Life in Alice

Published: March 10th 2012
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So as usual it’s been a few months since my last blog, it’s becoming a bit of a re-occurring trend now how delayed my blogs are... I could say New Year, new resolution and all that and that I’ll try to blog more often but I’m more of a realist it’s probably just not going to happen but I might try harder! Anyways so I’ve now been in Alice Springs (more commonly just known as “Alice” or “The Alice”) for just over 9months and Doc my housemate/best friend in Alice/original tour-guide who brought me to Alice loves to gloat about this as he always said from the start that I was a “stayer” to which I used to deny. Alice really is a funny little town that many people come to for a visit and end up still being here years later, I have met an unbelievable amount of people here who came for a month or two and several years later they are still here. I don’t think I’ll end up here that long, but I did originally think I’d work here for a few months then move on again, clearly that didn’t happen! “Why?” u may ask well that is the million dollar question that I’ll try to answer in this blog!

The main reason why I originally stayed in Alice was work. I got a job very easily with ATA as a hostee. I’ve now finished up that job because with my working holiday visa I can only work for the same company for 6months, I’m currently a lettuce farmer! But before I get on to that I guess I should go into a little detail about my first job here... working as a hostee which was great fun. ATA offer many different styles of trips around the centre of Australia but I only worked on one particular style of trip called “the Safari in Style” tour. This was, basically as the name suggests, a camping trip that came with a lot of luxuries. This was a high end tour and usually catered for tourists with money, older people, families or often honeymooners from Europe as opposed to cheap backpackers (which was of course the original tour I did!). On this tour the passengers got a host (me or one of the other awesome hostees I worked with) who came along on their tour and cooked all their meals and did all their dishes and made their beds, yes they may have been “camping” but this was a tour that had proper built tents with full beds inside with sheets, duvets and extra blankets for the cold nights!! A lot of my job consisting sitting on a bus for around 5-6 hours at a time (with toilet breaks thankfully!) chatting with the guide/driver on the tour. This was a large part of the reason I stayed in Alice because every tour I usually went out with a different guide, who of course I got to know pretty well in 3 or 4 days of LONG drives and a lot of chatting! So I started to make a lot of really good friends. The ATA staff in Alice consists of about 50 really good people mainly from all over Australia some from further afar who are all easy going and love the relaxed life of the centre and these people are most definitely the major reason I’ve stayed here so long.

So here are just a few perks of the job, to begin with as I’ve already said getting to know lots of tour-guides and making good friends with some; meeting some cool passengers from all over the world and swapping travelling stories; getting to go to some amazing places I’d never actually gotten to see on my tour (this was because I did a 3 day tour and on the 4day tours the itinerary was very changeable so I got to go to some amazing new places while working); seeing some amazing animals in their natural habitat such as camels, brumbies (i.e.wild horses), wild donkeys, kangaroos, rock wallabies and lizards; some truly amazing sunrises and sunsets and learning a huge wealth of information about Central Australia. Trust me I can guarantee I know more details about Central Australia than any other backpacker ever will (unless they work as a hostee for a while!) Like did you know that central Australia has the largest number of wild camels in the world somewhere between 750,000 and 1million! Or that a Scottish man named John Mac Douall Stuart after three major attempts was the first explorer to traverse the Australian mainland from South to North! I really could keep going with numerous facts but ill not needless to say I learnt a lot of interesting facts/figures about Australia from all of the different tour guides I went on tour with! And of course another perk was the generous tips you sometimes got from passengers, it rarely happened but was always welcomed... on my last tour I actually got a thank you present of an awesome Swiss army knife from one of my very appreciative Swiss passengers-a great way to end touring!

