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Sharing a rat’s nest – part 2*

(Part 1)

The yabby must have felt the noose and was starting a little dance to the left and right.  David followed the creature knowing that only his need for oxygen would shorten this battle. He backed it into a shallow side of a crack and placed one hand in their path while gently nudging it over with the loop. Then he grabbed it as it run right into his waiting hand. David pushed himself of the ground needing to get up now quickly to catch his breath.

The yabby was not impressed to be pulled out of his cave and splashed around on the surface. David held the lobster tight thankful for his thick gloves and pushed it through the slots of the lid into the mash bag. “A nice catch,” David thought looking at the yabby’s size. He’d be allowed to catch five more, but he’d probably only have the strength for two or three more dives today.

With his bag full David had returning to shore satisfied and tired. He’d found four more yabbies, but could only get three of them noosed and had to let go of the last one. The pain in his lungs had forced him to turn around and have a rest at the beach. The crustacean’s claws were scratching on the inside of the bucket. David had filled it with a bit of water and tied it back onto his penny-rack.

With the midday sun burning down it was time to find some shade. Mostly brushwood and thornbushes were covering the island that provided no shelter from the sun at all. There was one place, apart from the little settlement where the ferries landed, where David knew he’d find cover and have his lunch. That’s where he headed next. Squeaking up the hills past the lighthouse David was looking forward to the quick descend on the other side that would give him a cool breeze.

Here at the bottom of the lighthouse were a few remaining trees. David climbed off his bike and carefully leaned it against one of the trees; his cargo was too precious to let the bike tip. Sitting down he was already awaited by three little hungry fellows that hopped towards him. These little marsupials, called quokka, were native to the island and David knew they were expecting him to drop one or two crumbs of his sandwich.

Another group was stopping to find shelter under the trees.  They looked terribly overheated and struggled to climb off their bicycles. It wasn’t until one of them almost stumbled over one of the quokkas that they noticed the creatures. “Oh what’s that! It looks like a giant rat,” one of them said. Eyes turned to David who was eating his sandwich and had tried to ignore the quokkas and tourists alike. “They’re called quokka,” David said. “When a Dutch fleet landed here during the seventeenth century and found these marsupials the Dutch also mistook them for rats,” David said shooing a curious quokka away that was sniffing out his sandwich. “The Dutch then gave this island the name ‘rat’s nest’ and obviously people cottoned onto it and still call this place Rottnest Island.” David’s explanation was taken in with nodding and approval, but he had enough of sharing the shade and continued his trip back to the ferry.

He passed the salt lakes that were the last reminder of the island’s agrarian history where once salt was harvested and shipped to the mainland. Back at the settlement’s shops were now filled with tourists trying to find a place to rest and eat. On the way home on the ferry, with his bucket of yabbies between his legs and his hands folded in his lap, David already imagined how he’d cook the brown creatures at home, peel off their buck tails and dunk them into a nice tartar sauce.

*this story is a figment of my imagination

For your own visit of Rottnest Island:

Sharing a rat’s nest – part 1*

The early morning sun was already hot. At a quarter to seven on a Saturday David was impressed with the length of the queue to the ticket counter at the marina. “Ah yes,” he thought, “it’s January, which means school holidays are still on.” It explained the crowd wanting to get on to the boat.  Waiting people chattered excited about their journey.

With the ticket in his pocket David pushed his bicycle down the pontoon. Another queue had already gathered to get onto the boat. David used the time to check that the long metal rod was securely taped to the bike’s frame and made sure the plastic bucket was still tightly attached to his penny-rack. When the ship’s crew was lifting his bike to the front of the boat, where all of the passengers’ gear like rowing boats and strollers were stored for the journey, David waited to board until he could see his old, rusty bicycle was placed safely with the others.

Now that the boat was almost ready to leave the chatter and giggles rose louder. A group of young girls were sitting a few rows in front of David. He had closed his eyes, his hands were placed in his lap and he listened to the girl’s conversation. With his thumb and middle finger he inspected his palm and followed the wrinkles and folds.

The girls must have been German; he didn’t understand a word they were saying. No doubt the island was a popular tourist destination. David doubted the group would visit the island to find out about the internment camp were German and Austrian suspected enemy aliens were held during World War I. On the other hand the girls could be staying overnight at one of the hostels that once served as prisons for Aboriginal people; perhaps this way they’d learn a little bit about the island’s sad history.

