“Those who lose dreaming are lost”
– Aborignal Proverb
Another bucket list item – Ayer’s Rock or Uluru, as the aboriginals named it (stress on the first and third syllable, “OO-loo-ROO”).
I had no intention of climbing it as I had heard the native peoples found that offensive, but I wanted to go see it preferably as up close as I could get. And if I could get one of my “I slapped my hands on it!”-pictures I would be ecstatic.
I arrived in Alice Springs by air coming in from Adelaide and got a shuttle bus to my hostel (the local YHA). I was put in a female dorm and promptly went out for supplies.
I had booked a tour that would pick people up at 5am the next day, take us to see Kata Tjuta and Uluru (a 5 hour drive from Alice Springs just to get there), tell us the local stories and legends and show us around, feed us, give us a glass of bubbly with a sunset view of Uluru (gimmicky, but hey, I’ll take it) and then drive us all the way back home by around midnight.
“Kata Tjuṯa (lit. ‘many heads’) also known as the Olgas, is a group of large, domed rock formations or bornhardts located about 360 km southwest of Alice Springs, in the southern part of the Northern Territory, central Australia. Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, located 25 km to the east, and Kata Tjuṯa form the two major landmarks within the Uluru-Kata Tjuṯa National Park. The park is considered sacred to the Aboriginal people of Australia”
The next day I would be getting on a plane to Melbourne leaving at 11.30am so my schedule was tight, but I was making the most of my limited time. Immediately after getting drinks, food and snacks I met what is now dubbed “Bumblebee Fan Club” – Pawel, Monica and Joshua. We were all staying at YHA and struck up a conversation that led into walking to Anzac Hill to see the sunset together.
Atfer an amazing sunset we got some drinks and walked back to the hostel to hang out, chat and enjoy. The hostel was showing the new Transformers-movie “Bumblebee” on one of the building’s walls and we all commented throughout. It immediately became a thing, even if we didn’t stay up log enough to see it all the way through.
The next morning I awoke before I even realized I was awake… I was pretty groggy, but I got my prepacked bag and tiptoed out the door to the adjacent hotel where my designated pickup was.
Luckily there were other people waiting there so I knew I was in the right place. We were picked up and after collecting everyone, our driver “Leif” (who didn’t know of any Norwegian ancestry, but hoped and assumed he had some) told us where the emergency marker was (so that if we got stuck in the middle of nowhere and he was incapacitated we should activate it so emergency rescue could come get us) and told us to buckle up. He would wake us when we arrived for breakfast.
At a small diner-ish place in the middle of rough and red Australia we had a full English breakfast and allocated time to go to the loo before we headed the rest of the way towards Kata Tjuta and Uluru.
Our first stop however, was at the salt flats. I completely missed out on the information for this, I didn’t hear the driver, or at least not what he said, so wen the bus stopped and everybody filed out I thought we were at Uluru. Turned out, we could see it, but really, really far away and everyone was walking away from it, so I was a bit perplexed. But I followed the others and when I got up the little hill I understood what the deal was. An enormous salt flat stretched out in the distance and people lined up to take photos. I had already been -on- the salt flats on my first Africa-tour so I took two photos, enjoyed the view a bit and then sauntered back down to the bus. I did enjoy the redness of the ground beneath me though, it looked way redder than in Africa. (At least as far as I remembered).
Finally, after driving about 5 hours, we made it to the “Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre” or the visitors center where the official tours start. We were given a local guide that I can’t remember the name of, (I was only semi happy with him to be honest), and he took us out to see Kata Tjuta first. This was a bonus for me as I had only read up about Uluru.
The Anangu people (Aboriginal Australian groups, roughly approximate to the Western Desert cultural bloc) believe the great rocks of Kata Tjuṯa are homes to spirit energy from the ‘Dreaming’, and since 1995 the site is being used once again for cultural ceremonies. This is where you can do the “Kuniya Walk” and see the “Mutitjulu Waterhole” (one of the few permanent water sources around Uluru). The Kuniya walk is a living cultural landscape. It’s the site of one of Uluru’s most dramatic creation stories – the deadly battle between Kuniya (the python woman) and Liru (the poisonous brown snake man).
