We left Cairns on wednesday 6th January and had the luxury of using the Quantas Club lounge, thanks to Jill who we met in South America. She lives in Brisbane and she works for Quantas so she worked her magic and got us passes to use while we were here and she also changed our seats to front row to give us plenty of leg room. She's a star. The lounge was lovely, I couldnt stop giggling when we went in because I felt so out of place and nervous. They had big comfy chairs with loads of room, no one had to sit on the floor like in normal departure lounges! The also had free food and drinks, even alcohol but it was a bit too early for that. Plus free use of computers and wifi, it was brilliant...we were contemplating missing our plane so we could stay there!
We arrived in Alice Springs after a 2 hour flight. It was amazing to see the land change colour to the bright red and there was absolutly nothing out there for miles, just random houses every now and then...I have no idea how they could live like that, how could you do your weekly food shop, it would take you a week to get anywhere! There was a lot more greener than I thought, I had imagined it to be just all red dirt with verty few bush but there was actually quite a lot. The scenery flying in was stunning, lots of big hills and canyons...we were both getting really excited about what was to come.
We got to our backpackers, Toddy's and dumped our bags then went for a wander. Alice is a tiny wee place that is a bit run down. Its full of Aboriginals all bumming about, lying on the grass by the side walk drinking and shouting abuse as white people walk by. It was a bit intimidating and I felt we had to watch our backs. Its a real shame for these people, they have been forced to leave what they know to live like Westerners. They have been taken from their land and culutre and forced to live in houses and do what us Westerners do all because Westerners wanted their land. We have heard so many stories of how the Aboriginals have been given houses to live in and they just dont know what to do with them, they end up set up fires in the middle of the floors and knocking out the windows. They have also never had alcohol so their tolerance to that is very low and thats why there is a lot of drunken bums about. They also dont have the same rights as Westerners so its harder for them to get work. Its awful how they have been treated and made to change and conform to Western society.
The last Aboriginals to live exactly the way they were meant to died in the 1970's. There are still a lot of Aboriginals living in the bush but in a more Westernised way. They still learn the ways of the land but they wear clothes and have shops and houses. They also have a 'Bush' school for children in which they learn some of our normal subjects like English and Maths alongside learning about the way of the land.
Thursday morning was an early rise for us, we had to be up at 5am ready to join our tour at 6am!! It had been pouring all night and was still raining! We had been told that it hardly ever rained out there and when it did everyone got really excited and would dance in the street...we never saw any street dancers!
We all got squashed on our bus with our bags on our knees because the trailer was full of our swags (our beds for the next two nights) There were 21 of us all from different corners of the world...we were all pretty quiet to start with, think everyone was still trying to wake up! We had a 2 and a 1/2 hour drive until our first stop to get petrol and any snacks then another 3 hours until we got to Kings Canyon where we were to do a 3 hour treck. The rain kind of eased on and off but by the time we got to Kings Canyon and just starting the walk it began raining heavy again...little did we know that it was to be this way for the full three days...everytime we would step out the rain would get worse!
Kings Canyon was lovely, when I actually remebered to look up and take it all in, instead of watching my footing on the slippery paths! The soil was so red, caused by lots of iron in the soil which oxidises, so basically it all went rusty! Our tour guide Sasha told us that beneath the ground lies an ancient sea, that is why there is quite a bit of bush and reason it is only semi arid. The Aboriginals believed that men and womens business was to be seperate. They would each have different places to go and different things to learn, if a woman was to enter a mans area she would have a spear thrown through her leg as punishment and if a man were to enter a womans area he would be hit over the head with the womans digging tool. Kings Canyon was a mans area before so us women were very lucky to be entering the area.
We walked for hours around the canyon and eventually down to a natural pool where you could have a dip if you wanted. It was way too cold for me but Kev braved it and jumped in. There was a waterfall into the pool that Sasha said she had never seen there before. She had been doing the tour for a year and kept saying that we were very lucky to be seeing these places in the rain because hardly anyone got to see them in the rain! We didnt know if she was just trying to butter us up!
Back on the bus for another 2 hours before we stopped for dinner...chilli con carne, mmmmm. Almost everyone helped prepare the meal and set up for it, a couple would slink about the background hoping they wouldnt have to do anything! After dinner we headed on to our campsite. Luckily the place had a canopy up for some shelter, we moved the bus up next to it and put up another sheet to make the area a bit bigger to fit everyone in. Out came the swags, army still canvas sleeping bags with a gap at the top...first thing I thought was Oh my God spiders are going to get in there!!!! Thank God we got sleeping bags with fly nets attached to them so I could completely zip myself in otherwise I would have stayed up all night with the torch on!
Our shelter ended up not being much of a shelter! The rain was coming in sideways so we all got pretty soaked especially as the swags werent waterproof on the top! Our sleeping bags that had been inside the swags were soaking. Sasha had woken us up at 5am to get the hell out of there because she couldnt stand getting wet and cold any longer.
No one was a happy bunny that morning...we all packed up and got ourselves on the bus and headed for the next campsite so we could have breakfast. We noticed that the same girls (French) were hiding again when it came to getting everything packed away. This was to become the norm that everyone picked up on and got annoyed about.
Then we drove for about an hour to Uluru (Aires Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Even though it was still raining and dull the first site of Uluru was amazing, everyone was scrambling to get a picture through the only open window on the bus. We stopped at Kata Tjuta first and got out for another wet walk. We passed through the Valley of the Wind, which was well named as we nearly took off a few times. Having to watch your step on the slipper surface and not get blown over was some serious multi tasking!
