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March 1, 2006

Australia 2006 Day 1: Los Angeles to Sydney

Wednesday March 1, 2006
Awoke pretty early for the beginning of another adventure. I am pretty sure it was due to the excitement of heading to one of my dream spots, but also just the general “Oh Crap” of not having packed. Mom and Gary had arrived the night before and I was due to meet up with them for breakfast, but I was not able to get a hold of them until mid-morning. We shared our first meal of the trip at Carrows near Disneyland. They decided to get some shopping done, and I of course, needed to get packed.
Most of the day was spent trying to pack and clean the apartment without getting sidetracked. I did manage to get my place in some semblance of order before I left. I like to get things a bit orderly so when I return after a long trip I can relax and not come home to a mess. We met back up at my apartment and then we were off to LAX. Despite the fact it was in the middle of rush hour, we made it to the airport in ample time.
At check-in we managed to get seats together – this is an issue with Qantas since they are not big on advanced seat assignments meaning that you have to get them day of departure. Coming home we have a request for seats, but we will just have to hope for the best. We managed to kill the hours between the time we arrived at the gate to departure time by eating at the Chili’s in the terminal (I think the last time I ate there was Europe 2002). I picked up some candy, water, and a magazine before we left to help the time pass.

March 2, 2006

Australia 2006 Day 2: En Route to Australia

Thursday March 2, 2006
The flight to Sydney was quite pleasant. I managed to get a good number of hours sleep – at least 8 out of 13 total. I was shocked that this flight was not much longer than the Hong Kong flight, and there was more legroom on Qantas than Cathay Pacific. It might have to do with the passengers, but the bathrooms stayed pretty clean through the entire flight. The in-flight entertainment had a great variety of movies and TV shows. I only managed to watch an episode of Kath and Kim to get in the mood of the trip. Gosh, I must have slept more than I thought. My iPod is holding out well – Battery not nearly as drained as I thought it might be at this point. I do wish I had the baby-canceling headphones (though the ones I have seem to be doing a good job keeping the 50 or so babies that are in the three rows around us quiet – Ok maybe not 50, but at times it seems like the queue for Buzz).
Conversion Factor: It is 11:11am 3/2/06 in LA, 6:11am on 3/3/06 in Sydney! Therefore, due to this time difference I have lost a day – good thing I get it back when I return!

March 3, 2006

Australia 2006 Day 3: Sydney Harbour

Friday March 3, 2006
When we finally made it to our hotel, we were informed that since we were there early, the room was not available. So we left most of our bags and headed down to the historic Rocks section of Sydney. We had breakfast at the world-famous Pancakes on the Rocks, which serves a good breakfast! We then headed down to Circular Quay to take in some views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. We popped into BridgeClimb and tried to convince Mom to get into the spirit of things and go for it. She still was hesitant and we decided to try it on Sunday. We then hoofed it back to the hotel and were glad that the room was finally ready. We were all smelly and tired, and we all took showers that made us feel way better.
It was a bit humid (maybe just to me since I live in bone dry LA), but not nearly as bad as Hong Kong. Also the pedestrian Monkey chime from Hong Kong is in Sydney as well. Makes me wonder if this is a standard British Commonwealth device. The monkey is a little chime that goes off when the walk signal comes up at street corners. It sounds like a monkey hitting a little gong. Depending on how urgent the monkey wants you to cross the street the speed can be different.
After refreshing in the hotel, we headed down to Darling Harbour, home to one of the many shopping and dining centers in Sydney. We walked around and got ourselves a nice Harbour cruise. The cruise gave us some great video and photo highlights. After going around Sydney Harbour we headed back into Darling Harbour. After walking around, we decided to eat dinner at a seafood restaurant called Blue Fish. The fish and chips were good, but I had a bit of white wine that kinda unsettled my stomach. After dinner, we walked around a bit more and headed back to the hotel to regroup. After relaxing for a bit, we headed for a quick walk down to the Hard Rock Cafe so he could get some souvenirs. Sadly after a walk in which the jet lag and general tiredness hit us, they were out of shirts in his size. So we limped back to the hotel and crashed. I stayed up a bit trying to find a cool place to go out tomorrow. We are supposed to meet up with one of the people who Mom knows from work. Tomorrow night is also the Big Mardi Gras parade which we plan on seeing – should be fun. Monday will likely bring a trip out to the Blue Mountains and a chance to meet kangaroos and koalas!

