Week Twenty Six - Uluru 12/30/2010
I was watching
with one eye on the other side
I had fifteen people telling me to move
I got moving on my mind
I found shelter
In some thoughts turning wheels around
I said 39 times that I love you
to the beauty I had found
- White Strips, Hotel Yorba, White Blood Cells, 2001
Day One Hundred and Seventy Six December 11th
There’s not a lot to do in Darwin. You can walk all of downtown in about twenty minutes. The main site is the Museum we saw yesterday, a Woolworths were they sell food and all the rest is just filler. That’s OK though since we are leaving today to fly to the middle of the Red Centre. We are all glad to be moving on and hopefully out of the rain and humidity. It is still really hot.
We are flying to Alice Springs, The Middle of Nowhere Australia. It is hard to believe the airlines have flight service in and out of here, but then again the drive is over 1,400K so they need an alternative for the tourist trade. And the tourist trade needs to get to Alice Springs as it is the only springboard to Ayers Rock or Uluru.
We get up fairly early for us these days to re-pack our clean laundry and head to the airport for our flight. It’s pouring rain on and off: good to be leaving with the storms threatening the way they are. At check out we learn the Internet service is based on the amount of data we use as well as the amount of time we are logged on. Surprise! So a $1.99 episode on iTunes actually costs another $30 to download. Someone is making a fortune on this Internet access thing.
We have another box that we need to send back home so we stop by the post office thinking Australia is a solid option for mail and that it is probably a good bet that a box will make the trip in one piece. $80 to mail the box. It’s a small box mind you and we don’t care when it actually arrives (as long as it does) and the cheapest option is still $80. $80! For a box (small). Someone out there needs to create a company that can disintermediate the shipping value chain. A fortune is sitting there for a reliable, low-cost provider. This is a global problem, I mean opportunity, and ripe for the picking.
At the airport a nice couple takes one look at us and promptly hands us a $30 travel voucher that they are not using so we can feed the kids. We are a bit thin these days. Excellent, play it forward, naturally we load up on coffee and water pre-flight. This is all a good thing since we are cash strapped at the moment waiting for accounts to clear. Moving money electronically has been great but you need to remember to top off the tank now and again. Already Australia is much more expensive than we thought it would be.
We are flying Qantas, so I keep snickering since all I can think of is Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. The flight is very nice and surprisingly full. Must be the Oprah effect. It is amazing to look out the plane window for an hour and see no signs of life below. And to think some nutty people make the drive just for the experience of all that nothingness. It looks insane from 30,000 feet.
When we land it is well over a thousand degrees. The walk from the plane to the terminal all but zaps the life out of us. It is a slog to get our bags and find the rental car counter.
The guidebooks said that the “Red Centre” is hot but nothing really prepares you for this. With all the red dirt, blue sky and intense sunshine it all looks so inviting but as soon as you step foot outside the heat just overpowers you. For the first time I have a real sense of how people can die out here from the heat. It’s beyond Africa and Jordan. Actually, this is way beyond anything we have ever experienced.
The people are very friendly. Our rental car lady checks us in for half and hour chatting away about this and that, suggesting places to go and things to do in town. One of “the guys” comes back after leaving for the day to track down a booster seat for Vince and then hand delivers it to us in the parking lot. That’s not happening in LA I assure you. Her last piece of advice and a rule of the rental car companies actually is not driving after dusk. “That’s when the really big stuff comes out to lie on the roads seeking warmth” Big stuff? “Oh, mostly roos and lizards, that kind of thing, no worries though.” Lizards? “Bigger than the car. Do all kinds of damage. Best to wrap up by sundown.” No worries.
Our apartment is in town and part of a complex that appears to be a mix of short term and long-term rentals. It is perfect for us with two big bedrooms, a nice kitchen and sitting area all with glorious air conditioning. It is a self-cater set up so we grab some food at the local Woolworth, dine in and call it a night.
