Alice Springs is greener than I expected. As you fly in you can see the red desert pocked with trees, the organic lines of forgotten riverbeds crossed with straight dirt trails. The aerial landscape seems to mirror the dotted style of the indigenous artwork in this part of the world.
In town, there's vegetation everywhere: the gum trees sway in the evening breeze and the grass is a khaki colour. It's a welcome sight in the middle of the desert.
"We didn't get any rain last month, but we've had just enough recently," says Paul, as I swelter in the back of a local bus. "You've arrived at the right time; it's not too hot."
According to Paul, it's harder to predict the weather these days. "When I was young we knew when it would rain and when it would be hot," he explains. "But now, with this global warming, you never know." Still, it will be a long time before Alice Springs becomes a tropical oasis. The Todd River, which runs through town, is almost permanently dry. Most locals don't own an umbrella.
Alice Springs is a favourite with tourists. Most pass a day or two here on their way to Uluru, or the domed rock formations of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). They wander down the central pedestrian area of Todd Mall and buy a postcard before moving on.
I've found that Alice has a lot more to offer than that. Apart from some nice cafés and the beautiful local art, there's a wild, outpost feel to the town that begs to be soaked up. Maybe it's the knowledge that you're so far inland, or the fact that if you drive two minutes out of town you'll be lost in a sea of sand. Maybe it's just that this town feels more intrinsically Australian than anywhere else I've been. In any case, I can smell the desert and I can't wait to explore it.
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