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

Camping in the Outback

From the sky, the land around Alice Springs is red. A bit rusty of a color. It melts into a purple for a few inches, and then turns into a hazy blue— the clouds. It looks beautiful from the sky.

As we approach the ground, you can start seeing the green. There seems to be more green than I'd been expecting from the air.

We land in Alice Springs and Dad heads off to rent the jeep that will serve as our transportation vehicle for the next six days. There's a tent in a duffel bag in the back that will serve as bedroom.

When they were young, Mom and Dad spent two weeks camping in a tent at the seaside. Since then, we as a family have tried to camp, but either one of us gets ill, or it rains so badly we can't spend the night. I still remember going to bed in the purple tent and waking up in a white bedroom in a hotel… without my stuffed animals.

Mom explained that it had been raining last night, so badly that we had to leave the tents.

"And you didn't take my cats!" I exclaimed, very disappointed in her.


We found the two stuffed cats in about an inch of rain, the inflatable mattresses floating… I still couldn't understand how she could have left my cats behind. Now it serves as a reminder of why we don't go camping.

But there were no such terrible occurences on our first night of camping in Australia. We put up the tent— much simpler than the movies make it out to be, pegged in the pegs, put on the fly sheet, and stood looking, amazed, at a tent the size of a camper van's living area. All five of us plus bags can fit— conceivably it's a six-person tent. 

Oh, all of that putting up and pegging down was done by the light of headlight and headlights— ours and the jeep's.

The outdoor kitchen is rustic— the tables and benches are made of hewn tree trunks, about four inches tall by nine inches wide by seven feet long. They're stacked in every conceivable shape to make the benches and table.

Mice and what we think are kangaroo rats scurry around everywhere. They give you a shock the first time, but after that they're really quite interesting. Of course, if one gets too close to me, I'm going to squeal.

The bathroom facilities are a few yards away in a separate building (the kitchen, really, is just a pavillion). Between them is a lawn where wild rabbits are grazing. 

There's a sign inside the bathrooms that advertises breakfast— $31 per person for unlimited breakfast buffet, $24 per person for the continental. Of course, the muffins and croissants advertised must cost quite a bit. I don't think anyone's paying for it.

We eat quickly— noodle soup while standing on the backs of the benches with our feet on the seats. The mice are everyhere and we're not taking any chances. Afterward we wash up and head to the bathroom, one by one, then into bed.

We layer our sleeping bags with the sleeping bags that come with the jeep— Ileana uses only one, however, and Mom has three sleeping bags on her by the time morning comes.

At breakfast, which we eat in series at the picnic bench outside, Mom, Dad, and Ioan find the caterpillars. You know The Jungle Book, by Disney, where the elephants are all marching nose to tail? That's how eighty one caterpillars (Dad counted them) are crossing the road. When I come back from the caterpillars, the cornflake box, which I left on the table, has overturned on its head. About half of the cornflakes have spilt out. Luckily, we salvage enough to have a good breakfast.

After charging a few of our electronics, we head out to the Uluru Culture Center. It serves as an educational tool. I think the main point of it is to teach people enough about Aboriginal culture so that they're not so disappointed when they find out they're technically not supposed to climb Ayer's Rock.

My favorite part of the culture center was the 'Sorry Book.' It's a collection of letters or emails from people who took rocks or climbed Uluru and now feel sorry about it.

They range from a note as short as: "GREETINGS: THIS ROCK HAS EXPRESSED A DESIRE TO BE RETURNED TO ULURU. BLESSINGS, [John Smith]" to a two page letter written by someone who's undoubtedly a college professor of some sort: "Due to physical incapacitations, my partner was not able to undertake the climb," to a letter from a student in Japan that begins with "Dear Stuff."

We take off to Kata Tjuta the very next day, with two sandwiches each in various backpacks, with all five (six! We bring 7-Up) water bottles somewhere in our possession.

The climb begins as a rough path. I never understood the reasoning behind making a path, or a road, and then sticking stones in it so that the road is bumpy. Tiled roads, yes, okay, it makes sense. But round river stones sticking up? Big boulders dropped in every so often? It makes it look interesting… but do any of the inventors of these roads/pathes walk? Or drive?

Once we finish that path, we head toward the face of the rock that the path steps on to. It's here that all the signs are, and we take the steps (the only way, really), down along the face of the rock to get to a path that takes us to more steps and then a climb actually on one of the rocks, and then we're flat for a little while until we walk through "The Valley of the Winds," and then more steps, etc.

