Ayers Rock: The heart of the Australian outback

My week travels have felt more like a month’s worth of exploration, of adventure, of learning… so vastly different to the six weeks of my internship period while stationed in Sydney. My week’s backpacking adventure was a week of travel across Australia, an immense country diverse in both culture and landscape. I left the beauty of the Sydney Harbour the morning of July 31 to land in Ayers Rock, a part of the Australian outback and my first destination of my week ahead. It’s an area largely void of human presence, located in the heart of Central Australia and home to Uluru (Ayers Rock’s Aboriginal name) and The Olgas (Kata Tjuta). The airplane seemed insignificant as we landed amid the two massive rock formations of the otherwise barren landscape of the area. 

The road is the sharpest gash here in the outback. But the scar sinks deeper, tracing its roots to the modern day tale of a minority uprooted from their lands by white settlers, a sort of Native Indians in America kind of story. The Australian Aboriginals are the natives of the country, believing themselves one with the land. They led secluded lives over the thousands of years of their existence, at a complete disconnect from the remote, modern world. Aboriginals were introduced to the modern day concepts of technology and culture as the white settlers set foot upon their Aborigine native lands. The government followed suit, building the natives homes, providing for electricity and allocating government assistance in the form of monetary aid. The efforts have proved largely futile, as much of the money has been channeled towards alcohol consumption. Many Australians would agree that Aborigines would have been better off had the Australian settlers let them be, separate from the ways of Western culture. But it’s all a part of the history of the first two stops along my week’s travels and I found it important to keep in mind as I treaded through the lands of the Central Australian outback.

My parents, my grandparents and my family friends had raved over their experiences at Ayers Rock, exclaiming over the wonder of the enormous formation centered in the middle of nowhere. But for me, it wasn’t Uluru, a formation made solely from one piece of rock, that I found most awe inspiring. For me, it was the people I met along the way, the individuals that left me with a profound mark during my week's travel across the country.

I had registered for a three- day, two-night outback safari. I would begin the trip in Ayers Rock and end in Alice Springs. The tour was geared for 18- 35 year olds, though the majority of the trip’s 25 participants were in their late 20s, early 30s. I was one of the few participants who had arrived on my own; the majority were with their partner. I was also one of four from North America- the only from the U.S. There were three girls from Canada, all studying at a teacher’s college along the Gold Coast, two Spanish couples, a couple from Japan, an absolutely lovely French couple that I had attempted conversing in French although it eventually morphed more into my own form of Frenglish, four Koreans and two Norwegians roughly around my age, two women from either Sweden or Switzerland and four Australians who were the family members of our tour guide and were well into their 60s.  I became quite close (well, as close as you can get with someone over a three day period) with the mother, especially after she revealed she had recently retired and moved to a farm with hopes of buying an alpaca. It was the diverse nature of the individuals of my group, all upon similar pursuits of exploring the outback, all backpackers across this vast country; It was them that I found to be the most inspiring aspect of my three- day outback safari.

English was the uniting factor among our group… no matter how broken it sounded to my native English ears. But for these program participants, my fast paced American accent sounded foreign too. It amazed me how articulate so many of them were, how they’ve spent their lives studying English and how capable they were to communicate effectively in a real world setting. I had taken Spanish for years as a child but my knowledge of the language is limited, surely not enough to communicate in an environment in which I would be forced to speak the language. No, that would definitely be where hand movements and s-l-o-w English would become my main form of communication. Our influence on the greater world is massive, yet I find our knowledge of the world in addition to our capability to speak with the world in a language other than our own, remains limited.

We played the game 3- 6- 9 as a group, a game in which each person counts aloud the number along the sequence, replacing a 3, 6, or 9 with a clap. We played in English and I swear the non-native speakers were faster at figuring out the next number than I, a native speaker, could.

There was a pure sense of national pride amongst our group. We were seated around the campfire our first night of the trip, reciting each of our countries’ national anthems. The Canadian girls joined along with the American anthem… I’m a little rusty on the words of our anthem, slightly embarrassing given I was representing our country. And that nobody else had an issue with their song’s wording. I redeemed myself by providing an explanation as to how to create the prime American campout tradition: the s'more. S’mores aren’t a part of the Australian campout culture. In fact miniature, bubblegum flavored marshmallows, biscuits and rum raisin chocolate bars were used as substitute ingredients. Australia does not have graham crackers, large marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate bars. I know, it's insane.

