09 August, 2012

Destination finally sighted

(Friday 20th July)

Today we left the tiny settlement of Ti Tree* soon after sunrise. We drove for two hours to Alice Springs and were pleasantly surprised by a tidy, attractive looking town that is larger than anything we’ve seen since we drove through Mt Isa on Wednesday afternoon (It is the third largest town in the Territory and has about 27,500 people, making it quite a bit larger than Mt Isa!). We stopped for petrol and more groceries. We’re saving a lot on meals: we’ve not yet bought any take away meals!

But it wasn’t the ordinary as-brief-as-possible stop we’ve been making recently. Today we’d tee-ed up to have lunch with some people who are in our church’s denomination. I guess you could say they are friends of friends. But it was almost a disaster as in my email correspondence with them, I’d forgotten to get their address or phone number. And I haven’t had internet access since I realised this earlier in the week. Finally, using my Japanese mobile phone, we sent an email to them with our number and they called us just after we’d finished doing our errands. Then we got mixed up by their directions and ended up on the wrong side of the town.

But eventually we found them and had a very enjoyable hour or so having a barbie (BBQ) and learning about them and more particularly about the true situation in Alice Springs, especially regards Aboriginals. Phil is a Presbyterian minister and they’ve worked part-time at the church there for the last three years. Previous to that they had an itinerate ministry, reaching out to many in outback areas and living out of their own mobile home. So essentially we were/are both in cross-cultural ministry. 

We were surprised that amidst the flatness of
the Territory, there are a lot of "ranges" as well.
But I guess the most striking thing was how quickly we "gelled". It was one of those remarkable encounters where you immediately feel comfortable with the other party and, though we'd known each other for less than an hour, had a marvellous time, skipping all the usual pretences, we went deep quickly. We came away feeling very refreshed and encouraged.

The boys enjoyed being released from the motor home for a while. They mucked around in the back yard with our new friends’ dogs and had a great time. Prior to that they’d been starting to go stir crazy from being locked into seats that forced them to face each other day after day.

About midday we said our farewells and jumped back in the motor home to do the final 440km to Uluru (Ayers Rock). The countryside at last began to look more sparse and desert-like. The foliage didn’t change a lot, just got more sparse. And after we turned west of the Stuart Highway (the highway that runs from Darwin to Adelaide), we started to see red sand dunes poking out from under grass tufts. A bit like the sand hills you see behind a beach.

Another road photo!
About 30 km from the giant rock, we could see its familiar outline on the horizon. I say familiar because pretty much all Australians have grown up seeing photos of this amazing rock formation. It seemed unreal, like we were seeing a large photo or something!

At about 5.40pm we finally arrived at Yulara, the “resort” or small-town type place that is situated just outside the gate to the national park that contains Uluru and Kata Djuta (Olgas). The “resort” contains a number of hotels, caravan park, camping grounds, a petrol station, grocery store etc. It is quite an interesting little place on its own. Outside the gate the police subjected David to a random breath test. Almost the first time we’ve seen a policeman since we left built up areas last Saturday.

And finally The Rock itself.
My first emotion was relief, “We’d actually made it.” Then some serious mental fatigue, I had a lot of trouble concentrating on what to do next. Then I realised that the sun was going down about 15 minutes later and there was a viewing point for that pretty close to our site. So we gathered the troops and walked off to see that. Beautiful colours!  And it turned out that the viewing point was on top of a sand dune (there was a bridge-type path that helped us climb it).

After that short bit of exercise, it was easier to concentrate on the task at hand: making dinner. Just when we were about to sit down and eat, Mum and Dad walked down the road. Did I tell you that they flew out on Tuesday to meet us here and do some touring themselves? This evening they were up in a helicopter while the sun set. I’ll definitely have to ask Dad to show us some of his photos.

So, they sat down and ate with us outside under our awning. Even though it is a bit chilly at night, we’ve been eating outside each night because by the end of the day we’re pretty sick of being cooped up.

We shared stories and planned what we’ll do tomorrow morning. First thing on the agenda? Sleep-in!! After getting up before the sun on most days in the last week, we’re more than happy to have a slower start tomorrow.

*I’ll have to check how many live there, but I’m suspecting less than 20. Ed's note, it turns out that most of the town is off the highway and there are about 150 people in the town!

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