31 January 2010

Time

"I leafed to a passage that had to do with reaching one's destination...  'This is a great moment, when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering.  The thing which had been living in your imagination suddenly becomes part of the tangible world.  It matters not how many ranges, rivers or parching dusty ways may lie between you; it is yours now for ever.' "
-- Alice Steinbech, Without Reservations

It was a cold evening/morning -- much colder than I expected.  I had a flashback to a middle-school-aged-me watching a science video about the extreme temperatures in deserts.  Now, I didn't regret smashing my poofy sleeping bag into a small suitcase & hauling it across the continent.  I awoke to my first dull day in the red center with foggy windows and the morning sun low in the sky.  Though the sun was blinding it did little to warm the air, and the shade was downright frigid.

My insides felt like they were crawling with ants.  I was practically having muscle spasms I was so excited to get on the 20 km. road that lead solely to Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park.  As soon as I hit the Lasseter Highway I saw it!  It had been there all evening.  It had been there all morning, I just hadn't spotted it on the horizon.

Inside the only hire car on the road, I started to tear up.  In a way, I gave up everything for this inanimate rock.... my home,  summer, a boyfriend & puppy, a warm house, health benefits I so desparately need....  and it was magnificent.  The moment was mine now; forever.
Although I had traveled -- literally -- halfway around the world for this ancient rock, I opted not to climb it.  Uluru was and is the singular most sacred religious site to the Anangu tribe.  I had the chance to repeat Americans' disrespectful history (think native americans vs. the colonials) or rise above the injustice and lead by example.  Furthermore, as humans we destroy everything natural that was once pristine -- the Dodo bird, the Maldives, the Yangtze River Dolphin, the Arctic ice floe -- and I was not about to add insult to injury.  In my mind, it was like touching the Mona Lisa.

Instead, I hiked the 10 kilometer perimeter (however, it took me awhile to actually find the entrance to the trail).  Since my Mom was not around to keep me entertained, I listened to my music -- something I hadn't really done in the last three months.  I crossed one family during my entire circumnavigation of Uluru.  I was beginning to adjust to the solitude of the desert. 

As mentioned in all Aussie literature, Uluru had many "faces".  At first sight it looked streamlined with smooth, subtle mounds.  Another side of the monolith exhibited pockets of erosion.  Though they looked tiny from the trail, I tried to picture a single member from the Anangu tribe within the crevace.  How small would he (the women have their own, separate religous sites) look?  How would he ascend to that pocket?
Midway along the track, I transitioned to the shadowed side of Uluru.  I stopped listening to my music.  The shade, the silence, and the cloud coverage gave the "dark side" of the rock a mystical feel.  There were more trees and divets in the monolith on this side. I constantly wondered what was hiding in those high caverns?
Further along were mini-trails, whose names alluded to The Dreatime a.k.a. the aborigines' concept of Earth's beginning.  The two kilometer Liru a.k.a. Snake trail ended at a tranquil watering hole -- one of the few permanent sources of water in the middle of the Tanami desert.  Another tangent lead to a cave littered with rock art.  Yet, the markings were different than those I'd seen at Blackdown Tablelands & Carnarvon National Park.  The only symbol that looked familiar was fire (the concentric circles).  Stepping back into the intense sunshine, I could finally view Uluru's focal scar. 

Sunburnt & tired from my expedition I decided to call it a day.  I had fully inspected Uluru and its many angles.  Plus, I wanted to get a prime spot for Uluru's famed sunset, in which the rock transitions to a fiery red.  So I headed to the viewing area 90 minutes before sunset, rested my tootsies, and lounged in the front seat with the Dalai Lama.

02 January 2010

Providence

I spent a total of 10 days "living" in Townsville.

After my Mom left Australia and I was no longer needed as an au pair, there was really no reason for me to stay in the family's house. I applied for a governess job that required sailing from Townsville north on the Coral Sea to Darwin, but had no response. There were scant nanny jobs in smaller cities in Oz. Furthermore, if I worked a minimum wage job the income would barely be enough to survive given the cost of living in Townsville. In short, it was time to leave the Fitzgerald family -- my only constants in this foreign land.

I was sad to leave Bree & Michael. I hoped they would adjust to Townsville and their Mom's new fiancee, yet, I was secretly thrilled to explore the rest of the country and live my new destiny.

I left the Fitzgerald house at 4:30 AM and flew over the glistening azure ocean, to the hub of Cairns. While on layover I met a young French woman who had a 1 year visa and lived/worked in Melbourne (pronounced "mel-bun"). She had seen a bit of Australia and was en route to the same destination as me with her Mom. Seeing them together reminded me of my Mom and the expedition we shared only a few weeks ago.

There was so much diversity in Australia: rainforests, deserts, beaches, nightlife, and countryside. There were so many one-of-a-kind experiences: the world's largest aquaium in Sydney, the pristine Whitsunday Islands, the isolated watering holes of Litchfield National Park, opal mines in Coober Pedy, the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, the WWII remnants in Darwin, South Australia's wine region, world-class surf on the Gold Coast, the interior's Devil's Marbles, and the deserted Nullarbor.

Yet, since the notion of moving to Oz, no place held more awe than seeing Ayer's Rock (its common, non-politically correct name). When moving to Queensland became a reality, I used to lay awake in bed & try to fathom what it would feel like to stand in the shadow of a timeless monolith in the middle of a desert, in the same spot the world's oldest cultures still roamed, and stare at an enormous product of Earth's turbulent past 540 million years ago.

Taking off from Cairns I watched from the airplane window as the view changed from lush green grasses, to the brown soil that is most of the interior of Queensland, and finally to the vibrant, iron-rich sand of the deserts in central Australia.  As Bill Bryson so eloquently wrote: "It began to feel eerily as if we had left planet Earth.  The soil took on a reddish glow, more Martian than terrestrial, and the sunlight seemed to double in intensity, as if generated by a nearer, larger sun."

I arrived in Alice Springs, Northern Territory (pronounced "tair-i-tree"), and was anxious to set off on my 4 hour drive so that I would arrive at Yulara -- the village where all Ayer's Rock lodging was located -- before sunset.  Stocked with only canned food & a few fresh fruit, I left modern civilization.Bill Bryson's quote proved quite true.  Two hours into the drive the afternoon sun had burnt my right cheek.  There were few cars/Utes a.k.a. utility trucks on the highway & the landscape looked the same the more I drove:  copper-colored soil, dry off-white weeds that resembled hay, and a few shrubs scattered across the Tanami Desert.
About 3 hours into the expedition, as the sun began to set, I thought I had made it to the national park in record time.  However, the landmark proved to be Mt. Connor -- which is actually larger & older than Ayer's Rock -- & I viewed it at prime-time.
Behind schedule I finally arrived at the campsite in Yulara.  6:00pm with nothing to do in the middle of nowhere. I unrolled my toasty sleeping bag that occupied an entire suitcase and unpacked the Dalai Lama's book The Art Of Happiness.  I opened my favorite Australian confectionary a.k.a. cookie: Shortbread with vanilla icing, but took the time to sit on the hood of the hire car a.k.a. rental car.   Staring at the vast blanket of night I tried to count the number of stars in one cluster in the sky: around 10.  Ten mutiplied by the enormity of the sky = a lot of stars!  Staring at nothing in particular, I gasped as a shooting star blazed from (what seemed like) the bottom of the sky to the top.  My first -- but not last -- shooting star in the red center!