March 4, 2006

Australia 2006 Day 4: Manly and Palm Beach

Saturday March 4, 2006
Today we got a late start, but met up with Margaret who Mom has met at some of the conferences she plans. Margaret drove us around the Northern Suburbs of Sydney. Our first stop was Chowder Bay and Balmaral where we got the first of many great sights. At Balmaral, we met up with Margaret’s son who runs a kayak business. He was super nice and before we knew it we were off again.
We headed to one of the highlight tourist areas of North Sydney called Manly beach. We got some fresh fish and chips (we picked the filet and they battered it) and then carried it to the beach where we dined with the seagulls and people watched. It was a gorgeous day – just a bit of clouds and some sun. After an hour or so, we hopped in the car again. We stopped next at North Point – an amazing lookout point at the entrance to the Harbour. A couple of photos later and then we were off again.
Margaret offered to take us to her weekend house farther north in Palm Beach. Well not exactly Palm Beach. Her house is in a National Park across the bay from Palm Beach in an area called The Basin. The only way there is to take a ferry or water taxi. This means if you live there everything has to be brought it and your trash, etc. have to be carried out. Since we were only having tea, we just picked up some milk and headed across. It was a nice relaxing place off the beaten path. We all decided that we should come back on another trip and spend a nice long relaxing weekend there. While we were sipping beverages (I opted for a lemon soda) various wildlife came for a visit including the famous meat-eating kookaburra. It was a wonderful visit and we all hope we could visit again soon. We then headed back to Palm Beach via water taxi and then hopped in the car. Margaret took us to the actual Palm Beach where many celebrities and other high profile people have huge multi-million dollar homes. There is also a spectacular lighthouse which I wanted to visit, but we needed to head back to town for Mardi Gras!
Once we arrived in the city we freshened up a bit and then headed down to Oxford Street for the big celebration. It was a mass of people – definitely a mixed crowd for a supposed Gay and Lesbian event, and everyone was having a great time. The choice views were from hotel balconies, but alas we don’t have the hookups so it was street level for us. Lots of smarter people brought crates to stand on for the parade and then at the end left them for the street cleanup people. Mom and Gary headed back after the parade and I stuck around for a bit. I decided to go into one club and had to wait in line for two hours. The people next to me in line kept it amusing and eventually I made it inside. Typical club, nothing special. I spent most of the time having a couple of drinks and people watching. Around 3am I headed back to the hotel and managed to see two fights on the street and managed to overshoot the hotel by a couple of blocks. But by 4am I was in bed ready for a new day! The Harbour Bridge is tomorrow.

March 5, 2006

Australia 2006 Day 5: BridgeClimb

Sunday March 5, 2006
Today was a sleep in day! We had to prepare to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and since we were all out late last night, we decided to sleep in. We managed to get out of the hotel by 1300 and head down to the bridge. To build up spirit, we stopped at the Krispy Kreme along the way to the BridgeClimb. Upon our arrival, Mom finally decided to go for it. The staff at BridgeClimb were so helpful and understanding and really helped her get over her nerves to do the climb. The jumpsuit that you have to wear is not very flattering and a bit warm, but I am used to wearing the same thing as everyone around me.
The Climb itself was rather easy. Mom had difficulty with the ladders and one of the catwalks which you could see down to the roadway and water below. But she was a trooper and out climb leader Claire helped her out. The view was amazing and exhilarating – a truly amazing experience. After getting off the Bridge, they had some photos available in addition to the free group photo. I bought a CD-R of the photos rather than the prints. This way I could post them online as well as not get home with wrinkled photos.
We then headed around Circular Quay to have dinner. We found an overpriced Italian restaurant, but at least the garlic bread and spaghetti and meatballs were good. Of course I was wearing my white Club Josh polo shirt and managed to get 3 drops on it so it looks like I will be doing some laundry here. After a walk around the Opera House for some sunset photos, it was time to go back to the hotel. It was amazing, we set out around 1300 and by the time we got done with the climb and dinner it was already 1900.
At the hotel, we made arrangements for tomorrow’s Blue Mountain Tour. This tour will take us up into the mountains for what promises to be some scenic highlights. It was then time to crash!