We walked around while our guide told us the story and showed us the marks on the rocks and the landscape that show the story itself. The wavy pattern here was from when the snake moved, this hole was from when they fought etc. It was interesting and quite fascinating – I could tell why the stories where popular, especially among the children. The thing I was the most happy about though, was having invested in a fly net for my head the day before when I went into the visitors’ centre in Alice Springs. I had debated whether or not I needed one, but if you ever go and you have the same debate: Just freakin’ get it. It saved me. No joke. ❤
I’m pretty sure there was a meal in here somewhere, but I think it was a sandwich on the bus. I remember it fondly, so I guess it was good. Anyway, after Kata Tjuta we went straight to Uluru where our guide got us off the bus, had the driver drive the bus around and meet up with us so we would end up walking around about half of the rock. He showed us a small cave where the women would cook and chat while the men went hunting and then went on to show us the cave where the men would spend time away from the women – photos were not allowed here because they wanted the first time the young men saw this cave to be the first time they entered it and having lots of photos of it online would ruin that. Of course, we packed our cameras away, just as some guy from another group walk up behind us and started snapping away (right next to a “no photos”-sign). I have to admit I glared at him a bit…
The caves still had some drawings and carvings from so far back it’s pretty insane they are still visible (I have no idea how many hundreds or thousands of years old they are).
After hearing the stories of how the men and women would separate and work our guide showed us another, very shallow “cave” (more like a recess) which was just another hangout, well away from the most sacred parts, and within the “photos allowed”-area. From here we would walk ourselves towards where the bus was waiting and we could take as many photos as we liked (I asked specifically). During this time I saw the steady stream of people walking up and down Uluru and I remembered the Australian woman I had met on the plane who had old me (in her words) “Australians are losing their minds now! Because Uluru is closing for climbers, so everyone and their grandmother is walking up that bloody rock!”. I had always thought “climbers” meant people were actually climbing Uluru and that was where the problem was, that they ahd to put holes in to secure ropes etc. Turns out these “climbers” are actually just “walkers”. People that walk up the slope on the side to the top to catch the view, then walk back down. Apparently, more than one unfortunate soul has fallen down and died doing this and this causes much stress for the local aboriginals who believe that when you die away from home you can’t find your way in the afterlife and who then think it’s their job to help you get back home.
I had already decided not to walk or climb or do anything that wasn’t explicitly allowed by the local Aboriginal tribe so I asked our guide if I was allowed to touch the rock and whether or not that would offend anyone. I was told that was perfectly fine, so I felt the old man Uluru himself under my palm… My fingers brushed the course rock and I had yet another moment of “what is even my life…?” Here I was, on the other side of the world, touching a sacred, old mountain I had only ever read about and seen picture of on the Internet. Now I was here with it.
We ended our day with a dinner from the bus that was pretty much exactly like my African adventures on the tour buses. The food was really good, we got chairs out facing Uluru watching it change colours during the sunset. It went from orangey-brown-red to greyish-purply the further into evening we got. Pawel’s group joined us at the sunset spot too and we sent some pictures to our two missing Fan Club members. (Pawel was doing the two day tour, but he wasn’t quite sure it was totally worth it, they had spent a bit longer each place than us and was doing Uluru up close the next day and he felt they were dawdling a lot. I can understand that as I felt our group (1 day tour) had more than enough time at each spot, I don’t really see how they can stretch it out over two whole days…)
When our bubbly was well and truly drunk and we had created some new art through our glasses the groups split up and we started our 5 hour drive back to Alice Springs (our driver saw a kangaroo lying by the side of the road on the way back and went out to kill it (it was injured) – he then told us about how you have to check for joeys (kangaroo babies) in the pouch and if there are any and the mother is beyond saving you have to put a needle through the nipple it’s attached to and cut it off (because it can’t let go) and bring the baby to a vet)…Cheerful way to end the trip there…
I was dropped off outside my hostel at midnight. Thankful I had already packed my stuff for my trip the next day I crashed into bed and was unconscious in about five minutes (which is pretty unusual for me).