Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Last Days of Perth and a Road Trip to Monkey Mia

(the little outburt of land in the very top left hand corner is Monkey Mia, Frankland is somewhere in the unidentified land in the very south, above Denmark, below Kojonup, to the left of the Y in the white road.)

 Right now I’m on the bus to the Great Southern region of Australia. A four hour ride to my next step and all I can think about is the whirlwind of the last few days. I guess I have absolutely no idea what to expect on this next adventure so it’s easier for me to think about what has happened and what has led me here. Tuesday, Valentines Day, was a day to celebrate getting a WWOOFing opportunity and to play bingo at the Claremont Hotel. Wednesday was filled with errands and departure preparations and then some more-celebratory beers and oysters in Fremantle. Thursday was more organizing and packing. Then that night there was Frankland Estate’s annual Riesling release event at Must Wine Bar in Perth. The event was quite busy and I started talking with a German couple who had been living in Perth for years and had actually been down to Frankland Estate.  The chatty wife was very opinionated about her Riesling, refilling her glass frequently so I learned a bit about the wines from them. There were three different Rieslings from Frankland Estate, from different vineyards on their property, which resulted in all three of them tasting completely different. One was quite light and easy to drink, the next was a bit more complex with fruitier notes while the third was much sweeter and had a fuller texture like most people would associate with a Riesling. There was also a French Riesling from 2001 that was reminiscent of petroleum – depending on your taste is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s kinda funny like the wine wheel describing wet  cardboard: who actually knows what this taste likes….(!) Apparently that is a sign of an aged wine and definitely an acquired taste. I introduced myself to Hunter, one of the winemakers who was the son of the family and then met Brian, the husband of the woman/brother-in-law I had been emailing with. I also met Felix, the German guy who was also working at the winery with me. He is studying wine and this work is part of a three month internship. He has worked on vineyards before and is actually fully studying wine, not just WWOOFing so I think, and hope, that I will learn a lot from him. They were all incredibly enthusiastic and extremely friendly. It really eased a bit of my hesitations and I actually left the bar really excited about the new opportunity I had ahead of me to work with these guys.

I had plans to meet up with my first “friend” – the Irish guy who worked down by the Swan Bells. Since meeting him that first day, I had gone back a couple times while in Perth just to chat and we finally exchanged numbers. We met at the Cure ("come here for your hangover cure") where he was out with his friends. It’s funny in Australia – the Irish bars are only filled with Irish people. And it doesn’t matter if it’s 2:30 in the afternoon on a Monday or a Saturday night. I don’t know if it’s because Irish peple just like to drink together. Pajo, let’s call him, calls Irish people sheep: they all flock together. He thinks that they give themselves a bad name to the Australians because they say there is no work in Ireland, making the place sound horrible and poor, but Pajo, his roommate and his girlfriend, and other people he knows actually left their jobs to come to Australia so it’s not like there’s nothing there for them. But anyways, there we were, him from Dublin and me “just moved here from Donegal,” hanging out in the Irish bar like all the other baa-ing sheep. We left though to go to the Brass Monkey – a pretty well known beer bar in Northbridge. They next day, with nothing better to do, we continued our joke-filled tour of Northbridge. As my first friend in Australia, I had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs on my last days. 

Two sausages are frying in a pan. One sausage says to the other, gee it's awfully hot in here. The other sausage responds, AAHHH A TALKING SAUSAGE!
(this joke also works with muffins in an oven)

Saturday morning, JD and I left really early for our road trip up north.  We were driving over 800 kilometers north to Monkey Mia in an attempt to swim with the dolphins as it was one of the things on the “list” to do in Australia. JD kept thanking me for the trip, but I swear it was his idea to go there. I had read somewhere that it was only about 6 hours, not 8 or 10…Even with speeding (the speed limit is 110  on the highways) it took us about 8 and a half hours. JD drove for the first couple of hours out of the city and then I drove for about 5 until I uncomfortably couldn’t drive anymore. Driving north out of Perth, the towns got smaller and more hick-ish with great distances of cattle farms and grain fields in between. At times it appeared very “outback-ish” but we were nowhere close to what the Outback actually is like. After we passed Geraldton, the empty expanse of land really exposed itself. The red clay soil lined the sides of the road and on either side of the road, dry prickly low bushes covered the land. My eyes of course were peeled for kangaroo’s, always, but only a few lying on the side of the road could be seen, drying out and half eaten.  You're welcome for the description. 
We drove through an area called Wildflower County that apparently is just blooming with colorful wildflowers between July and November. I can only imagine how impressive it must be. We drove on and on, as the names on the road signs slowly were crossed off as we passed them, overtaking massively intimidating road trains and speeding as fast as the little rental Toyota Corola could handle and bear it’s "high performance vehicle ability" until only Denham and Monkey Mia were left.  We entered Shark Bay, Western Australia’s first World Heritage area granted in 1991 for matching four natural criteria: it’s stromatolites, seagrass beds, extraordinary scenery, and fauna: 26 mammal species, 13 reptiles threatened to extinction, 3 types of rare birds, 12% of the world’s dugangas, and a large loggerhead turtle rockeries.* 

*According to Scoop Mag (the same one I think that told me it was only 6 hours away).

As we came over some of the hills, the dry land cleared away to absolutely breathtaking aquamarine water and crisp white sand lining the coast. It was so pristine, so empty, you could really understand the appreciation for the World Heritage protection of the area. 
Signs for people crossing were everywhere, but where were these people coming from, and where were they going?

