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      Uluru National Park

      We woke at 5:30 and, skipping breakfast, were fourth in line to get into the park in the morning. We paid our $25 each to enter, then drove through the dark around the monolith to the east side. It was crazy to think that we were passing just feet away from the world’s largest monolith but could only get the barest glimpse of its grandeur in the dark, just a mere suggestion of something huge rising up to the sky. You could feel it even if you couldn’t see it. It was COLD, and as we waited for the light to peek over the horizon we jogged in place and blew on our hands. Our faithfulness was rewarded with a specatular show, a sunrise lasting well over an hour that turned the rock from a deep, dark red to a glowing gold as the sun slid into view over the bush. It was breathtaking, and we took about 130 pictures (yes, of a large rock. It was that pretty.)

      We watched until we were the last ones left, then crawled into the car and drove around it again, this time being able to see each nook and cranny. We spent over an hour in the cultural center, reading all that they had on the Aboriginal owners and their traditions, then set off on a 9.5km walk around the base of it. It is really a rather amazing thing – a huge rock rising out of the desert for no reason. It appears to be just a flat plateau, but a walk around it reveals a whole different landscape. Up close it is undulating, with curves and irregularities you can’t see at just a few hundred meters away. By the time we left for our walk it was burning hot out, but that didn’t stop the flies from joining us for the whole trek.

      Here and there pieces were broken out, resulting in weird cave-like holes and areas where it looked like the rock had shed a layer. It was beautiful. We saw quite a few birds including zebra finches, which I had no idea were native to Australia and had never seen in the wild before. I was quite happy to get a picture of one.

      The land that Uluru stands on was returned to the Aboriginal people in 1985, which they in turn leased back to the national parks service for 99 years. This is a hugely scared place to them, and to have visitors traipsing all about, all over their sites of ritual and ceremony that have been upheld for LITERALLY tens of thousands of years – well, no one can think well of that. There is a place where you can climb the rock; I have no idea why. The traditional owners (read: the native people who actually own the land) would really prefer that no one do this, but for some reason it is still allowed. Attempts at discouragement are posted all over, signs saying “we’d really rather you not” but it doesn’t seem to stop too many people. We saw a line of them, like little ants, leading up the side in the early morning light. I am not too sure how you can read about the significance of a site, read about how the people to whom the place is scared would rather have you stay on the ground, then walk right past the sign and up the side of the rock. IT just doesn’t sit right with me. Oh well, we had a nice time on our walk.

      This really doesn’t look like so much fun that it would be worth angering people who have been around for over 50,000 years. Yes, the aboriginal people have the oldest continuous culture that has ever existed. They must know something, seeing as how they kept the land in fantastic shape for a few tens of thousands of years before the white man came along and messed up the animal, plant and mineral life permanently in up than less than 50. But whatever. I am sure it is fun to climb for those who just can’t resist temptation.

      Our walk was beautiful and we finished exhausted. We ate lunch surrounded by pigeons (of course Australia doesn’t have normal ones, but cute little ones with spikey head-dresses and purple and green wing feathers. Perfect Pigeons), drove out of the park to get some more $7.50/gallon gas and then pulled into the sunset viewing car park (a full hour and a half before sunset would even think about starting) to steal the last of the few good places that were remaining to watch the twilight show.

      The sunset really wasn’t as amazing as the sunrise, but it was still pretty and we had a very good time talking to the old couple next to us. They told us stories in a charming, old-couple-y fashion, finishing each other’s sentences and in general cutting each other off because each of them wanted to tell us about this or that neat thing that they had seen. The gentleman had a video camera and was busy taking constant videos of the sunset, narrating what exposure settings he was using during each shot and how the colors were changing in real life. We felt horrible for him when his battery died halfway through the sunset, right before the most spectacular of the color change but they had time to come back the next day so it was okay. I enjoyed talking to them immensely, probably because I have had no one to talk to but Sam for the last 2,000km or so. They were cute, and the whole social atmosphere of the sunset-watching parking lot reminded me of a polo game, with loads of cars all lined up in a long straightaway to watch an event while the passengers climbed out onto and in front of their cars, chatting all the while.

      Sam managed to take the worst sunset picture ever :D, then we left to drive another 500km through the desert to Alice Springs.

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