In the evening it cools down to nine hundred and ninety nine degrees before bedtime.
Day One Hundred and Seventy Seven December 12th
Alice Springs is a stop over point between everywhere else and Uluru so you don’t really expect much of the place. We have a day here to see what there is to see and check out life in the Red Centre. It is hotter than yesterday to add some perspective.
There is a living desert museum here, The Alice Springs Desert Park, with an outdoor exhibit of three climate zones common out in the middle of nowhere. How exciting does that sound? We pretty much have the place to ourselves.
It turns out to be a great stop. It is a living museum in the sense that each region has plants and animals found in the given zone. Some are just growing wild while others are set in large enclosed areas. It is amazing to see how everything adapts to the two things you must have out here (1) water and (2) a way to deal with the heat.
The highlight is a Ranger talk by a local guide descended from the Aboriginal tribes that live in the area. He discusses tribal life and the differences between “men’s” and “women’s” business. There are spears and shields and cooking items and food sources. The items are passed around to give you a sense of weight and feel. This hour spent and the understanding we get about the area and the people make all of the travel to Alice Springs worthwhile.
The Aboriginal people have been here for 30-40,000 years. It is the oldest continual line of people/culture in the world. We learn all sorts of things about the way they pass down information between generations. That the young never ask why of an Elder: because the Elders speak for all that have come before them. That marriages are set up between distant clans to preserve bloodlines and make sure the gene pool is solid. That the maximum number of people per living section of land is known and strictly adhered to in order to preserve food and water sources. It is all fascinating.
Today, the Aborigines are having a tough go of things. The parallels to the American Indians are uncanny. Pushed off the native land, corralled into cramped, unnatural space. They are lost and feeling the effects in every way. Interestingly, our guide is very hopeful and he firmly believes that in two or three generation they will figure out how to be survive in the new world and once again thrive in the new environment. The fact that he is taking a “two of three generation” view of it all speaks volumes.
One of best exhibits in the Museum is a big building they have out in the middle of the park with a night exhibit. As you walk in from the blaring sun and oppressive heat, the areas gets gradually darker and cooler until you are under the night sky. All of the animals are exhibited in darkness so that the night creatures are comfortable being active. It’s wild. All kinds of things are wandering around after dark. Trust me if you come to the Red Centre stay inside when the sun goes down. Here, what you don’t know can definitely kill you.
A quick note about the people that live here: they all look hung over. Pretty much everyone is a bit bleary. I can only imagine how bad the drinking problem is here. When Teri bought a bottle of wine she noticed that there are restrictions on how much alcohol you can by in a 24-hour period and it seem it’s with good reason.
The Aborigines look completely lost and out of place. There is no connection between people what so ever and no attempt is made to interact. There is no eye contact. No one is smiling. And they all look hung over too.
There is a really sense of survival about the place but its mixed with enough creature comfort to deaden the senses. Here is seems the modern world is not necessarily a good thing.
Day One Hundred and Seventy Eight December 13th
Uluru is three hundred miles from Alice Springs. This is a “short” drive here in Australia. We would agree except that Teri kept telling us all it was three hundred kilometers and we are all geared up for a two hour drive that turns into four and change. Plus, the heat is just ridicules.
Over three hundred miles we pass: ten trucks (all train trucks three cars long), twenty-four cars, one bike and twenty-seven hawks circling above. That is over three hundred miles and includes coming out of Alice Springs and coming into Uluru. The place is empty and fascinating.
At one point we stop for gas and the guy in the store tells me this is a cool day. That a hot day is in the low fifties and flies cover you head to toe. The “fifties” are anywhere from 122 to 140 degrees in our world. This could be one of the most intense environments on the planet. Thank goodness they have cold Diet Coke!