Denham was a quiet sleepy town on the water with a couple hotels and boats docked in the water. We drove on though, for another 24 kilometers to Monkey Mia. It had a cooler sounding name and we only do the cool things. Monkey Mia, is basically a little resort community. There is the Monkey Mia Resort which has villas, camping site, hostel accomodations, and caravans. There is a small pool and hot tub, tennis courts, games to rent, a bar and a restaurant, beach access and of course, the opportunity to feed dolphins. Monkey Mia is the only place in Australia where wild dolphins will come up to the shore to bed fed daily, rather than seasonally. Except for Sunday, Februrary 19th. That was not one of the “daily” days. Apparently they will come to shore between 7:30 and noon, but on this particularly day, when we were there, there was a warm current filled with fish so the dolphins were out to sea and didn’t need to come to shore to be fed. They seem to be smart animals, habitual animals, so they know to come back if they want to but since Monkey Mia is part of the World Heritage area, they do not encourage the tourism of the site into making the dolphins circus animals. I liked that and commented on how easily you could see the place bening like a Club Med with daily activities like water yoga and kids camp but it was more of a relaxation spot for travelers – a little out of the way, but definitely a worthwhile reward.

 the view from our beach side hotel room.
the beach.
 The water was incredibly warm and shallow and clear. Monkey Mia is in a little hamlet so there were no waves, although the current was quite strong. The sea floor was covered with different types of shells and you could see little fish swimming around you. JD thought he felt a jellyfish in the water, saw a turtle, and a long water snake while snorkeling. Oh and apparently there were sharks in the water, but they were well fed so they didn’t bother with the humans – good to know!
Is that water deep or are you just really short? OMG YOU'RE SO TALL!
 But I don't wanna get out. 
 We had veggie burgers and salt and pepper squid for dinner then played pool with the greatest comeback the Black Widower ever saw and defensive fooseball. I lost both, even with knowing JD was trying to play down his coughmadcough skills. Some beer, white wine, and two tequila shots later, we went to the beach and laid down to stare at the stars.
The sky was absolutely stunning. I have never seen anything like it. And I can't even describe it to you to give it justice. From lying on the sand, looking out onto the sea’s horizon, there were stars just inches above the horizon - I had never seen them expand so far. They stretched all the way over us and behind us as far as we could see, not a cloud in sight - that thing that looks like a cloud, oh, that's just a galaxy, clearly visible to us right now. The Milky Way wrapped around the middle of the sky, directly above us, laying a belt of twinkly clusters of stars amongst the brighter ones. JD was soon snoring*, but I could’ve just stared out upon that sky for the entire night. The clarity of it’s expanse was really was unbelievable. The area around us, in the middle of nowhere of the World Heritage site, was so pure, so clear of pollution, the sky just shone.

*details like these are not only funny, but definitely part of the story and experience. 
 The next morning, a dip in the sea and then we waited by the jetty for the dolphins to arrive. The jetty was full of people standing, then sitting, then dispersed onto other day activities with the dolphin's no show ("they are definitely going to get fired"). Everyone had their eyes peeled from the shore to the horizion, as people pointed at every bird that swooped and fish that jumped making a splash, with the sun sparkling upon the little wave breaks, but none of these were dolphins.

We were two for two: no peguins on Penguin Island, no dolphins at Monkey Mia.

There were howerever a flock of befuddled emu’s wandering around, sometimes chasing each other, sometimes going up and pecking at the grass in front of sun bathers. At first they were a touristy novelty of intrigue and after less than 24 hours they were almost annoying and in the way with their jutting beaks and huge feet. 

“Hey guys, how’s it going, whatcha doing, hey guys, wait up”
….picture Will Ferrell in A Night at the Roxbury….as an emu.

It really was beautiful. We had planned on leaving at 12 and ended up leaving at 2 – 1 because the restaurant for lunch didn’t open until noon, 2 because it was way too hard to leave the sun and views for another 8/5 hour ride and 3 because we couldn’t leave without having a pina colada.

Back in the car, back to speeding and testing the car’s limits in the middle of nowhwere, back to passing the caravans of packpackers, pack to passing the tremendous road trains, back to driving until you're numb and stuck to the seat, back to chugging sugar-free Red Bulls and eating chips until your stomach hurts, back to the shuffle dance party of the iPod, and back to the not-so-clear-aired sky of the city.
So now, after that whirlwind, I am sitting on the bus not really sure where I’m going or what to expect. I am not nervous, I don’t really feel anything to be honest. Just sort of going with it. It’s like, it’s going to happen, there’s nothing you can do about it, and just let what happens happen. There’s no point in fretting, everything works out the way it is supposed to and maybe I have a good feeling about it. I am not scratching or pulling at my hair – that is a good sign. I suppose it helps that I met three of the people I will be working with and Elizabeth seems nice on email. I think if anything, I am nervous about what I have to offer. Sure my letter was heartfelt and personal and passionate and I should have a lot of knowledge from UNISG and the amount of wine I've drunk but I don’t know if I actually have the tasting ability to really know what I’m talking about nor do I have the slightest clue about actual wine making. I am hoping to be trained and learn about the production process. I guess I’m really not worried because I have no  obligations here. I don’t have to stay if I don’t like it. It will be nice to work during the morning, to have a routine, and then if I want to work in the afternoon I will be paid for it. Felix the German guy said that during vintage there is always a lot of work going on but there is also a car so if I want to use that and explore the area I can do that too. Valley of the Giants, Walpole, Denmark, Albany, 40 wineries in the region, Mt Barker, Australia's (or the world's?) oldest mountain range, a couple national parks, Australia's whitest beaches in Esperance, also a salt lake, isolation, remoteness, learning the in's and out's of the life of a winery, tasting pure grape juice, unpolluted air to stare at the stars....seriously, what is there to not look forward to?! 


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