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20 September 2003

They predicted that a storm might blow in today. When I awoke at 2:30 a.m., it was to the sound of the wind howling. I slept fitfully for the rest of the night, always waking to the sound of the wind. Was it going to rain and ruin our chances of seeing the dolphins, the ultimate reason for this trip?

Surprisingly, when morning came, the sun came with it, and the wind had died. There was hope after all. We had breakfast and got on the road as early as possible. It's a 27 km drive to Monkey Mia.

'Mia" (pronounced "my-ah") is an Aboriginal word meaning "place." Despite what one might think, this is not "the place of monkeys." The Monkey was the name of the ship which brought surveyor Ommanney to Shark's Bay to evaluate the place with respect to fishing. The spot where Ommanney's ship docked became known as "Monkey Mia." The whole Shark Bay area became famous for both fishing, and also for pearling. (The booklet says that at one time the streets were paved with mother-of-pearl.) One of the attractions at Monkey Mia today is an excursion boat which will take you out to the old pearl farm.

But we had come for the dolphins. Sometime in the 1960s bottleneck dolphins started visiting the Bay and interacting with humans. Over the years the keepers of the park have worked this habit of the wild dolphins into a tourist attraction. Up to 25 dolphins have been known to visit. They come on their own and are fed up to 3 times a day between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. They don't feed them after 1 because they don't want them to become dependent on humans for food.

There is no real timetable--it's all up to the dolphins--and there is no way to predict which dolphins (or how many) will show up on any given day or any given time. It's the beauty of this place--the dolphins are still wild and whatever interactions they have with humans is of their own free will, much as the pelicans at Kalbarri.

When we were at Kalbarri (and at home in Perth), I loved watching the pink and gray Gallahs flying around and nesting in the trees. In our apartment complex in Kalbarri there was a caged Gallah who greeted everyone with a cheery "hello" and, as his owner told me, "wouldn't stop talking." It's a beautiful bird and it made me sad to see him cooped up in a too-small cage, while other Gallahs were flying overhead into the palm trees.

So I loved being at Monkey Mia, where the dolphins are in charge and the people only there to observe.

It was immediately apparent that the Park Service had worked this into a real money-maker. I had initially thought we would be staying at Monkey Mia, in one of the cottages just steps from the water's edge. When it was already booked and we ended up being 27 km away, I was slightly disappointed. But all along on this trip, we have had calm, quiet places to stay, balconies to enjoy the ocean views, and the chance to relax. Immediately stepping into the hustle and bustle of Monkey Mia, walking through souvenir shops, playgrounds, and crowds of people made me just as glad that we were on the other side of the peninsula.

We had missed the first feeding, so we wandered around a bit. There are pelicans here too, who seem to have permanently settled into the beach and ignore the tourists who sneak up on them for photos. I thought this guy's picture with the Australian flag was wonderfully appropriate for this whole week's trip.

We booked a 2-1/2 hour boat tour on the Aristocat, which has a glass bottom and which would take its passengers out to see the dolphins and the dugongs and other marine life and give instructional information. It sounded like fun and I booked for the 1:30 sailing, figuring we would have had a chance to see the dolphins coming in for feeding at least once before the catamaran left.

The problem was that the front the weather people had talked about was moving in. The skies were getting darker, it was getting colder and what had started out as a lovely day was beginning to look not so lovely.

Peggy went back to the car to get a jacket and I walked down to the water's edge and there, amazingly, were two dolphin fins. Mickey and her baby had come for a feed. The crowd began to gather and I began to be afraid Peggy would miss it all (but she arrived shortly after that--I didn't realize the dolphins hung around for so long).

The woman with the microphone got out into the water and began talking about the dolphins, which ultimately numbered, this time, four in all.

We just continued to snap photos. I could tell I wasn't getting good pictures, so I just put my camera away, trusting that Peggy would get something better, and she did get some amazing shots.

The crowd (by American standards this crowd would hardly be noticeable, which was one nice thing about being here!) was asked to step back out of the water and individuals were invited in to feed the dolphins. (We were not invited, but that was OK; I probably would have fallen onto one of them anyway!)

When all the fish was gone, the dolphins knew it and headed back out to sea and the crowd dispersed. We went to the cafe to get coffee and scones and review our photos. The rain, which had been threatening, moved in at this point and we watched the choppy water and saw the downpour and decided that perhaps our scheduled boat ride was ill-advised. Peggy had visions of me spending the whole trip hanging over the side of the boat.

So I was able to get a refund on the reservation and we decided to head back to the cottage in Denham. As we got on the road, the rain stopped, but by the water was still choppy so we continued on back. We tried to visit the Francois Peron park, but the sign said that it was accessible only by 4 wheel drive and even though Peggy was now getting into all this rough road driving, we decided not to chance it.

Instead, we followed a road to "Big Lagoon" (such an imaginative name) and found a deserted beach, calm, smooth water, and total peace. We got out and walked along the sand and I picked up a few shells and took a small sample of the red earth, to remember how unique this place is. It was the perfect stop and as we were walking along, Peggy happened to casually mention that we would probably be back at the cottage in time for the footy game (another semi-final Australian rules football game, leading up to next Saturday's playoffs). She had been such the perfect hostess that when I booked the cruise, she didn't even mention the two games that were scheduled to be broadcast that afternoon, but now that the cruise was off, the game was on and we immediately got back in the car.

The right team won the first game, the wrong team won the second and in between, Peggy barbequed lamb chops and sausages for dinner. I got caught up in the games and watched both (but admit to dozing off before the end of the second).

We were both exhausted at the end of the day, and asleep before 8:30 (I got up at 3:30 a.m. to write this). It was the last day of relaxing. Tomorrow we head back to Geraldton (where I'll finally be able to post these entries!) and the next day we'll either be in Cervantes to see the Pinnacles, and back to Perth on Tuesday, or head directly to Perth tomorrow, depending on the weather.

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