Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Alice Springs, NT
1 September

I'm feeling very smug about not having climbed Uluru, and a bit sore for having walked around it. During the walk, we encountered a father-son pair of French tourists who were pleased that I could complement their broken English with my fractured French, but I think I scared them away when I got excited about the queen honeypot ant that was wandering by. ("Ooh, c'est la reine!") We also spent two days at the Ayers Rock Resort in the manufactured tourist town of Yulara in order to see Uluru and Kata Tjuta ("The Other Red Rock"). In fairness: It's not an experience to be missed. The scenery is beautiful -- we were expecting a desert and got a massive green bloom of grasses and early spring flowers punctuated with spectacular trees, all atop earth that's redder than Georgia, redder than eastern Utah, redder than your nose if you forget your hat on the way. They've also done the visitor amenities well without bashing up the ecosystem -- for one thing, they've done away with the mid-20th century airstrip that abutted one of the sacred Aboriginal sites. The experience did wind up costing us upwards of U.S. $300 per rock, but again, it's not to be missed, and if you can go there, you should do it. The visitors' centre is amazing in its own right. It won't appear in the photos, since picture-taking is not allowed there -- more a copyright than a spiritual issue, and we behaved ourselves.

Alice Springs is sort of an afterthought. We have a layover here, so we engaged a friendly cabbie to take us from the airport into the city for lunch and shopping. He took us to the top of the ANZAC monument at one end of the city, and then rounded our fare DOWN to the nearest dollar. As Bill Bryson wrote in In a Sunburned Country, this is a place where the cab drivers might just tip you. In the intervening two and a half hours, we've shopped at several Aboriginal galleries, met a sweet but slightly manic young woman in this Internet cafe who couldn't quite get straight that Michigan wasn't in Canada, and found out that miniature didgeridoo-like instruments are used as emu calls.

So, if luck holds and the accommodations all work out, I'll be spending my birthday in Adelaide or on nearby Kangaroo Island. I've already managed to be the first person on earth to wish Craig a happy birthday. Samer and Ahmed: I'll see what I can do.