Sunday, December 19, 2010

To Perth We Go!

Monkey Mia was an absolute must see, according to me. It's a resort town on a peninsula further south down Australia's west coast, known the world over for the wild dolphins that come ashore every morning to be fed from the Monkey Mia Resort staff. For a mere $8 each ($2 more dollars than our 2009 guide book says) you are allowed the privileged of entrance into the resort for the day (although they won't let you use their landry facilities, we asked), including the 845am 'dolphin encounter.' If I seem a bit disheartened- it's because I was, at first. There were a million people on the beach all lined up ready to 'encounter' one of the only two dolphins who had shown up for the morning feed. Dolphins have been fed at Monkey Mia for years and years. Back in the 70's people could feed the dolphins right from the beach, whatever they wanted (which usually was bread, chips and the like), whenever they wanted (which was all day every day.) It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is a bad idea. Dolphin calves were dying because they were being ignored by their mothers, the dolphins weren't in any way living a normal dolphin life and the male dolphins were becoming increasingly aggressive. These days Monkey Mia feeds only five female dolphins. They are always the same ones and the staff has detailed knowledge about their lives. There is a maximum of three feedings a day, all before noon, and determined by the dolphins when they show up and each dolphin receives 1.5kg of the 10-12kg of fish that the dolphin will eat that day. This leaves the dolphins with the rest of the afternoon to partake in normal daily dolphin activities, like jumping through hoops and balancing beach-balls on their noses whilst swimming backwards propelled out of their waters by their tales... Just kidding. Anyways. I was SO excited to see the dolphins up-close and (fingers crossed) I would be one of the lucky ones chosen to feed a dolphin! I even donned my cozzie (Australian for bathing suit) just in case a dolphin offered me a swim. It became abundantly clear that this was not going to happen. In fact, I wasn't even going to be able to wade into the water up to my ankles (which is the entire 'encounter' part by the way). There were more people there trying to fit their fat ankles into the water on the 20ft stretch of beach then we had seen since they were giving away free $100 bills.... Even if I had pushed my way to the front of the crowd there is no way that I would be chosen to feed the dolphins. There were far too many cute, dimpeled children, bikini-clad 20-somethings and sweet looking grandmother types to choose from. Things in my dolphin fantasy weren't looking up. We ended up giving up on the 'encounter' and instead watched from the pier. It was disappointing. Just as we were in the gift shop stocking up on discounted postcards to send you, our loved ones, we caught wind that the dolphins were back for a second feeding! I rushed down to the beach and within two feet of a mother dolphin and her 1 year old calf. It was looking like this detour was living up to it's $8 entry fee. Since most people had left after the first feeding, we were 2 of only about 20 people vying for ankle room. I was passed by again to feed the dolphins. Darn. The person to the right of Jonathan was chosen though, so we were getting closer. By the third feeding at 1030am or so, there were three mother dolphins with their calfs and only about 15 people. The volunteer brought the fish bucket into the water and scanned the crowd for the first lucky dolphin feeder. 'The guy with the big red beard!' she declared. 'The guy with the big red beard' of course, was Jonathan. He turned to me and generously asked, 'Do you want to go?' My head was saying 'YES YES YES! Of course I want to go! Get out of my way 'big red beard' I have a dolphin to feed!' But, what I actually said was 'No, it's ok, you can go.' (!!!!!) Even as the words were coming out of my mouth I couldn't believe I had said them. What was I thinking? My thoughts all morning had been consumed with potential dolphin feeding scenarios. As Jonathan walked out and took the fish from the volunteer my head was screaming 'NOOO. I take it back, I want to go! Come back! Come back!' But what I did instead was dutifully photograph Jonathan feeding the dolphin (and having a meaningful, personal, once in a lifetime, human-dolphin moment). Jonathan smiled for the photos. He really couldn't care less about feeding the dolphin. This story reminds me of one my Gramma always tells. Really, its a shame that I'm not better at learning from other people's mistakes. When Gramma was a cute little young-in she was taken out for ice cream by friends of the family. When Gramma was asked if she wanted some ice cream, she, being a shy little girl, said 'No thank you.' And so, she didn't get ice cream. Of course she wanted ice cream! Everyone wants ice cream. This non-ice cream ice cream excursion all those years ago was so disappointing to a wee Gramma that she always tells us the important lesson it taught her. If you want something, and you are offered it: Take it. (And, never ever turn down ice cream). If only I had listened. 'I should have gone' I confessed to Jonathan when he was back on shore. 'Of course you should have gone!' he exclaimed. 'But I guess I should have told you my plan. I decided earlier that if I got picked I would let you go instead. I knew I was going to get picked, so I should have warned you' says my humble hubby. 'How did you KNOW you were going to get picked?!' I challenged. 'Look at me' he said, 'I have a mop of hair, a big, red bushy beard and I am wearing a long sleeved collared shirt: I stand out.' On the plus side, at least he finally admits it.

