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Up early to catch the ferry to Rottnest; allowed myself much extra time to walk around town in the early morning, when the sun is up but traffic is not. A lot of the handsome old buildings in the former shipping quarter have been taken over by a local institution, Notre Dame University. Labs and offices are in old hotels (meaning, pubs), including the TERMINUS HOTEL. The exteriors are preserved; the insides appear gutted and fully "modernized". Indeed the Pakenham Street hostel A left is labeled "VICTORIA COFFEE PALACE." Wasted on a youth hostel, that.

The ferry was crowded with day trippers, but there were some families going over for longer. As there are few shops on the island, they bring groceries with them. A steel-mesh wheeled freight container with baggage and plastic boxes was lifted onto the ferry (a small catamaran) with the ferry's little crane. Very cute. Bikes ride at the front of the ferry and are handed up at the pier.

Rottnest is a pile of limestoney-looking rock weathering to pale sand, a few trees in sheltered spots, marooned around 7,000-10,000 years ago by rising postglacial seas. If you look at overhead photos, you can trace the peninsula by which the locals could then stroll out there.

At the island, learned that there would be no snorkel boat outings today (too much swell, I think, from the ride over) and bought fins. My dry, aka splash-proof, snorkel was an object of awe and marvel to the staff at the dive shop; they hadn't seen one before and thought it brilliant. The snorkel has a plastic valve assembly---no rubber, nothing to dry or crack---at the top, which shuts down when it hits water or when water (waves) hit it. No more mouthfuls of seawater! Then I rented a battered bike with a basket and rack, borrowed a dead inner tube to tie fins to the rack, and loaded all gear and myself. And off to ride around the island.

Just outside town is a sign:

No drinking water outside
Cyclists keep left
Do not feed quokkas.
Beware of venomous snakes.

There are no cars on the island; a shuttlebus runs around the loop, there are a couple of ranger and service trucks, and everything else is on bikes. Exceptionally pleasant riding!

I stopped twice for swimming/snorkeling; the fish weren't spectacular, but they are different from the Pacific and Caribbean fish I have met before, though similar shapes and forms were there, evolved for similar reasons (e.g., dark stripes on pale fish sides). I am pretty sure some of them were species of parrot fish. The little bays of Rottnest are sand-floored, but they have healthy eelgrass lawns across their bottoms, interrupted by chunks of what looks like pale old tuff or pumice (porous) but which is probably old limestone through which water percolated, making holes. There are craggy, shadowy overhangs and caves for fish to hide and coral for them to graze on, and the eelgrass undulates hypnotically in the current when the irregular, shifting net of sunlight falls on it. Going from the eelgrass to sand, the moving reticulation of light is still there on the white wave-rippled bottom, but the water is so clear that scale is lost, and the bottom might be much farther away than it is---as little as a hand's breadth, for the pattern is small but close.

Cycling, I saw one peacock; glimpsed an osprey swooping down at the edge of a cliff, which I didn't believe I'd seen (Thinks: "...some kind of hawk... wait, they don't have them here...") until I saw the osprey nest some distance on (with a sign, "Osprey Nest"); two good shy quokkas crunching nuts in the dim shaded litter of leaves and bark beneath a tree at the side of the road, far from habitation; many bad bold quokkas eating things that bad people had given to them at a cafe in Geordie Bay. Many birds I cannot identify as I have no bird book. Also, common birds like magpie that I can identify, and something wren-like flitting around after insects (numerous, busy). Yellow-eyed seagulls, as brazen as any others.

On returning to Fremantle, I found that the air had changed, most certainly. The temperature had dropped to the mid-to-low 20's (70s), a breeze was blowing coolly (rather than rearranging warm air). Still sunny, though, so: a perfect evening. Walking to the hotel along the chain-link fence beside the train line, I found two plumeria flowers on the sidewalk. There are a few plumeria trees planted along there, lone survivors of some kind of landscaping. Most of the flowers fall inside the fence.

Still bemused by high prices. Ate one of the worst meals of my life for dinner, at a fish-and-chips place so... so... I cannot find a word for this, so *grasping*, that they charge for condiments (30 cents for one of those little packets of ketchup) and do not provide forks and knives. One must eat greasy, disintegrating slabs of fish and flaccid french fries with one's hands. One thought one had evolved beyond that. I believe even orders of grilled fish do not come with fork and knife. Priced about double what I would pay in, say, Massachusetts, I think. The quantity of fries was an insult to the potatoes slaughtered to make them (surely most are wasted). Charging for condiments is unfair, as the food needs lashings of ketchup to be palatable; used two packets of Heinz's "tartar sauce". I drank a Bundaberg ginger beer. The label does not mention alcohol content---I thought it was around 1% or 2%. It tastes very good, much better than the trendy ginger beers in the US---more balanced. The label still advises inverting the bottle for a moment to stir up the ginger bits at the bottom.

At the hotel, found the guest laundry: $5 for one load (ordinary top-loading nmachine) of clothes and $5 again to dry it. Detergent extra. A bargain only compared to the hotel's wash service. Of course hotels overcharge for everything; with the advent of cellphones, they've lost a valuable revenue stream. But when did Australia become so expensive? Was it always, and I couldn't afford to find out when I was here before (though that was a long time ago)?
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July 2008

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