Thursday, 12 February 2009

Example of previous tip

Forgive the arrogance here, but I thought I'd give an example of my point from yesterday's tip. I've pasted below what was my first major piece published in a travel publication. I still think it's one of the best I've ever written. Why? Because I've written about the people at the destination as much as the action itself.

In this instance, the people watching the dolphins were arguably more entertaining than the dolphins were. My piece starts off by focusing on those people, their behaviours and their reactions. To me (and luckily the editor in question), this elevated the piece above the bog standard write up about Monkey Mia.

I hope you agree, and can see the point I'm trying to make.

Feeding the dolphins at Monkey Mia

Amid the cooing and screeches there is, apparently, a dolphin. Yes, that's it. Look between the big man's arm and the woman with the hat's camera. You see it? That little silver flash? In the water, about eleven o'clock?

After about three minutes of tilting your head, squinting, jumping up and down on the sand it finally comes into view. Well, a bit of it does. Could be the head, could be the back, but it's definitely a dolphin, and that's what everybody is here to see.

The fundamental problem with tourist attractions, of course, is that they attract tourists. When that attraction is a couple of tiny marine mammals, there is only so much viewing space. When it's a long day's drive away from Perth and most people have come to see just one thing, then they will fight for that space as if a predator has entered their lair and is trying to eat their children.

Consequently, during the first dolphin feeding session of the morning at Monkey Mia, the main wildlife available for watching is fully clothed and armed to the teeth with photographic equipment.

This is not to say it's not entertaining, however. Where else can you see a 17-stone man with a shaved head attempting to barge his way past a couple of ten-year-olds in order to get closer to the cute little critter?

Then there's the frenetic middle-aged Japanese man, trousers rolled up, who must have completed a marathon by the end of the feeding. He's running from one side of the scrum to the other, up the pier and back again, attempting to get a better shot but too polite to ask anyone to move slightly.

The pod of bottle-nosed dolphins that call Monkey Mia home (or at least their favourite café) has been visiting since the early 1960s. They are quite accustomed to human contact and according to the feeders, actively enjoy it. They are wild and free to eat where they like, but they stop by the beach for breakfast and a frolic in the shallows 99 percent of the time.

In order to ensure that the VIP guests don't become dependent on the beach feeds, the marine biologists and merry volunteers that feed them adhere to strict rules: No feeding after 1pm, no more than three feeds per day and no more than a third of the necessary fish intake. This ensures that the dolphins spend their afternoons doing the things that dolphins have to do, rather than stalking humans.

Whilst the first feed of the day, unless you've bulldozed your way to the front and petulantly snatched the bucket off the member of staff, can be a disappointment, things get much better later on.

Most of the tour buses disappear shortly afterwards, their passengers having got what was in the contract, but perhaps not quite what they were expecting. For those that remain, the second and third feedings are far less crowded and a magical experience. Yup, it's definitely a whole dolphin out there this time.

It's impossible not to be enchanted by them. Even to the most cold-hearted cynic, Flipper is undeniably cute and graceful. To see him come up to the beach to eat from a human hand will bring out the sentimental, gooey side in anyone.

Your chances of being picked out from the crowd to handle the morning meal are in direct proportion to your chances of successfully auditioning for the lead role in Oliver Twist. Sweet, photogenic children have an automatic advantage and whilst there is obviously a bit of grudge-bearing going on amongst the weather-beaten adults, the reaction is worth being shunned for.

Holding the fish tentatively, as if the recipient is a saltwater crocodile about to savage her arm off, Little Orphan Annie begins to smile with ecstatic glee as the dolphin takes it. She looks around as if to say: "Did you see what happened there? Did you? Can we take him home, mummy?"

It's an altogether more satisfactory experience. It's shared amongst a small community rather than observed from an uncomfortable perch above the masses. It's the difference between stroking your beloved dog's tummy as it rolls over, wagging its tail, and giving a passing glance to a stranger's poodle whilst walking down a promenade. And, no matter how much you moan about how long it took to get there, that alone is enough to justify what is a joyfully unique moment.

Details:Monkey Mia is a day's drive (850km) from Perth. Alternatively Skywest Airlines fly to Monkey Mia from Perth for $196.
Accommodation is available at the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, ranging from backpacker dorms ($22 a night) to beachfront villas ($229 per night).

1 comment:

Chava 812 said...

Loved it!!! I have a strong aversion to tourist traps and loved how you penned it: tourist attractions bit because they attract - doh! - tourists!