Tête en bas

Down under wandering. Archipelagoes to islands; beaches to deserts; mountains to cities.

Uluru, the way I see it

  • English: Uluru, the way I see it
  • Français: Uluru, the way I see it

New day, new talk, with two aboriginals this time, at Uluru culture center. They talk about the plants and the seeds they use, about their history too. A little. They tell us some stories about the place. If the guy seems to be happy and to enjoy the situation, the woman looks sad and nostalgic. I can easily understand why. The day before, the ranger told us “there’s no more ceremonies at Uluru. Now, ceremonies are held in Kata Tjuta. Because they can last for up to 3 months, which doesn’t work with tourists. A part of Kata Tjuta is forbidden to white fellows. It’s a compromise”. The word staid in my mind. Trying to see where was the compromise. I’m trying to imagine, telling catholics “you have to leave the Vatican, but instead, we leave you a little bit of Notre Dame for your mass”. I’m trying to see the compromise, but I can’t see it. I just see that aboriginal are doing their best to keep a little bit of a really important place for them. Uluru is “cultural patrimonies of the world” according to Unesco. We’re not talking about a natural wonder or something like that. We’re talking about culture. “Uluru is like the bible of the aboriginal people, except we can’t print it, we can’t move it”. It has been build by their own ancestors. Every holes in the rock, every color on the rock, have a story that link them to the past. We’re talking about the “creation time”. We can’t say “dream time” anymore. It’s not politically correct. Because “dream” does not sounds as real as “creation”. I don’t care. I still prefer talking about “dream time”. I find it much more beautiful. During the dream time, aboriginal ancestors were living here. They were much more bigger. And polymorph. Sometime animals, sometime humans, sometime plants. You can see here the python eggs. There, it’s an impact of a spear. And there it’s the burning skin of a snake.

Aboriginal did not live in Uluru. They were living in the plains, nomads following the food. When children were old enough to be initiate to the rite that will made them adult, they had to go to the rock with there grand parents. Uluru was frighting them. Uluru was impressive. Going there meant that you were about to leave childhood. But also that you were going to spend time inside the rock. Lessons were giving in small cave on the side of the rock. Imagine that you’ve been living outside all your life, and that you’re suddenly inside this huge symbol. You can’t see outside anymore. You’re cut from everything you used to know…

I’m writing a few days after being there. I’ve been sleeping in a swag for a little bit more than 10 days now. Looking at the stars. Days after days. And enjoying the taste of the first sunshine every morning. After only 10 days, I declined an invitation to sleep inside, in a warm place. Because I don’t want to sleep inside anymore. I’m just really happy outside. After only 10 days.

Australian government decided to help the aboriginal, to “civilized” them. They built communities. They built houses. Aboriginal didn’t understand what it was. They kept sleeping outside. Still today, lots of the aboriginals who come to town (Alice Springs) still sleep outside. In the dry bed of the river, with a fire on there side.

The first time I came to Uluru, with Cassie, I was planning to climb to the top. I wanted to enjoy the view we can have from there. It was, for me, a way to have a communion with the rock. To feel it all around me. And it’s also because I can’t see a mountain without climbing it. It’s not forbidden. There’s a way to the top. Lot of people take it. But at the beginning of the climb, there’s this sign “please, don’t climb Uluru. It’s a sacred place for us, and when there is accident, it makes us very sad”. “Sad”… that’s the word that changed my mind. It was not about being chocked, or aggressed, or frustrated. It was just sadness. But why not completely forbid the access to the top? One of the back fellow explains it really well. “You can’t force people to respect something with a law. You can have people respect by teaching and education. By asking people to make a choice. Not by forcing it. That’s the reason we don’t want to forbid climbing the rock. We want people to understand and respect our culture”. What aboriginal also try to explain to tourists is “Tjukurpa”. It’s the basement of the society, of the religion, of the law, of the moral and the culture of the Anangu peoples (the aboriginal tribes leaving in central Australia). Aboriginals learn it slowly. Starting when they are young, and learning it, year after year. What tourists learn is the children stories. They are teaching the link between the human, the plants, the animals, and the earth. Tjukurpa tells about creation of all the living species and the landscape. Tjukurpa teach aboriginal how to behave all together. Tjukurpa is the Law. There way of life. There way to be. They just ask us to understand it. Because as one of the aboriginal said, “white culture is number one. Black culture is number one. Because there’s no culture more important than the other. They are all equal”. But on this point, I think tourists need much much more education…

