We got up before the buttcrack of dawn in order to see sunrise over Uluru. As we drove out to the sunrise viewing point, we had a pretty decent view of the rock as it gets light well before sunrise. The rock itself is actually gray, but when it rains, the iron in the rock gets oxidized, which leaves rust all over the surface. The red of a sunrise shining on that rust was beautiful. After the pretty pictures, we continued our tour via foot. I was glad we invested in some fly nets. While the bugs weren't really out at night, which made sunrise and last night's dinner more enjoyable, once the sun came out, they came out as well. Even the bus was full of them. I was also glad for the breeze so that I could wear my sweatshirt to keep the bugs off, but still not be super hot. Our guide showed us several places around the rock. Apparently I was tired and fell asleep during some of the bus ride portion, but I did catch the discussion when we were on foot. First, Uluru is actually not the Aboriginal name for the rock- that's the Big Rock. Uluru refers to a water source. If all of the water sources around the area dry up, there is still one right next to the rock that will hold water. However, it is special and only the women can draw from it. If that dries up, there is one last hope- Uluru that is actually up on the rock. This site is so special that only certain important men could go draw the water, and that only after showing proper respect for the ancestor who guards it. As water is the most precious resource out in the desert, this last opportunity for life was very special to the aboriginals, much more important than the rock it lies on. This is why if you pointed to the rock from afar and asked them what their name for "that" is, they'd think you were pointing to the water, and say Uluru. That being said, the Big Rock is still important to them. It's where the ancestors' souls live. When a child is born, and ancestor comes out to take care of the child and be with it for it's life. When the person dies, the ancestor guides his/her soul back to the rock, which is where souls are supposed to return. The rock is just more of a holy site like a cemetery than a lifeline like the Uluru. The name Uluru stuck until a European came to map out the rock. He named it after his sweetheart's dad, Ayers. The European name for the place has since been Ayer's Rock. He also named the water source for his sweetheart- Maggie Springs. Unfortunately for him, while he was out naming things after her and her family, she got married to somebody else. My opinion is that it serves him right for ditching her in order to try to get her something "romantic" but completely useless. These days, Uluru is coming back in style and you can refer to the area under either name and be understood. Our guide also told us many of the stories the Aboriginals tell about the different rock formations. Each one represents some snake, some man, some pole, some mark left behind as somebody kneeled. The man's skull, I saw as a skull the first time we circled the rock, even before he told the story. Some of the other things I could see in the rock, but some of them I couldn't. It's like looking at the stars in a way. The dippers are easy to see as dippers, but some of the constellations that only have 3 stars in them are hard to see as dogs or whatever. The Aboriginals used the rocks to tell these stories, which were important to pass down both as history and as stories with morals, like fables. They also painted on the rocks and used those paintings to tell more recent stories. Our guide interpreted some of the rock art for us. One thing I think that was neat is that they represent people as a horseshoe shape. Why? Because if you sit in the sand cross legged, that's the shape you leave behind. If they neeed to differentiate an image of a person as a woman or a man, they'd put a stick or a boomerang next to the horseshoe. By the way, the boomerangs that come back were only used by the Aboriginals on the coast. The ones in the red center used boomerangs that don't come back, as they were hunting on land where you can go pick up your weapon if it drops and also were not usually hunting things that would fly away. We made a quick stop at the visitor's center on the way out, where I saw a gorgeous original that I could actually somewhat afford, but Rachel convinced me to get a print that was something like 1/40th the price instead. I hope I don't regret it. When I get home though, I'm going to see if there are any museums anywhere on the east coast that have Aboriginal art. This stuff is just so unique, and now that I know what a lot of the symbols mean, I can even figure out the story a little. I spent the afternoon relaxing in the air conditioned apartment. It was buggy, but we had done a decent job of keeping the flies out, so I could ignore the rest of them. It was actually kind of nice to have some down time where I didn't feel like I should be doing something else. Anywhere else, I would have found something to do, something to see, but there really wasn't that much to do or see here. Plus, there was no way I was voluntarily going out into the flies. I read, napped, caught up on sorting pictures, and just generally had a calm afternoon. In the evening, we went out to Kata Tjuta, the other big rock. Actually, unlike Uluru, which is a monolith, Kata Tjuta is made up of many different kinds of rock and the rocks have split somewhat so it is not just one rock. It was still pretty. On the way there, we passed trees that look like Dr. Seuss's truffula trees, just a different color. I feel like they had to be the inspiration for the drawings in the Lorax. Apparently, these are desert oaks. Desert oaks don't grow outward as juveniles, which is why they look like truffula trees. Instead, they spend their effort growing a deep root. Once the root hits a water pocket and the plant has secured a constant water source, only then does it start growing outward. As we got closer to Kata Tjuta, the oak/truffula trees diminished as they wouldn't be able to reach through the rocky soil to a water source. Instead, we saw some desert eucalyptus trees, flowers, and other plants. Once we got close enough, we hiked into one of the Kata Tjuta gorges, but the flies were even more horrendous than they had previously been. I was thankful that they were having a party on my fly net, and not in my face. I put on that stinky fly cream, but since I was sweating through it, the flies followed me anyways. I don't know how the people here do it. Flies were crawling all over the face of our morning tour guide, but he just kept talking as if they weren't there, not even bothering to swat at them. Somebody needs to introduce some birds, bats, or lizards to take care of them. They really ruined the experience for me and you could tell that it was even worse for some of the visitors who hadn't gotten fly nets yet. We drove back away from the features so that we would have a good view of them at sunset. As we watched the sun descend, we had a picnic of some bread, oil/vinegar, and spice mix. The spice mix wasn't that great, although it could also have been that the bread wasn't. It didn't really matter though, the flies were all over it in moments, so I wasn't really going to continue eating it anyways. Also, I was paying attention to the changing of the colors of Kata Tjuta. It actually looked quite different in the different light.
Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are pretty, but you can see that on a post card. As we didn't climb either rock*, I really don't feel we got much more out of this place than aboriginal stories, art and the night sky. While the stories were nice, I'm sure there has got to be a way to find them in a book. I saw aboriginal art elsewhere, and I know there are other places where you can see a lot of night sky- maybe Siberia or the Sahara or something. I honestly recommend skipping Uluru/Kata Tjuta to anybody planning a trip to Australia. Spend your time somewhere else where there's something to see and you don't have to waste all your energy trying to keep flies out of your nose.
*You can't climb Kata Tjuta at all. Uluru climbing is technically allowed, although it is still considered disrespectful to the Aboriginals, so I wouldn't want to do it. One reason is that it is the place of their ancestors, so you can compare it to hiking all over a graveyard or scaling the wall of a cathedral. The other reason is that it is a very hard climb. People die climbing it and many have to be rescued every year. If you do get injured or killed on their land, the aboriginals take it personally as they feel that they have not been good guardians of the guests on their land. Because it disrespects the people, it drains rescue resources, and it is no longer vital to the tourism industry (people like us come here even though we're not going to climb it), there is talk that the climb will be shut down in the relatively near future.
Tomorrow: we get out of this horrid place!