Saturday, July 12, 2014

An Outback Adventure

I arrived in Alice Springs on Tuesday and at 5:30am Wednesday morning got picked up by my tour bus. I was doing the three day, two night trip with The Rock Tour so I do apologize, this post is going to be extra long.  Our Irish tour guide's swearing could put a sailor to shame, but he was nice enough and did a good job.  I'd been praying before this trip that I'd be able to make a buddy, just someone to hang out with on the trip, and God gave me a great Finnish girl named Milla.  She was very funny and we ended up doing all the hikes together and being "swag buddies" every night.  Did I mention this was a true camping experience?  We slept on the ground every night in swags (the Australian term for a bedroll - it's a canvas cocoon with a matress inside and you put your sleeping bag in, zip it all up and you're good to go), and the first night was just out in the bush, no running water or electricity.  We did thankfully have a "bush toilet" so we didn't have to wander off and dig a hole.  Sleeping in a swag probably wouldn't have been too bad except the sleeping bags you rent off them didn't seem to be made for winter weather.  I was totally shocked at how thin they were!  We all froze every night since it was below freezing.  So, although I got no sleep for two nights in the row, it was still a cool experience and didn't ruin the trip.

After a four hour bus ride the first day we went to Watarrka National Park to do the Kings Canyon Rim Walk for our first hike of the trip.
 It was so beautiful, there's even one section named The Garden of Eden because of all the trees and bushes near a water hole.  Such varied landscape, it was very impressive.  We stopped along the road on our way to our campsite to collect firewood for the night.  We all pitched in to prepare and cook dinner over the fire before finally getting a demonstration of how to use a swag and going to bed.  We got up a 4:30am the next morning (although none of us minded because we were so cold and couldn't sleep anyway), had some breakfast, packed up and headed to Kata Tjuta for the Valley of the Winds hike.  This hike was possibly more beautiful than the first hike. Milla and I had a good time on the hike and we even got to see some kangaroos.
 After the hike we headed to the Uluru Aboriginal Cultural Center to learn more about the 'Tjukurpa' Dreamtime of the Pitjantjatjara tribe.  It was such a fascinating cultural center and was definitely what I needed.  Up until this point Australia just didn't seem that foreign because their culture was too similar to our own, so I especially enjoyed learning about Pitjantjatjara culture, history, and their code of conduct and such.  Sadly, you can't take any photos inside the cultural center and there was so much to learn and we just didn't have that much time there.  Uluru is in a National Park so to give the land back to its rightful owners the Australian government leased it to the Pitjantjatjara with their people having the majority position on the board and after the lease is up they can do what they want with the land.  As of now they work hand in hand with the non-Aboriginal rangers helping protect the land.  Because Uluru is sacred to their people they don't want people to climb Uluru, but have yet to be able to make it illegal to do so.  Their park rangers even have it in their contract that if someone gets hurt climbing Uluru they don't have to take part in the rescue.  Sadly, so many people still climb, even though there's a huge sign at the bottom, in several languages, asking people not to climb.

We headed to the sunset viewing area to have dinner and snap some photos of the color changes.  It was pretty neat, although it happens so subtly that you almost don't notice.  It was awesome though because the full moon was just off to the left, and I love a full moon.

Our second night we were at a campground so we were able to get some nice hot showers and use real toilets - it really is the little things in life you have to appreciate.  We sat around the fire for quite awhile, none of us wanted to go to bed because we knew we'd just be freezing cold.  Between Milla and Inga (a very funny, and adorable German girl) we had plenty to chat about.  It was fun to hear more about everyone's travels and adventures in Australia so far.  Plus Killian had tons of stories from all the past tour groups he's had.  I just wonder if he'll have any stories about our group to tell the next group.  I don't remember anything all that memorable happening, but who knows. This time when he told us we had to get up at 5:30am none of us moaned about it because we knew we'd all be more than ready to get up and moving.

Day three had us watching the sun rise next to Uluru while eating our breakfast.  It was terribly cold and windy, but well worth the effort.  Plus, when it's that cold out there's never any trouble finding someone to wash the dishes because it's a sure-fire way to keep your hands warm.
Our final hike was actually quite easy - we simply walked around the base of Uluru.  It's the second largest monolith in the world and took Milla and I just under 2 hours to walk around.  There are so many facets to the rock, and it was a beautiful sunny morning for such a walk.  Once we finished it was back to the bus to start making our way to Alice Springs.  Our final stop on the way "home" was at a camel farm.  Milla convinced me to ride a camel with her and it was actually quite fun - mostly because she couldn't stop laughing and carrying on during the ride.  Once the camel started running I wasn't sure she was going to make it.  As we made our way back the sun was starting to set and the view out the window as the outback landscape went rushing by was spectacular.  So that was my adventure, thankfully I didn't see any snakes or spiders!  I did have a scare the first night though, I swear I felt something crawling across the top of my swag, but I was too scared to lift the flap and find out what it was....

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