That Gum You Like

Road Trip vol. 3

Posted in Uncategorized by Dave on December 16, 2009

Hey Y’all–

So this is it. I’ve reached the halfway point in my road trip, and will henceforth be retracing my steps in double time to get back to Melbourne by the night of the 20th. This ain’t my last post, I plan to write a little bit more before I leave as a sort of wrapping up gesture, but from here on out, my trip out to the land down under is on a rather steep downhill slope. Ready to go home, buds.

Anyway, my time in Yulara, and thus Ayers Rock and the Olgas (a.k.a. Uluru and Kata Tjuta), was somewhat spectacular. It’s impossible to put into words what it even looks like to walk around the rock or take a jaunt through the Olgas. It’s an experience that is vastly diminished in any sort of reproduction. I’ll try a little.

On Monday, I showed up at Uluru around 11am and did the base loop, which takes you around the whole thing. Before arriving in Yulara, I had been thinking that I would climb Uluru, but as I discovered upon arrival in the town, the climb has no small share of controversy surrounding it. There is first of all, the practical side: 35 people have died climbing it, from either the heat or falling. The climb is pretty steep, although I suspect that many of the deaths were people who were insanely careless about the whole endeavor. The park closes the climb at 8am (it opens a half hour before sunrise), on days that exceed 36 degrees centigrade, and frequently closes it due to high winds. However, of greater significance is that the ‘traditional owners’, as the park refers to the Anangu people that associate themselves with the land surrounding Uluru, view climbing the rock as a serious kind of sacrilege. I won’t pretend to have a firm grasp on the mythology that surrounds the rock, but as far as understood, the top of Uluru was the site of some sort of ceremony that the Anangu see as the origin of their people.

On >onday though, none of this was even an issue. I got there too late anyway, and didn’t even think about it. The walk around the rock is about 10.5km, and certainly wasn’t very difficult, but I easily could have drowned a small child in the amount of sweat I produced. Anyway. As I said before, it’s difficult to describe what the experience of close proximity with the rock is like. Every time you look at it, it’s almost entirely different. The sheer enormity of it, and the monolithic view you’d get from google image or your national geographic documentary on the natural wonders of the world, entirely masks the unbelievable variety of its surface. It’s pocked with caves and fissures, and around every corner a new chunk reveals itself. See? You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure, or I at least sound like I’m in some sort of druggy rapture. Which really isn’t the case, I promise. It may just be a cop out because I’m incapable of summarizing it in some sort of neat fashion, but I don’t think I’ll do you any good continuing to ramble. Go see it. It’s cool. Don’t go in december.

Tuesday, I went to the Olgas, the less famous younger sibling to Ayers rock (the Stephen to its Alec Baldwin). The Olgas are basically a bunch of little Ayers’, all jammed together and piled on top of each other. They are just as impressive as Ayers in terms of size, though not as photogenic or intimidating. There are a few walks through the Olgas, the most prominent of which is The Valley of the Winds Walk. This trek is significantly more difficult than the loop around Uluru, and like the climb, is frequently closed due to high winds or intense heat. The day I showed up, it was closed beyond the first lookout after 11am (the forcast predicted about 40 degrees centigrade). I showed at 10:45, and figured I’d cheat a little bit, and pushed on to the second lookout. I’m very glad I did, as the view was spectacular; jammed in between two of the Olgas, I looked out onto a surprisingly green-looking and enormous valley. However, I’m fairly certain I looked as though I had been swimming when I was done–on the walk back I ran into a few fellow walkers, all of whom recoiled in horror upon seeing me and realizing what they were in for. All I could manage to say to each of them was “Enjoy!”

This morning I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:45am and went to see the sunrise at Ayers. It was a supremely surreal experience. As great as it was to see the rising sun slowly change the color of the rock from a drab orange to a blindingly bright red, sharing it with nearly 500 camera toting tourists dampened the whole thing a little bit. Which, really is my problem with the whole Uluru / Kata Tjuta national park experience. Every possible interaction with the rock is strictly organized and cordoned off. Want to watch the sunset? Please, proceed to the Sunset parking lot, and stand on hot concrete with 1000 other people boozing and talking on their cell phones. Want to see the sunrise? Please enjoy from our two viewpoints, and do your best to ignore the american couple next to you screaming at each other about whose responsibility it was to charge the camera batteries. At the same time though, I feel pretty bad that we were there at all. The whole area holds immense significance for a hugely marginalized people, who have to deal with watching ugly tourists tramp all over land that was ripped out from under them. It’s a tough balance to strike, and the national park is probably doing the best they can to try and negotiate respecting the Anangu while still trying to manage what is effectively the only real tourist destination in all of central Australia. I can’t say I have a better way to go about it, apart from making every tourist take a quiz to prove that they’re not a total douchebag.

After the sun came up, I took my leave of Ayers rock and the surrounding area and pushed on to Alice Springs. I’ll admit to not spending a whole lot of time in the town, but what I did see was pretty good. Lot of Aboriginal art galleries, shitload of gift shops, lot of heat. I cruised up and down the main drag a few times, cleared away some gifts for the folks back home, had a beer, and went back to the hostel I’m crashing at to write all this up. I would write more about Alice now, but I’m starving. Sorry y’all.

Look for my final post coming up soon (hopefully within the next week), and keep it real.

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