Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Red Center

In Melbourne Airport, we are waiting to embark on our flight to Alice Springs. Christina Perri is also in Australia and performs live on the morning show the first song ever to be dedicated to an anatomopathologist "Jar of Hearts". We love the song - it's a good start on a Monday morning. We are excited, despite the early hour, we will soon be in the wild Australian outback.

A few hours later, as the plane starts descending into Alice we are passing through multiple layers of clouds. The land is green, some tracks are red, but there are plenty of puddles of water. Why is it all so green, what is it with all this vegetation? We were supposed to arrive in the desert! We will learn later that they have a wet year like this every 30 years. It is not unusual not to have rain for 3-5 years. Also the temperatures, up to 44 in the summer have dropped to 20-25 during the day and 6-9 degrees at night.






Alice Springs, in the middle of the Australian outback is a legendary place. There were a few hundred people living here at the beginning of the last century, now there are 27000. Like Lonely Planet says, most people came for a weekend or a quick trip and found themselves still living here ten years later, unable to quite explain what happened. It is the only major city in the middle of Australia, 1500 km North from Adelaide and 1500 km South from Darwin. It has some little historical importance and as much as the locals would disagree, there is nothing to see here. It is a nice, modern, quiet town in the middle of nowhere. But it is the gateway to the Red Center, the middle of the vast, remote and arid outback that makes most of the Australian continent. Besides Uluru, a major touristic destination, there are several other attractions in this area, and we came here to explore them all. I had our usual guidebooks and a guide written by Birgit Bradke from her website http://www.TheOutbackGuide.com I followed some of her suggestions for our schedule and it served us well. We rented a four wheel drive car fitted with fridge, portable stove and a tent. And off we went.
This place is really far from... everything

It took several hours to get on the road. I left Ileana and the children in the airport and took the shuttle to the town. It stopped everywhere, it took 45 minutes for them to reach the Britz rental place. I had to watch a short movie explaining how the car operates and then I went shopping, loading the car with provisions for the week. With all the gear for camping, the fridge and our luggage, there was hardly any room in the car to get the children in. But somehow we squeezed them in and took on south toward Uluru.
Still smiling... 
(until the door closes)
Rest area by the highway
Two hundred kilometers on the Stuart Highway then turning right 240 km on the Lasseter highway. Impossible to get lost, as they are the only modern roads in an area the size of Europe. We arrived late in the evening, the last couple of hours driven in the dark. It was dangerous in the end because the kangaroos and wallabies get active at dusk. For a split second, I saw a kangaroo waltzing in front of the car, and unfortunately, that was the only sighting we would have. As I understand it, wallabies are similar but failed the test for kangaroo (foot size over 9), we saw more of those later.

There is a touristic village on the outskirts of Uluru, called Yulara. It has an airport, hotels, shopping center and cheaper accommodations including the a camping site. With a budget room going for $400 and luxury tents for $2700 (!), this is not an affordable place to be. We stayed for three nights, the closest alternative was 80 km away. This is not wild country, it is big time, big money tourism, you cannot camp out in the desert. Maria wrote about it.

Ioan discovers an incredibly long line of caterpillars crossing the road

All the qualities of a leader! Leading 84 caterpillars is no small feat.

Uluru/Ayers Rock is the former "Ayers Rock/Uluru", previously known as "the Ayers Rock". This is not a joke, it reflects the changing of the Australia over the last few years. The land has been given back to the "rightful owner" and leased back to the government to use it as a national park. Similarly, 40 kilometers away, the former Olgas are now officially named Kata Tjuta/Olgas, but on the ground the signage only has the aboriginal name. We had two full days, read Ileana Ruxandra's description HERE, my take on Uluru HERE, Maria's HERE AND HERE, Ioan's HERE. You must watch Ileana's movie HERE, it is fantastic. (I'll update the links as they become available)

There is a true story to be properly understood
Really early in the morning

The sun hides for a moment so we can get a picture

The incredible Valley of the Winds

There is always a way to ruin good pictures...


Sunset at Kata Tjuta

Ready for sunset at Uluru


After three nights in Yulara we went to Watarrka National Park, 300 kilometers away, mostly known for its Kings Canyon. There is a short easy ground walk in the canyon, but we chose the more demanding four hour walk on the ridge of the canyon. Initially I heard a lot of complaints about the steep climb. I was myself a little disappointed, I knew about it, I wanted here and there it was a nice view of a rock wall and a lot of walking ahead of us, just to see that view from different angles? I was wrong. Behind the ridge, there was a whole world to be discovered. We learned the difference between the 400 million year rocks and the 440 million year rocks. We learned about the animals, the birds and the plants that make their life here. We visited the Garden of Eden. Ileana did minor surgery on a bird. We had a great time.