March 6, 2006

Australia 2006 Day 6: Blue Mountains Tour

Monday March 6, 2006
If yesterday was a sleep in day, today was the up at the butt crack of dawn day. We were down in the hotel lobby at 7am (which with three people sharing one bathroom meant early wake up) and met our tour leader Justin. He fit the role model of Bush tour guide – thick Australian accent combined with weathered features. No goofy Paul Hogan hat, but he did mention his name along the tour out of Sydney. Apparently Paul was a maintenance worker on the Harbour Bridge who was entertaining his fellow workers when one of them mentioned he should try out for a comedy show. He won the competition and the rest of the world has been living with it since.
We headed out through some of the same neighborhoods that Margaret had initially drove us through, but then we veered off the beaten bath and went through some of the lower income suburbs. Besides the people driving on the left, it looked very similar to parts of South Central LA, but with Lebanese and Asians instead of Hispanics and African Americans. Our first stop on the tour was the Fetherdale Wildlife Park. Despite its grandiose name, it really is a small compound in the middle of a suburb featuring some enclosures with various native animals.
After our complimentary breakfast, which included a clip-on koala holding onto some Vegemite, one of the handlers brought in a Koala for all of us to pet and get close to. The photo Koala was outside, so after we were all done we all headed outside for pics with the various animals. I managed to take photos with Kangaroos and Koalas as well as get some candid photos of the various animals in the sanctuary like Dingos, Wallabys and the like. Overall, it was a neat little place, but I think it is more an artificially created “sanctuary” that gears towards tourists like me who just want that photo op rather than a place that benefits animals. I am not sure, they might do some good work and perhaps I am just spoiled by the glitz and glamor of the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park.
We then headed up into the Blue Mountains. We were on the 4-Wheel Drive tour, but really it just meant we went up a couple of dirt roads – no real cross country stuff. We stopped at a few scenic overlooks while Justin told us some of the history of the area. I was lucky I got to sit shotgun since there were 17 people on the tour. Two of the groups were especially grating – one from Hong Kong and the other from Canada. It is not that they did anything especially bad, just the HK people were kind of loud and the lady that was translating for the older couple was talking over Justin causing him to glare at her a few times. Lastly, the large group from Canada just reminded me of the Weaver family from the Amazing Race Family Edition. The daughters just seemed disinterested and rather have someone like Rolly who was at least helpful, their son was a complete buffoon who managed to scare the crap out of a kangaroo in the enclosure and then drop his silverware at lunch. Then again, I did drop my fork at lunch and kept taking pictures of an action figure so I don’t really have room to talk.
Lunch was at the Imperial Hotel in Mt. Victoria, NSW. The food was buffet style and OK, though the potatoes were cold. The most striking thing about the place we stopped was that I could not stop thinking about LivingTV’s Most Haunted. This place is right out of that show and I half expected Yvette, Richard, and Derek to come around the corner with their cameras. Seriously – it was around noon and the place was creaking and spooky. I took some video so maybe I can use it later. After lunch, it was time to head over to Govett’s Leap for a quick photo op. Apparently a “leap” is Australian for “waterfall”. We then headed out to Scenic World. This is a big tourist trap at the edge of a box canyon. When you are here, you can take a tramway down and then a rail car back up. The catch is that it’s almost a vertical drop off the edge of a cliff. It was pretty steep, but not nearly as scary as some of those tram rides I have been off the sides of mountains (e.g. Palm Springs or Zugspitze). Once down at the bottom, you get to walk along an elevated boardwalk and see some of the rainforest up close. This was not tropical by any means but it was neat and you got to see several cheesy scenes of miner life. Think Knott’s Berry farm on a bad day. It was then time for the train ride back up the cliff. It was more like a thrill ride that an actual form of transportation. It was kind of scary as it shot up the hill pretty quickly. At the top it was time to board the bus and head back towards Sydney.
Before the end of the trip, we stopped at a Euroka Clearing where we had champagne and listened to our driver try and play the didgeridoo. He was better than I’d ever be at one so I can’t complain. We also had a chance to see wild kangaroos and a Guiana lizard. I think it was some sort of Monitor Lizard, but I am not sure. We then headed further down to Parramatta to catch the ferry back to Circular Quay. The ferry was very crowed with 6 tour groups on it and the weather had heated back up so it was hot and stuffy. We finally reached CQ and then headed back to the hotel after a brief stop at McDonald’s – yay! It was good tasting unhealthy grease for the first time in a week. I also has a coke which was my first since December. I have had a few sodas since I have been here. My New Years resolution was only till March when I went on the trip, but I think my soda consumption will continue to be low when I get back. We then crashed at the hotel and watched a bit of the Academy Awards. I was mildly surprised Crash won, but considering how many Academy voters said they didn’t even watch Brokeback Mountain, it was not that surprising. Besides, I thought it was a bit long myself. Watching the awards in Sydney just underscored how out of touch I was with most of the films this year – they seem worlds away. Mom and Gary did some last minute laundry to get the stench of sweat out of our clothes. They were up late and I am glad I was able to throw some shirts and socks into the mix. Mom blames my clothes for the stench, but we were all sweating on that bridge so I am not sure.
Tomorrow we are off to Melbourne where we hope to go along the Great Ocean Road and see the much-hyped Penguin parade.

