Sunday, August 26, 2012

Alice Springs.

There's no spring in Alice Springs.
but apparently it can sometimes be quite high! 

I don't really know what to write about Alice Springs as there really isn't much to write about. I feel bad, as though we may have missed out on something, but I am not really sure what it is about that place to makes it so well known. Maybe because it is the main stop off on the Ghan train and the Stuart Highway that breaks up the hundreds of red-dirted miles between Darwin and Adelaide or Perth and well, the rest of the country. Now that I've written that and looking back on our short stop there, in all fairness it just didn't meet my expectation.

A couple months ago, mum sent me A Town Like Alice, which I read without even glimpsing at the synopsis on the back cover. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would add it to my list of good books to recommend to people - if such a list existed. Even though the town in the book wasn't Alice Springs, the main character wanted to create a town in the Outback to be just like Alice. I suppose the setting of the book was a few decades ago so my expectations for it to be the same are not rightfully deserved. I kinda imagined something out of an old Western movie. A wide red dirt road through the middle of the town. A thirsty tumbleweed blowing across. Maybe a lone saloon offering schooners of cold beer. Definitely a petrol station. And men in worn denim and dusty cowboy hats talking about life on the station. But, Alice is a pretty normal looking town that just happens to be in the middle of nowhere. It actually could have been anywhere. It has a KFC. Target. Priceline. It has trivia nights on Tuesday. There were vegan cafes with outdoor seating. It's home to the Royal Flying Doctors which is right next to the Reptile museum. It had just as many tourist shops as it had travel agents offering tours of local sights and destinations far away from there. Even though the spring of Alice Springs was dried up, trees lined the streets which I assume would provide a cool shading in the summer time, but also didn't make you feel as though you were in the middle of the desert. There isn't very much Outback in Alice Springs.

Because Alice Springs is quite literally a destination in the middle of nowhere (not too many people would be just stopping by or stumbling upon it), the expectation is to feel as though you've arrived in the middle of nowhere. But because it is a destination hot spot, it attracts all the likes that support and accommodate tourist needs. It must have been something special when it wasn't so easy to fly to, when a traveller would suddenly see a bit of civilisation after miles and miles of  barren nothingness. But today, with the ease of flying in an out of Alice Springs' own airport, it didn't seem like such a special destination. You lose that feeling of being in the middle of nowhere when you step out of a plane after  being just somewhere else a few hours prior.

Just before I was going to book the trip to Alice, I got an email from Living Social which just so happened to have an Escape Deal for a hotel in Alice Springs! Done. Easy. Booked. It was for the Lasseters Hotel Casino and the deal included an upgraded room, welcome cocktails, $50 food voucher, credit to the casino,  and daily breakfast. The drinks were cheap, the food was huge. We weren't that hungry as we sat outside waiting for the sun to go down so that we could see the impressive sunset and vast Outback night sky, so we ordered salt & pepper squid from the "something light" section, and a side of chips and a side of mixed mushrooms. It was enough to feed a family of 5. The side of chips was a meal in itself. The squid was deep fried and nothing about it was light. I couldn't even carry the three plates at once from the pick up counter (ok maybe the fact that there was a buzzer when your food was ready was tell-tale sign #1). There was a tiny Asian woman at a table across from us and her plate of food arrived and I swear was bigger than her head, maybe her entire bum (tell-tale #2). And more disappointingly, the sky didn't fill with bright oranges and reds from the sunset, nor were we able to see the bright stars very clearly.

We walked around the town probably twice, probably trying to find what we were missing but not sure what kind of charm we were looking for. We supported the Royal Flying Doctors and mum probably wondering why they don't have a base on Rottnest. We did go to Mbantua, an aboriginal art gallery and cultural museum which not only had things for sale but gave insight into the life and history of the Aborigines. At a quick glance, the art seems like a bunch of colourful dots in repetitive patterns. But there was a poster that showed what all the symbols meant and what all the shapes stood for and with that easy understanding I had never taken the time to learn, I had a whole new respect and appreciation for the art work. Then we walked back to the hotel, happy that it was winter and not 40C and sat by the pool, where I wished it wasn't winter and 40C. But, happy to have been, and even happier to leave in the morning.

So, I don't know. If you're heading north to south or east to west across the world's largest island that " is the only island that is also a continent, and the only continent that is also a country" (Bill Bryson, Down Under) by any other means than an airplane, then I suppose you should stop by in Alice Springs. If Alice Springs is on your list of places that you want to see in Australia, sure, go and check it out otherwise you'll probably always wonder what you missed out on and I hope it is not KFC. If you want to see Uluru/Ayers Rock which I would definitely recommend, then I suppose you should stop by in Alice Springs just because it is only 6 hours away - and that, in the Outback, really isn't that far away. The fact that those two are always connected gives you an idea of how big the area is, and how there is really nothing else there.