David’s musings were interrupted by the roaring of the ship’s engine. Once it had started the laughter and talk was drowned out by the sound and David felt how the ship picked up speed that pushed him back into the seat. He liked this part of the journey when people finally accepted that it was too noisy to hold a conversation and kept quiet instead.

45 minutes went by quickly. David’s bicycle had already been brought down from the ship’s bow when he had disembarked. He could just swing himself onto his saddle and start the second leg of his journey. With a rhythmic returning squeak of his bike he rode past the cafe, through the settlement, down the street, left at the aerodrome, crossing the train tracks and further down towards the coastline.

He was following this path for a little while. It meandered along the coast up and down the hills and he could see the skyline of the city twinkling across the sea. The water’s turquoise was inviting, but David knew that this wasn’t a good spot. His first stop would be at a little beach he’d reach in another few more minutes.

Other travellers who had just rented their bicycles from the shop were rushing past him yelling excitedly at the sight of the green-blue sea. By the time David got to the place he had wanted to stop people were already splish-splashing around, trying on their snorkelling gear and getting the hang of floating in the water. While he looked down to decide whether this was a worthwhile stop a bus pulled up behind him. More people were spilling out and made their way across the hot sand. David had forgotten the bus that was circling the island dropping off and picking up those travellers that couldn’t ride. These two means of travelling – either bus or bicycle – were the only way of getting around here.

With a sigh of frustration David pushed himself off and squeaked further along the coastal way. At least this hadn’t been his favourite spot he thought while paddling. The other bay he liked and where he was usually successful was on the north-eastern side of the island. He used to be able to get there quickly, but now it’ll take him a little while longer. He was hoping by the time he’d reach the bay the wind had already turned in his favour too.

David was lucky. When he got off his bike and locked it the Fremantle Doctor, the wind coming from the south-west, was already blowing. The bay was now nicely protected with calm and quiet water. This is how he liked it. He took the long rod and bucket off his bike and climbed down the sandy hot path to the beach.

Carefully he placed the items of his backpack in front of him. He wanted to make sure he didn’t forget anything. There was nothing worse to be out there and having to come back for something he’d left at shore – it’s happened a few times already and it had displeased him immensely. A pair of gloves, a weight belt, a mash bag with fitting plastic lid into which David had cut two cross slots, a rope with a weight and a flag attached at either side of it, goggles, fins, snorkel and a knife.

The thick diving top he pulled over his head had a little hood attached. The extra layer of clothing was making David feel even hotter, but he took his time to prepare. For now, he tucked the gloves under the diving belt he had tied around his waist. The thick material of the gloves would only hinder him right now. The knife was attached to a lanyard which he tied around his left arm while wading into the crisp water. He pulled on his fins and put his snorkel gear on. Then he clipped the mash bag and rod to the rope, which he’d anker with the weight safely somewhere nearby. The flag was supposed to indicate passing boats and jet-skies that he was snorkelling here. One couldn’t be careful enough these days.

Preparations were complete. David put on his gloves, pulled his goggles down and started to float in the water checking his weight belt was still giving him enough buoyancy on the surface, but was also heavy enough so that he could glide down to the bottom of the sea. He unclipped the rod from the mash bag and made his way along the rocky outlets of the bay.

Big fish were eyeing him and swished past. Fishing had never really tempted David. He liked the water too much and staring at the surface all day had felt like torture to him. Looking for yabbies meant he could swim and dive as long as he wanted and become one with the cool turquoise he loved so much.  The rocky surface of the reef below him with its crevices and folds felt so familiar. Only a few metres ahead was a limestone ledge just off the sand that David wanted to check first. The excitement was tingling in his fingers. He inhaled deeply, dove down and checked the ledge. Nothing. David wasn’t too disappointed.  From mid-December onwards lobsters usually moved out into deeper water and stayed there until late February early March.

There were a few more favourite ledges and holes David wanted to check. In the second spot he found a big brown yabby hiding in a whole, his long feelers stretched out, his eyes twinkling like white stars were giving him away. David’s excitement rose. Back at the surface David took a few deep breaths and returned down to the bottom of the sea. He stayed calm watching the yabby closely while he pointed the long rod out to him. The end facing the lobster had a plastic noose, which David could open or tighten from his end of the rod. Right now he was widening it and digging it into the sand to slip it under the crustacean without touching the feelers and alarm the creature.

So far so good. This was a crucial moment. David knew he’d have to adapt his strategy following the lobster’s movements. Sometimes they’d run towards him and over his head, other times they just sit tight and get looped in, but not often. He had a little bit more breath left to find out what would happen.

