10-12 November: …When you’re excited about a trip to the laundry…

Author: Mrs A

Location: Howard Springs Quarantine Centre, Howard Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

We have just finished day 5 of quarantine and it’s incredible how the time has flown.

Our first couple of days were consumed with calls to and from the IT team here, trying to get us fixed up with internet. Being online in a situation like this is second only to having water, electricity and food. Fortunately we didn’t have to move rooms, and have a working connection now.

Then we had the excitement of our yoga mats being delivered from our BigW online order. Now we have added an early morning pilates class to our routine and intermittent bouts of press ups, yoga and stretches throughout the day.

 « Please let me get some sleep tonight »

Nine am we either have a face-to-face visit from a team of medicos in full PPE (combat trousers, hiking shoes, long sleeve shirt, blue latex gloves, apron, orange masks that look like Donald Duck beaks and clear visors) or a phone call to check on our overall health, looking particularly for COVID symptoms and to record our temperatures.

There are a lot of staff here. Our cabins are two cyclone fences away from where the Australia Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) nurses, doctors, army personnel and NT police are all staying. We get to spot them on their breaks as they mingle in the ‘green-zone’ (we are in the ‘red-zone’) mask-free, laughing about the football results and getting to know one another.

Must be a shift change for the AUSMAT team….

Although we are treated a bit like criminals by most of the police, the AUSMAT workers are all quite friendly and chatty (from a safe distance,) and we learn that most volunteered for this job and hail from all parts of Australia. Many also had to endure quarantine before starting their jobs here, so are sympathetic to our predicament.

Mr A feeling relaxed, as evidenced by his armband monitoring health app

I have really struggled with jet lag. Normally I reboot into the right time zone quite quickly by getting out for fresh air and exercise during the day, following my usual habits to familiarise my brain with the new time zone. In quarantine that hasn’t been possible. Outdoor time is limited to the deck outside our cabins – at least we have two of those, but due to the high temperatures (36 degrees most days, with a ‘feels like’ temperature of up to 42 degrees!) we’re not out that frequently or for too long. Last night I finally managed 9 hours of intermittent sleep – much needed after four consecutive nights of three or less hours. Hopefully have broken the back of it now – the pilates seems to help. Mr A usually struggles with jet lag, but seems to be back to his normal sleep rhythms already.

Six pm is the exciting time when our food for the next 24 hours is delivered in paper bags to the steps outside our cabin. A hot evening dinner, designed to cater for required dietary needs, plus a cold breakfast and lunch for the following day. It’s a frenzy of activity, getting the cold foods into the fridge before dashing back out to the table to eat dinner before it loses the last remnants of heat. The food is not exactly what we would usually consume, but it fills a hole. I don’t think we will be gaining any weight here!

Our evening food bag delivery is on its way…
No date-books here, and what on earth is plum powder? I didn’t find out…
We’re allowed masks off to eat! Tonight was a laksa – not too bad! We’re pleased we bought our plastic Christmas plates and bowls plus metal knives, forks and spoons so we don’t have to eat out of the takeaway containers with disposable cutlery.

The food is ‘ok’. I don’t think I have finished a whole meal yet, with last night’s tagliatelle with some sort of mince and tomatoey-pesto sauce being the tastiest so far, but still with way too much pasta which became sticky and gluggy after a while. It must be hard to cater for 300+ people with all different needs though, and given those constraints they’re doing fine. We’re certainly not starving, and there is often an accompanying vegan and gluten free dessert to fill up on if dinner is not to your taste, plus plenty of fruit.

Today, day 5, was our allocated day to visit the laundry, a whole 20 metres away. We had almost forgotten how to walk! It felt amazing to stretch out the legs on the way up there, and hanging out our clothes and towels allowed us to see something new of the area we are in. We felt so guilty as we stepped off our cabin steps and walked up the building…almost expecting one of the overzealous police to come and tackle us to the ground…though given we are seen as potentially harbouring an unwanted viral visitor, perhaps it would be a cattle prod instead!

Escaped the cell! Washing day has never been so exciting….

Either way, our washing machine visit went without incidence and resulted in clean and very quickly dried clothes. Our memories of struggling to dry our washing in Truffy on those wet autumn days in the UK are already fading in the hot Australian sun.

This afternoon it was the excitement of a tropical thunderstorm. We saw the sky darkening as we took our crispy washing off the line, and it wasn’t long before we heard the first deep tones of thunder and thick, heavy drops of rain falling on the tin roof. It wasn’t as torrential or long-lasting as the weather forecast had warned, but cooled the temperatures down slightly and gave the novel aroma of hot summer rain to our environment.

The weather warning sounded much more exciting than the actual storm!
Hurrah! The rain is here!

The Northern Territory is famed for its wildlife, which on past visits up this way we have greatly enjoyed. From our 6×2 metre combined decks we crane our necks to spot anything we can. Morning is when we are most likely to see a pair of black kites circling the nearby highway, looking out for roadkill from the previous night. During the day we hear (but are yet to see) rainbow bee-eaters hunting for insects, and sunset is when we spot families of noisy white cockatoos squawking across the sky, more graceful black cockatoos calling as they pass overhead, large flocks of ibis and fluttering pairs of lorikeets and rosellas chattering their way to roost for the night. All very exciting. No snakes, spiders or anything furry so far.

Ibis (top) and cockatoos fly home for the night as the sun sets

We’re getting lots of reading done, loving our chance to have long video-calls with friends and even had a great Zoom call with our book club yesterday, with members present from the UK, France, and the east-coast of Australia. What initially seemed like a long and daunting two week prison sentence is not going to be so bad after all. We’ll do our time, and before we know it will be out and back on our next flight across to Sydney.

Another fine NT sunset
No parties on D-block
The sky is on fire

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