July 11th:

A couple of things I didn't write about yesterday ('cause I was a little out of it). First, the Alice Springs Resort is nice, mostly. They use keys, not cards, to enter the rooms. There are several buildings spread out across a large area, none of which are more than 2 storeys tall. Even though I'm in room 206, I'm still on the ground floor. The place is constructed of concrete block (which I think is normal here), and the paint doesn't hide that very well. The cool bit is the birds, which are everywhere, not just at the resort - there are wild versions of some of the birds I saw in the Sydney zoo here - galah (a small group yesterday, a much larger group today), parots, and a bunch of pigeon-like things with weird topknots on.

Speaking of large areas, the airport out here covers a lot of territory (the runways, anyway - the terminal building isn't much larger than the one in Michigan), but it is a heck of a long way away from the town - between 10 and 15 kilometers! I wonder why?

And finally, last night when I was walking back to the hotel, I could finally see the stars. Alice Springs is small enough that there is hardly any light pollution - it would have been better if there hadn't been any street lights along Stott Terrace. The moon is well on its way to its new phase - somehow I never managed to even see it in Sydney.

So anyway. Contrary to my expectations last night, my tour arrived at about 7:30, and I was the last to be picked up, not the first. There were six other people in the van - a group of 4 from the UK, though the younger two now live in Sydney (I presume that the older of them were visiting parents); and a pair (I think), one from Kentucky and one from Melbourne. We next drove over to the AAT Kings office to wait for our aboriginal guide to arrive, which took about 25 minutes. He introduced himself to us as Jungula, and we drove off to the first of three stops in the very cold morning.

We arrived at the Old Telegraph Station, where the original Alice Springs settlement began, but we didn't go in. Instead, we got a walking tour around the place, including a good deal of aboriginal history, both ancient (Jungula talked about the dreamtime, or the creationtime) and more recent (the atrocities the invaders (Europeans) perpetrated on them, which has continued quite a bit longer than our own cruelties to our native peoples). We also got a nature lesson, with Jungula telling us about some of the plants they use for food. At one point, we saw a euro (which is an animal halfway between a wallabee and a kangaroo in size) about 50 yards away. There were birds, sometimes quite noisy, all over the place - flocks of macaws and galahs, and noisy butcherbirds (ravens?), among others. He also explained about the rivers - how desert rivers are upside down, with the sand on top and the water underneath. He showed us the spring that got Alice Springs its name, a spring that is now dry because of a diversion of the watertable by the government (in order to replace standing watertanks).

About 90 minutes later, we got back on the bus (very glad of the warmth) and drove to the Heavitree Gap culture center. After some nice hot tea and bread (with spreads), a group of 5 aboriginal dancers came out and did about 15 minutes of tribal dances for us. They were very interesting. Usually, they were miming dances - of the dances they did for us, only the greeting (and farewell) dance wasn't obviously miming. The others were animal mimicry, or teaching dances. One was even a history dance, which told of a first encounter with European bees brought over by Captain Cook's second expedition (native bees don't sting, while the escaped European bees did, which made honey-gathering a little harder for the aborigines).

Next, we dropped our group of 4 from Great Britian off at the airport (they were going back to Sydney), leaving only 3 of us to go to the cultural center, look at some of the history compiled there, and get shown some of the tools and weapons of the natives, which were pretty cool. When we were done there, the van took the three of us back to our hotels.

I returned to my room to get my jacket (my best sweatshirt hadn't been enough), and then set out again. I went to the Bojangles Saloon and Restaurant and had a nice steak, then walked around some more and bought some socks, a t-shirt, and some knick knacks as gifts, plus a didgeridoo CD. I walked back to my room, downloaded my pictures, and decided to check on tomorrow's departure time (6:35am). I also decided to check on my itinerary, and I found that today's tour was supposed to be a full-day tour, with the afternoon taken up with an Alice Springs tour (including the Old Telegraph Station, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and the Alice Springs Reptile Center). The bus driver who took my voucher this morning and dropped me off at the hotel at about noon said nothing about any other tour, nor was there any message on my room phone. I decided not to follow up (mostly because while the voucher said AAT Kings, my itinerary says Australian Outback Tours, but also because it was far too late by the time I realized the error). Needless to say, I'm not happy ... but I am warm at the moment.

I've got a few more hours before I go to bed. I'll eat dinner at the hotel, and check my email as well (there's a kiosk in the lobby). Then, I'll pack and try to watch TV (if there's anything but sport on the 4 chanels I've got available) and, if necessary, play some Civizilation III.

As an addendum: I did eat at the hotel - all entrees (appetizers), including a very good roasted tomato soup and a not-so-good bucket of whole prawns (shrimp), heads and all - I had to de-head, peel, and de-intestine the things, and they don't even know what "cocktail sauce" is around here (it was the mayonaise-catsup mix like they had in Great Britain, narry a hint of horseradish).

Also, it was raining (lightly) outside when I went to, and came back from, dinner: no stargazing. Jungula told us earlier that they haven't had any really hard rain for 2 1/2 years, and the bus driver from the airport indicated that it's been about 5 years since the Todd River had any open water in it. (The American-Melbourne pair on the tour this morning said that it was raining at Uluru yesterday when they were there. It would be cool to get pictures of water running off of the rock, which doesn't happen very often ... but I think I'd rather get the normal sunny pictures.)

Lastly, I decided not to do the email thing in favor of getting (hopefully) at least 7 hours of sleep (which means that 10:30 is my latest bedtime, with 10 being preferable).

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