At Home in Alice

Published: August 23rd 2018
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After our epic 3-day journey around the Red Centre, we had some time before we were due to arrive in Brisbane for our next long-term housesit. I had arranged through the website HelpX, to stay with a local woman who was generous enough to house and feed us for nine days. This was a really special part of our trip and cemented the fact that for me, Alice Springs has been my favourite place to visit so far.

Margo, our host, is a really interesting, fantastic woman. She is a community worker who regularly finds herself out in the remote areas of the Norther Territory, supporting Indigenous associations and community programs. For the duration of our stay, she was based in her home office in Alice Springs, so we got the chance to enjoy Australian wine with her and have lots of fascinating conversations with her about Australian politics, culture and life. Turns out she lived in Red Deer for a few years! She lived just a few kilometres from the centre of town and while she was away, we kept the house in order, cooked dinner, explored the nearby attractions and, best of all, cuddled with her lovely greyhound mix, Skinny. This pup (my favorite dog so far on our journey) is a rescued camp dog, meaning he was basically a neglected stray that she picked up on one of her sojourns into the Territory. He had the most gentle disposition and was always keen for a cuddle on the couch.

And all without WiFi! My god, how we were to survive. Turns out it wasn't too hard to keep ourselves occupied.

Only about a half hour's walk away from her house was Alice Springs Desert Park, an open-air zoo exclusively catering to the species that thrive in the Outback. Though we had spotted a few Aussie animals on our tour (a red kangaroo, some kites, and some roadkill) it was great to see these elusive animals up close. There was a Nocturnal House, where you could see small desert mice, lizards, snakes and spiders wake up and be active. Two dingoes sat in a large enclosure with six foot high electric fences and a moat! I guess these guys can climb fences with their multi jointed paws and are known as talented escape artists. It reminded me of the Velociraptor pen in Jurassic Park! Clever girl...

Speaking of raptors, the highlight of the day was the bird show at the end of the day. Margo had recommended it and said that the show itself was worth the price of admission. We got there a few minutes before it started and the small amphitheatre was packed. I don't know where all these people had come from, because we had spent the whole day in the massive park and seen hardly anyone. A guide was explaining the rules for the audience as we found our seat. No sudden movements, that means no craning your camera all over the place. It you get scared or nervous, don't move, just close your eyes. No one can leave once the show starts. This was sounding like fun.

An American host came out, kitted in safari gear, and introduced us to the birds. Now I know why they wanted us to stay still. These birds she was introducing were basically wild, or semi-wild, anyway. They didn't come out of a cage to say hi, they showed up from nearby because they know that around this time every day, they get fed to give the good people a show. I'm sure a few must live in the park itself, including a beautiful barn owl that came in and swooped right over our heads, silent as the grave. A Willy-Wagtail (a charming little bird you see all over the place here) was her unhired sidekick, hanging out because he could maybe get some scraps. We were introduced to the magpie, the bustard and another wooded owl, but they all seem a little nervous and skittish. The culprit behind their fear was the drama queen flying above. In slow circles, high above our head a beautiful kite was slowly spiraling down over the span of fifteen minutes, waiting for her turn. She patiently waited on a branch nearby while the other birds nervously showed off. Finally, another assistant came out and with a lasso-like device with meat attached at the end, began swooping it around her head. Then the kite was off like a shot, making razor hair turns to catch the 'prey'. Two others raptors joined as well, and it was like watching a dog fight from WW1. The birds were knocking each over midair, and wheeling around incredibly gracefully. It was awesome.

It also just so happened that we were in town for a couple of big events. One being the Beanie Festival. Apparently every year, people come from all over the country and beyond to see this spectacular showing of hundreds of quirky woolen hats in the most creative designs possible. We went on opening night where kids were performing on the main stage and people were lining up into the small performing arts centre. There you could vote on your favourite, buy one you liked and try them on. There's a picture below of Kevin wearing what we thought was the best one.

July 1st is not only Canada Day, it's Territory Day. This state holiday is the one day of the year when anybody who wants can buy fireworks and light them up for the night's celebrations. Margo picked some up and brought them for us to try out. It was so much fun. I've never actually lit fireworks before and we went into the pitch dark of the bush cliffs outside her house and went hog wild. It was amazing from our lofty perch, as we could see the whole town around us and everyone lighting their individual fireworks. It was 360' light show. What a way to celebrate Canada's birthday!

In the meantime, we helped Margo build up her back garden. Kevin spent most days laying out bricks, (found from behind the house), creating a path and overall improving the outdoor space. I kept the house clean, prepared meals and helped out Kevin in the garden. In the evenings, we would enjoy a meal together, have some wine, and talk. Margo introduced us to a few amazing Australian films, my favorite being Samson and Delilah. An amazing film about two Indigenous kids set in Alice Springs. Margo made us feel so welcome and it was wonderfully generous of her to have us stay with her. We tried out kangaroo for the first time on our last night. It was really good and reminded me of venison, lean and a bit gamey.

We had a wonderful time in the Outback of Australia. A place that can't be missed if you have the chance.


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