The Red Centre

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I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we arrived at Uluru. I knew there was a giant rock and a lot of red dirt, but other than that, I was out of ideas. After spending a few days in the Red Centre, I don’t believe anyone should visit Australia without making the trek out to Uluru. I’m also anxious to explore more of the area– perhaps even braving an adventure in a camper van!

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After checking into the simple, clean, and spacious Emu Walk Apartments (part of the Ayers Rock Resort– the only place to stay) we grabbed a quick bite at the Kulata Academy Cafe. The cafe is run by trainees of the Rock’s indigenous training academy, and the students take their job seriously, while providing efficient service with a smile. After our toasties and pies, we met our camel guide Burt for the short transfer to the camel farm.

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I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a camel in person before. They are much cuter than I was expecting! They were also much bigger than I imagined. After Burt described the curious manner in which a camel stands (from his knees to back legs up, then front legs) I was more than a little nervous to get on Nicko, my camel for the evening. Donnie went first– climbed into the saddle, held on, leaned all the way back– and his camel stood up in one quick, fluid motion. I breathed a little sigh of relief and decided not to be nervous. Nicko, however, decided to be quite stubborn, and I ended up holding my breath and leaning back for a solid three minutes while he burped, Burt rubbed his head and cajoled him, and eventually smacked his rear before deciding to stand. My heart was pounding through my chest! But I managed to stay on, and once we were up, it was magical.

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The camels walked at a leisurely pace while we admired the scrubby landscape and Burt taught us more about the area and the camels. Surprisingly, the camels are caught in the wild and trained to work as adults. We also learned that when the International Space Station passes overhead, it is the closest neighbouring “town.” I’m not exaggerating when I say we were out in the middle of nowhere.

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Being at Uluru was humbling. We learned a lot of the stories and legends passed down from the traditional owners, and it’s easy to see why country is so important. Uluru is a sacred place for the Anangu, and it wasn’t actually handed back over to them until 1985. Learning about the troubled history was challenging but necessary. It’s difficult to really understand the complex relationships that develop within a country that is not your home, but at the end of the day, it basically boils down to colonialism and the power exerted over original peoples by European “settlers.” I am really trying to learn more of the nuanced history, and visiting here helped in that regard.

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The day after our camel adventure, we spent time within the National Park, walking up close around Uluru and soaking in the awesome power of the place. Several times we reached a resting point and just sat silently, all four of us just taking in the energy as we looked around in awe.

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We also got caught in the rain, which is incredibly rare as they only receive approximately twelve inches of rain annually. Somehow this was not surprising since my parents were with us, and I’m pretty sure we’ve experienced rain in virtually every desert we’ve visited.

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The small amount of rain was enough to force a cancellation for our field of lights tour, which was incredibly disappointing as the installment is only there for a short time. We made up for the disappointment with a few games of Bananagrams and some ice cream. While visiting Uluru may not be at the top of everyone’s Australian bucket list, I would highly recommend including it in a visit. The majesty of the land is hard to describe, but wonderful to experience. And if that’s not enticing enough, I’d go again just to ride the camels!

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It’s Called the Mountains…

Back in June and July, life was a little hectic. We went to Alaska with my parents, my friend Lane came to visit, we went to Bali, and then I started grad school. I slacked a bit on this dear little blog, so I want to go back and revisit some of the adventures from this winter! (In case you forgot, the seasons are switched Down Under.)

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While Lane was here, we decided to take a day trip to the Blue Mountains. We’d heard lovely things and decided to check out the views for ourselves. We made two mistakes early on in our journey.

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First, don’t ever sit in the first or last carriage of a Sydney train unless you are alone or desperate for some quiet. Lane and I learned this the hard way. We boarded the Blue Mountains Line train to Katoomba at Central Station, excited for our adventure and surprisingly energetic for the early morning hour. We settled into our seats for the two hour train ride, just chatting away. We noticed this older woman, who vaguely resembled Professor Umbridge in her pink beret, gesticulating wildly at us and tapping the window repeatedly. She was glaring at us. We followed her pointing to a sign that clearly (and politely) stated that this was a “quiet carriage” and passengers should please keep talking to a minimum. Oops.

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We waited in silence (with lots of eye rolling and semi-silent giggling) until the train got to the next stop, ran out of the quiet carriage, and re-boarded in a normal one. Why didn’t we just walk through the connecting doors, you may ask? Because we literally couldn’t escape the quiet carriage! Everywhere we went, there were still signs. While we were waiting for the next stop, some boys down quite a bit from the Umbridge lookalike and her husband were talking and laughing until Umbridge’s husband bounded out of his seat, down the stairs, and shouted (in his polite Aussie voice) “I don’t like what you are doing and I wish that you would stop it Right. Now.” We died.

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I forced Lane to be in this picture. But seriously, how cute is that new puffy vest? 

If boarding the quiet carriage was mistake number one, we became aware of mistake number two immediately upon exiting the train at Katoomba Station. The temperatures had been in the high-60’s to low-70’s in Sydney pretty consistently, so we thought we would be fine in long sleeves and fleece pullovers in case it was cooler in the mountains. Well, it was cooler, by about 15 degrees. Despite being from Michigan, Lane is a giant baby when it comes to the cold, so we immediately headed into a hiking shop across the street to purchase some additional layers. While perusing a rack of puffy vests, we explained to the shopkeeper that it was much colder here than we were used to in Sydney. He kind of stared blankly at us and then said, “… it’s called the mountains.”

Armed with a cute, and warm, new puffy vest, we headed for Echo Point Lookout. The view was easily worth getting chastised on the train and freezing a bit. It was absolutely stunning.

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We decided to do a medium-difficulty hike that allegedly involved descending over 900 steps, and then continuing in a flat walk along the valley floor, until we came to a cable car that would take us up the incline to Scenic World. The steps were pretty intense, with most consisting of various-sized rocks and not actual stairs, but we were going down which was much easier than going up. We caught up to a group of middle-school aged kids who were not quite enjoying the experience. One kid in the back of the group decided this was “idiotic” and “not fun AT ALL.” Hah!

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Once we finished with the steps, our legs were excited to stretch out on this supposedly flat walk. However, what the woman in the visitor’s center failed to mention that was throughout the flat bits of the path, there were approximately 500 more steps and more steep inclines than could possible be part of any walk I would call “flat.” Luckily it was a gorgeous day, and after over a year of not seeing each other in person, we had plenty to discuss and enjoy along the way. Overall it was a fabulous hike– just not described quite accurately.

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Once we made it to the (world’s steepest!) cable car, we were kind of tired. We enjoyed a scary ride to the top of the mountain and had some fish and chips in the cafe. From Scenic World we took the trail back towards Echo Point, which involved hundreds (I kid you not) more stairs. Except for one moment when I refused to continue if there were more stairs ahead (spoiler alert: there were) I survived, and thankfully Lane the CrossFit champ kept me motivated. After our day of nature and adventure, we were happy to relax on the train ride (safely in a talking-allowed carriage) back to the city!

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