Say it with me now, Uluru (pronounced u:lu:ru). Such a fun word, isn’t it? Well if you can’t get the hang of that, the place I am talking about is also called Ayers Rock (the given English name). On a month long exploration of Australia I was dedicated to exploring as much territory as I could, including the ever expansive outback.
A friend and I arrived in Alice Springs the Northern Territory’s third largest city, which is not saying much. A sign at the local hospital boasted of their recent smoking ban. I made a little mental note, not to get hurt.
We chose a nearby hostel because it offered a trek through the outback and a stop at Uluru. What is Uluru you ask? It is an enormous sandstone formation that sits in the middle of the freaking desert. According to Wikipedia (because I didn’t measure) the giant rock stands at 1,142 feet high and 5.8 miles around. That is 2,831 feet about sea level. Seriously…It’s enormous and in the middle of nowhere.
Who wouldn’t want to see such a random growth? We made the trek from Alice Springs by way of a rickety, old school bus. It is about 280 miles from Alice Springs to Uluru, in the hot, dry, summer desert. Before setting out on this adventure I assumed the landscape of the outback would resemble the sands of the Sahara, a vast nothingness. But I was wrong; the outback looks much like the deserts of Arizona. Fauna and flora are present everywhere. If you have never read Bill Bryson’s book, In a Sunburned Country, I suggest you pick it up. It is an amazing depiction of the complexity of Australia and its extremely diverse terrain and culture.
Anyhow, we were thrilled to find that everyone filling the bus came from all different parts of the world: Japan, Amsterdam, Reunion Island (a place I had never heard of), Sweden, etc. We were the only Americans, which was more than fine with us.
The bus was packed full of coolers and cold beer, our guides did their best to keep us busy until our first stop. We would be camping in this scrubland for three nights. I grew up camping almost every weekend during the summers in Colorado and looked forward to this part of the trip. After consuming copious amounts of beer and playing “get to know each other” games, we finally made a stop to collect firewood. Drunken people forging through the Australian outback in the dark seemed foolish to me. There is some really scary stuff out there and I was not excited to run into any of it.
After filling the back of the trailer with wood scraps, we continued on to find our camp site. Upon our arrival, I looked around for a space where our tents would be set up.
“Hey boss, where are we going to pitch these tents?” I asked unknowingly.
“What tent? There are no tents”, replied our stern guide.
We camped in nothing but a sleeping bag (swag bag) surrounding a fire. The fire was supposed to keep away any unwanted “guests”, which I learned meant poisonous snakes, spiders and only lord knows what else. Our guide assured us that it was probably too hot out for anything too dangerous to climb into our bags with us. Great.
I grabbed someone’s flask and took a swig to hoping to help me forget. Attempting to shake my nerves about our sleeping arrangement, I looked up to take in the limitless night. The stars lit up the sky so brightly that I could almost pinpoint every constellation. Never had I seen something quite so beautiful or powerful. With the emptiness that went on for countless miles, came the serenity of the most magical sky I have ever known. The stars brought with them a peace and I slept like a baby.
In the morning we filled up with bread and Vegemite. I have since concluded that Vegemite is a food you must be raised on. To me, it tastes like slathering antibiotics and vitamins all over a piece of white bread…Yuck. No offense Aussies, I know you’re proud!
As our journey continued we finally arrived at the location we had been highly anticipating, Uluru. I’d like to say this moment was magical and amazing, but really….It’s an enormous rock in the middle of nowhere. That’s not to take away from it, because it really is remarkable to see something that looks as if God became bored while creating the ever expansive desert and plopped a big rock in the middle to create some added interest.
What I found most fascinating was the culture and history surrounding it. The local aborigines believe that this rock is sacred and have worshiped it longer than white man has settled in Australia. Of course, it is now a tourist attraction where people get to climb up it and stomp all over another cultures beliefs. Much like the Native Americans were mistreated, oppressed and re-located the same thing happened to the dwindling Aborigines people. Entire tribes were wiped out so their land could be taken over, and now a century or so later they are put on reservations and are still outcasts of society. It really is quite sad and I could write an entire blog just about their mistreatment. I will spare you the depressing tales though.
Needless to say, I did not feel it was right to climb their sacred ground. It even said in the pamphlet that they asked people to respect their beliefs. Of course, most of our group made the ascent. I can’t say I completely blame them, we did spend two days just to get there and they wanted their one and only shot. Most likely none of us would ever be back to that place in our lifetimes.
The remainder of the day was spent hiking, hanging out, and waiting for the sun to set. The view of Uluru was said to be the most beautiful at sunset. It was worth the wait. As the sun went down, the rock appeared to come to life. I could see why these tribes revered this rock so passionately. Truly, it was a beautiful sight to behold.