Heidi lived in Papua New Guinea as a child, lived in London for 18 years, and has traveled all over Europe but she had not yet been to the Red Centre.
“I feel privileged to be seeing this with you, both of us for the first time,” I said as I peered down into a diorama at a taxidermy platypus. Heidi stooped down next to me. “I feel the same! Such a strange-looking little thing; I’ve never seen one, alive or stuffed.”
The Cultural Centre had a small gift shop, and I lingered over some throw-pillow cases with Aboriginal art.
“They’re beautiful, but they’ll be everywhere, right?” I didn’t want to weigh myself down with more stuff, when we might have to carry everything on our backs.
“Oh, I’m sure. Whoops, it’s time to get our bus,” replied Heidi.
So I didn’t buy the pillow cases and I never saw anything like them again, but in the grand scheme of things, throw-pillow cases are not important.
There were about 30 Italian tourists waiting on the curb, dressed in black, with black Italian luggage and handbags and black sunglasses.
“Surely they can’t be on our tour?” Heidi wondered.
I was snapping photos of the bottle-brush-like flowers that were everywhere around the resort.
I thought Heidi said, “Banksy are lovely, aren’t they?”
I looked around, confused. “Banksy, the British graffiti artist?” Two of the nearby Italians sniggered.
Heidi burst out laughing, “No! Banksia—bank’-see-a—they’re kind of our national flower.”
Tour buses pulled up, dropped off or picked people up including the Italians, then drove away. You could see the rock by Segway, bicycle, camel, motorcycle, hot air balloon, or helicopter.
We would go in an air conditioned bus. But these weren’t your average tour buses. They looked really bad ass.
A bus emblazoned with “Adventure Tours” pulled up and a young woman hopped out and called our names. “But we paid for a tour with Intrepid,” Heidi said to her.
“Aw, they’re all connected, or sub contracted, or whatever yer call it,” she replied. “Throw your backpacks in the storage in back and hop on.”
So we did, and I sat in front which I always do if possible, to see stuff. Our guide’s name was Meg, she was about 24 years old, and she was a bad ass (that’s good).
There were a dozen people in our group but I wouldn’t start to meet them until our first stop, which was—Kata Tjuta, or The Olgas. We drove for a half hour and arrived at the gate of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and sat in line for another half hour.
“We’ve got tickets, but you have to get them verified at the gate and it always takes forever,” explained Meg. “I don’t know why.”
While we waited, she told me the story of her life, including how her boyfriend, who was from New Zealand, pronounces her name “Mig.”
She was from Tasmania, was now based in Alice Springs, five hours away, and worked three or four days a week. “But of course it’s three or four days of 24 hours a day responsibility for a bunch of people who have never been in the Outback,” she added.
Once we were in, Meg handed back our tickets, which said, “Welcome to Aboriginal Land. Parks Australia and Anangu, the Aboriginal traditional owners, welcome visitors. It is requested that you respect the wishes of the Anangu by not climbing Ularu.”
Maybe they need to print the message in larger type.
This was my first view of Kata Tjuta, or The Olgas.
Kata Tjuta is a range of dome rock formations, 3,500 feet high at the highest point.
Called The Olgas in honor of Queen Olga of Wurttemberg (daughter of Tsar Nicholas I), Aboriginals have origin stories about them but they do not disclose those to outsiders, or even to their own womenfolk.
We traipsed up a valley between two of the domes. This was my first deployment of the fly netted hat.
Then we drove away to an overlook to get a view from the distance.
It was already 6:00pm. “Next stop,” Meg called out to our group, “Sparkling wine sunset at Ularu!”