But as with every job there were cons also such as the cold winter nights sleeping in a tent, even with extra blankets -2 degrees is cold in a tent.... then having to get up at 4.30am in the minus temperatures to make a cooked breakfast for the passengers before they headed off to watch the sunrise, then of course there was all the dishes and beds I had to make while my body defrosted! Then it switched to the summer season and you firstly had the problem of trying to sleep at night in a ridiculously hot tent with the mosquitoes and then having to get up at 3.15am to cook breakfast before sunrise, because summer meant earlier sunrises and also later sunsets with dinner and dishes to be done after sunset so sleeping time was really short, this was not easy believe me! Really don’t know which season I preferred.... Then one other con was doing a back to back which meant you did a 3 or 4 day trip got back into town and then had to go straight back out again on another tour because it was so busy, think 9 days straight on the road was my longest stint which is pretty lucky considering some of the tour guides did upwards of 15/20 days straight with maybe one day off over the Christmas season. Oh and one other huge thing was dealing with the mice in camp when I arrived in Alice back at the end of May there was a huge mouse plague they were everywhere food had to be kept in seal proof cupboards and metal boxes at all times, even had mice in our homes I once killed 9 in one day thankfully they’ve all gone now! But all in all I did have a great time working with ATA and was sorry when it all had to come to an end after 6months!

I then had 5weeks off work as I desperately (well not too desperately, I was a bit lazy) looked for farm work.... In order to qualify for a second year working holiday visa you must complete 3months of farm work, this was not something I particularly looked forward to but if it was going to give me another year out here it was worth it. So I guess the main reason it took me so long to find my farm work was that I really wanted to stay close to the Alice I didn’t want to have to live on a remote cattle station in the middle of nowhere, I’d gotten used to my social life in Alice and didn’t want to leave it behind. So eventually I secured a job on a lettuce farm 10k outside Alice after MANY phone calls to them enquiring about work! This is a hydroponic farm where lettuce and herbs are grown. So as I found out hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. So basically water is pumped around to tables where we plant herbs and lettuce. I never knew so many different types of lettuce existed 2 months ago before I started working on the farm. I started working alongside 3 other girls, 2 Dutch and one Spanish who were lovely but they have moved on now as they had done their required 3 months and now I work with my friend Rohan a previous hostee with ATA also, a Canadian and another Irish girl and my supervisor and we..... plant lettuce, pick lettuce, box lettuce, cut lettuce for salad, wash lettuce, weigh lettuce, clean down lettuce tables, move lettuce seedlings form the incubator to the seeding house to the hardening house, transport boxes of lettuce around on quad bikes, basically it’s a whole lot of “lettucing”!!!! Oh and add to that the fact that we are working in high 30’s and 40 degree heat most days. In terms of the farm work that most people do to get their second year visa it’s actually pretty good farm work however that’s not to say it’s my favourite job I’ve ever done, but it is Monday to Friday 6.30am to 2.30pm getting paid pretty well so I shouldn’t really complain just roll on the end of March until I finish up and get to come home for a visit!!

Okay so that is a lot about my working life in Alice now to the other side of my life, the socialising side and of course I’ve been doing plenty of that! So Alice is certainly no thriving hub when it comes to nightlife but we sure do know how to have a good time here. One such event was the drag queen themed 30th birthday bash for one of the tour guides, definitely a night to remember. Then there was Territory day where it’s the one legal day of the year where you can buy and let off fireworks in the Northern Territory. Of course then there was the Australian famous “Henley on Todd Regatta”. I think this will probably go down as one of my best day outs in Alice so far. This Regatta is a boat race down the Todd River that runs through Alice. Actually “runs” is a bad choice of words as with most Central Australian rivers the Todd River is a dry river. How do you run a boat race on a dry river you may ask well this is why Alice is Alice... to take part in this race you build a boat, cut the bottom out of it step into the boat pick up the boat and run down the river with the boat, a priceless and unique boat race if ever there was one-as one tour guide so aptly put it think of the flintstones car with Fred and Barney running along and you’ll get the gist of it!! This boat race has actually entered the Guinness book of records twice for being the only boat race in the world to have been cancelled because there was water in the river! And due to recent unusual heavy rains in Alice the Todd River has actually filled with water and has been flowing for the last few days... this brought huge excitement it happens very rarely and the saying goes that if you see the Todd flow 3 times you’re considered a local guess I’m a third of the way there now!! Another event that I attended in Alice was the beanie festival this is a community based event first organised to sell beanies (knitted hats) crocheted by Aboriginal women in remote communities. It has grown over the years into a fun event where people from all walks of life produce these phenomenal beanies that feature in a massive display for all to enjoy and buy. I of course purchased a few which definitely helped keep me warm during the cold mornings while I was cooking breakfast for the passengers on tour!