Why do we have to climb all the time?

There is a rich ecosystem in the canyon

The clear difference between the 400 and 440 million year rocks

He can be dangerous

Saying goodbye to her patient

Garden of Eden

This is where we came from

Last moments in the Kings Canyon

At night, in the campsite, we had to watch for dingos.

Another reason why we came here, in the outback, was to look at the sky at night. That is one of the sights pictures cannot capture, despite some attempts on our part. No clouds, no pollution, no humidity, no  artificial lights, create a unique combination to look at the most star filled sky anybody can imagine. All I can say is that I looked through the binoculars at the white clouds of stars and I could see the white haze break into individual countless stars and more whitish celestial dust. Amazing.

I chose the tent and the four wheel drive (4WD) because from the Kings Canyon there are two options to return to Alice Springs. One over the bitumen road, 474 km, would just track back everything we did so far. The other, over an unsealed road accessible only to 4 WD, is much shorter (357 km) and would also allow us to visit the West MacDonnells mountain range. It was a great idea, it payed off. The children did a little bit of driving, but I did most of the next 100 km. It was my first time as well, it looked a little more like what I expected in the desert, but still, there was a lot of vegetation everywhere. Occasionally there was another car, but mostly us, alone, kings and queens of the Outback... The most interesting part was running into a family of wild camels, for a moment we had their three youngsters separated from the adults on the other side of the road. It just happened, and it gave us more time to watch, until they ran over the road to their parents.

Mereenie Loop road



Ending the Mereenie Loop Road we entered the West MacDonnells National Park. Back to civilization, great sealed road, a car every ten minutes, just tourists. Left and right, short detours to several attractions. We went to Tnorala (Gosse Bluff), another sacred Aboriginal site, but in the same time a huge meteorite crater. When we got there, we learned that it was more complicated than that. A comet hit the Earth 4.5 million years ago. The impact, just gas, turned the Earth upside down. It made sense when I read it, I don't know how to explain it now.

Tnorala - you can clearly see where the comet hit the earth...

Later we stopped at the Redbank Gorge, we walked to a first pool, maybe we should have gotten in the water, we just didn't. It was time to call it a day, Ileana Ruxandra suggested camping in the wild. Maybe we should have done it, again, we just didn't.
First pool in Redbank Gorge

Do we really have to take the clothes off?

The eucalyptus cuts off its own branches during drought so the main ones stay strong

Comfortable seat
Minutes later, stopping at a scenic site we had an amazing encounter. Picture if you please, that for many hours you drive on an empty road, the cars you pass are just the same, four wheel drives and campervans, even a regular city car is so unusual that you take a second look at it. I can only imagine what the Incas must have felt when they encountered the first space ships. There it was, on the top of the mountain, the most amazing truck I have ever seen. It looked like an amphibious vehicle, it was an all terrain one to be sure, but on the top of the mountain I wouldn't have been surprised if it grew wings and it took off. With nobody around, I disregarded the gorgeous scenery, heading straight to the vehicle. It was human made and it looked awesome! On the side, it had the words we had come to spot anywhere and everywhere in the last few years: "Around The World". And 01.01.1997. And a timeline of countless countries written on the sides. A couple of minutes later we saw that there was somebody inside the truck and we had a few minutes conversation with them. We couldn't stop talking about them and it was good that we met again the next day on the track to the Ormiston Gorge. We had a lot of questions and we learned a bit about Gunila and William, who sold everything 15 years ago, designed and built their own truck and traveled the world ever since. They drove about 500,000 km, crossing Sahara twice, going all over Africa, the Americas, the Middle East, even Pakistan or Iran. Having German passports, they never had a problem. They were now closing in on their year of Australia. The truck has quite a few pictures on their website at http://gunwiltruck.com, but I would like to learn so much more. I was impressed to learn that they carry 700 liters of water and 700 of Diesel, they could live inside it for five weeks without needing anything from outside, they never connected to power in 4 years in the Americas because they have solar panels. I would have loved to learn much more about their travels. Anyhow it gave us a discussion subject for the following days, during countless hours of driving. Could we ever think of doing anything like that? The children were concerned that we could. Wouldn't we miss our grandchildren??? OK, we'll talk about this later.

Gunwiltruck from Europe


We spent the night in a primitive campground and returned to Alice Springs in the early afternoon on Saturday. It was our anniversary. A big section of the drive was on a winding road, in between two ranges of mountains. It was beautiful. Ileana Ruxandra asked the children why do they think that they built the winding road like that? The most serious answer came from Ileana: "maybe they didn't know where they wanted to go?"

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