Kata Tjuta is a group of pinnicales that look like bee hives and one of the stories behind its creation is that there was a giant mother and two giant children who were annoying mum, wanting her to entertain them. Mum got annoyed and told them to go outside and find something to play with. They decided to make a giant mud slide to play on so they started scraping up the surrounding soil and forming it into a huge mound. The soil had lots of rocks in it so as they didnt want to hurt themselves when they slide down it they took the stones and threw them over their shoulder. Once the mud slide was finished they had soo much fun playing on it. They say that Uluru is the mud slide and the two lines of holes going down from the top are the imprints of the boys bums as they slid down and the two smooth ridges on the other side are from where they boys slid down on their tummies. The stones that they tossed aside from the mud slide are what form Kata Tjuta...36 big rocks gathered together.
Kata Tjuta was stunning, the rock formations were amazing and the colours so bright. We saw quite a bit of wildlife up there, tiny wee burrowing frogs that live underground for years at a time and a Euro, a kangaroo that lives in the rocks and is adapt to jumping about on the rocks. Kata Tjuta is a sacred site, we were allowed to take photos but we are never to sell them or we will be fined 1000's of dollors. If you try and look up The Valley of the Winds you shouldnt be able to find any photos of it...we felt very privilaged to see it.
Once we had finished the walk and were properly soaked through again we headed back to the campsite to have hot showers before we all got sick and also to have some lunch before heading out to see Uluru.
That afternoon we drove around a bit of Uluru, taking photos. It was so much bigger than I thought...its 900 meters high and 9.6 km around the base and Sasha said that not a lot of people know that Uluru goes 6,000 meters underground. She said it was like an iceberg, you only see a tiny bit of the top...whether this is true or not I dont know.
Once we had a drive around we went to visit the cultural centre, a place of Aboriginal culture and history. It was very interesting and quiet upsetting to see how hard a life they lived. There were umpteen stories called children stories that we were allowed to be told, children stories are stories than can change slightly over time but must have the same morals behind it. Adult stories means that the story must never change, it must be passed down through the generations word for word. This is because adult stories have a special message, whether its to keep you safe and to teach the way of the land. We were not allowed to be told any adult stories because we have to be initiated into a tribe first and deemed worthy. Sasha gave an example of an adult story being something like you are told 5 steps to preparing a poisonious plant before you can eat it, if any part of the story was to be missed out then it would cause harm to the people it was passed on to.
After the cultural centre we were supposed to watch the sunset over Uluru...didnt happen, it was far too cloudy and wet! We went back to camp and got ready for dinner. We had a really good night, we stayed up until about 12 because no one fancied getting into a wet swag! Jeremey, a guy from Melbourne had brought his guitar and we all had a sing along. It was a good laugh. Eventually though we couldnt keep our eyes open any longer and we reluctantly crawled into the wet swags which were lined up under the table in the pinic area. I woke up about 2am freezing though, couldnt really do anything, just had to put up with it, there was no where else to go! We were going to squeeze into the laundry room but another group had beat us to it!
Up at 5am again to see the sunrise over Uluru...again it didnt happen! We were supposed to do a 2 hour walk around the base of Uluru that morning but we were all fed up of getting wet and most of us didnt have any dry clothes left so we had a drive around it. We stopped at the Mala walk and had a quick strole...it actually stayed dry long enough! The sun was trying to come out now, we could see little bits of blue between the clouds...we didnt want to get too excited though as everytime we had said it was clearing up before it just rained again!
It was pretty amazing to see all of the waterfalls on Uluru...not a lot of people get that privilage, so I guess we were lucky after all.
The drive back was pretty cool too...we had soo much fun...the whole way we were singing along to the ipod tunes at the top of our voices. There was Maria and Jay a couple on their honeymoon from Bournmouth, Jeremy a teacher from Melbourne, Isa and Ragnlid two girls from Norway, Kev and me. We all got on really well and had lots of fun together, I think that they made the trip what it was. It was good to finally get to see Uluru but because it was such a wash out we all felt a bit sorry for ourselves. Kev and I will never forget that trip and we will always look back on it with fond memories. Hopefully we will all keep in touch
We saw even more wildlife on the drive back...a 'King Brown' snake while we were having lunch and then a 'Thorny Devil' lizzard crossing the road...how Sasha spotted I dont know because its tiny and almost the same colour as the ground, it was really cute though.
The roads had flooded too, we had to all get out push the bus through a puddle a one point! There were rivers where there hadnt been any for years. It was all pretty amazing to see and now we could understand why people kept telling us we were so lucky we were there while it was raining. It was a truely unforgetable experience. We would still like to come back one day to get to see Uluru with blue sky behind it.
After 7 hours we got back to Alice Springs were we saw roads closed due to the river bursting its banks and lots of people out swimming in the river, there were even a group of guys with a rubber dingy heading for the river. Everyone seemed in high spirits, it was a good sight to see
We had been told that it hasnt rained like that since 1965! They say that they got a little bit of rain but it was usualy only a spit and it would dry up before it had even landed. Jill told us that she used to commute to Alice for work and she has never seen the Todd River in Alice Springs with any water in it!
That night we all got together and had dinner and drinks, it was a really good night. A chance to have a laugh about what we had just gone through and swap email addresses. They even managed to drag me up and sing Karaoke!!! 'I will survive' was the song we chose I have never sung karaoke before...it was good fun though...Im just glad that most people were out the back of the pub smoking!
It was definately a brilliant experience and a bonus to have made such good friends. A time we will never forget.