Thursday, August 20, 2009

In Search of Something Real About Uluru

Uluru turns out to be one of those places where it’s a lot easier to identify what’s not real about it than it is to see the real parts.

One unreal thing about the area is that there is no real residential community. There is only a large hotel complex, the Ayers Rock Resort, with several different properties catering to everyone from campers to luxury travelers. The resort has a few shops and restaurants, but there is no place around Uluru that feels like a real town.

The resort is located about a half-hour’s drive from the rock itself. If you’ve rented a car, you can come and go as you please, but if you haven’t, you are at the mercy of the hotel shuttles, which operate regularly but cost a staggering AU$40 per person (about U.S.$33) on top of the one-time AU$25 park-entry fee.

Getting around the resort is easy enough. It sprawls, but there is a free bus that circulates among the various properties. Pipi and I took it after dinner the day of our hike. This dinner was to be our last one in Australia, and we wanted to cap it with a memorable dessert, so we set off for the nicest property.

We found there the two most pretentious restaurants in all of Australia. The first one wouldn’t let us in because, they said, they were full. (Some strange confluence of events seemed to have sent the occupants of half of those full tables to the restroom at the exact moment we arrived.) Even if there hadn’t been the problem of too many phantom diners, we still wouldn’t have been allowed to order dessert, because their policy was to seat only patrons who agree to order two or more courses.

The situation was even more hopeless at the other restaurant. At this establishment--which, to review, is located in a vacation spot, in the middle of a desert, in the country that brought you the tank top as everyday wear--we ran afoul of a dress code. I could have gotten back on the bus, gone back to the room, and changed out of sneakers and into nicer shoes, but the dessert selection was so avant-garde awful—think prune and chickpea ice cream—that capitulating was unthinkable.

We ended up back in our room, satiating our sweet craving by devouring the last of our Tim Tams. These cookies are about as fair dinkum Australian as you can get, so there, finally, was one real thing about our evening.

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