|Amazingly, one week of our holiday is already over. It has gone very fast, and also seemed like much longer, in that strange way that holidays do. We've done so much, and it's all been fabulous.
For the last 3 days we've been on a tour of the Red Center, and, being in the outback, were out of phone communication for most of it, never mind internet! It was just the most amazing experience.
Day one we had the morning to ourselves, and took it gently. We had a swim at the hotel, then went for a very short walk to the lookout point in the centre of the resort. It was only about 10 mins each way, but it nearly killed us, the heat was so extreme! So we made our way back to a cafe, had a drink, and did very little else until we were picked up from our hotel at Ylara (the Ayres Rock resort) by the tour company. Our guide was a guy called Mike, who we'd been warned in advance was "a bit of a hippy", and so he was! He took us over to the camp site at the far side of the resort where we would be staying that night, and we met up with the others who would be on the tour. There were 9 of us in total (the most the 4WD toyota landcruiser would carry) and the other 7 had spent the morning driving down from Alice Springs. We had lunch, desperately avoiding the sunshine and the swarms of flies (which were a constant part of our Outback experience between sunrise and sunset), and then made our way to Uluru. En route we stopped off at some places to get good views, and then we went to the cultural centre, which tells you various things about Aborigional life, and their views on Uluru. The wierd thing about the Aborigionies is that they spend a lot of time saying "it is right and propper that you should listen to us as we have much knowledge about this land", which is fair enough, so you stop and listen, and then they say "all of this is sacred knowledge that we can't pass on to people who haven't been through the correct ceremonies" and don't tell you anything! It's quite bizarre. But they do share some of their legends - the ones they would tell to children, I think - like the tale of Lungcutter, who was a blue tongued lizard who stole the emu which was being hunted by the pun-pun-palinip brothers (bell birds), and got chased by them up into a cave on Uluru. They lit a fire to drive him out, and where he tumbled down the rock face his scales stuck to the side of the rock. You can see them still.
So, having let the worst of the heat of the day pass we set off on a base walk around Uluru. One girl on the tour, Kelly, wanted to do the climb, but the rest of us were against doing so (the Aborigionies ask that you don't as it's against their religion for random people to climb it - the climb for them is part of the rite of passage for boys becoming men), but the issue was resolved by the fact that the climb was closed. They close it whenever the predicted temp for the day is above 36C (which it definitely was that day!), or when storms are predicted.
In all we did about 3/4 of the base walk - we could have done it all, but no-one watned to walk particularly fast, partly because of the heat, but also because you don't want to speed 'round without stopping to appreciate all the views. Uluru is really amazing, and almost all the photos are of one side of it - the rest is fascinating, too. It's astounding how interesting a large red lump of rock can be! It is a place with a lot of water, relative to the surounding countryside, so has waterholes, and a lot of vegitation and wild life around it. The Aborigionies use it as part of many of their ceremonies, and it was a traditional gathering place for their small nomadic groups, because it had enough water to support a large group all in one place.
From there we drove up to a viewing point where we could see both Uluru and Kata Tjuta for sunset. The red sun turns Uluru the most amazing colour as it sets, which was fabulous to see, but I was more fascinated by the sunset over Kata Tjuta, and the thunderstorm which rolled in as it got dark. We saw plenty of forked lightening, and rain in the distance, although we didn't get rained on ourselves.
We watched until it got really dark, then headed back to the campsite to get set up for the evening. Mike built a fire while we went off for showers, and by the time we got back he had a good blaze going and had started cooking. The food was really good - that night it was pasta and garlic bread - and all cooked on the open fire. The we sat and chatted around the fire, and eventually got organised for the next day before going to bed. We had to be really organised as we were getting up very, very early (about 4 or 5 am, I think), and wanted to get on the road immediatly so that we would start the next day's walking before the heat got bad. We were then introduced to the wonders of a "swag" (also known as a Matlida, as in "Waltzing Matlida"). A swag is basicaly a bed roll which includes a matress, pillow, and a canvas body bag which you sleep inside, in place of a tent. A sleeping bag goes inside, too, for comfort, although we didn't really need one for warmth that night. There's also an extra flap of canvas you can pull over your head if it starts to rain in the night, so it keeps you dry. They're amazing things, and seem like a really good idea to us, although they would sadly be impractical for English weather!
So, having been assured by Mike that nothing venomous would crawl into our swags in the night (although one girl didn't believe him, and slept in the truck!), we made ourselves comfortable and drifted off to sleep. It was wonderful to look up and see the open sky with all the wonderful stars above you, with the crickets and the gentle crackle of the fire in the background. I was very comfortable, although I did wake up once or twice in the night and spent some more time looking at the stars. Once I woke up with a dead hand, from sleeping on it - I was convinced, however, that I'd been bitten by someting venomous, and the numbness was the poison creeping up my arm! But after a few minutes it went away, so I figured I was over-reacting!
[Note re the images of "Sunset over Kata Tjuta". The composite image looks a bit odd because the difference in brightness meant that the camera took different length exposures for each image, so making the foreground and dark sky different brightnesses, but I think you get the idea.]