March 14, 2005

Our ride toward Alice Springs began with a shock. 7:00 am, I'm sleeping cozily in my top bunk of the Ghan when the conductor came on the loud speaker announcing the morning: "Good morning. It is 7:00 am on the historic Ghan!" It was a beautiful morning but I could have waited another hour to see it. Andy and Vienna were already up. Andy took a picture of the sunrise but was really kind not to wake me. Not so was the conductor - grrr. Anyway, we enjoyed a lovely morning on the Ghan. Brekkies of cereal, cheese and biscuits (crackers) and toast with honey. We spent the morning in the lounge car watching for kangaroos out the window. We saw quite a few, mostly lounging in the shade of the sparse trees.

And then there's Pants Man. We first saw him in the train station yesterday with a scraggly button-down shirt and what looked like no pants. He was actually wearing a tiny pair of red shorts that didn't show below his shirt. I didn't know whether I needed to shield my eyes or not. His appearance was further enhanced by his wild curly hair and thick shaggy beard. Vienna describes it as spheric, along with his hair: “a bushy mane and shaggy beard.” He joined us on the Ghan and later donned a lovely pair of jeans. Quite the relief. We guessed that either he got cold or the conductor had a kind word with him. The last I saw him, today; he was back to the red shorts but his shirt was tucked in, removing the question of whether he was wearing any pants. Thus, he will forever be known in our lives as Pants Man. He was a constant presence and delight, pants or none.

Departing the Ghan, we rented a car and turned south on a desert road, with Andy's Midnight Oil CDs blasting through the car. He'd looked forward to this for years, and you could tell he was thrilled. He tore down the highway with "roadtrains" racing past us, kicking up dust and buffeting the car. Our "five hour" trip to Uluru took only about four. Along the way we saw beautiful red desert with trees blackened by fire.

And then our first crisis happened. And this is a crisis. I am sorry to say that we lost our camera. It was all my fault, too. We were in the desert, on our drive to Uluru, when we decided to take a family photo. I put the camera on the tripod and when I went to stand with Andy and Vienna, a sudden gust picked up and the tripod fell over with the camera on it. It fell in the sand and I think jammed the lens into the camera, scratching it pretty badly. I think that we will not be able to repair it, certainly not here. The good news is that we can still get the photos that we have already taken from it. But, on a more urgent matter, we lost our best way to take pics on the rest of our trip. We have a video camera that will help. We also decided to buy a cheap film camera to take snapshots. It doesn't have the same features and probably won't take quite as good pictures but it will be able to capture our memories. We are all a bit depressed tonight but we'll feel better by tomorrow.

On a better note, we are here in Yulara, the resort area outside the Uluru National Park. It's simply a place to take tourists' money but it does provide a place to sleep and some nice tours. Tomorrow morning, we are taking the Aboriginal Uluru Tour. It should include a nice breakfast at sunrise near Uluru and a tour all about the Aboriginies of this area. I have been looking forward to it and hope it lifts our spirits. Tonight we watched the sunset at Uluru. There’s a parking lot where people go and catch all the action of the light and color changing on the big rock. The drive from Alice Springs was nice, though hot. It is a desert very much like Death Valley. Lots of scrub and interesting flora and very few animals because of the heat. It shouldn't be a difficult drive back to Alice Springs tomorrow after we enjoy Uluru.