March 7, 2006

Australia 2006 Day 7: Sydney to Melbourne and Penguin Parade

Tuesday March 7, 2006
Today it was time to bid adieu to Sydney and head off to Melbourne. Melbourne has been considered a more European city than Sydney due to the large number of Italians and others that emigrated here at the beginning of the 1900s. The flight was pretty full and full of amazing aromas, but was rather pleasant. One thing about Qantas though is that they have very bizarre food on their flights.
We arrived in Melbourne and I headed over to the CityLink desk to ask about whether I was getting frequent flyer miles for the intra-Australian flights. The best part is that her name was Kim and she sounded exactly like Kim from “Kath and Kim”. I nearly fell over laughing. We met our driver to the hotel, and I anticipated that it would be a quick trip to the city center. Unfortunately, our driver seemed to be driving around in circles trying to ind the hotels of the passengers and it took him over an hour to get to our stop.
Our hotel is the very nice Sebel Suites – another hotel that was made out of an office building – just like the Grace Hotel in Sydney. Of course due to our early arrival, our room was not ready yet so we set out and explored Melbourne CBD. Gary wanted to get his Hard Rock shirt so we decided to eat there. The food was pretty sub-par for Hard Rock standards, but at least it was filling. We decided to take the free circle tram back to our hotel. Since this particular tram was free, it was crowded and had a bit of the pee smell. We hopped off at our street and headed back to our hotel. The room was ready and it was super nice. Our room has a bedroom and a front room with a sofa-bed which I get to crash on. It actually was pretty good – you can barely feel the bar through the mattress.
After hemming and hawing for a bit, we decided instead of paying for an escorted tour to the Penguin Parade and the Great Ocean Road, we would just rent a car. I was excited that I was finally going to get to drive on the left side of the road. Thankfully, Budget gave us a Toyota Corolla, a car that I have driven in the states. I will admit the first few minutes out on the road were full of sphincter-pleasing moments, but without much delay we were on the main road out to the Penguin Parade. We were trying to get there before sunset since the Penguins come on to the beach after dark. On the road we passed many interesting and bizarre stores, and I think because we were distracted we missed a turn. When we crossed the freeway again, I new we were in trouble. We finally pulled off and I figured out how far we were past the turnoff. Luckily we discovered an alternative route. It was on these alternative routes that I learned that not all roads in Australia are sealed. Luckily, when there was no asphalt it was a well-groomed road and there was no rain for mud so we managed to navigate without much difficulty.
After a 30 min detour, we were back on the path to the Penguins. We were worried we missed the action since we didn’t arrive until a quarter past 8. The Penguin Parade is a crazy tourist trap. It cost money to get into the amphitheater built on the beach and the visitor center. Since we came so far, we ponied up the cash and went in. I was very disappointed that there was no photography or videotaping. It was quite humorous to see so many tourists freezing in these concrete bleachers watching a bunch of penguins come out of the surf, walk past them and then head into the shrubs. They made a bunch of noise, and Mom really thought it was neat. I nearly got busted trying to sneak a photo when my flash accidentally went off, but I played it very nonchalant and didn’t get busted.
We shopped for some souvenirs and then headed back onto the road to get back to the hotel. It took us about 2 hours to get back to the Hotel. One of the difficulties I had driving was the white backed gauges on the Corolla which glared off my glasses causing me to not be able to see the road signs. The best part of the evening was when we got into Melbourne. We somehow managed to end up right back in front of the hotel without knowing exactly where we were. Whew! Tomorrow we are off to the Great Ocean Drive!

