Tuesday, 13 October 2009

"If you panic, you will die": Part Three

Once we were on the road again, it was mostly a case of escalating superlatives: first Uluru, which was awe-inspiring, from close-up and from a distance. We did the base walk (only the teenagers wanted to climb it, listening to Jarrod's carefully balanced explanation of why it was a sacred site and shouldn't be disturbed, and then asking how long it would take! It was moot in any case - the top was closed due to high winds). The base walk alone is about 9k, giving you some idea of what a bloody big rock it is. Then we headed to the sunset viewing point, passing by the coach parties with their canapes and magnums of champagne, carrying our filthy coolbox with its sparkling wine and cheese biscuits! We had the best view, though - and the next morning too. Jarrod had found a campsite far away from the crowds, where we slept in our swags on the sand dunes and saw Uluru at dawn, our own private viewing. Absolutely beautiful.

The next day was Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), which is a site sacred to men (Uluru is more a women's place). That walk was far more taxing, but consequently more beautiful. Once you've scaled the path for 3k you can see down the Valley of the Winds, with the red rocks rising and falling around you. It's just on such a massive scale it's hard to comprehend. You can see why the Aborigines told these Dreaming stories about how their landscape came to be - it's hard to imagine it happening by accident; one needs to pull it down to a human scale.

The day after that was Kings Canyon, and that was more spectacular still. The first 10 minutes of the walk (or 20 in my case!) were straight up, and then you were on the top of the canyon, which in itself was beautiful enough, but there was much more to it. There was a natural amphitheatre weathered out of the rocks at the top, and a waterhole filled with palms and birdlife (called the Garden of Eden), mulgas [bush trees] growing out of the rock... And once we'd finished that, we headed off to camp in the bush again, by the River Todd, with dingoes howling in the distance - one of the many experiences from the trip that will stay with me forever.

Actually, there are so many: the kindness of, particularly, Audrey and Romu when I was struggling with the walks - they hung back so I didn't feel I was holding people up so much, and encouraged me to keep going up the steepest parts. The nights by the campfire, drinking Fucking Good Port (seriously, that's the brand name; it lives up to it, too). Listening to Radiohead on the long drives, the perfect soundtrack to the desert (Jarrod is a major fan, and we heard it a lot to my delight). Getting an extra day because of the delay at Mt Dare and just five of us heading off to Palm Valley outside of Alice, which is like some kind of prehistoric landscape (the palms are the only ones of their kind in the world, descended directly from the age of the dinosaurs). Climbing the rocks on top of the lookout, despite my vertigo, with everyone cheering me on. Being the camp clown - I'm not sure what was wrong with me, but I tripped over everything from camels to rocks, set fire to the pot when it was my turn to cook, broke my camera, my boots and hat fell apart (literally - the last few walks I was sticking them together with gaffer tape) and I am still covered in bruises! Not to mention getting locked in the composting toilet at Dalhousie hot springs and breaking myself out with a pair of tweezers. All of it, the good and bad, was brilliant. It was just a sensational, unforgettable trip and I loved every filthy, exhausting day of it.

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