A few other fun things I’ve done on my days off in Alice is visit the local kangaroo sanctuary where a guy called Brolga takes in rescued baby kangaroos that are often found in the pouches of their dead mothers that have been hit by cars. He raises the Joey’s here where you actually have to feed them by bottle and nurse them like a baby until they are a few months old and then he has this huge sanctuary for them to live in afterwards. I’ve also climbed Mount Gillen which is on the outskirts of town and got a stunning view of the area I was now living in. Interesting climb this one as one of the girls I was climbing with had a bit of a fall and ended up going to the hospital for stitches afterwards nothing too serious though! Have had many days drinking and hanging out at various friends pools, which is always a bonus of living in this country. I’ve also gone on day trips with friends to some of the stunning waterholes in the surrounding Mc Donald mountain ranges that run East and West of Alice namely Redbank Gorge and Ellery Creek Big Hole. My friend Ben and I went outback hot air ballooning one morning to watch the sunrise over the outback followed by a champagne breakfast. Actually for those of you who don’t already know Ben’s a bit more than a friend... and maybe just another one of the reason I stayed in Alice so long, but you guys will meet him if you manage to catch up with me when I’m home in April as he will be at home with me too! I also went on a day outback quad biking with Ben and Doc on Undoolya Station, the oldest working cattle station in the Northern Territory which was certainly a new experience for me. A bit scary at first but very exhilarating once I got over my nerves. Thankfully I didn’t manage to roll the quad which was a definite success but did come kind of close once or twice, definitely think the instructor was a bit worried about my driving abilities over the rough outback terrain but he stuck with me and said I didn’t do bad in the end up!! Another favourite thing of mine to do in Alice is to have some drinks on our balcony with my friends, something that can’t be done quite so easily back home considering the weather!

Then there’s the nights out that just happen all too often... Being friends with mainly tour guides it’s often hard to get to catch up with people because they’re always touring so when we all meet up it certainly turns into a pretty big night! That’s one advantage with working at the farm at the minute because I work regular hours I’m always in town, therefore always around to catch up with people when they get back in off tour and thus always drinking and going out, although I do TRY to keep it to the weekends as 6.30am starts is certainly not good with a hangover. Currently sitting in on a Saturday night writing this having a weekend free from alcohol which is actually pretty impressive for me at the moment! I have also celebrated Christmas, New Years and Australia Day in Alice Springs all of which included of course moderate amounts of alcohol and have Paddy’s Day coming up now which is sure to be another big one.

So that’s all I’m going to say about Alice for the moment I could write lots more but I’ll just let my photos say the rest. Oh and I know there is A LOT of photos however there was 10 months worth of photos to go through and decide which to upload so it was actually quite an achievement for me to limit it to around 160!! If you want to know anymore about why I love this place you’re just going to have to come visit me over here or wait till I come home for my month long visit starting April 2nd to ask me more about it then. This will be the last blog now until after I’m home, very excited and looking forward to seeing you all soon xx

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10th March 2012

Great photos! Great to see how life in Alice goes! Safe trip home to you and Ben :) x
10th March 2012

Alice Blog
Great Blog & the detail & photos of Alice both at work & socialising were fab. Looking forward to 2nd April! Mum xxx
12th March 2012

Glad to see you guys are enjoying the blog, it does take quite a while to get it organised especially with all the photos... so Im glad to to see it's being appreciated!!

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