March 8, 2006

Australia 2006 Day 8: The Great Ocean Road

Wednesday March 8, 2006
This was supposed to be an early day, but we never set an alarm or got a wake up call so we were late heading down to the Ocean Road. We left around 10am and opted to take the inland route to get to the highlights of the road – the Twelve Apostles. We passed through Geelong and filled up the tank with gas and then a quick stop at the Red Rooster fast food restaurant that Mom had been itching to see what was inside.
We were then on the road. It was a very beautiful drive through areas reminiscent of the coast ranges of California and lots of wonderful little neat towns like Camperdown and Colac. We decided to take another back road to Port Campbell to be more directly on the Ocean Road instead of going to Warrnambool where we would have to backtrack. It was along this route that I almost burst a kidney and had to stop at the side of the road to pee. Nothing like peeing in the open air when a car comes by. Gary then took over driving duties for the rest of the day. I was feeling a bit sick to my stomach, due to a combo of a bad croissant at brekkie and maybe a bit of the Red Rooster. It was not that much longer and we began to see the scenic wonders of the Great Ocean Road. I have to admit it was a mixed bag of sights. Some were so-so and others were breathtaking. I particularly liked the London Bridge feature and the Loch Ard wreckage site.
The next stop is the Twelve Apostles. It is the big attraction and the main tourist point for the trip. Sadly, the area is way overcrowded. I guess it has to be expected giving how much they promote this section of the road. There were tons of tourists – Japanese, Chinese, German, American, and some unidentifiable. The walkways were nice and wide, and it looks like they have recently upgraded the facilities. The part that was the biggest disappointment were the scenic overlooks. Some of them did not offer many vantage points and the ones that did were severely overcrowded. I did manage to get some good photos, but overall the experience left me disappointed.
I was starving at this point, but we wanted to get to the Cape Otway Lighthouse. We drove and drove and drove and drove, and finally we reached it only to have the gate practically slammed in our face since they closed at 5pm and we got there at 4:58. I think they need a sign that says that they close at 5 since most of the signs just say that they open at 9am. I was disappointed because instead of telling people that the Cape Otway Lighthouse is the farthest south I have been, I have to settle for the admission gate for the lighthouse. We then headed to the city of Apollo Bay. We ate at the Apollo Bay hotel – a very English restaurant. You needed to pick a table and then go to the counter to order. They then brought your food out after a bit. I had a porterhouse which was OK – a bit bland but filling. I was going to have some of the awesome looking chocolate cake, but the lady said it had a toffee filling and since my stomach was doing flip flops I did not want to risk it.
The rest of the drive was long and winding and I nodded off most of the way back. When we got back to Melbourne I got a second wind and went out exploring. I chatted with Nach from Thailand and he gave me some inside tips on what to see and where to go. We are planning on sleeping in tomorrow and taking it easy, but hopefully we will get to see Little Italy as well as get some shopping done. I also need to write some postcards!

