THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Tuesday, 13 March

We are slow to get moving this morning due to the implacable nature of exhaustion. My left ‘index’ toe is fucked: I have the black toenail that runners can get from bad shoes (but I love my Cons) or just running. Coffee, please. At breakfast, we strike up a conversation with an Australian woman and her mum at the next table. She’s able to confirm the lame, semi-extortionary disappointment of some of the resort’s highly touted special event add-ons. Both tables kvell about the Outback Sky Journey, though.

Today we intend to hike a portion of the trails of Kata Tjuta (formerly known as The Olgas), a collection of massive sandstone domes forty-five kilometers west of Uluru. Visible across the scrub plain as a mass of purple mounds nestling and jostling under the fiery sun, the closer we get the more fantastic and breathtaking they become. But if God successfully made a loaf of bread with Uluru, he really botched his Kata Tjuta dinner roll experiment. The Valley of the Winds trail is closed (heat advisory), but we persevere. It turns out the 7K interior loop is what’s closed, but people nevertheless are hoofing it up to the first overlook. We hydrate along, submitting to the indignities of the flies. At the crest, we are treated to an epic vista of red domes receding one either side of a yellow-green and undulating valley. A German woman takes our picture and we hers. She agrees to remove her fly hat.

We are very satisfied to have tackled (nudged) the Olgas. Lunch we take at the Aboriginal Cultural Center between Uluru and Kata Tjuta. There are some helpful displays, enlightening and sometimes amusing. Aboriginal life has strange rules and customs, all of which relate directly to the harsh environment and the incomprehensible antiquity of the culture, and none of which have any Western analogs. I feel sort of abashed. At the store a small, square, painted panel, signed and everything, appeals to me. The artist also turned twisted sticks into wonderful snakes, but they are too complicated to transport. I buy Ali her very own bilby, a small, big-eared marsupial. It’s an early night because we have a long drive back to Alice tomorrow to catch the flight to Adelaide.

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