After a little delay (running out of gas in the Outback) in our adventure to deliver a camper van, rented at five dollars a day, to Alice Springs from Cairns, Scott and I woke up in the camper van on day 10, too cold not to start driving into town. In just a few hours we made it to Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia, which is located pretty much right smack in the middle of the continent. The highway leading south to Alice Springs branches off into dirt roads, which lead to protected Aboriginal lands and are typically gated. There are signs, too. Some are written and posted by the government, warning drivers that they shouldn’t enter these areas without a permit, and that it is illegal to bring alcohol or pornography beyond the gates (the vices of the Aboriginals, I guess). Other signs are hand-painted, threatening, and filled with swear words (I assume painted by the Aboriginals).
Many Aboriginals live in this part of the country and were very present in Alice Springs, and most, if not all of them, appeared to be homeless. I’m not well informed on the oppression and genocide Aboriginals faced when the British came to Australia, but history does not seem to have been remedied yet. The Aboriginals are intimidating in a strange way—they aren’t physically intimidating, they don’t do anything to appear threatening, there is just such a great sadness and sense of desperation in their eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the appearance of such anguish in a person before. I saw some Aboriginals painting in a park and I wanted to talk to them about their art, but I chickened out.
I kind of really love the Aboriginal art. I walked through three different art galleries in Alice Springs, all full of Aboriginal dot paintings. I bought a small painting, and Scott did too. We didn’t realize how short on money we were about to be, and were later glad we bought the paintings when we did, because we probably wouldn’t have bought them after looking into our next travel options.
The planned part of our trip stopped in Alice Springs—upon arriving, we wanted to be open to either driving more by continuing to do camper van relocations, and we wanted to be open to flying back to Sydney. We paid for internet at a travel deals/internet store and looked into flights (because free internet is still an incredible rare resource here). Unless we waited about five days, a flight was out of our price range. We could choose to rent another camper van one way from Alice to Melbourne, and then again from Melbourne to Sydney, but because we wouldn’t be reimbursed for fuel, that might end up being as expensive as a flight. We weren’t sure what to do. I talked to the woman at the desk and asked if her she had any deals on flights.
She checked and said, “not really, it’s pretty expensive to leave here.” I imagine leaving is one of the best things to do in Alice Springs, right after seeing Uluru, which we didn’t give ourselves time to do, because we swam in the Great Barrier Reef instead. She did say she could pretty easily find deals on trains, so she looked up train routes for us. We could take a train to Adelaide, stay the night in Adelaide, and then take another train to Sydney for well under the price of a plane ticket. That was our cheapest option and we took it.
Each train ride would last over 24 hours, and the first train wasn’t until tomorrow afternoon.
There was a chance we could stay with Scott’s brother’s girlfriend’s parents’ friends, who live in Alice Springs, and while we waited for a word on that situation we turned in the camper van. As soon as we turned in our keys we realized that we were homeless for the first time. We didn’t know what to do or where to go next, so we drank free coffee and chatted up the woman working at Apollo, killing time, delaying the inevitable hiking, practicing “hobo logic” as Scott called it. She was round and actually seemed glad to have someone to talk to, even two weird American boys. When she laughed her eyes disappeared. At one point we asked her if she liked living in Alice Springs and she said she did not. “Even when people try to leave Alice Springs, Alice Springs drags them back in.” Her tone was weirdly ominous, like maybe we weren’t really going to be able to leave after all, even though we had train tickets.
Scott and I walked around town with all of our stuff—our bags of clothing and general supplies, our bags of computers and notebooks, our food, and a crappy guitar—on our backs. We walked to the train station, to see where we’d need to be tomorrow, and then walked aimlessly, having no where we needed to be. We found a park near a library and did the only thing that seemed to make sense—play catch. Even though it really didn’t make sense. Scott brought two gloves and a baseball with him on the trip, so even though neither of us play sports back in the states (I quit playing sports of any kind in the fourth grade, breaking my family’s hearts at the time, I’m sure) we represented the American Pastime to the Aussies walking up and down the adjacent street.
Catch ceased our concerned conversations about the possibility of camping outside, or however we were going to stay the night in Alice Springs, and we shared stories about our dads and our childhoods. There is something nice about not having anything you can do except play catch, especially after being worried and having heavy shoulders, literally. Once we relaxed we thought, “Oh, we could just stay in a hostel for cheap.” “Yeah!”
We found a hostel we could just afford; it was a new experience for me, and I had a great time. We made friends and had a real bed to sleep in for the first time in over a week. I spent a foolish amount of time worrying about “being homeless” in Alice Springs, when even if we didn’t have the money for a hostel, we would have been in a much better situation than even most of the actual homeless people in town. As soon as I got out of my own head, a solution presented itself (this is often the case in improv, too–a scene is easier when you aren’t stuck in your own thoughts)—just because a situation is new and different, doesn’t make it scary. I still regret being too afraid to chat with the homeless Aboriginals about their paintings.