*a figment of my imagination, here part 2.

John and Alex or why you can forget about sharks

The best part about meeting people on their travels is they remind me of everything that at one stage I have also found new, different and exciting. So there we were, five people crouched on a blanket for a pick-nick in the midst of Perth’s Kings Park in the late afternoon. The sun was slowly descending and another hot summer day coming to an end.

While we chopped veggies and fried meat patties and sausages on the bbq K. and J., two friends of a friend that have freshly hopped off the plane from Europe, strolled around watching the changes of light and their reflections on Perth’s skyline.

While sipping wine and chatting along two completely other friends were watching us. Intently. Every move. I’m pretty sure they even counted our pieces of meat, licking their lips. Only, they didn’t actually have lips…

I’m sure these two fellows must have been brothers I could see it from the way they had mischief written all over the innocent looking little faces. I’m not prone to prejudice but here I was knowing it’ll only be a matter of time when the two thieves wouldn’t be able to resist their urge…

Anyway, back to us on the blanket munching away listening to K. and J. sharing their first impressions of the city and people. Suddenly all I remember is feeling immersed in fluttering feathers around my head. A scream escaped my mouth (that’s just me, I like a good scream even if I have no clue what’s actually happening) and I looked around to find K. staring at us with shock and horror saying flabbergasted: “that bird just landed on my plate and crashed into my face. What sort of bird was that?”

Yes, that my friend was a very hungry Kookaburra, who, as predicted, couldn’t resist the urge to steal from your plate. What do you expect from birds that first thing in the morning have a good chuckle? Some even say their naughty laughter sounds like a kafuffle amongst apes.

This cocky fellow had swooped down from its lamp-post where it had sat before and attacked K.’s plate. Because K. was holding the plate so close to her face the bird unfortunately collided with her face. Also very unfortunate was the length and sharpness of its beak, which left a slightly painful scratch on K’s upper lip, which swell up lightly within seconds.

It was quite a clumsy attack. Maybe he wasn’t after the meat and this is what the two Kookaburras actually said and thought.

John: “Look at these people they have meat. And sausages, what do you think, Alex?”

Alex: “Nah, I don’t like pork. What about those guys over there on the blanket? Yummy, they’re having meat patties!”

John: “Where?”

Alex: “There, to the right. The ones with the two jet lagged girls.”

John: “Oh my God!”

Alex: “What?”

John hyperventilating and almost falling of the lamp-post.

Alex: “John, what’s wrong with you?”

John: “I think,…”

Alex; “Yes?”

John: “I’m falling..”

Alex: “What?! You’re a bird you can’t fall stupid!”

John: “…in love.”

Alex: “Are you mad?”

John: “I must talk to her.”

Alex: “Ugh. She doesn’t even speak Kookaburrian, you idiot.”

John: “Oh yes, true. I must do something, she is so pretty….”

Alex: “John, nooooo! What are you…”

Before Alex can reason with him John heads towards K. full speed, comes to a halt just before her face and quickly returns to puzzled Alex.

Alex: “What was that?! You didn’t even get her meat, what the hell went into you?”

John giggles: “Mhhhh, I stole something much better. I kissed her soft beautiful lips and quickly flew away before she could say anything…”

Alex sighs and rolls his eyes: “You’re such an embarrassment.”

This is just another proof why you don’t have to worry about being attacked by a shark. There’s just so much other wildlife here that’s just waiting to acquaint themselves with you…

Where the real things are

Wandering through shopping centres in the lead-up to Christmas is inevitable – at least for me. The other day I was browsing through the TV, Hi Fi, computer and other gadget section of a major retail outlet and couldn’t help but stop and look at the latest 3D Television.

While I was following the silent cartoon on the screen – slightly bent forward and over-stretching the wire that was attached to my hideous plastic 3D glasses that were meant to prevent theft but were more inhibiting than anything  – something interesting happened.

The Mickey Mouse story changed to an underwater documentary in which people swam with a majestic 2 metre long grey fish that was dotted on it’s back with white spots: a whale shark!

The reason I instantly recognised that it was a whale shark is because only a few months ago Thorsten and I did the exact same thing I was just watching on tele in 3D.

I was captivated. Elegantly and gently the shark was swimming through the clear blue of the sea. It was shown from all angles giving a perfect view of its white belly, the group of pilot fish that was swimming underneath it, the white dots on its back. Beautiful.