March 9, 2006

Australia 2006 Day 9: Around Melbourne

Thursday March 9, 2006
Finally a day to sleep in! We woke up mid morning, but by the time we made it out of the hotel it was after noon and we needed to return the rental car. We had to make a quick stop to fill the gas tank and then over to Budget to return the car. Thankfully, I made it out of Melbourne without having to make the hook left turn where you have to pull off to the left to make a right turn. It is very bizarre to watch and it looked even worse to try and do.
After turning the car in, we headed over to the Queen Victoria Market, which reminded me of Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax. Unfortunately, it closed at 2pm and that was the time we arrived. We quickly made it through as many stalls as we could while they were packing up. Mom managed to score some charms for her bracelet, and I just enjoyed looking in the stalls. We then decided to try and get something to eat. I wanted to get a slice of pizza on the go, but after a few blocks, we just decided to try Aussie Subway. It was OK, but not the same flavor as the US variety. We then headed down to the Rialto Tower – the highest office building in the Southern Hemisphere. As I read that in the brochure, I couldn’t help but thinking that this building might fall on hard times when the new taller Eureka Mixed-Use building on South Bank opens.
The first part of the Observation area is a movie in “Rialtovision”. It was a welcome to Melbourne video (on sale in the gift shop) and was even cornier than the Canada Circlevision movie. Sadly it was not even Circlevision, but I did feel like I had seen all of Melbourne when I was done. We then headed up to the 54th floor observation area. The weather was great and you could see pretty far. Someone in the tower mentioned that there was some haze in the sky, and on a clearer day, you could see all the way to the other side of the bay where the two points of land almost meet. After some photos and videos, we headed downstairs and then went over to the Something Aussie Store. We thought due to the hype it would be full of cool souvenirs and such, but it was a bit of a let down and was in a shifty part of downtown. We decided to hop on the free tram and head back towards the main part of downtown and the Bourke Street Parade. We popped into Target to see how it compared to the US version. It was identical – just some of the fashion was different. I decided to check out the local HMV store and managed to score the Kath and Kim Christmas special DVD and the Party album. We then popped into the Meyer Department store and scored a Melbourne 2006 polo shirt for the Commonwealth Games.
We then headed back to the hotel to pack and get ready to head out to Uluru. We had planned to head over to Lygon Street for dinner – it is the main Italian community in Melbourne and supposedly home to some of the best Italian food in Australia. The front desk person at the Sebel recommended that we try the Southbank area since it would be buzzing with people and it was a lot closer. We headed down to the Crown Casino and shopping center. It was straight out of Las Vegas – complete with a mall/casino hybrid and flames that fire off the riverfront every hour on the hour. We ate at a place called Automatic, which had excellent drinks (I had Midori, Vodka, and Cranberry) as well as good pizza. We then took a leisurely stroll back to the hotel. It was a nice evening and I look back at the time in Melbourne I have mixed emotions. I love the city, but I think my expectations were a bit high from everyone telling me it was there favorite city so I left feeling a bit disappointed since Sydney really blew my socks off.
It is time to mentally prepare ourselves for a bit of rough Outback as we head off to Ayers Rock Resort. Matt has told me that it’s a bit of rough country, so I am anticipating the worst.

