Saturday, July 14, 2007

Australia - Day 12 - Ayer's Rock

Sunrise view of Uluru from our hotel room.

Dave and I overslept and missed our morning tour and 9-kilometer hike around the base of Uluru. I was disappointed that we wasted the money and missed out on an opportunity to be active, but the upside was that we didn't have to freeze in the desert darkness again and we had a much-needed leisurely morning.

After breakfast, we checked out of our room, put our bags in storage, and hopped a shuttle bus over to the Aboriginal Cultural Center near Uluru.

We didn't spend long in the educational portions of the center, since they were all open air and we were cold. We spent much longer in the Aboriginal art galleries and stores, since they were heated. Strangely, we didn't see a single person of Aboriginal decent anywhere in the center. And for cultural reasons, photography was strictly prohibited.

On the upside, we ran into Mom, Heather, Jeff and the boys there when their tour group stopped to look around. They'd taken a sunrise/breakfast interpretative excursion, which they all said was great -- but they'd frozen their butts off.

From the cultural center, Dave and I decided to take the half-mile or so hike to the base of the Uluru climbing area, which is the only part of the rock that looks remotely climbable, and it has a chain rope to hold on to on the way up.

Sunrise view of Uluru from our hotel room.

The problem with looking at photos of Uluru is that you have no basis of comparison for understanding the size of the rock. Because it's out in the middle of nowhere, with total flat land around it, the photos don't make it look that big. (To get an idea of how flat it is, see the panorama above that I stitched together from eight photos I took yesterday.) Well, it's big -- 348 meters (1,142 feet) high according to Wikipedia. (By comparison, Wikipedia puts the Sears Tower at 442 meters [1450 feet] tall at the roof, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge at 134 metres [429.6 feet] tall. My own knowledge puts the Sears Tower at about 110 stories tall and I've heard that the Sydney Harbour Bridge is about 40 stories tall.)

The confusing thing about Uluru is the contradictions coming from official sources regarding climbing the rock. First, the literature tells you to respect the Aboriginals' wishes and spiritual beliefs and not climb, but that's followed up with instructions on how to climb and safety precautions to keep in mind.

Well, I respect the Aboriginal beliefs, but I wanted to climb Uluru this visit as sort of a debt of honor to myself.

Twenty years ago, I attempted to climb Uluru. I think I made it about half way up the steep slope, then I stopped to rest. My cousins went on ahead. As I sat there, I over-thought the danger of the climb and listened as everyone else resting near me expressed their fears. I thought about all the people who'd died climbing the rock (there was a plaque at the base listing dozens of names). After a long while, I ended up talking myself out of the climb and scooted down the rock.

It's bothered me for years that I didn't finish the climb. This trip, I'd hoped to have the opportunity to get that failure off my back.

But, the decision was taken out of my hands, as the climb was closed both days because of strong winds at the summit of the rock. (A convenient exaggeration to keep the climb closed? my husband might argue.) Regardless, the decision was taken out of my hands. I guess I'll have to continue to live with myself. :)

Instead of climbing, we poked around the base of the climbing area, taking photos, until the shuttle bus arrived to bring us back to the resort.

This is where I go into an aside about red dust. We had it everywhere. In our shoes. In our socks. And for those who did the morning excursion to watch the sunrise, in other places, too, I'm willing to guess. I was lucky, because it wiped off my leather gym shoes just fine. Jeff ended up throwing away his shoes in the hotel lobby, figuring they were old, he wouldn't need them any more this trip, and he had a replacement pair waiting for him at home.

After what felt like a really long wait, the shuttle bus showed up to take us to the airport. We crossed all our fingers that the bags would make the airline's weight allowance (since we'd acquired more stuff) and we got on our Quantas-link flight for Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef. Finally. Some warm weather ahead in the tropics.

In the Cairns airport, we were met by the transport service and taken to our beach front apartment in Trinity Beach, which is a beach town north of Cairns.

We were greeted by the proprietors of the Meridien, Ian and Barb, and their animal ambassadors Charlie the dog and Midnight the cat, and shown our three bedroom apartment. It was perfect. Warm weather. Our own kitchen. Cable and wireless internet. The beach a short walk out the patio door. And warm weather.

For dinner, restaurants were only a short block or two away. My nephew "Drake" expressed fears that we'd have another dinner fiasco, but we quickly found an outdoor table (yes, it was warm enough to eat outside!) at an Italian restaurant and sent a contingent off to the bottle shop to buy our wine.

Then it was back to the apartment to vegetate in front of the television and watch "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban".

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