And they're not really even steps sometimes, just boulders arranged in a nice sort of step ladder. These are my favorite kind of walking roads. You need to think about them. It's not just that they're there, all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other (Uluru, some streets). No! All of your body has to be actively engaged in this activity!

And the view is stunning. Everything is green— the wettest wet season in 30 years has just hit, so all the verdant beauty we're seeing now is pretty unusual. The rocks are red, the sky is blue, with barely a cloud in the sky. It feels a bit like a green Tibet. The rocks are red here, while the ones in Tibet were a brownish beigeish red, and the sky is slightly less deep, but it's the same feel. At the same time, it feels a bit like the Gal├ípagos to me. The road, the birds, the plants… 

Places may be completely removed from other places, but every once in a while something reminds you of something else, and it's comforting. It feels a bit less scary, or a bit less imposing, than it otherwise would. It gives you a feeling of, "Oh! I've done this before." And it makes you remember. We experience so much that I've completely forgotten about some things. Others pop up again in more detail or less… it's fascinating sometimes. 

The next day we go to Uluru. First thing is the Mala Walk, which we take with a lovely tour guide named Martha. Here we meet a young lady from Madagascar and strike up a conversation. Increasingly we find that you don't exchange names until you're ready to exchange websites as well… sometimes not even then. 

And then we start the 10.6km Base Walk that will take us everywhere. Uluru used to be used for important ceremonies, but now they do their ceremonies a few kilometers away. In Kata Tjuta, on the other hand, where you can't climb around everywhere, they still have ceremonies. The difference is palpable only when you reach a sign that asks you to take no pictures past a certain point.

There are women's and men's sites, and viewing a men's site is dangerous for women and uninitiated men, just as viewing a women's site is dangerous for men— your maleness will all seep away. And it works with pictures too, so that if you, a woman, take a picture of a women's site, and show it to say, your grandfather, your grandfather's maleness will all disappear, and then where will he be? 

Of course, if you're a woman, feel free to look at and revel in the womanness of the site. If you're a man, look the other way. Same thing with the men's sites.

It's fantastic. You feel a bit stronger as you look at the sites… but at the same time… how can a rock give you power? Why can't I take pictures? Isn't it a free country? Who really cares? It's a rock! It's not man-made, it's not… anything!

This is the European outlook (and even if you're American or Canadian or whatever, your ancestors most likely came from Europe, so I'll use European for simplicity). A place can't really be sacred if it's not a building with icons or statues or altars or temples or anything. It's what has led Europeans to believe that Aboriginals are heathens with no religion or beliefs. And while I know it's wrong, I can't help thinking… "But it's a rock. A big, huge rock. How can it mean anything?" And at the same time, I can believe that something painted with oils on a canvas of cloth has the power to secrete myrrh and mess up cameras. Both of which, of course, are true— the rock does mean something, and the painting can mess up cameras.

It's hard at times to accept the beliefs of another country. As travellers, we've learned not to give certain hand signals in India if possible. We've worn long skirts in countries where most women wear long skirts. After a while in India we stopped looking men in the eye— it's a clear sexual invitation. But it's hard to understand that Uluru is sacred. Even if I'd never climb it— there are some things not done, and the Anangu clearly ask everywhere that you choose not to climb— I can't understand how a rock can be sacred.

Still, we followed the 'rules,' saw Uluru and Kata Tjuta, took pictures where we could, and walked. A lot. 

It's amazing how many steps you can take in one day with the sun beating on your head and flies trying to get into your mouth (moisture? Kamikaze stink bombs? Who knows their reasoning?). You have aching ankles at the end, and you never want to move from bed again… but you get up anyway the next day to do what basically amounts to the same thing, without having a passion for walking in the sun (in fact, you'd be much happier sitting in the sun), and still semi-enjoy yourself!

I mean, it was memorable, but more because of the crazy topics we discussed while walking (um… I think the extent of that was "DADDY! LOOK AT THE ANTS! Take this picture! Take that picture!"), and the activities we did while walking.

For example, at Uluru:

We closed our eyes, stuck our hands out in front of us, and found out how far we could walk with our eyes closed before we semi-panicked and opened our eyes.

Ileana won every single time, despite going off the road more than once— she'd just turn around again after bumping into a bush, and keep going until we told her she was twice as far as either of us.

Sometimes I wonder where she gets these skill sets.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this beautiful look into this experience and the beauty of creation there. I especially like the image of the 81 caterpillars crossing the road! :)

    Mary Ellen


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