Hundreds and hundreds of kilometers down the coast we stop in the little seaside town of Kalbarri. There is a daily pelican feed down on the beach. It's free. There are five massive pelicans awaiting the arrival of their buck-o-fish when we show up. 'Who wants to feed the pelicans?' The volunteer asks. Jonathan looks at me. My hand shoots up in the air and I start waving it frantically like she has just offered a cheque for $1,000,000, and not a staunch opportunity to throw a stinky fish to a mangey bird. It's all part of my new never-turn-down-a-chance-to-feed-a-wild-animal philosophy. Since I am the only one who looks like they may have a coronary if they don't get to feed a pelican, the volunteer takes pity on me and hands me a fish. I chose the best looking pelican, aimed the fish, and was about to have my fulfilling replacement dolphin feeding experience when a stupid seagull swooped in out of left field and stole the stupid fish RIGHT out of my hand. The crowd thought this was hilarious and laughed at me. At me. Not with me, because I most certainly wasn't laughing. But still, there were several fish in the bucket waiting to be launched into the air, caught in a large beak and then gulped down into the netherworld of Pelican Stomachus. With terrifyingly accurate aim, the less-slimy-than-I-would-have-thought-it-would-be, yet still scaly projectile flew up then down right on target and plunked right into the pelicans elastic-like beak. Though the pelican feed was satisfying, I still had some lingering annoyance about giving up the opportunity to feed flipper.

I was so annoyed that we decided to leave the country. We drove down a dusty dirt road for 30km or so to the border of 'Australia's second largest country.' There were tumbleweeds as big as the van rolling across our path as we made our way through the desert/farm land. Not often can land can be a desert and farmland at the same time. We did not pass a single soul all the way to the isolated border. Are you thinking I've been hit over the head one too many times with a surfboard? So was the Australian government, I reckon, when Leonard (now self crowned Prince Leonard) declared his 75 sq km wheat farm 'Hutt River' an independent principality. The story goes something like this. In 1969 the Western Australia government passed new legislation regarding wheat farming that left HRH Leonard and Princess Shirley feeling very ripped off. When their protests were to no avail, Leonard took matters into his own hands, and seceded from Australia. It sounds as though it has been a fight to maintain his kingdom's sovereignty ever since. We arrived and HRH himself greeted us and generously offered to take us around and show off his 'crown jewels.' Prince Leonard and his wife, Princess Shirley have a huge collection of memorabila from the last 40 years, as well as gift, letters and momentos from royalty around the globe. You can purchase Hutt River currency, postcards, pins and flags. They have their own government building, post office, church and giftshop. Its like a typical treasure of odds and ends that any grandparent may have on display around their house, only the items are, signed by the Chinese president, for example. And, there's a campsite, if you are so inclined to spend the night next door to a royal. After a thorough check of our passports under an ultraviolet light, the Prince stamped our entry and exit into his country. Since I had promised my mom a postcard from every country, I dutifully purchased a fitting postcard of Princess Shirley for Princess Penny and posted it from Hutt River. His Royal Highness himself even signed it! I had been reluctant when Jonathan wanted to venture in on the unsealed road and cross the border, but in the end, I am so happy that we spent the afternoon in Hutt River with Prince Leonard. I mean, how many times do you get a private tour by a real live Royal. Prince Leonard presides over his 24 citizens with dignity and pride. With a plethora of children, grandchildren and now 28 great-grand children, it appears as though the Principality will live on for many many years without worrying about running out of heirs.

Back in Australia proper, we stopped in the charming city of Geraldton, which also happens to be Jacqui's (from Darwin) hometown. We stopped in at the Western Australia museum which had great displays about shipwrecks off the coast, and all the murder, mutiny and lost treasure surrounding them. We then made what was meant to be a quick peak at the old jail house, whose cells have since been turned into craft stalls. It was one of the longest running gouls in Western Australia and framed stories along the cement walls provided interesting insights to the happenings of a jailhouse in the 1800-1900s. One of the cell turned craft stalls was run by woodsman, Dave. Dave was a friendly stout Aussie with grey hair and a beard that started under his chin. He had a contagious, and a wealth of knowledge of native Jarrah wood, which he shared with us for over an hour. We watched the jeep-fulls of shirtless Aussie surfer-dudes carelessly cruise by the white sandy town beach while eating delicious homemade ice cream and suddenly it was time to move on. Perth was looming and we wanted to make a quick stop to see the Pinnacles Desert before then...

