Friday, 29 June 2012

Uluru and Beyond

I had been given mixed reviews about Uluru, in the heart of Australia's centre. All I will say on the matter is that, too me, it was much more than just a big rock. Ever since I was a little girl and had an Australian kindergarten teacher, my image of this vast country, that is really focused on the coast in reality, was the outback and Ayers Rock at the heart of it. So to finally see that semi-arid area (not, in fact, desert I discovered) and the rock for myself, it was a big deal.

Here's my beautifully organised trip (sometimes it just easier to go with a tour):

Day 1

I was picked up while it was still dark at 5.45am from my hostel in order to begin the long drive out of Alice Springs and toward Kings Canyon, our first stop. On the way, we learned the story of the camel in the outback: Afghan cameleers brought them in order to better cross the harsh terrain of Australia's middle and then later to build both the telegraph line and the railway. By the 1930s, however, the camel had largely helped itself out of being useful. Instead of deporting these newcomers like the Australian government does today when you stop serving a useful function, the camels were released to the wild. Unbelievably, they have flourished and there are now over 500,000 feral camels running around the bush. When we stopped at a camel farm, I felt fully obliged to complete this ridiculous story with a short ride on one of the creatures. It was bumpy.

From there we drove on fairly consistently, stopping only for petrol, toilet breaks (including one at Erldunda, the closest you can get to the geographical centre of Aus) and lunch before we arrived at Kings Canyon. It was a fairly sedate 6km walk where we learned a bit about bush medicine and the local flora. It turns out there are more species of acacia than eucalypt in Aus! Perhaps the most beautiful part of the walk was the descent into the Garden of Eden, so called as water has been trapped in one of the crevasses leading to a flourishing of life - tall trees and shrubs galore. It felt a little bit like Jurassic Park. We made it back up onto the plateau for sunset and watched the rock light up red and then fade as the sun sunk below the far off horizon over endless flat plains. Everything seemed a little rose tinged as we descended for the last time to get back on the bus and head to camp.

Dinner and camp was an effort of pooled energy in the group. We had a simple dinner of spag bol, got a shower, lit a fire (which I later maintained for a good while, dancing around it like a pyro-pixie, red faced but certainly not cold in the below 0 temperature) and set up our swags for the night. A swag is pretty much a big bag with a thin mattress fixed to its bottom that you, wrapped in your sleeping bag, lie in and zip up and pull a flap over your head. I had quite a warm night's sleep in the end and got to enjoy the stars before I finally gave in to my drooping eyes.

Day 2

After another early rise, we made it on our way to Uluru, another fair drive away. On the road we were met by the sight of Mount Conner, dubbed 'Fooluru' by tour guides for its superficial resemblance to the real thing. Once you have seen Uluru, however, it's easy to tell the difference between the former, a table top mountain, and the latter, the world's biggest monolith (I think it is anyway). On the other side, there was Lake Amadeus, a vast and eerie looking salt lake.

We finally saw Uluru from the bus emerging over a sand dune. After some silly pictures at the campsite lookout, we made our way to the cultural centre to learn more about the Anangu people and why we shouldn't climb the rock. And, perhaps a little out of understanding and respect but also peer pressure and guilt, I did not climb the rock. I did however walk its base, or at least 3/4 of its 10km. On the way, we were told some of the stories of how the Anangu people believe Uluru was shaped by their ancestral beings, giant animals of the bush in the Dreamtime, and the morals attached to them. Aside from feeling super gap yah and socially, culturally, politcally awaaare, it was actually just nice to hear exactly why the rock is so special, even if those stories are not mine.

It was soon time to join the circus gathering at the sunset viewing spot so that we might experience the (in)famous changing colours of Uluru. Again this was something I was prepared to be disappointed by from other travellers' stories. Maybe it was that mindset or maybe it just is one of those sights for me, but I was certainly not diappointed. As the light fell lower and lower in the sky, the rock really did grow redder and its lines, scars from the ancestral beings if you will, became more defined. As the sun finally disappeared, the horizon was coloured bright blue, with pink-purple haze above it and crowned by the dying day-time sky. It was a stunning sight.

Camp that night was much the same as the previous night. It may have been a budget trip but this is some of the most comfortable camping I have ever done - toaster and kettle for breakfast, as well as hot showers! Dinner was a little more exciting with camel sausages and kangaroo steaks. I must admit, camel sausages were weird!

Day 3

An even earlier start to this morning - so early, in fact, it was actually still nighttime with the stars out in full force at 5am. We were up to see the sun rise over the horizon next to Uluru and watch the colours of Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) light up. This is probably the point I got closest to crying; it's definitely one of the most impressive sunrises I've seen in my life. Simply stunning. I will try and upload a photo at a later date since words won't do it justice.

After my emotional dawn, we set out to Kata Tjuta (meaning Many Heads because of its bizarre protruding humps of conglomerate rock sticking out at angles) for the Valley of the Winds walk. According to our guide, this place is so sacred to the Anangu that they refuse to tell us any stories at all of the place. To this day, they still go there to perform ceremonies for their young men. We managed the full circuit of 7.4km which, while easy at first, was no mean feat by the time we finished at 11am and the sun had really gotten up and into its role of a giant heater. A short but well deserved lunch looking up at the strange tall rocks marked the end of the trip. We piled into the van for a few dropoffs and finally the 4 1/2 hour drive back to Alice Springs.

The following morning I actually managed to make it to the airport on time for my flight. After evident enthusiasm about looking out the window, the poor man next to me offered to swap seats, probably so I would stop breathing down his neck. I made it to Perth and killed my 10 hours wandering around the city and, as per usual, getting a little lost, this time in Kings Park trying to see the sunset but hampered by the trees.

Then on to Bali where I am writing this blog from. I arrived 2am yesterday to discover my backpack still in Perth (in the best case scenario) but I managed to get myself safely through the first taxi price negotiation and up to Seminyak-Kuta and my hostel. I had to wake the 24 hour receptionist up from the couch but other than that and my missing backpack, things are going well here! Now to explore, debate buying fresh clothes, and then head to Sanur for the next two nights. I certainly live in exciting times.

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