Where we camped out our first night.
Where we had our campfire and cooked.
We camped outdoors for the two nights of our trip, curled in sleeping bags and swags, mattresses enclosed in a protective covering designed to trap in heat. We lay without a protective covering overhead, allowing a clear view of the carpet of stars and the speckled shadow of the Milky Way blanketing the night sky. I’ve slept outdoors before. Wait, scratch that. I’ve attempted sleeping outdoors before. My trip to Ayers Rock, however, marked the first time I was actually able to fall completely asleep outside. I did wake up few times during the night, worried of the possibility of a wild dingo or camel treading past my setup among our campsite, but returned quickly to my slumber to avoid further unsettling thoughts. 

The Olgas
Wake up time ranged around 5:30 am over the course of the outback trip. We spent our three days hiking through the tremendous beauties of the Australian outback, beginning with a hike through The Olgas, quite a difficult hike for my testy feet. My last hikes have been with camp and, as a result, I’ve always associated hikes with a linked hand with a camp friend, my immediate comfort while navigating through the slippery slopes of nature’s obstacle course. It was the first time I had to trust the balance of my own feet, my innate, however deeply buried confidence that I could go forth with the hike without tripping and making a fool of myself. I’m really no hiker. Hell, I’m the one that complains as I trudge up the school cafeteria stairs. 

The dangerous hike up Ayers Rock.
The options for Ayers Rock had been to walk halfway/ full way around or to hike the diagonal slope. The hike, apart from being severely dangerous, is viewed as disrespectful to the native Aboriginals who view the rock, in addition to themselves, as a part of the land. (The rock is a significant part of Aboriginal culture, used for many of their sacred traditions.) I chose to walk halfway across Ayers Rock. I also went for the 30-minute scenic nature walk, on day thee of our trip, along Kings Canyon rather than the three hour, moderately difficult hike that the rest of my group went ahead with. My ankle and knee were playing up that day providing me with the perfect Get Out of Hike Free card: a blessing in disguise. 

Ayers Rock at sunset

We watched the sunrise and sunset over Uluru, a fascinating experience as the rock fades to shades of purple and red depending on the position of the sun. 

I’m seated on the five-hour bus drive from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs, the final destination of our three- day Outback Safari trip. The older Australian man, sitting in the row next to me, is tapping his fingers on his knee, paralleling the beat of the Mamma Mia music playing on my shuffled playlist. Our guide has made an announcement to see if anyone needed a bush toilet stop- classy phrasing for squatting over a shrub. Nothing is hidden here among the blur of green and orange of the Australian outback, a desert scattered frugally with short tress and shrubs overlaying the orange- red sand. We passed two wild camels in the midst of the flat grounds a few moments ago. I have yet to see a wild kangaroo. 

I’ve found it strange not sharing this experience with my camp friends; I have so many summer memories both from camp and from my camp trip to Israel of blurred window views, of hikes through the wilderness, of camping outdoors. But I’ve been firm with myself from day one of my backpacking trip to avoid dwelling on my past memories, regardless of the immense positive impact they’ve had on me. I’m not at camp anymore. The experiences are from my past and I am now in the outback of Central Australia traveling on my own, surrounded my 24 other participants also traversing the country. I’ve begun realizing that this trip can be my way of applying my camp memories to a present experience. How campouts, campfires and s’mores all exist post camp. Really all I’ve left behind is camp’s physical setting; the secular traditions and customs I’ve known from camp are still with me here. And that’s something I can hold on to as I move forward on my journey, across the country and through the course of my life. I know that one day this experience will too be memories I take with me, ones I will apply towards future activities, challenges and opportunities. The opportunity to experience, the capability to apply: I believe that in the end, that’s what life is really all about.

My trip to Alice Springs and Melbourne: to be continued!

1 Response to Ayers Rock: The heart of the Australian outback

March 26, 2012 at 4:53 AM

Hallo, ein super toller Bericht und wirklich sehr sehr schöne Fotos ! Wir haben bald auch vor uns Australien und Neuseeland anzuschauen. LG Nadja

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