The first time I went to Uluru, it sounds absolutely normal for me to come here, to walk around, and to check there sacred site without asking myself any question. I was even planed, as I said, to have a look to the top. And then, they taught me. I’ve been listening with my eyes and my ears wide open. Fascinated, as I was discovering the oldest still alive culture. A culture who, even being 40,000 years old, still change. “The inside of the rock is black. The outside is red. Uluru knew that white men where coming” (white men who are really often red, indeed, in the middle of the desert). The rock is amazing from far away. From closer, the contact is different. Much more intimate. At least, intimate when you don’t have those flows of tourists walking around, chatting, shooting, laughing. What they want is just a picture of them, in front of the most famous monolith in the world. I realize, today, that I hope Uluru will be closed to tourists one day. Or open only with a long brief before. I wish the aboriginals have this sacred place back to them. So amazing, so important for them. We can enjoy the rock from far away. Just being amaze by its beautifulness, so that black fellows can keep it for them. No one would say “no, sorry, you can’t tell mass anymore, because people must be able to visit the cathedral any time”. But no one is chocked that it happens here. I’ve been educated, and I understand. And I’m a bit sad. That’s one of the reason I wanted to work as a tour guide. To share this knowledge. To educate people. The ranger who gave the talk yesterday doesn’t go to the place who use to be for men only. People here are learning. Some tourists too. But definitely not enough.

Back to the Big Red Thing

  • English: Back to the Big Red Thing
  • Français: Back to the Big Red Thing

This time, I don’t have a guide with me. I’m almost the guide. But the good thing is that australian parks often organize those “rangers talk”. Once a week in some place like the Rainbow Valley, but everyday in Uluru. The ranger talks about the place, giving as much details as possible. As the talk starts at 10AM, we don’t have any choice except to wake up early for this time. We even arrive in advance, which give us time to enjoy an healthy breakfast with an amazing view.

The group is big. Maybe to big. I know most of the information the ranger is giving us, but it’s nice to hear them coming from someone else, a different way. The talk last for almost two hours. After that, we just keep on doing the whole tour by ourself. Sadly, there’s much more people that when I came the first time, and it’s really hard to enjoy the quietness of the place. Typical example is this lady, in her 50s, with her aggressive voice, asking -way to loudly- “so, you’re enjoying the quietness of the place? You’re right, it’s really quiet here”. If I enjoy doing the walk again, I do keep a better souvenir of my first one.

As the meeting with the sunset the previous day was not as great as expected, we stop again for the sunset. This time, there’s no more smoke, and we can enjoy the color changes of the rock, seating on the roof of the car, eating a light salad.

Back at the campground a little while after that, to our usual evening routine.

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Salt Lake and Bush Fire

  • English: Salt Lake and Bush Fire
  • Français: Salt Lake and Bush Fire

We are still on our really slow pace. Maybe a little bit too slow. I don’t know. I don’t think so… for the second time in a raw, the campground is empty when we leave it. Actually, the first car are even coming in for the evening!

We drive for a little while. As I did a few weeks earlier, the two girls are trapped by Mount Corner. “Hey! That’s Uluru!” “Are you sure?” “Hum… yes!”. I’m happy to see that I’m not the only one being fooled by this big mountain.

Just after the watching area, we take this little hidden path. I almost missed it, even knowing that there was something here. Minma is back as a 4WD, but not for long. The path is to sandy. We park the car, and finish the track walking, to a very nice salted lake a little bit further. Time to take a few nice pictures, to walk a little bit, and for some girls, to clean there feet.

Back to the car. Back to the road. The timing is perfect. I just drive a little bit faster, just to be sure that we’re not late. We arrive a small hour before sunset. While Hripsimé and Sara are enjoying it, I start cooking diner. That what I would have been doing if I had a job as a tour guide. And I actually like it. Anyway, I just have to raise my head to see the amazing rock.

Unfortunately, there’s a big bush fire, with a thick smoke, hiding part of the sun. Because of that, the rock doesn’t really change color, and stay in a grey sad mood. We leave a little bit after that, heading to the campground where we’re going to spend the night.

Rainbow Valley

  • English: Rainbow Valley
  • Français: Rainbow Valley

Night was cold. Really cold. If it was okay for Hripsimé and I in the swag, Sara had quite a bad sleep and wake up really early. We’ll have to find an other solution for the next coming nights. Anyway. I don’t like the tent.

The day starts slowly. We take all our time to have breakfast and put everything back in the car, before going for a little walk in order to discover the Rainbow Valley. I’m really happy that I didn’t miss it. The place is really amazing, with a very nice magical feeling.

Time flies, and most of the day is behind us when we finally leave the place. We were planning to drive up to Uluru, but decide to take a slowest way. We’ll stop at Erldunda campground. Where the Stuart Highway meet the road to the rock. Where I’ve been waiting for hours as I was hitch hiking to Coober Pedy.

As it’s really early, we even take the civilized option to wash our clothes and ourselves. It’s sometime really useful. And definitely a great feeling! Occasion to talk with a few nice people too, including this english couple, traveling in a van, but who still find the night pretty cold.

