There were two main reasons why we decided to drive to Darwin rather than spend a few hundred dollars on a 3-hour flight. The first reason was so we could get an “authentic outback experience” and the second was so we could see a big famous rock in the middle of the country that everyone says is life-changing. The rock's name is Uluru and that's how we ended day four on the road.
Before arriving, I had read lots of information on Uluru but I really didn't understand what made it a must-see attraction. I knew it was a rare thing to find a huge rock in the middle of the desert but I didn't understand its significance. Some people said it was the best part of Australia. Other said it was just another big rock. I was planning on soaking in the moment of arrival and making my own decision after visiting the cultural museum on site and experiencing Uluru for myself.
At the cultural center I learned the story of the rock. Apparently the aboriginal people believe it was an evil spirit than came to the ceremony of an aboriginal tribe. When told he wasn't welcome he killed lots of men whose remains are still there today. The evil spirit turned into a rock and lives on today in that form.
There's nothing worse than realizing the big rock you planned your trip around is also viewed as an evil spirit.
Despite my disappointment, I did learn a lot about the aboriginal people who own the rock and about their culture views for keeping it a sacred place of learning and gathering. With this knowledge in mind, I marched on towards the rock to get a better look of it.
When we arrived at the base of the rock, I was instantly hit with a moral dilemma that was apparently much bigger than the rock itself. To climb or not to climb? I had read about this choice in my travel books and I had heard several backpacker's opinions on it, but I didn't think the decision was that big of a deal until I stood in front of the rock myself.
I had just spent twenty minutes in the cultural museum reading about the deep spiritual connection the aboriginals had with the rock and how they deeply discouraged humans from climbing it. I felt like the right thing was to the respect their culture and tradition and refuse to climb.
No sooner had I finished thinking these thoughts did I look up and see a few dozen people climbing all over the rock. What really got me was when I realized the sign right in front of the rock pleaded visitors not to climb, yet left it up to them. I felt as though I was the new kid at a party and all the cool, outdoorsy kids were climbing the rock and not getting in trouble for it, even though we all knew it was morally wrong to do such things. I didn't want to be an outcast but I didn't want to be viewed as a jerk either.
I asked Matthew and Maggie if they were going to climb it but they seemed just as puzzled as I was at the sign and the climbers behind it. I thought for a minute about the opportunity in front of me and my mind went back to a woman named Julie Garza.
Julie was a super cool lady from Frederick. Right before I left the country I remember talking to her on the phone. She heard I was going to Australia and she wanted to give me one tip of advice that she had heard from a younger relative who had been to Oz.
Climb Ayers Rock (Ayers Rock is the white-man name for Uluru.) I don't know what it is but my sister did it and she said it was totally worth it!
I had written this piece of advice in my planner and stared at it several times. It wasn't until this moment that I understood what exactly that bucket list item meant.
Because it was late in the day and we were all confused as to what we should do, Matthew and I decided to make a quick climb to the chain link fence (which is only the starting point of the actual hike itself) and then climb back down and make a quick walk around the base. This would be our compromise. We didn't climb the whole thing, but we did enough to say that we have done it.
The quick little climb was actually really excruciating and I saw why people warned of the danger in climbing. The rock is as steep as any mountain I have seen and it has little to nothing in terms of knobs and grooves to put your feet in. I was in tennis shoes but I felt my feet could barely grip on to the rock because its surface was so smooth and slick. I definitely wouldn't have wanted to go any further up the rock for fear of slipping and falling like many people have done in the past. In fact, several people have actually lost their lives climbing Uluru. I was told that this upset the aboriginal people because they had to do apology rituals to their spirits for letting visitors get hurt. The aboriginals took the well-being of tourists very seriously.
After our mini-climb we took the Mala walk around the base of the rock. The three of us admired the beauty of the rock and marveled at how large it was. Uluru stands 348 meters tall and is almost a kilometer wide. The difference between Uluru and a mountain is that Uluru is solid rock. It has no other forms of vegetation on it. There aren't even any loose pebbles really, it's a solid chunk of stone!
Uluru was a neat experience and I am glad to have seen it first hand, but in the end I must say I am a bit on the cynical side. Aside from being a place of spiritual importance to the aboriginals, it's really just another rock. The following two days spent in the Red Center is where I found the real excitement.