After the delicious Italian pasta, it’s time to ride West towards Uluru. I have 250km to get there so, although it looks close on the map, it’s pretty far!
On the way I stop in Imanpa, an aboriginal community that my host in Oodnadatta advised me to visit. The person I got told to look for was not here, but I stop to buy some supplies at the local store, and I meet Keira. She works in the community, and runs the store among other things. I learn a little bit about how things work in the outback and in the aboriginal communities. When I leave, she lets me know that next week a local reggae band comes for a concert, in case I’m around. Imanpa doesn’t really receive many visitors. 5km off the Lasseter highway, none of the traffic going to Uluru turns off to the community.
I get back to the road and keep going. Further down a van stops, the driver met Laetitia before and tells me she is also on her way to Uluru, so we will probably meet there. I keep going a few more kms and camp out some 100km from Yulara, the tourist resort at the entrance of the national park.
The next day i get my first sights of the rock from afar as it reveals itself in the blurry horizon. It sits with majesty on the vast flat plain, looking over the land around with its popular flat and perfect shape. I also see the Kata Tjuta, the sister rock formation to Uluru, much less well-known and equally sacred in Aboriginal culture and mythology. The two landmarks are 50km apart, a distance difficult to gauge on a map or even on this flat featureless landscape.
I have to say that I am in a strange state of mind. Since I left Coober Pedy I have gone a lot faster than I did on the desert tracks or even before when I was travelling with Clem. It feels as if I rushed to the Rock just to see it, but as I am getting closer, I realize that I don’t really know WHAT to do once I finally get there. Besides, on the Lasseter highway I get overtaken by countless tourist buses bringing some of the 300,000 yearly visitors to Uluru, which lets me know I’m not gonna be alone over there! I finally get to the resort where I take a break, and find out that the National Park is protected, has opening and closing times and doesn’t allow camping. Although it seems pretty natural with the tourist flow, I hadn’t thought about that and feel a bit overwhelmed by the too many rules. I feel a bit lost as I wanted SO MUCH to get there, and now that I am, I don’t know what to do. I camped out off the road and slept on it.
The next day I woke up early and went to catch the sunrise behind the rock. As the sky brightens, the rock’s silhouette reveals itself and although I’m still feeling a bit weird, I start to enjoy and understand why I wanted to come here. This place is special. It’s not just a big red rock. You have to bear in mind the meaning it has to the people who have always lived here. And it makes sense when you see it. A perfectly shaped rock in a perfectly flat plain. It inspires respect and humility.
I still don’t feel ready to enjoy my “encounter” with Uluru, and I decide to go straight to the Kata Tjuta. Since I don’t know about these rocks, and thus expect less, I am not afraid to be disappointed and feel lighter-minded about going there. Besides, less people take the extra 100km round trip to Kata Tjuta, it should be fairly quiet. It takes me about 3 hours to get there, and I spend time walking around the rocks, in the “Valley of the Winds”, and spend time enjoying the soothing landscape of these round and rocky domes overlooking the plains.
I make my way back and am back near Uluru before sunset. I meet Laetitia who just arrived there and went to the rock and the cultural centre. I want to get away from the crowds, and I find a spot on the side of the road where to look at the changing colors of the rock as the sun goes down. Then as night comes, I stay and look at the moon and stars rise over it. As everybody has left the park, it is pretty quiet and I can at last enjoy being there and get a feel for the place.
The next day, I finally go to the cultural centre, where you can learn some history and traditions related to the place, and ride my bicycle around the base of the rock. It seems smooth from afar, but its surface is rough and flaky like the bark of a New Zealand Kauri tree. Its base is full of various features, caves where people dwelt and even waterholes that attracted a whole entire fauna. In a dry and harsh land, Uluru provided shelter and water. It makes a lot of sense to me that people consider it so sacred and important.
Upon meeting two young people cycling on their own across Australia, the ranger from the cultural centre invites us to stay over at her place instead of camping out. In some sort of way, Uluru gifts us with hospitality as it always as for the people living close to it. We share stories around dinner and a cup of tea and get some rest. The next day we enjoy a last sunrise, and make our way out of the park. My next destination is King’s Canyon, another geological landmark in the area (well, 300km away), and yet another detour from my planned route!
As I leave I think back on my experience at Uluru. I am happy to have been there, having thought about it for so long. Uluru is a the same time a very sacred place, and a highly touristy spot. That’s a lot of pressure to get a feel for it. It is so important that you don’t know what you are supposed to do, how you are supposed to feel. It is so touristy that you feel a bit rushed. There are rules everywhere to tell you what you can and can’t do, in order to safeguard the area and prevent excesses. But at the end of the day, you just have to enjoy being there. I don’t know why my mind was so clouded these last few days. I was a bit stressed by time I guess. It had been a while since I could give any news. I was seeing time running and thinking that I needed to keep going. I was lacking time to simply enjoy the ride.
I realize that the feeling of not having time causes a lot of stress. It rushes our minds and ideas and gets us confused. Knowing how to take your time in life is something really important. We don’t have infinite time on our hands, and we can’t do everything, go everywhere, meet everyone. We have to always make choices. Decide where to spend time, and therefore where not to spend it, without regrets. Stay or leave? Go or not go? Do or don’t do? Always so hard to figure out, and so confusing because we often want more than we need.
Taking time doesn’t mean spending a lot of it. You don’t need to spend a year sitting in front of Uluru to experience the beauty of it. A minute can be enough, as long as you enjoy that minute fully and dedicate yourself to that moment. Whatever happens, we need to enjoy what we have, and not regret what we miss. That way, we make the most of one of our most precious resources: our time.
Yet another lesson learned on the Long Red Ride!