Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Uluru at Last

Finally, we caught a glimpse of the big rock we’d traveled hundreds of miles inland to see: Uluru (pronounced “Ooolooroo,” with equal emphasis on every syllable).

We arrived at our hotel in time for a late lunch, and took the first available shuttle to the rock. The shuttle lets passengers off right at the base of the trail used to climb to the top of Uluru. This surprised me because I already knew that visitors are strongly discouraged from summiting.

My guidebook says that Uluru is considered to be a sacred place by the local Anangu people, and that seemed reason enough not to climb. I wouldn’t swing from the rafters of the Blue Mosque, so why should I be allowed to leave footprints all over Uluru? A display at the visitors center elaborates, explaining the top of Uluru is a place traditionally reserved for men who have been through a special initiation ceremony, meaning that even Anangu women would not be allowed to climb. Seen that way, I felt like I definitely had no business on top.

Near the trail entrance, there are numerous signs asking visitors again not to climb. Two caught my eye. One was printed in several European languages, although for some reason English was not one of them. I could read enough of the French to get the gist of it: The sign reminds you that if you should manage to kill yourself climbing, this will not only be a huge issue for you, it will also make your parents and friends very sad. The Anangu will also be sad, it says, so just think about that before you go risking your life on the steep, slippery rock.

It was the second sign, though, that really cinched it for me. It had a quote from a local tribal elder saying simply (in English): “You shouldn’t climb. It’s not the real thing about this place.”

This sounded like something out of the Book of the Tao, and I loved it. I decided that the elder’s words could almost be interpreted to mean that the Anangu discourage visitors from climbing not so much because they find the ascent offensive, but more because it drives them crazy to see us wasting so much energy on what seems to them like a pointless endeavor.

What, then, is the real thing about Uluru? I had no idea, but I hoped I would find it on the Anangu-approved trail that circles the base of the monolith. (Photos from our hike are here.)

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