The drive is odd in that it is unremarkable in most ways but the solitude is hard to grasp and shake. You begin to get just a small taste of what life beyond the small towns is really like out here. A lot of it is still uncharted, undiscovered. They keep finding new things here: animals, plants, stuff from space, all kinds of things. Imagine finding anything new in the States; probably not going to happen. Here it seems that something like eighty percent of the place is uninhabited and still open for discovery and interpretation. It is appealing in an add sort of way.
The town, I use town loosely here, of Uluru is set up for tourists coming to see the rock. There are five hotels ranging from camping on the low end to a plush hotel on the very high end, all built around a circular drive with the rest of the infrastructure tucked in between them. There is a gas station, a guide shop, and the small square where you can buy stuff, a grocery store, a few restaurants and a manageable number of cars and people.
We are staying mid-range at the Lost Camel Resort. It is very nice and has a pool so all is well. We drop our bags. Grab a quick bite and then head over to the Visitors Center to get our bearings for our less than twenty-four hour stay.
As soon as you see the rock it sort of pulls you in. Nothing else matters: it dominates the horizon. The thing is huge. I thought it would be smooth for some reason but its not. It has pockmarks and indentations and stains down the sides from rainfall. It definitely has an impact.
There is not much at the Cultural Center. We use it as a background check and a warm up for tomorrow. There are a few exhibitions and some information about the management board made up of both natives and Australians. You get the impression all is working well between them but it is hard to tell. The best news is that they have a suitable Ranger walk at 8a that we can aim for.
The kids are cranked up so on the way back to the hotel we stop and have them run around the parking lot at one of the sunset overlooks. When I suggest they do laps Vince dutifully takes off with Adele on his heels. It is a crazy and hilarious scene. If only the heat and sun would wear them down!
When we get back to the hotel everyone is tense from the long travel day in the heat. Since the energy levels are still running high we opt for our last hope to cool down and relax. When all else fails, go for a swim. This turns out to be a good fit. We spend and hour or so after dinner at the pool regrouping from the long day. The sun sets and leaves a burnt orange glow over everything. From the pool you can float on your back and watch the colors change on the trees.
Vince and I are in the Chico room and Teri and Adele share one for the Chicas. As soon as heads hit pillows we are all out like lights.
Lost Camel Resort room note left on the bed: “Due to unseasonal rain and flooding which appears to have dramatically altered the lifecycle of much of the desert flora and fauna, insects are in plague proportions. We apologize for any inconvenience.”
They actually say “plague”…
Day One Hundred and Seventy Nine December 14th
We start the day with an 8a hike from the base of the rock with one of the guides from the Park Ranger Service. Once again we get someone that truly loves their job. I overhear him telling some young kids with the group that he has been training to do this all his life and can think of nothing else he would rather be doing. It shows in his work. The two-hour walk is one of the best we have had in a National Park.
He is full of stories and information about the rock and the Aboriginal tribes that have lived here. The big take away for me is just how interconnected everything is here and how in tune the people are with the land. Clearly there is something going on and it is happening on more levels than I can understand. It makes you feel completely out of touch with what ever it is yet at some base level very much at home and a part of something all around you. I have no idea how to describe it: I am not sure what it is exactly. But it is something and it is meaningful. Maybe it’s the heat.
By noon we are checked out of the hotel and are bound for the airport. We decided to fly out of here instead of driving back to Alice Springs (a great decision in retrospect) so we are due to drop off the car and catch a 1:30p flight to Perth. Logistics are easy and the flight painless. As we climb off the desert floor, seeing Uluru from the air, it standing there all alone, in the vast emptiness, is really something.
Landing in Perth is like coming back to the real world. The airport is big and bustling. People are moving to and fro and moving in all directions. It feels odd to be with so many people again after being so isolated in Darwin and Uluru.
I will say again that I feel totally comfortable here in Australia. I like everything about it. The people seem positive and upbeat and there is a palpable energy in the air. It feels alive.
