Wednesday, 28 February -- Alice Springs & Uluru

Photos of the Day
There is much more vegetation than we were expecting. We're told it's not really desert, but a semi-arid dry zone. Most of this area is huge cattle stations. Around 8:30 we stopped at one that is situated on the geographical centre point of Australia, for a hearty breakfast. I've been baffled about coffee ever since we got here (even more than I am when I wander into Starbucks, and that's saying something!). There never seems to be a pot or urn, but only espresso machines or else instant coffee. From the machines they serve most of the usual choices, including something called "flat white". There doesn't even seem to be "Americano", which of course isn't anything like regular North American coffee anyway, but at least isn't drowned in milk. Until today, no one was able or willing to explain to me what flat white was. I had decided to just try it, but a fellow-traveller was able to tell me that it's milky coffee, so I went ahead. Turns out to be cappuccino but not so foamy. It's good, but I look forward to normal coffee with just a bit of cream when we get home. Can you tell that a month away is almost too much for me? McDonald's lunch and coffee crabbiness.

Pick up for this trip really was 5:55am, so we watched the sun rise from the bus as we headed out across the "Red Centre" of Australia.
After a few hours we came in sight of Mt. Connor and our guide explained that it is often mistaken for Uluru. At the rest stop we crossed the road, climbed a dark red sand dune for a view of both
the mountain and a huge salt lake, as well as the straight sections of the Lassiter Highway.

 [Along the the long highway to Uluru "Truck Trains" carry gear to folks in the Outback]

As we came near Uluru (formerly known as Ayer's Rock), our first stop was the Olgas, another huge formation within sight of Uluru, also red. The composition of the two formations is quite different, leading to different shapes. We walked quite a distance to get fairly close to a deep crevice, leading into the formation.

Eventually we drove into the park and spent a few hours driving around Uluru itself and taking a couple of short walks along its base. It's far more complex than most photos of it would suggest, with many overhangs, caves and waterholes. There are rock paintings in several places. The flies continued to be a huge irritant and we envied those who'd had the foresight to  acquire bug nets to protect their faces and necks.
The cultural centre was fascinating. In one section we saw a video of parts of the ceremony 30+ years ago when the land around Uluru was returned to the original owners, the two local aboriginal tribes to whom the site is sacred. As outsiders, we could only be told very small parts of their creation story (what a young child would learn), but it is enough to show the complexity of the belief system and the moral lessons children are taught in the Aboriginal tradition. Evidence of the stories is clear on the rocks. For instance one story involves a lizard that tumbled and slid down one slope, and you can still see his skin where it scraped off on the rock. Artists were working in one area, so we could see how they create the masterpieces we saw everywhere around the country.
As sunset approached, our guides Maddie and Eric parked the bus where we had a good view of the rock to our east and set up the barbies to make us a feast.

While they cooked we sipped bubbly and enjoyed the view and conversation. When the sun went down we started off on the 5 1/2 hour journey back to Alice, getting in about 1am. Along the dark highway we had to slow down or stop a couple of time for animals (several cattle and a horse) that had wandered onto the road. Apparently last week the bus hit a kangaroo.

 [Sunset on the "Rock"]

More Photos of the Ayers Rock (Uluru) Expedition - 19 hours start to finish

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