Quick stop in Alice

  • English: Quick stop in Alice
  • Français: Quick stop in Alice

The day before, we have decided to come back to Standley Chasm. We had a great contact with the people there, and we knew that we were going to find the comfort we were looking for (understand electricity and toilet; we are simple people). The next morning, we’ve taken our time to leave the place. Because Ray, the irish manager, is really friendly. So friendly that, instead of telling him “good bye” we said “see you soon, probably next week”.

We told Sara that we were planning to be back in Alice around 11AM. We left the Chasm around 12:30, but arrived in Alice at the same time as Sara. She was coming from Darwin, with a few fellow travelers. They were a little bit late on the schedule. My objective, when I bought the car, was to take it as easy as possible. No more stress, no more schedule, no more timing. I was aiming the Rainbow Valley for tonight. An hour of normal drive and 45 minutes of unsealed road, south of Alice, on the road to the road. It’s part of the “must see” of the area. And the timing was perfect: tonight, there was a ranger talk around the fire.

The first contact with Sara was a good one. The time to have the car ready, buy some food (we won’t find any other grocery for the next seven days or so) et a few other thing (feeling an extra 10 liters tank of water, and an extra 20 liters tank of fuel), it’s already 4:30PM. Sunset will be there soon, but we still prefer to take the road and drive. Don’t like that much driving by night, but it won’t be a very long drive anyway.

In Alice Springs area, there’s two categories of unleaded road. The “4WD only” and the “4WD recommended”. Of course, I won’t even try the first one with Minma. But trying the other one is not a real problem for the old lady, and we arrive at the Rainbow Valley, a little bit shaken, but just on time for the Ranger Talk.

It’s cold. We’re getting used to it. We’ll all sleep in the tent that was coming with the car. But it’s an australian tent. The inside dome is just a mosquito net. The second one is just a water proof fabrics. The tent is huge. Probably not the best thing to keep us warm.

We build the tent quickly, before joining a really inspiring fire, to listen to a ranger talking about plants and animals of the area. If what he says is interesting, there’s no image or picture to really see the animals, and it’s a little bit hard to imagine them. I still grab a couple of information. At the end of the talk, we use the fire to boil some water for the hot water bottles. They will probably be useful tonight. We’re hiding in the tent soon after that for of first night on the road. The contact with Sara is nice. Everybody’s talking in english. From time to time, Hripsimé and her talk in italian. Or sometime in german. With me, she speaks in french. The car is a mix of languages that I really like.

I’m a swagman!

  • English: I'm a swagman!
  • Français: I'm a swagman!

A swag is one of the symbol of australian outback. As long as you haven’t try it, you don’t really understand. Your not sure. You’re asking question. And then, one night, you end up sleeping in a swag. And you can’t sleep in anything else after that. You even end up buying one!

Swags came from germany, but was not really adopted in his mother country. The weather was not the best for it. But Australian climate was just perfect, and it was a great success. Lot of ozie have there own swag (specially those traveling in the outback).

Good. But what it is exactly? Well… it’s the son of a tent and a sleeping bag. Imagine a sleeping back, with a mattress in it, in a big strong fabric, and you’ll get the idea. Perfect for sleeping outside when the weather is nice to watch the star. If it’s a little bit to cold, you can bring the fabric back to protect your poor little noise. Just perfect! But why only it the outback? I haven’t try the waterproofing of a swag yet, but I can of feel that you prefer to be in a dry place. You also prefer to be in a warm place, as camping outside when it’s freezing is… freezing. And it’s also the pleasure of watching the star. And there’s no better place that the remote australian outback for that. Swag was used a lot by worker/wanderer, going from one farm to an other one. Very handy: you roll all your stuff in the swag, and in 30 seconds, your ready to go to bed. The next morning, you’re ready to go in 30 seconds too. Not really easy when you’re hitch hiking or traveling light. But perfect if you have a car!


A rolled swag looks like that :

An open swag with a sleeper in it looks like that :

And if you want, you can transform your swag to a comfy couch:

As the swag is really classical in australian culture, we find it in the very famous song “Waltzing Matilda”. Probably the most known traditional australian song. Yes, a Matilda is a swag. And a swagman is a wanderer. If you want to complete story of the song, a visit to wikipedia is a must: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waltzing_Matilda

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong.
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me”,
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.
Down came the troopers, one, two, three.
“Whose[N 1] that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”
“Whose that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.
“You’ll never catch me alive”, said he.
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me”
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

West Macdonnell Range – day 3

  • English: West Macdonnell Range - day 3
  • Français: West Macdonnell Range - day 3

Ochre Pit

It’s freezing cold when we wake up the next morning. A good excuse to get ready quiet fast, and be back on the road, heading to Ochre Pit, a place known to be a source of pigment for aboriginal people. Sacred place, traditionally just for men.

