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Uluru rock at sunset

Red rocks’n’flies: Uluru – when to NOT go to Ayers Rock

Part of traveling is trying exotic new foods. So I’m pleased to report that pot noodles have improved immensely since my student days in the 90s. As have other little things like, you know, the web, mobile phones, computers etc. But really, they all pale beside the technological marvel that was tonight’s dinner.

Context first. We are in Uluru. This has reminded me of one of the problems with communism. You see, they used to have a bunch of competing hotels and restaurants here. But the area still needed government sponsorship as it was making heavy losses. So they made it into a monopoly. And – bingo! – suddenly they were very comfortably profitable. Yes, the food and accommodation all went into rapid decline. But you can’t have everything, you capitalist pig. *

Yesterday’s restaurant lunch was: a margarita pizza fresh cooked from the freezer, and a “wagyu” burger which was the worst burger either of us burger lovers have ever eaten – and I speak as someone who will happily, voluntarily, eat McDonalds. Think of cheap, grey meat, Birdseye burger,  the sort that was inflicted during childhood before you can discriminate and avoid. But double thickness and cardboard content, with a thick mash of sauerkraut in a doughy bun. All washed down with sparkling water – for £35.

Dinner was in a posher place, to recover. A small fillet beef steak and kangaroo steak with one pint each, came to £90. It was nice, but really not that nice.

So, today, was looking for stuff I could cook with  the hotel kettle. The pot noodle section in the supermarket was crowded. But we found that fancy schmancy pot noodles are now a Thing. The beef massaman pot noodle had a collapsible fork and no fewer than 5 sachets inside with the noodles: coconut, curry sauce, potato, plus crushed peanut and crispy shallot toppings, all put in at different, carefully timed intervals. And the end result was, in fairness, slightly better than a cheap cafe curry. When I took a picture, Google even recognised it a food! So that proves it.

Dinner of champions. 5! Separate! Ingredients! As well as noodles and water, of course.

Anyway. Uluru. And that is why I am writing at such length about pot noodle. Anything but go outside, basically. The heat hits you like an offense, once you step out of air conditioning: it’s as if a full body hairdryer was turned full blast on you. You feel the metal of a necklace  start to burn, as it does in a sauna. The hairs on your arms start to shrivel and curl. And then the flies start. Jesus, the flies! They are the most horrible little feckers the devil ever devised. I’ve concluded that they feed on human irritation. They don’t seem particularly interested in food, or water. But if one manages to get you swatting and swearing – the whole swarm descend. And they are enough to make the Dali Lama start swatting. I’ve tried every mindfulness technique I could think of to just accept the whining past my ear and dangling in front of my eyes and buzzing under my nose – but never last more than a few seconds before concentration lapses and I go to kill. The only saving grace is that, unlike most things in this country, they don’t actually bite or sting. However – New Zealand’s little buggering “no see’ums”, who got me with about a dozen really itchy bites, are infinitely preferable: what the eye don’t see-and the ear don’t hear – the mind don’t trouble about. FWIW: the best £5 that I have spent, or will ever in my life spend, was on a “fly net”: a ridiculous cylinder of net that goes over your head, creating – magically –  some serenity. Doesn’t help with the heat though.

Anyway. Uluru. Yes, it is pretty damn magnificent. Also, Kata Tjuta (formerly known as the Olgas) are possibly even more magnificent, like several Ulurus jumbled  together. (Side note: the name Uluru is lovely – rolls of the tongue, infinitely better than boring Ayers Rock. But can’t take to ‘Kata Tjuta’ quite so much: there’s something pleasantly absurd about ‘The Olgas’ that matches them – I picture regal dowager Russian royals gazing down their lognettes disapprovingly at the tourists. It means ‘many heads’, which is sensible – 36 of’em, to be exact. Uluru, curiously, doesn’t mean anything).

We’ve done plenty of sunrise and sunset admiring – the colours really are quite charming, once you brush away the flies – and some of the walks. One pleasant and gentle 1k stroll on a level path at Uluru’s base with various  plaques explaining the significance of the various caves to the local indigenous Australians (not aborigines any more, it seems, though I’m not quite sure why indigenous is better as a word, given identical meaning. Less loaded, I dare say) . This was lovely – at 7am before the sun and flies really get going. And one 4k “stroll” through the Olgas that turned out to be a reasonably tough scramble taking 2.5 hours into sun and fly peak time,  leaving both of us unappreciative of the fine views and cultural significance.

Uluru, at sunrise and sunset – and full moon

Kata Tjuta, aka ‘The Olgas’

It’s probably all much, much easier to enjoy in the cooler season. I’ve chatted with a few folks working here. Curiously, almost all of them have been here just a few months. Today, the petrol station attendant had been here 16 months – a record, as I told her. How did she like it? She paused and looked for something good to say, before confessing “it’s a bit hot at the moment”. A lovely American tourist lady – the nice sort, you know, who can never say a bad thing – also paused when I asked how she was enjoying Uluru, and thought a bit, and all she could manage was “I think I liked New Zealand better”. Quite. Anyway: note to self: I’m not cut out for outback life, not in the hot season anyway.

At least the hotel has been much better than expected. Vanessa’s hotel hunt in this location wound up consisting mostly of finding which of the 5 hotels’ reviews had fewest mentions of cockroaches – so our expectations were very, very low. But this hotel is perfectly nice, even by normal standards. I’d still say it’s horribly over priced as the most expensive hotel of the trip, at £140/night – but the others here were worse in price or much, much worse in comfort – and this is one place where you need those creature comforts.

Noosa is next. The forecast for the next few days is cloud, lashing rain, howling wind as a cyclone passes by. Heaven!

(Side note: that cyclone is already hitting. A lady was picked out of a natural pool by a freak wave, hurled halfway up a cliff, and had to be rescued by helicopter. And a utility truck was washed out to sea by another freak wave. Both in the last 24h. What worries me is that these things, which would be headline national news in normal places, seem to barely make the local news here – running at about the same level of newsworthiness as the local school sports day. What else is going on that I haven’t noticed?)

*Note: this is not a strict example of either communism nor its ensuing problems. There are other websites for that.

Roadside sunset.