the Long Drive

Alice Springs
Ayer's Rock - Uluru

Sometime during the night in my dream state I dreamt that my cellular phone alarm was ringing and I snoozed it.  Maybe 5 times.

And then I heard the phone ringing and went back to sleep.

The phone rang again and I put it to my ear, “Hey mate, you going on a trip today?”  The Australian voice was quite chipper, quite awake.  I didn’t even know what continent I was on.  “What?”  I asked and he said, “You going to Ularu today maybe?”  His voice was changing from morning eagerness to irritation.  It began to dawn on me, I’d slept in and the tour bus was outside my hotel.  All of my fellow trekkers were waiting on me.  I told him to give me 5 minutes; I’d back and be right down.

Crap!

I threw my bag together and tried to remember my camera, phone and chargers, pants, shorts, jacket and sleeping bag.  Items missed: most importantly, a towel.

I don’t even remember getting onto the bus; it was a blur of faces before I collapsed front first into my seat and fell quickly back to sleep.  It was 06:20.

The rest of the morning involved seeing a full rainbow at a bathroom break, waking to bizarre conversations behind me, “A curve is a ‘bend’ in the road, whereas a turn is 90 degrees,” followed by argument over the definition of a curve versus a bend – all this in Canadian and British accents.  “Surely a bend is different than a curve, eh?”  I must be dreaming as no one could argue about something as inane as this.  But then again, it was a 6 hour drive through the barren landscape of central Australia.  I was woken a few times, to pay my park fee, to buy a bottle of water (you can’t hike without a 1 liter bottle of water), a chance to buy aspirin and the occasional discussion behind me.

It was going to be a long day.  Alice Springs to Uluru, 440 kilometers, about 264 miles in a bus that has less legroom than an American Airlines 737.

I don’t think I was quite “right” until shortly before arrival at Uluru some time before noon.  I looked around the bus and found that we were 23 seats for 24, the only empty seat on the whole bus was the one I was laying in and it was soon to be filled by a Slovak man that we were picking up at the Uluru airport.  Wait, Uluru airport?  You mean I could have flown in and avoided this 6 hour bus ride from Alice Springs?  Doh!  Why wasn’t that in the tour book?

Behind me: Kellie from Canada, Simon and Anna from the UK, to my left a Japanese guy who’s name I can’t remember and couldn’t pronounce when he introduced himself and my Slovak friend to the right.  In front of me is a German girl, a UK girl and a guy from, well somewhere else.  24 guests and we had representation from Japan, Germany, France, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Slovakia, Italy, Canada and I’m pretty sure I was the only Gringo on the bus.

We arrived at our campsite at Uluru and began lunch.  Our “interesting” tour guide named Reggie (but he goes by ‘Reg’) made sure to announce, “You chose the most budget tour available, this means you’ll have to prepare many of your own meals and do your own dishes.  Hmmm…. $350 for 3 days is budget?  Well, this is Australia, perhaps the most expensive country on the planet (tsk, tsk).  I applied the skills I’ve learned watching endless episodes of Survivor and immediately began helping to unload the truck, to prepare lunch and as soon as I was done eating I helped with the dishes and put everything away.  I didn’t want to get voted off the island – or in this case, voted out of the desert.

While we ate lunch Reg filled the gas tanks and was back to collect us.  We had a date with Kata Tjuta – gosh, I hope I spelled it correctly.  It is a beautiful rock formation near Uluru – a bit different in that it is a series of peaks whereas Uluru looks like one rock.  Both formations are considered holy ground to the Aboriginal people.  Both provided a landmark, shelter and a place of gathering for family units.  Reg gave us an afternoon tour and explained how the formations were created: this used to be the top of a mountain range as high as Mt. Everest and over time it was eroded down and this is all that is left.  Reg went on and on about how this rock rolled 100 kms from this area to that and how unique this range was but honestly, with the hangover and the visual saturation from the red rock and beautiful landscape I found myself moving farther and farther away from his voice.

Following out tour of Uluru’s little brother we returned to camp and tour guide Reg announced that he would prepare dinner while we watched the sun set on Uluru – the fading sun’s rays are supposed to change the rock all shades of red, orange and yellow.  We walked from our camp to a small hill nearby to watch the setting sun and to our disappointment we found that the color of Ularu didn’t change at all; it stayed the same flat red color that we’d seen all day; the sky was still overcast and it didn’t make for very nice photos.  The Italians were in form and began making jokes posing as “Superman” in front of the great rock – they layed on top of short telephone poles that served as barriers around the viewing area.  The two Italian friends (one named Enrico) reminded me of the two opossums on Ice Age II – they said the funniest things and kept the other 22 of us in stitches for the whole trip.  As I was shooting photos of Uluru Enrico began pretending to be an Italian supermodel and made some funny poses while we all laughed on.  Everyone else made poses like they were holding up Uluru much like you see tourists “holding up” the tower at Pisa.

We watched the sun set and slowly the members of our group faded back to the camp and eventually we went back for dinner.  Tour guide Reg gave us a brief on our sleeping arrangements; we would be sleeping in “swags,” sleeping bag like mini-tents that are both waterproof, warm and have a built-in foam mattress.  I’d never heard of swags before but once I got into mine I understood why they are so popular.  Anna and Simon were the first in to bed and I snapped a photo of them in their swags and then returned to the rest of the group as they told stories around the camp fire.  One of the plusses of this trip was the nightly camp fire; each night we told travel stories, asked each other about our backgrounds, travel and our experiences in Australia.  Enrico told us a “scary” Italian story that wasn’t scary at all and it didn’t really translate well, I’m not sure why but we had a good laugh out of it.


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Alice Springs
Ayer's Rock - Uluru

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