Day 22: Alice Springs to Yulara (Uluru)
Having Sheba preloaded with only the necessities, I had a couple bananas and grapes and set off into the sunrise as soon as I woke up. Spending the night in Seb's Alpine Hut was refreshing because it had a homey feel and not like I was on a sterile hospital bed or inside a terrarium of insects and frogs. Frogs disturb me very much.
Leaving early in the desert means that the dry air hadn't seen the sun in 12 hours, therefore didn't have a lot of heat to give. For the first time since Esperance (Day 5) I actually wore a hoodie under my motorcycle jacket. The first 100km from Alice is pretty basic, but it was quickly followed up by a mountainous horizon that changed colours with every turn.
I was also met by a petrol station that took me off guard. The prices were 30 cents more per litre than Alice, but because I didn't know how much further until the next one, I decided to fill up. Because I only used 100km of the tank, the charge was $8.50. That's fine and dandy. But when I went in to pay, I was told there's a $10 minimum or a $1.50 surcharge. Luckily I pulled out my emergency $20 and handed it over. Now with $11.50 of cash in my pocket, I made my way down the highway again.
The mountains flattened out the further I got from Alice and it became huge fields of kangaroo grass that grew in clumps, exposing the pebbly red sand underneath. The landscape shifted to what I knew from televsion as the "Australian Outback". As the sun started to rise, the surrounding temperature picked up just as quickly, so I pulled into a servo 200km from Alice. Again, not knowing the distance and prices, I filled up. There was a $10 minimum as expected but I bought some post cards and a fizzy drink anyway. This is where I had to turn right to get on the highway to Uluru. If one should pass this turnoff and go nonstop for another 15 hours, they would find Adelaide.
Mt Ebenezer was the next stop at 60km but I was sure there was another within my range after that. I was correct, and pulled into Curtain Springs 180km after the turnoff. The nozzles were literally locked to the pumps so an Italian backpacker came out to unlock it. He was very nice and understood the frustration of spending hours in the heat only to wait a little more. This time I was sure to go past the $10 minimum and filled up. It came out to $15. Sweet! But when I went in to pay, the minimum was $20. Fuck off. I looked at my change. $11.50. I looked at anything to buy. I wasn't hungry or thirsty at all thanks to my 6L of water and chicken sandwiches I prepared last night. Drinks ranged from $4-7 for a coke or Red Bull. They had horrible plastic souvenirs and overpriced postcards. I just couldn't do it.
I offered to pay the credit card fee but his boss wouldn't let him. They had a strict policy on their creit card machine. After unpacking all my bags right there at the pump (it wasn't busy) I managed to find coins totalling $2. It was basically like the FBI was tipped off that I was smuggling cocaine. I really did make an effort to give them what I owed. He eventually busy nodded at the unsightly pile of coins and look the other way. I told him his boss is a prick. He laughed nervously and checked around him. Boiling hot, I repacked my bags in haste and hightailed out toward Yulara.
Yulara is the name of a rather large resort town located 20km from Uluru (the landmark itself). A lot of money pours into this place. It has its own airport and a number od restaurants and cafes. The reception was busy, having just taken in an American and a Japanese tourbus. It was 1pm and I was hot, slightly dehydrated, and kicking myself for not carrying cash around. I didn't have to through the Nullarbor or northern WA. And the road to Uluru was far busier than those routes.
Half the load! You can feel the difference!
By the time I reached the front of the line, I was told that check-in starts at 3pm but I'm "welcome to wait outside". I wish I had my coins to throw at her but it isn't her fault I came earlier than I should have, and I'm not usually a violent person anyway. The alternative was to sit outside as told and eat my grapes and 6th chicken sandwich peacefully, which is exactly what I did.
I now know the Yulara resort brochure by heart and am rocking a face-palm shaped imprint on my forehead from the regret of arriving 90 minutes early. At 2:58pm I gathered my key and maps from the reception and started walking to my room. I'm not sure if they planned it seeing as i was in full gear in 41°C desert heat. Maybe they heard my accent and figured Canadians would love dying of thirst walking that far to their room.
I turned back and changed to a room that was steps from Sheba. Awesome! As I came into the room, a German girl named Anja just went through the same situation but she flew into Yulara and was waiting outside since 10am. All problems are relative. When asked what she did in those 5 hours, she walked me through her visit to every restaurant and cafe, the hour long souvenir shopping escapade (in a shop as big as my bedroom) and a refreshing swim in the pool. We bonded quickly and decided to get dinner together. And by dinner I mean going to the IGA and getting 3 cheap salads to share using free plastic forks. Things are not cheap in Yulara.
At the town centre, there was a small gathering of tourists and some aboriginal men dressed up in traditional clothing. Anja and I decided to take a closer look when the main performer stopped the show and pointed at me. Do I have chicken on my eyebrows? Turns out he needed some dance demonstrators. I don't dance. I don't even move sideways. I lift weights up and put them down. I used to paddle boats but they don't move sideways either. The entire dance was literally shuffling and moving sideways.
I don't recall ever agreeing to this but I ended up on stage with about a half dozen aboriginal men and about the same number of tourist women who had far better coordination than me. There were children who were better dancers. I decided to roll with it and made a mental note never to approach a stage again.
Afterward, we decided to walk to a viewpoint to catch the sun setting over Uluru. Photography hobbyists and Instagrammers alike could appreciate the colours that filled the sky that evening. I drew things in the red sand between looking up and watching the colours change. Anja stood there smiling to herself the entire time. She was a mum on a 3 day holiday away from her toddler son. Of course she would don that expression so well.
After the ride through the hottest part of Australia followed by our mini hikes around the resort, I was really looking forward to a shower. It was to the point where I daydreamed at 350km that there's a nice shower waiting at the end. It's strange that of all the places I've stayed at, including roadhouses and youth hostels and tents and trailer parks and people's homes... not once did I have a bad shower. Australians know how to build a good shower. Sure, sometimes it seemed like a scene from Scream was filmed there, but the important thing is that you got to choose the temperature and it stuck.
Don't judge me...
But oh no. Not this multimillion dollar resort in the desert. The shower was pleasant during the time it took for my skin temperature to drop from frying pan to microwave oven door. After that, I realized I was submersing myself in water as cold as a witch's tit. Why is there Canadian glacial water being pumped into a showerhead in Yulara? I threw myself out of the stream and against the door in horror. Something happened to my skin. Oh, hello goosebumps, haven't seen you in a while.
I ended the night laying in bed and writing. The air conditioner was switched off, i wore pants for the first time this trip, and I was under the blankets trying to think warm thoughts. Anja, who also just showered, was out enjoying a beer and live Beatles covers because she found $2 on the ground. When times get rough, be Anja.