlay’s pages are just begining to be filled. Hopefully, when its my turn to pass, I will leave dreaming of her adventures yet to come; another story that will be left unfinished. So, this tattoo also honors her new life and all the promise that it holds.
Also a quick thank you for all the comments and support, both on the blog and on facebook. We don’t always respond, but we always read and appreciate them! And because it is the most common feedback/request we receive… here are a few more shots of Finlay!