Ormiston Gorge

If most of the place we stopped on the road offer just a quick 15 minutes walk, Ormiston Gorge offer a nice little trail, in order to discover the back of the gorge, and then to climb to an other great viewpoint.

Glen Helen Gorge

That means, for us, the end of the road. We could go on if we want, in order to do a loop. But we have to be back in Alice tomorrow morning, to meet Sara. An other italian girl, who contacted us after we put an post on couchsurfing saying that we were looking for a 3rd travelers to jump in the car in order to reduce the cost as much as possible. She was still in Copenhagen one week ago when she contacted us. She’s arriving today in Alice. Just on time. The road go on, but is recomanded for 4×4 only. And we might have an opportunity to come back here. Maybe. We’ll see!

West Macdonnell Range – day 2

  • English: West Macdonnell Range - day 2
  • Français: West Macdonnell Range - day 2

Ellery Creek Big Hole

After a very quiet morning (including a very nice staff practice and an other visit to the Chasm with a better light) we’re back on the road. Next stop at the Ellery Creek Big Hole. The area is known for all its little pool. Real pleasure, during summer time, to cool down. But with temperature between -1 and -4 by night and 15-20 during the day, we’re not really motivate to wet our toes.

Serpentine Gorge

Few km further, with a very nice view point.

We leave the gorge at the end of the afternoon. A short drive after, the car is stop again, on a rest area where we’ll spend the night. There’s a few other campervan, and a really nice campfire. We stop to talk with people, and to take some warmth. But those people are not so much inspiring, and we don’t stay for too long.

West Macdonnell Range

  • English: West Macdonnell Range
  • Français: West Macdonnell Range

Who’s Minma exactly? It’s what australian call a « station wagon ». One of those pretty long car, that make travelers happy, because it’s so easy to sleep inside. The idea might sounds strange, but I did buy a car in order to go even slowly when traveling. It’s nice to know that I can stop as long as I want, anywhere, now. The other good thing with those travelers car, is that they have millions of kilometers behind them, and you sometime have the feeling that they will never stop. And, because of there age, they are really, really cheap. So here I am, as a motorized traveler. And we have decided, with Hripsime, to discover the West macdonnell Ranges, in order to check that the car works well. And, of course, to discover the landscape. Because when you leave Alice heading west, it’s just amazing.

The program is pretty basic. Follow the road, and stop every 10 to 40 kilometers, to enjoy all the amazing things to see.

Simpson Gap

Gap are quiet common in the area. It’s those little gorge, carved by river in the surrounding mountain. Interesting to realize that water, so absent from the landscape, just create every thing here.

Stanley Chasm

Probably the most known stop in the West macdonnell Ranges. Here, the wall of the mountain are so close that you have the feeling to walk in a corridor. It doesn’t miss that much that you can touch both side of the mountain. Stanley Chasm is full of majesty, and of a tranquil power so amazing.

The place is gorgeous. We left Alice Springs quiet late, so we decide to stop here for the night. When I’m walking between those stone wall, I can’t stop thinking that it would be an amazing place for fire picture. And then, it’s full moon. With the moon straight over the chasm, the view is probably amazing. But… well, it’s really cold during the night. I’m not sure I’ll be feeling courageous enough to go back…

It was, of course, without taking in account the random meeting you always make when traveling. I don’t remember his name. He was Irish. He lived in Hungarian for a while, before coming to Australia. He came to start a fire. We talked a little bit together. He told us that his daughter was coming with some friend from Alice to celebrate the full moon. There was his daughter, his son, his wife, two australians and a french. We all gather around the campfire, talking and enjoying its warmth. Until I saw to fire stick on a table. Not so long after, while the moon wast just perfect, we were lighting the place with our dancing flame. And it was the opportunity, for me, to play didgeridoo while the brother and the sister were singing traditional irish songs…

Minma, The Old Lady

  • English: Minma, The Old Lady
  • Français: Minma, The Old Lady

One morning, a young aboriginal boy knocked at Terry and Jo’s place. He was holding a baby kangaroos. He looked Terry and ask “will you take care of my Malu”. Malu meaning kangaroo, in the aboriginal language speaker in Coober Pedy area. Of course, they accepted. The boy told them that her name was “Minma”. They liked it, thinking that it means “Woman”. A few weeks later, they asked aboriginal, who laughed and said “no, Minma means The Old Lady”. I heard this story a couple of time, and it always make me smiles. I think that “Minma, the Old Lady” sounds really nice to my ear. I like keeping name, in a corner of my head, just in case. That could be always useful. Like today, when Minma just get into my life. I promise, I’ll talk a lot about Minma soon!

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