Walking around Ularu was a good example of a common dilemma: should I stop every five feet and take a photo, or should I stop every five feet and just look at it and be? Should I try to capture it, or just see it—really see it?
I chose photos. As the sun rose, the light changed minute by minute. The sky, the red earth and buff-colored grass and the red rock went from hue to hue.
You can barely see it in the photo below, but it looked like a line of ants crawling up Ularu. Climbers. Meg had further explained the Aboriginal perspective on climbing. “They feel responsible for the rock, as a sacred place, and that means they feel responsible for the people who climb it. Every year stupid people get hurt, or dehydrated, and who wants to be responsible for that? Just his winter, an old Japanese bloke died up there.” Meg wasn’t one to mince words.
“What’s the view like from up there?” someone asked.
“It’s crap—its just red dust and spinifex as far as you can see,” replied Meg.
Spinifex, a tufted grass that comes in hundreds of varieties, including one that’s as sharp as shards of glass.
We were going on our third hour, and approached the base.
It was very pretty—the was a (currently) dry water hole surrounded by glorious gums.
A sign informed us that the Aboriginals waited by the water hole until the last animal in a herd had drank its fill, then they killed that one animal. This was so the rest of the herd wouldn’t panic and never return.
Another sign asked us not to take photos of a “sensitive” place called Mala Puta.
“That’s ‘bad whore’ in Spanish,” I told Heidi.
“It doesn’t look any different from the rest,” she replied.
“Do you feel any juju?” I asked.
We walked on, in and around the rock formations.
As I’ve written before, I’ve been to a lot of places like this that are or were sacred to a culture, or from which civilizations mysteriously disappeared. Machu Picchu, Tikal, the Western Wall, Petra, Dzibilchaltun, Lalibela, and the Native American burial mounds near my house. I had an out-of-body experience at the Western Wall, felt a strong “something” in Petra, a little something in Tikal, and nothing at all anywhere else. I’m pretty sure it’s all based on my state of mind and how much time I have to overthink it and imagine I feel something.
But who knows. From thoughts of the sacred to the sensible, I headed for the toilet, having downed two liters of water as instructed by Meg. A helpful guide informed me that I was hydrated.
We gathered near the bus in the parking lot for 9am tea, which was date cakes but no tea.
Heidi and I chatted with the Aussies who had immigrated to Australia.
“We just love it here,” said the husband, whose arms and legs were totally tatted. “We’ve only been back to the UK twice in 20 years.”
“Don’t you have family there?” queried Heidi.
“Aw yeah, but we just like it here better,” said the wife. She was the second woman I’d seen on this trip who was wearing false eyelashes. One of them was coming unglued.
“Awwwll right you lot! Back onboard!” bawled Megan.
“Did you think it was strange,” Heidi asked in a low voice, “The British couple have only been back home twice?”
“Yes! I wonder if there’s some family feud.”
“I lived in London for almost as long as they’ve been here, and I came home every year.”
“Where do you feel most at home?” I asked her, thinking the answer would be London.
“Austria,” Heidi replied. Her mother is Austrian. “But I can’t get a work visa because they base it on your patriarchal heritage.”
“That’s so sexist!”
So the British couple love Australia, Heidi would rather be in Austria, and I feel at home in the UK. An Indian friend of mine feels Minnesota is where he is meant to be.
Is the draw to a place something spiritual, or a story we manufacture in our minds?