For the next two weeks we have arranged for a home exchange with our house in Malibu. This means we stay here and the family we are exchanging with stays in our place, though in this case they are not coming until the summer or 2012. Fortunately they have a few homes and we get to do one week down on the beach in a small town in the southwest corner and another up in the city of Perth. Unfortunately, we still have a 300K drive to Yallingup.
So, about Yallingup. It is a tiny town (not really, its more like a community) on the ocean about three hours south of Perth. It easily has one of the best beaches in the world. It must be one of the best surf spots on the coast with breaks coming in left, right and center. The reef stretches along the beach to break the really big waves though they are still on the high side by our standards.
It feels like the Hamptons when I was a kid. At night everyone goes to sleep and you can’t see any lights. During the day you notice when people drive by. We walk down to the water. There is a small playground and a place to shower up after a swim. At the base by the parking lot is a camping spot for a dozen of so luck campers.
Our house sits just up the hill, set back a bit from the road and high enough for full on ocean views from the decks. There is one big room downstairs, bedrooms up top and an office out back. The family has small kids so there are three big toy chests and a bunch of kids stuff. It is perfect for a week of rest and relaxation.
We arrive late. On the way into the house we stop by for take out Thai food and some basic supplies. Then we find our way and begin to settle in. All in all today was a long travel day but the bookends of the early morning hike and the late night arrival at the beach make it all worthwhile.
Day One Hundred and Eighty December 15th
Up to a glorious day. The sun is shining and the beach is calling. We spend the entire day there, in the morning I head down with Vince to play in the surf and sand. Then we head back to the house for lunch and then return with Adele for more of the same all afternoon. It is fantastic.
Day One Hundred and Eighty One December 16th
Up to a glorious day, again! You can get used to this kind of lifestyle. The sky is a deep blue and the sun is shining, the salt air crisp and clean.
Today we decide to journey down to Margaret River. This is the central town on the wine circuit and billed as the place to be in this neck of the woods. I guess it is if you like that kind of thing. To us it seems like any other small town. It is a bit odd to see a Target here on the other side of the world but other than that is a sleepy, somewhat downscale version of the Cape.
Vince isn’t feeling well today. He has been off lately and today it seems to finally be taking its toll on him. Since the temperature is really high in the sun and the main street doesn’t really have that much to offer we do one quick loop, stop by a pharmacy for some meds and call it an afternoon.
Though not before buying two boogie boards and checking out the surf shops for my eco-friendly board short project. It seems the big surf wear houses are offering some form of RPET poly shorts but not up to par with what we intend to do with VinniVooms. To further test the concept and pick up Vin’s spirits we get matching board shorts to celebrate the pending launch of the new company. The world needs eco-friendly board shorts for fathers and sons! At least this world does.
We need gas so we pull into a BP station. One of the things about the Australians is that they love to tell jokes and they don’t seem to care what they say in front of children. The gas station guy leans into the car and says, “This guy walks into a psychiatrist stark naked, wrapped in plastic wrap and asks, Doc what’s wrong with me? And the psychiatrist says, well sir I can see you nuts!” Ok, so it’s funny. Which prompts Adele to say, “What’s so funny?” And Vince so start yelling, “Nuts, that guy said nuts!” in his Tylenol induced delirium. Ah, what happened to the chicken crossing the road? Got to love these Australians.
Day One Hundred and Eighty Two December 17th
Yet another glorious day. These skies have possibly the most beautiful and bluest hue we have seen to date. They look fake. Actually, it is hard not to be shocked each time you walk out the door into the sunshine. And it’s hot. Really, really hot. Again.
It is Adele’s turn to be under the weather today. She wakes up with the same thing Vince has been fighting for the past few days. It was a tough night with both kids down for the count. Not a lot of sleep for the parents.
We decide to lay low and recoup as we celebrate our halfway point in our years long journey. This is day one hundred and eighty two, the mid-year point in terms of days. If you had asked me a year ago where I would be today I would have been hard pressed to say Perth Australia. It has been one incredible ride.
And to think we are only half way there…