Here's the thing about Ayers Rock. It's a sandstone formation in the middle of the country, the vestiges of what was once a vast ocean in the, um, Plesiolithijurassion Period. Or something.
It's really out in the middle of nowhere. I mean, I thought I had been through the middle of nowhere before, but I was wrong. I thought the trip through the desert to Sedona AZ was really desolate, but I had no idea.
I had been to Australia once before when I was 15, but our trip didn't take us to the Red Centre. I wish that had been on the itinerary, but it just wasn't practical, I guess, for our tour group of high schoolers and chaperones to schlep all the way out there.
Even before Joel and I met in person, we talked about our mutual desire to go there. Ayers Rock is called Uluru by its traditional owners, the Anangu people of Central Australia. It's a sacrosanct place for them that's integral to their religious beliefs and creation story.
I have much to say about the disenfranchisement of the traditional owners, and I will in an upcoming entry. Just know that Joel and I treated this holy place with the utmost of care and respect. We shot these pictures of each other, two people fulfilling a lifelong dream...
(Also, it was COLD, much colder than we expected. Hence the emergency cold weather purchase of a winter hat from the gift shop.)
Barfy (but true) cliches about dreams come true aside, we spent our first evening in Uluru Kaja Tjuta National Park at the Sounds of Silence Dinner. This is a tourist booking, as almost all things are here, but it really was special. In short, you have dinner out under the stars. They serve kangaroo, barramundi, and emu, and there's a star talk and storytelling.
There's a scene in the movie Fight Club where Brad Pitt's character explains the concept of "single serving friends" to Ed Norton's character. They're on the plane where they "meet" and Brad Pitt is derisive and bitter about the single-serving airplane meal (bet they didn't give him a free Fudgsicle.) Anyway, this notion of single-serving friends is something that really stuck with me.
I've had a very colorful parade of "single serving friends," people I've met while backpacking through Europe or on my solo trip to Denmark and Norway. They're generally people I met by chance and spent a few hours or a day with. You each tell your stories and experience something together, and then you part ways.
I've gotten the occasional email after the fact, even hung out some folks again. It's kind of wonderful, in its own way, and Joel and I had a fantastic time with an Australian guy named Scott, his American expat girlfriend Rachelle, and her younger sister who was visiting before starting college. We met because they're the silhouette-providing folks in this sunset shot, and they were like, "Uh, who are you?" after they saw me taking their picture, a.k.a. shooting in their general direction.
We had a great evening before crashing in the terrifying expensive and completely overrated "affordable" hotel there. Our room came with free bug spray! We only booked one night there because our flight landed too late for us to check into the campground that afternoon. The next day we moved into a cabin in the campground. If anyone ever goes there (Hi, Cara!) I can not overemphasize how much we loved the cabin compared to the hotel. Holy cow.
Anyway, as I said before, I have a lot to say about the fragility of the indigenous people, the exploitation of the tourist industry, and the next group of single-serving friends we met- a broken-down vanload of Anangu women, their children and small dog whom we encountered by the side of the road as we were on our way to photograph the Olgas (a different but nearby sandstone formation) one morning before sunrise. They were stuck out there all night before they flagged us down, and of course, being us- within five minutes I was cuddling their dog and Joel was looking under their car with his Special Geologist Head Lamp.
For now, though, I have to try to share the magic and spirituality of this place. I have to show you the pictures.
There are more photographs here.