Australia 2001 (Part 3)
I had the usual early morning departure from Adelaide. I check in at the airport and they give me my boarding pass to Alice Springs, but not for my flight from Alice Springs to Ayer's Rock. I find this odd, but don't think about it. Well I get to Alice Springs and oh, my flight has been cancelled and I'm already booked on a later flight. "No worries mate." Okay, I've finally decrypted this cute sounding phrase. "No worries" means sure there's a problem, but don't sweat it. We may or may not help you, but don't worry. "It's all good." Okay, I'm sick and a little cranky. "No worries" isn't going to cut it. I wanted to get to Ayer's Rock in the early afternoon so I could go see the Olgas,
this later flight doesn't work for me. Then I get the rest of the story. My original flight got moved forward to 1110 and the aircraft got downsized so 11 people got bumped. Well, after some serious bitching, I get the last seat on the 1110 flight. I was so psyched. Anyways, the flight from Alice Springs to Ayer's Rock was on a small twin prop plane with only 30 passengers. I got a window seat so I got to look at the amazing desert landscape during the flight. There had been some rain in the desert recently, so the amount of green was pretty significant. The soil in the desert has a lot of ferrous material in it (iron) so when it rains, there is a lot of rust. So the soil is this deep orange color, hence the title, the Red Centre. So you have the deep blue sky, the white clouds, the many different hues of orange/red on the ground, and then the multitude of different greens from all of the plants. It really was just spectacular.
During the descent, we saw the Rock and I was looking forward to seeing it up close. I got to the hotel and then joined a tour that was going tothe Olgas. Not as well known as the Rock, but very similar and actually larger, the Olgas are a group of three huge rocks that stick up from the desert floor about 30kms from the Rock. We walked to the base of the Olgas and it was just odd looking up at the huge orange walls towering over you. And let me tell you, it was hot. Africa hot. It was 36C in the shade. Yep, that's upper 90s in the shade. But I had brought my sun lotion and lots of water, so I was good. After we walked around the Olgas for a bit, we went to do sunset at the Rock. As the sun sets the rock turns like 5 different colors. From the strong orange color, to a burnt orange, to a burnt red, and then an almost deep purple. It was really amazing. The bad thing is that there were tons of people there, most of them drinking, so it was hard to appreciate the solitude of the Rock and the beauty of the sunset surrounded by babbling idiots. Now, what was equally spectacular is that just moments after the sunset, the moon rose. It appeared on the horizon, looking freakishly big, and the quickly rose into the night sky. There were still streaks of light of different colors in the sky as the moon began its trek up into the sky. Just absolutely fascinating. Afterwards, a bunch of people had dinner before we headed in for the night. Wake up was at 515AM. On the bus at 6AM to go to the Rock. We got to the viewing area about 10 minutes before sunrise and it was another clear day & the viewing was awesome. Seeing the sun hit the top of the Rock and it glow orange as the sun's rays slowly moved down the Rock until it was basking in the sunlight. Very cool. Then we headed for a short walk to look at one of the springs at the base of the rock. While it wasn't really a spring, it was a small pool that had a significant aboriginal story behind it. Then afterwards, we headed back to the base of the rock for the climb.
Okay, I had a dilemma. The Aboriginals really don't approve of us touristas climbing the rock and ask people not too. But they don't stop them. So do I climb or not? I climbed. I figure all the people coming here to climb raise a lot of money for the aboriginals, so I think that climbing, which is not harmful to the rock, isn't that bad. Now, have I mentioned my issue with climbing up? I like climbing up, but I like to start off with a gradual incline. The Rock was the type of climb I hate. We are talking walking up at a very steep angle. The first part of the climb (100ft) isn't that bad. Then it gets really steep. There is a chain drilled into the rock to help, but it must be made for midgets as it hangs very low. Now a lot of people bend over as they climb which only contracts their diaphragms making it harder to breathe. So you need to climb walking as upright as possible. It was not fun. My calves were in serious pain and I thought I might have a mutiny on my hands. But up, up, and up I went. Taking breaks to stretch a bit. You really get just an amazing view from up there. We keep going up and up and I'm really beginning to dread the thought of going down. Up, and up and the chain stops. There is a small plateau where we all rest for a moment. Then another short chain that I actually climb since the wall is so steep and then the trail continues. There is a white dashed line that makes it way to the summit. The summit is a fair piece off yet. The top of the Rock is not smooth. There a several little rock gullies/ravines that we have to cross. Some are very steep and a bit challenging. And there are people up here who really shouldn't be. It takes up almost an hour to reach the summit including rest and photo breaks. The sun is up, a few clouds in the sky, there is a nice breeze blowing and it feels great to be alive. (Though I'm still sick as a dog and hopped up on Sudafed). We hang out at the summit and then start the return trip. It is not as bad as I thought, though on the last bit down, the side of the rock has become slippery and I loose my footing once or twice. I'm close to the chain at this point and grab onto it whenever I feel myself slipping. But no worries, I make it down and then need to stretch my legs like you can't believe. Afterwards we go to the Cultural Center, which is run by the aboriginals. Here there are all these T-shirts that say, "I didn't climb
Ayer's Rock". Oh well.
Then it's back to the hotel to transfer back to Alice Springs. My fight arrangements are a bit psychotic and I have a plan to improve them next time, but in the mean time, I'm doing a lot of flying. My hotel in Alice Springs is the Lasseter Casino and Hotel, which was used in the filming of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." Now I haven't seen that movie in years, but okay. The hotel is nice and I sit back and relax by the pool. I keep hoping that the sun will dry me out and help me with my cold. No such luck. I didn't hit the casino, just not into gambling that much. The next day I did a quick tour of the city. And my first question is why is Alice Springs even here. Why a city in the middle of the desert? History. It is the middle of the country and where the first London-Sydney telegraph lines went through. Since the distances were so great, they had to have repeater stations, and Alice Springs was one of those. It is also a major transportation hub. The train from Adelaide comes up to Alice Springs and then stops. All of the goods headed for Darwin on the north coast are then transferred to these huge truck trains and driven the 1500kms up to Darwin. The trucks are huge and can carry as many as 4 trailers behind them. Alice Springs is also the home to the Flying Doctor Service. Since there are so many scattered settlements in the Outback, there are several planes that fly doctors around an area of 2000 sq kms to provide medical services. And there is also a broadcast school here. Children in the settlements take their classes over the radio (HF!) so that they can keep up with their education. It makes sense, but just seems so odd. After the tour, I wandered around the market area and bought some aboriginal artwork. Then it was time to go back to the hotel to fly to Perth (via Ayer's Rock!). Now all of this flying isn't necessarily a bad thing. And in general I'm a good traveler, but by now I have COMPLETELY lost my voice and am not happy. Trying to deal with all the airline and shuttle people while basically whispering is driving my up the walls. But the flight is okay and I make it to Perth around 9PM. I check into my hotel and then just crash after taking more drugs.