Seasons Greetings!

Alice Springs tree

Although growing up in the South meant that we’ve both had our share of mild winters (hello 50 degrees), it in no way has prepared us for a Southern Hemisphere Christmas. The temps are routinely above 100 here – and it’s only going to get hotter.

We’ve been trying to get in the holiday spirit, despite the heat. A week ago, we helped friends celebrate the first night of Hanukkah with latkes, kugel, and lots of fried food. We bought and decorated our (first artificial) tree with a mixture of ornaments from home (the Varsity! Krispy Kreme! Coca Cola!) and here (Aboriginal art, kangaroos, platypuses).

On Friday night, Ashley went down to the Todd Mall to watch the local tree lighting. (Drew tried to go to Rainbow Valley to watch the Geminids Meteor Shower, but it was too cloudy.) It was… interesting. It was mainly a carnival for the kids and was one of the more crowded markets. There were live bands playing, but they were covering John Denver and the Dixie Chicks, not singing Christmas songs. The crowd counted down and the tree was lit, followed by a fireworks display. A bit anti-climatic compared to how it’s done in the US, but very Alice.

We hope y’all are all getting into the holiday spirit and enjoying the chilly weather. We miss you!

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Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa sign

Today was our first experience with:

1) The state of unpaved roads in the Outback
2) Flat tires in the middle of nowhere (not ours, fortunately)
3) Aboriginal art

The drive. All 80 km of it.
We took the morning off to drive 80 km out of town to visit the tiny village/mission of Santa Teresa (Ltyentye Apurte). Basically, you drive past the airport and keep going until the road dead ends. Most of the road is a very bumpy, dusty dirt track. We were in a caravan with several other cars, and the dust was crazy. There were definitely times that you couldn’t see the car in front of you (or the road), and you just had to try and keep an eye out for the edges. In the US, being on a dirt track like this tends to make people slow down. In the outback, you keep doing about 100KPH and hold on. The flat tire occurred on a friend’s car about 15 minutes after we started. He was able to replace it, but didn’t have another spare, so he turned around and headed back into town. Baring that, we could have called a tow truck. They charge by the KM and it gets real expensive real fast. Many of the off-road vehicles here carry at least two spares (no doughnuts here) at all times. Despite the fact that our little RAV4 isn’t a 4×4 it handled well and got us there and back again safely.  Needs a wash now.

Untitled, Stacey Davis, Ltyentye Apurte Community

Santa Teresa has two things of interest to tourists – the Keringke Arts Gallery and the Catholic Mission. At the Gallery, we found a canvas painted by a local artist, Stacey Davis, that we (and especially Ashley) liked. At the Mission, we found one Christmas present, an ornament, and a few other odds and ends. The Mission is famous for its crosses, but none of them really jumped out at us this time. They are all painted locally in various Aboriginal designs. One of the nice things about the Santa Teresa style art is the use of color – many other communities stick to the palette of red, yellow, white, and black.

A few more pictures here.

Alice Springs Reptile Center

Warning: This post will contain pictures & descriptions of lizards and snakes. If that’s not your cuppa, don’t scroll down.

To say Australia has its fair share of dangerous reptiles is a small understatement.  With 5 of the worlds 10 most deadly snakes, saltwater crocodiles, spiders, jelly fish, and manta rays (will this ever get old?) there is plenty to be worried about.  But it’s also home to skinks, dragons, horned devils, and other awesome creatures.  Even with the deadly snakes, bites are rare and deaths even more so. See here.

One of the first stops for people visiting The Alice is the Reptile Centre.  It houses a  wide range of animals, from geckos to snakes to Terry the Saltwater Croc.  The staff is amazingly friendly and Reptile Rex can usually be found at any event/party in town.

Snakes ahead (last warning!)

The geckos are cool but tough to photograph based on their preference for dark environs. The lizards were up and about though. The frilled lizard wouldn’t cooperate despite his desire to pose for photographs.

The snakes on the other hand were very active and accommodating. The lovely green fellow below is the Inland Taipan.  Deadliest snake on the planet. LD50 for pure Taipoxin (name for its venom) is 2 µg/kg. That’s the bad news. Good news? It’s fangs average about 2-3 mm in length.  Rarely long enough to penetrate pants. Overall lesson about snakes: if it looks like one, don’t go pestering it. Not that that will stop the locals but that’s a story for another time.

A more cordial member of community, Zeus the olive python, came out to say “Hi”.  He was heavier than expected and bit too curious for his own good. The Horny Devil has a thing for hair so he ended up feeling right at home.  Terry wasn’t feeling sociable so all he’d show was his tail.  We’re looking forward to taking our first visitors over to meet our scaly friends. Always, the rest of the album is here.