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Sun 22 Oct. Darwin, Australia.
Climb reluctantly aboard another accursed Greyhound for the 21-hour stint to the Alice. At check-in a piece of paper is thrust forward for a signature. "I understand that flooding and washouts may cause roads to be impassible in the rainy season in the Northern Territory. Grayhound accept no responsibility if your journey gets stuffed up completely etc. etc."
Mon 23 Oct. Alice Springs, Australia.
Bruce Chatwin wrote: "Alice Springs, a dusty grid of streets where men in long white socks are forever getting into and out of land rovers" conjuring up visions of a windswept frontier town clinging to the edge of the desert. In fact, The Alice is a pleasant, modern place of whitewashed concrete complete with every fast food franchise known to man, and you could easily forget it is a thousand miles from anywhere, sucking water from the ground to survive.
Tues 24 Oct. Western MacDonnell Ranges, Australia.
Out on another camping trip, this time five days round the red dust of central Australia. The five day trip takes you - a little - further than the standard three-day circuit, and for the first couple of days there are relatively few other happy campers around as we walk through the deep red crack of Standley Chasm, swim in Ellery Creek Big Hole and Glen Helen Gorge.
Throw our swags down on the sandy bed of a dry river at the entrance to Palm Valley. A family of wild horses drink from the pools on the other side.
Wed 25 Oct. Palm valley, Australia.
A baby Perentie lizard clings to a rock during the circuit of Palm Valley. Have to get out and push the truck through sandy patches several times on the way out.
Thur 26 Oct. Kings Canyon, Australia.
Now we rejoin the crowds on the standard Red Centre Sightseeing trail. The Lost City, Garden of Eden, Kings Canyon.
Driving past Mt Connor, a two metre coppery snake basking in the road strikes angrily at the wheel of the bus.
Sunset at 'the rock' has long been a horrendous circus, with tour groups herded into a fenced off corrall to drink champaigne from plastic cups as the last light turns Uluru luminescent red.
I duck under a fence, walk five minutes to the crest of a small hill with a spectacular view and have the glowing pebble doing it's magical, timeless thing all to myself.
Fri 27 Oct. Kata Tjuta, Australia.
Up at 4 AM for sunrise at Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Heavy showers turn the red rock domes to sullen purple-black, streaked with tiny white waterfalls, but when the sun breaks through they glow instantly against the darkness. Our insanely early start means we walk for miles through the Valley of the Winds that spreads branches into the middle of the range without seeing another group.
Sat 28 Oct. Uluru, Australia.
Did I climb the rock? No. Why not?
Twenty years ago you could climb the rock without a wisp of cloud to shadow your concience. Ten years ago, you might have heard something about the Aboriginal owners preferring people not to climb but you'd have probably have gone ahead anyway, and today rambling arguments still rage across backpacker hostels on whether it is right to climb. Many people still do, many people even go to the trouble of finding out the issues and decide to climb.
However, the excellent Anangu cultural centre not far from the base of the rock gives a great deal of information on the significance of many sacred sites round the rock (rather than it being a single sacred object, it is sacred as the meeting point of several Tjurkurpa (which translates better as 'traditional law' than the slightly patronising 'dreamtime') stories.
It explains that Anangu people themselves climb the rock only as initiates during a few highly significant ceremonies, and also that Anangu feel a heavy responsibility to safeguard all visitors to their land, in fact the literal reading of the responsibility is that if a visitor dies on the rock (as happens on average a couple of times a year) an Anangu must die to repay the failure to protect and educate.
The information brochure contains the following message: "Although Anangu have given permission for visitors to climb Uluru, Anangu prefer if you choose to respect the cultural significance of Uluru and do not climb".
Which seemed fair enough to me.
In any case, the 7 mile walk round the base is a fascinating and politically correct alternative. Uluru, a mountain range carved from a single sheet of sandstone, towering at my shoulder, some parts smooth and striated, some parts cracked into huge sheets, waterholes buried beside cliffs, watercourses running between rock walls stained with algae.
Driving back to Alice springs - the closest town, and still 300 miles away - afterwards, the heavens open and the rain comes down.
All content © COPYRIGHT Huw Porter