March 07, 2004, 20:40: Alice Springs, Australia - Melanka Backpackers
Ah yes. I managed to get out on time to catch my flight to Alice Springs, which at 3 hours really didn't seem long at all. I didn't get very much sleep as I was up late the previous night packing everything. I arrived at the Alice Springs airport about 10:30 am, and it was a very nice building. I was shocked, because not 10 seconds before we landed, the only thing there was reddish-orange sand and bush as far as the eye could see, and this was a very modern, clean building.
I took a shuttle to Melanka's, and after a little mix-up being put in a shared accommodation room, I was into my room. It was air conditioned, which is a very nice luxury in Alice - it apparently hit 37 today. After unpacking a few things, I set out for a new memory card for my camera. I arrived at the local K-Mart, and surely enough, they had an excellent deal (relatively for Australian pricing). What really struck me was this is right in the middle of the desert, a good couple of thousand kilometres from any major city. This country continues to amaze me.
After ensuring I would be able to act like a proper tourist out in the desert, I took off in search of food. Wandering around, I went to a shop in the same building as I'm staying that specializes in opals, and aboriginal art. I had no idea opals were so expensive. Some of the nice ones he was pointing out were above $800, and they were quite small. For the "budget" opals (under $300), he brought out a few trays that had some quite small stones (some smaller surface area than the eraser on a pencil) that typically ran about $120. I'm in the wrong business. I was quite intrigued with all the didgeridoos that were lying around, and my curiosity got the best of me. I selected a beautifully painted black and red one, with some very nice artwork on it. $280. Yikes.
I spent the better part of an hour in that store speaking with the proprietor, who seemed very friendly and laid back. He showed me various techniques on playing the instrument, which were very helpful, and I managed to make some incoherent noises for a while before settling in with a constant tone for all of 4 seconds. They offered free lessons on the Didj later on, and I was quite game for trying that.
At this point, it dawned on me that I would really like to have some sand from the outback to take home with me. I went back to the K-Mart and picked up some mason jars. On the way out, I asked for a recommendation from one of the locals, and it was suggested that Subway is probably one of the only bets Sunday afternoon. I was sceptical about having the same stuff as I get anywhere else, but I was assured "it's quite different from what you're used to with all the fresh vegetables we have here". It's not.
Figuring that I had been not doing all that much really specific to the town, I decided to set off for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and the Reptile Sanctuary, both of which were situated right close by to each other. Walking over, I couldn't help but notice all the aboriginal people walking around. It's really a shame that there isn't much interaction between them and the rest of the population here. They seemed quite distant, with just about all of them turning away when I walked by. Most were wearing filthy clothes, and were very unkempt. Apparently alcoholism, petrol sniffing, and various other addictions are very prevalent among these people since the Europeans arrived and started colonizing. I felt bad, like I was somehow responsible for this social rift that had been caused many years ago by intolerance to other races. Unfortunately, there wasn't much I could immediately do in the short time that I'm here to try to really get to know an aborigine.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service had a short movie detailing the history of the service, which is basically a radio-operated medical hotline. If you're sick, your mate calls up the doctor through the radio, and the doctor gives advice and/or walks your friend through basic surgery (!) or administration of numbered supplies given out to each outpost in the outback. If your mate can't do it, and you're seriously sick, they'll fly out and help you out. Pretty interesting. When the movie was done, I was led to the actual station they use in Alice Springs to receive calls for help, which wasn't operating due to it being Sunday (calls get routed elsewhere). The museum featured old equipment that had been decommissioned, and was memorable enough to look through. Satisfied that I got the picture, I took off to the Reptile Sanctuary.
The Reptile Sanctuary doesn't necessarily have the same scale as the Sydney Aquarium, but there were enough reptiles there to keep the interest. I saw the deadliest snake in the world, the taipan, of which they had two specimens - one tan and one black. The snakes seemed pretty active in their enclosure, and I wouldn't necessarily want to meet one in the wild, although I'm sure they wouldn't actively seek you out. A presentation was given on a few lizards, two of which I was familiar with, the blue tongue skink, and the bearded dragon. After this, an opportunity was given to handle them, as well as a couple of different pythons. I did so. I also went out and saw a few large goannas, and the lazy saltwater crocodile they have.
After nearly passing out from exhaustion at the sanctuary, I went back to my room to have a short nap. I got up and went back to the opal store, and got my lesson on the Didj. Different ways of making rhythms or animal noises were discussed, and I managed to make a few semi-coherent sounds on it. I quite like it, it's a cool instrument. It was recommended to me by the lady who gave the lesson to go down to the MacDonnell ranges and hand feed some wild rock wallabies, at a nearby campsite. I promptly hired a bike and rode out there, and I wasn't disappointed in the least. I bought some food, and the wallabies seemed quite tame, and used to receiving lots of food. I took a bunch of pictures, and headed back to my room, to do some laundry before my trip tomorrow. I'm quite intrigued to see what's in store over the next few days, it should be really beautiful.