Beth Borer-Nodolf – Australia (2011) ‡

Alice Springs and Uluru

The universe over the past year has blessed me so much, and the Globetrotter committee furthered this by granting me the opportunity to go back to Australia. This trip has been a huge blessing, because it allowed me not only to see more of the Sunburnt country, but it also gave me a chance to rediscover myself. I worked hard to save for the trip, but the Globetrotter Grant allowed me to venture into the heart of Australia, and witnessing the beauty of Alice Springs and Uluru changed my life.

When I stepped foot off the plane at the Alice Springs airport and took in the sights around me, I realized for the first time why Australia had earned the nickname as being a “sunburnt country.” In comparison to the lush rain-forest atmosphere of the eastern coast I had previously explored, the interior of the continent was a seemingly endless barren of red dirt for miles and miles. Gone were the sprawling metropolises and peoples of Sydney and Adelaide, and in their place for as far as my eye could see was a vast desert stretched out before me filled with endless possibilities of exploration and adventure.

The first thing that I noticed about the center of Australia, was that the temperature had risen over sixty degrees since I had left the United States. My tank top was instantly soaked through, as the blistering 105-degree weather greeted me with a very warm welcome. As I scanned the airport I saw policemen on trail bikes and the Qantas airline staff riding around on push bikes to get from place to place. It fit with my image of a quaint small town, but I quickly saw buildings and a city in the background. I had expected the town to be tiny and an outpost, but I was surprised to learn that because Alice is the only major town and service centre for an area that’s roughly the size of Texas, it’s filled to the brim with all of the necessities.

In between beating the heat poolside and trying to keep in the shade as much as possible, I sought out adventures that I knew the desert had in store for me. My friends and I went quad biking through a working cattle station and were able to see the desert wonders as they flew by our helmets. It was an experience that made me wonder if heaven was on earth amidst the cowboys and the beautiful desert sights. As I sped past, I could see kangaroos in front of me and birds soaring above the rock formations. I fell in love with the town of Alice Springs and wanted to spend weeks in the town, but I knew that my final destination was only six hours away and it was waiting for me.

It was dark by the time we drove into the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, and we worked to set up camp and prepare for our 3 a.m. wake-up call to see an authentic Uluru sunrise. I had been camping before, but experiencing the joy of a “swag” under the Australian skies was different. The swag is a one-person tent that has an open-air covering to allow you to see the beauty of the world around you. I loved sleeping in my “swag” under the stars.

It is quite possibly the best sleep I have gotten in years. It was wonderful staring into the endless skies filled with more stars than I had ever seen in my life, and being lulled to sleep by the sound of the campfire. It wasn’t long after I had shut my eyes that our alarms went off and we were stumbling on our way to experience the magic of an Uluru sunrise. When we arrived at the site, we sat on top of a dune, in the pitch black of the night, and our trusty tour guide Michael started to make us a traditional bushman’s breakfast.

He entertained the group by giving us an astronomy lesson about the star scape that was quickly retreating above our heads. With a cup of Billy Tea in my hands and my stomach full of damper, I lost my breath as I watched the sunrise appear in the skies over Uluru. The giant monolith emerged from the inky landscape, and with the yellows and oranges of the sun behind the dark shape, I witnessed Uluru change colors before my eyes. Changing from purple through to rusty browns and red in the golden sunlight it was an incredible experience, and if I had not been there to witness it, I would have never believed it.

The colors were the most brilliant thing I have ever seen in my life, and if I could passably capture them in paint I would splash the colors on my walls to be able to relive that moment again and again. It was an incredibly moving and spiritual thing to witness. Sunrise was my favorite time of the day to experience Uluru because I never wanted to see the sun set on the giant beauty and no longer be able to see the colors of Uluru.

I had thought I was prepared for walking the ten kilometers around the base of Uluru but I had not accounted for the temperature working against me. After less than a mile from the carport I was second guessing my choice to not take a helicopter overhead tour of Uluru instead. The heat gradually disappeared, however, when I began to notice the beauty around me.

The soils of Australia are ancient, rich in salt and extremely infertile, and it astounds me that there would be plants at all in the harsh environment, let alone a flourishing ecosystem. We chose to walk around Uluru instead of climbing it because it was respectful to the wishes of the Tjukurpa and Anangu peoples.

I adored getting to look at all of the Aboriginal rock art along the way and getting to learn about the Mala Tjukurpa’s history and culture. Its fascinating that the peoples of the Mala could survive the harsh desert and flourish in a climate seemingly unsuitable for life, let alone civilizations. One of my favorite things to do along the walk was to look for Ili, the wild fig tree, and Arnguli, the bush plum—which the Mala women and children gather for food—because I kept thinking at the back of my mind if I was stuck in the desert, I should know the survival tips and techniques.

I was also prepared by knowing where the main source of water was for the area. The Kantju Waterhole, the main supply of water for Mala ceremonies, was a magnificent wave carved out of stone at the base of Uluru, with a pool of water that looked like an oasis mirage at first. The water quickly dries up in the summer heat, but an overnight storm had left the pool looking immensely cool and deep.

I will never forget the way the heated rocks felt in the palm of my hands as I worked my way around Uluru or how the giant monolith looked soaring above my head. The skyscrapers in Los Angeles will always pale in comparison now in my mind’s eye as I will always be picturing at the back of my mind the glory of Uluru.

Before my trip I had been caught up in a fast-paced world, of continuously checking my email and texting, and hadn’t fully stopped to appreciate the beauty of the world around me. Getting to be a witness to the incredible beauty of the Australian desert forced me to take a second and stop and smell the “emu bush” and fully appreciate the beauty of nature. By being able to keep up on the trails I realized that I was stronger than I thought I was, and this trip has encouraged me to push myself farther than I ever thought I could go.

I can never thank the Globetrotter committee enough for giving me this opportunity, and hope that one day I can pay this opportunity forward and help someone else experience the beauty and wonder of Australia and the magnificence of Uluru.

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