While other shoppers bumped into me and the wire kept pulling on my glasses, the crystal clear 3D picture of the shark in front me changed. No, it was me that changed. Suddenly I felt like saying to the uninterested fellow shoppers: “But wait, when you swim with whale sharks the water isn’t actually that clear, it’s a bit murky when you jump in. Although you seem to see little at first you know, because you were told on the boat, you have to keep swimming towards the shark and that’s what you do.”

“Then,  you look up and suddenly there, right in front of you, underneath the surface of the water it is. It comes right towards you with its big wide mouth open and closing, sucking in water. And that’s when you realise quick! I’ve got to get out of its way! In another split second you notice how fast this shark actually swims towards you and how much leg work it is to keep up with it so it doesn’t just pass you leaving you alone in the murky blue again.

Standing there in the gadget department I remembered how seasick, but good-humoured everyone got on board of the little boat that day because the water was quite choppy. I remembered how amazing the swims were and how exhausted and happy I felt. I remembered Thorsten being exhilarated about the experience and our agreement that we’ll do this again next time we get to Exmouth.

What can I say, it made my question of the perfect Christmas gift a whole lot easier – a 3D Television or a trip to where the real things are…

The Sound of the Wilderness

Thank you for enduring my little soapbox moment about the environment last week (I hope you’ve joined the petition yet, just kidding…have you? One more chance!). I’ve really fallen in love with the Kimberley coastline and wanted to share a little anecdote with you about this place.

Bush camping north of Broome is magical. Camping sites are scarce and spot the coastline in selected areas. Each site is nestled on top of the cliff featuring undistracted views of the ocean including breaching whales and sunsets. Neighbours are out of earshot, in fact, all you can hear is the gentle wind from the sea carrying the scent of sea salt.

This is probably why the strange sounds I heard on our first night startled me. It wasn’t a loud noise, just a little clinking as if someone was throwing tiny pebbles onto the rocks of the cliff. Once the sun had set little light was supporting my investigation, but the sound got more and more frequent.

We finally worked out that our neighbours weren’t the perpetrators, but the sound was caused by billions (slight exaggeration here) of hermit crabs that were climbing up the cliff to hide and feed in the protection of the grass for the night. Every now and then a crab would fall down a steep side of the rock it was trying to climb up on or hit another stone with the shell on its back causing the clinking noise.

Unfortunately I couldn’t capture the nightly spectacle that erased all human footprints and only left the little marks of hermit crab feed in the sand. I did find a volunteer during daylight to show how terribly cute these little crabs are.

Mud crabbing is such a dirty business

Of course, you’d think it is a dirty business. With most things in life the extend of something so obvious only becomes even more apparent when you’ve tried it yourself. Mud crabbing is a really good example.

I have another – let’s call it weakness. In addition to the occasional inability of making obvious connections I also find the notion of getting my own food (non supermarket based) very romantic. In fact, we bought fishing gear at the beginning of our trip with the best intention of picking it up as a new hobby. Unfortunately, when I plan the practical process that has to occur between standing on the beach waiting for fish to bite and sitting down for dinner I’m turning into a wuss. Hence the fishing gear had remained untouched until we finally sold it in Darwin.

When I saw “Mud crabbing” offered as an afternoon activity at Eco Beach, south of Broome, I wanted to give it a try, not fully realising two things: searching for mudcrabs would include wading through mud (duh!) and then arranging their exodus too (sniff!).

Kurt, the mud crabbing and fishing expert, lead our small group consisting of three couples around Jack’s Creek at low tide, picking out the good spots to look along the river bank. Armed with a 3 metre long metal rod and a trained eye for good sized wholes it didn’t take long until he poked and prodded the rod into wholes listening for the sound of metal hitting the shell of potential prey.

Kurt explained that mud crabs can also be dug out, but it’ll mean the whole would be destroyed and next time he’d have to go searching for new places. With his metal rod technique however he’d be able to hook the rod behind the crab, pull it out and leave the crab’s home intact so that a new tenant can move in. Next time he could then check the same wholes and hope for the best.

After a few hours of getting sucked into stinky mud close to loosing my balance a couple of times and squeezing through thick, prickly mangrove forests I understood why it’s nice to have regular wholes to check and not spend hours walking around trying to find new ones.

Fortunately, we got lucky three times and each couple got one crab, which the chef at Eco Beach cooked for us. I did feel sorry for all of them, but the dirty, exhausting business of the afternoon made me hungry! Mud crabs are very scrumptious food and I’m still grateful that I could skip the step of preparing the crab myself…

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