March 10, 2006

Australia 2006 Day 10: Melbourne to Uluru

Friday March 10, 2006
Another early rise as we had to meet the airport bus at 6:30am. We had a bit of difficulty at check out as the hotel tried to charge us for our room even though we already had paid for it when we purchased our package. The driver was getting testy and we left for the airport about 10 minutes late. We made it to the airport and checked in without difficulty and took the opportunity to do some shopping at the shops.
The flight to Ayers Rock Airport was fairly smooth – I plugged in the iPod and fell asleep for most of the trip. We arrived a bit early at the airport to a swarm of flies and gorgeous scenery. We found the shuttle bus and received an overview of the area as we drove to the resort area. We checked into the hotel and noticed that most of the people were wearing these fly nets around their head. It didn’t take long before we realized that the flies and moths were particularly voracious. When we got to the room we found a Goodyear Blimp sized moth already occupied it. We had Gary chase it and flush it. That would have settled it, but there were other creepy crawlys about the room. We headed over to the tourist information center to book a sunset tour of Uluru. The gentleman behind the counter was of German origin and threw a big fit whenever anyone required him to do something that would take longer than a few minutes. After getting the base and sunset tour, we headed over to the central area of the resort to eat. By this time the flies had become so prevalent, we opted to join the cool ‘net kids’ and each got a new piece of netting for our heads. The shopping center at the center of the resort contains a few shops, a central tour booking center, a few restaurants, a grocery store, post office, and a bank. We opted for take away burgers so we could eat in the relatively bug free area of our room. It took awhile for them to be made (but hey at least it is fresh to order!) and we chowed down at the room.
We then had several hours to kill before our tour and there was not really much to do other than shop or swat flies. It was decided that a nap would be appropriate so we turned on the TV to one of our 4 TV stations. We ended up watching the seminal classic – Rich and Famous starring Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset. The movie was really bad, but it passed the time and caused us to snooze until it was time for the tour.
The tour guide showed up promptly at 1530 and we headed off to Uluru for our close up look at the reason we all came here in the first place. I neglected to get the Tour Guide’s name, but he was rather pleasant and gave us some insights into the area. Our first stop was the Cultural Center. The Uluru-Kata Tjuga National Park is jointly run by the Aboriginal owners of the land and the National Park service, which has leased the land back in 1985 for 99 years to run the center. It had some interesting displays, but what I found interesting was that there were no Aboriginal people working at the cultural center. There were lots of displays and stories of the legends of Uluru, but no one there to put a face on it. It would have been nice to see and experience the monument from the people who it meant a lot to and since the center did not have this element, it came off as a bit hollow and preachy and not heart-felt. I do not know why the Aboriginal people are not represented. If they object or do not like people on their sacred land, then why do they allow people to experience the area? Also, if they feel so strongly about people climbing on Uluru why do they still allow it? It was all very confusing and reinforced my belief that there should be some native presence at the center.
We then headed out around Uluru to get a close up look at some of the rock formations, watering holes, and sacred Aboriginal sites. It was neat to finally see something I have wanted to for as long as I can remember. The nets came out again as we started walking close to the water areas as well as some of the more popular points of interest. I think the flies know where the juicy watery eyes on people tend to congregate and thus swarm accordingly. After a nice tour of the base and a look at the beginning of the Uluru climb (complete with more Aboriginal pleas to not climb) it was time to head off to the Sunset viewing area. I did not have high expectations for post card like views since it was overcast and the forecast was for rain. At the Coach parking area it was a mad house. There were at least 10 huge busses full of tourists all along a fence looking at the rock waiting for it to change color. I thought the whole sight was rather amusing. Our tour company offered us free red or white wine or Sprite to make the evening memorable. I suspect there were some suckers who ponied up for the ‘upgrade’ to champagne. Sunset came, and actually there was a noticeable shift in color on the rock. We then packed it up and headed back to Yulara – the Ayers Rock Resort. On the way back, Mom had mentioned to a family that I worked for Disneyland and thus they asked me some questions about some admission tickets they had. I told them I would contact one of my supervisors and email them when I got to Cairns since I was out of contact for the time being. They got my name and promised to look me up when they came out in June.
At the hotel, we discovered that dinner reservations are a must and we had to wait over an hour for a table at our hotel (worse than Red Lobster on a Saturday night in Brea!). We ended up being the last group seated at the restaurant for the evening. The food was pricey – as all things in the resort are – but at least it was not bad. We then retired for the night completely wiped out from the combination of flies, humidity, and heat. In the middle of the night, it started to pour rain and Mom swears that in between the lightning and thunder she heard critters trying to get in through the sliding glass door out of the rain. Thank goodness I was sound asleep!