Downtown Perth left me humming 'Silver Bells.' The streets were packed with the hustle and bustle of a holiday season. 'Dressed in Holiday style' had a slightly different look however, in the 30 degree weather. All of Perth's beautiful women were immaculately dressed in flowing floral dresses, or sleek business-like knee length frocks. Their hair remained remarkably frizz free and polished despite the heat. It was all quite impressive. As we were people -watching (or gawking) from a bench, munching on our typical supermarket-style lunch one of Perth's slightly less appealing characters ambled up. His hat read 'Fifty is Nifty' and rested on a nest of bushy grey hair. He eyed our picnic of a pre-made salad and yougurt. He smiled showing off his 6 crooked yellow teeth. 'Are you vegetarian?' he asked. 'Yes,' replied Jonathan, 'are you?' 'Half and half,' he told us. He was a half and half vegetarian. Interesting concept. We stopped at a bakery to pick up a couple rolls for our plane ride the next day. There was an interesting roll called 'tiger fibre roll.' 'What is that tiger fibre bread?' I asked the young blonde girl behind the counter. She stopped and looked at me with wide eyes for a moment like she didn't quite understand the complexity of the question. But she pulled through. 'Ummm, it's like, ummmmmmm like bread, with like, umm, like, umm, like, umm, like, umm, like fibre?' she asked me. 'Ooook...' I answered. Not quite sure how I would have come to know the answer, but it was comforting to know that valley-girls exist virtually in clone the world over.

The highlight of our final days in Australia, however, was meeting up with Jacqui (the other Jacqui of Jacqui and Jacqui). She had generously offered for us to stay in the spare room at her beautiful house and we were really looking forward to catching up on the last four years or so. Jacqui is friendly, generous, cute and funny. She had a wonderful idea of a picnic in Kings Park, a large, green, tree filled park on a hill overlooking the city of Perth. We stopped for picnic fixings and were on our way up. We strolled around the paved path admiring the great views of the city below. We ate our delicious deli fixings on a proper picnic blanket and watched as the last of the sun's golden hues drained from the sky. We chatted and chatted and chatted. Jacqui has so many interesting stories. She has travelled quite extensively and recently to China for the 2008 Olympics. Her pictures were fantastic and her adventures have us looking forward to China even more so. The next morning Jacqui even got up and ready extra early just to drive us to the airport for our flight to Bali! It was so so nice, and we certainly appreciated it. Again we are overwhelmed with how lucky we are in friendship.

Dolphin Fact: Female dolphins get along quite well and hang out in pods often. Once a female is old enough to reproduce, she is pretty much in a constant cycle of being pregnant, raising her calf alone for the next three years, and then getting pregnant and doing it all over again. They have babies throughout their entire lives. No menapause for them. Males, on the other hand, mostly hang out with other male buddies, doing boy things and chasing the girls around. After they have done their part to impregnate the female, they simply swim back off to their 'bro-mance' of staying up late, drinking and playing cards. Rough life, guys.

ps. The black dog in the photo above is one of many furry friends in Jonathan's fan club. As usual. We were walking along the beach and Rover spotted Jonathan and made a b-line for him, rubbing up against him and thumping his back leg on the ground when Jonathan scratched him behind the ears. He went off and returned with a gift for the newest member of his pack: a dead, dried up baby ocean sunfish that he kept ramming into Jonathan's legs. How nice of him! And Jonathan didn't even appreciate the offering!


Mom and Dad Mooney said...

It looks like Australia was quite an adventure, so many new encounters with nature. We're glad Jonathan decided to go from shark encounters to dolphin encounters, a much safer species to be in the water with. Meeting Royalty is quite an honor that most people can not put on their resume. We will be thinking about you both over the Holidays. Love and kisses. Take care and be safe.

Erica said...

First of all, I cant believe you gave up the chance to feed the freaking dolphin!! I hope jon knows he has the greatest wife EVER bc honestly I probably would have knocked over children to get to do it. Second, the lake. is PINK! amazing. third, please take plenty of pictures in Bali. fourth, and most u :) xoxo. miss you and be safe. keep writing I love the blog sooo much


Anonymous said...

Another wonderful instalment to read.
I am learning SO much about Australia that I never knew - thank you!
We got your lovely card today with your Christmas greetings - perfect timing.Ali is still hanging on and we'll let you know when there's any news.
Enjoy Christmas in Bali - we'll be thinking of you.
Love A Eileen and U Trevor

Sarah said...

Attack of the red beards! It'll never do you wrong. I will be letting know about this one, he'll be oh so proud Jon.