Camel Riding in the Outback

While in the outback near Uluru, Cori and I hopped on the opportunity to take a sunset camel ride. 

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Before mounting up, we got to meet our dromedary companions and take some mug shots. Mine didn’t seem very amused, but Cori’s was showing some teeth. I thought it might be a wind-up to a camel spitball, but turned out just to be a sign of affection.

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Camels are not native to Australia, but early explorers brought them there because they were perfectly suited to traverse the outback. And often, rather than load them back on the ship, they just turned the camels loose. They quickly multiplied, and today Australia has a huge population of wild camels (over 1.2 million). Folks from the middle east often import camels from Australia, because of their pure-breed pedigree. 

Not having spent much time around camels, I assumed they were pretty similar to horses. But everything about them is tuned to deal with the climate they live in, which gives them not only unique physical characteristics, but also personality. The biggest thing I noticed (besides their 10’+ height) is that they are very efficient with their energy, so they take their sweet time to do everything, and can be pretty stubborn if they don’t want to spend their energy doing what you want them to do. 

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Some other fun camel facts that we learned:

  • They can drink over 40 gallons of water in about 3 minutes. Listening to them drink sounds like a vacuum cleaner begin stuck into one of those slurpee buckets that they outlawed in New York.
  • Surprisingly, they often don’t need to drink water at all - most of the time they are able to live off of the water inside of the plants they eat.
  • They have huge eye lashes that keep sand from getting in their eyes, and they can close their nostrils to avoid getting sand up their nose. Very handy.

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Our cameleer, Esther, was about as Australian as it gets. She grew up in Tasmania, and after reading an inspirational book about a lady who traversed the outback by herself with a couple of camels, she decided to re-create that expedition, and walked over 600 miles across the outback. She’s one tough cookie, and she had a lot of fun stories to share.  

Mounting up on the camels was a lot of fun. They are trained to bend down with their legs folded underneath (like they do when sleeping). Once we hopped on, they extended their back legs, which pitches you forward, and then they extend their front legs like stilts, scissoring upwards and pushing you back upright. Reminded me of those tricked out air-ride suspension systems in a low rider. Except we were now 8 feet off the ground. 

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Riding on a camel was very different from a horse or elephant. Instead of stepping with opposing feet (like a horse, dog, or cat does), they move both left feet at the same time, then both right feet at the same time, causing a slight swaying motion from side to side, rather than up and down, which makes for a very smooth ride.

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We journeyed for a while, and eventually made our way up a small red sand dune where we watched the sun set and turn Uluru alternating shades of orange and red. 

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Afterwards, the camels knew it was time to head home, and began sauntering back to the camel ranch. Sitting up high and contemplating the stillness and vast expanse of the outback was an experience we will treasure for a long time to come. 

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A Sacred Time Spent at Uluru

To visit Uluru, known also as Ayer’s Rock, is to be part of something great, something mystical, something jam-packed with beauty and a living history.

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As all the guidebooks say, there is nothing that could have prepared us for the first sight of Uluru on the horizon. It would be an astounding sight anywhere, but to us, after two days of driving along straight, flat roads into nothingness, Uluru really jumped into view, a mirage of orangey red in the distance. The Aboriginal history and story of this place made my time there feel heavy and fraught with significance…this isn’t just a rock in a desert; it holds an ancient story of a people and a place.

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Uluru, though just a large rock to some, seemed alive to me and therefore demanded a certain respect. We never even considering climbing the monolith because the Aboriginal traditional owners, the Anangu, had posted numerous signs and requested that we show respect by not climbing. Kris and I felt an incredible frustration with those who still decided to climb this sacred rock - we wanted to interview the people descending, simply to ask, “What made you feel that your desire to climb atop this rock outweighed the desires of the indigenous people to retain it’s sacredness by not climbing?” We wanted to ask, but we didn’t. We just tried to respect the stated wishes of the Anangu by instead “listening to everything.”

We didn’t anticipate being so moved by simply listening, but we experienced something quite beautiful while visiting the prized Mutitjulu waterhole on the base walk. We were hot - it had been a long day already, as we had driven the 20km to watch the sun rise spectacularly over the flat horizon before hiking through Kata Tjuta on the Valley of the Winds walk, had eaten our lunch outside in the heat in order to better view the monolith before approaching, and were now walking around her in the heat of the day.

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I’ll admit we were growing vaguely disinterested when we arrived at the waterhole that historically attracted a variety of animals and their Aboriginal hunters to its waters. A slow, steady trickle poured down the orange sides of Uluru into a small, clear basin, surrounded on two sides by rock face and lush vegetation on the other two. On approaching the waterhole, we found a group of young hippies of unknown origin, sitting in complete and utter silence, just watching the waterhole and listening. We joined them and slowed down more than we had for quite some time. I have no concept of how much time must have passed as we sat there, but I know that I didn’t regret a moment of it.

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The sign apparently encouraged us to do so - to sit quietly, to hear the sounds of the birds, the water, the significance of this special place. The silence filled us…with new energy, new reverance, a renewed hope for mankind. Afterall, if we can sit together in silence, respecting what is beautiful and sacred and life-giving, what can’t we accomplish? 

When we resumed our walk, we did so with renewed energy and perspective.

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Uluru was a magical place indeed… a truly beautiful detour into the heart and history of Australia. In my journal I collaged together some souvenirs to remember our time spent there.

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Happy New Year!

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As we enter into 2013 here in wintery Colorado, we are thrilled to not only look forward to a new, undiscovered year, but also to reflect on 2012, the year of our great adventure.

Those of you who have followed our blog since we began it last spring surely noticed a severe tapering off once we actually started traveling. About a month and a half into our seven-month-long trip, we decided to stop feeling enslaved to our blog, and took a break from writing new blog posts. 

Instead of rushing from one internet connection to the next while composing stories in our heads and snapping the perfect accompanying photos, we chose instead to live our adventure more fully.  We opted to spend time truly experiencing the life we were living - to breathe in the smells, absorb the sights, to deeply taste the food we were consuming, to listen with intensity, and to dedicate greater attention to all we were encountering. 

We stopped posting, but we certainly didn’t stop journaling or taking photos. On our travels we spent many hours filling journal after journal with thoughts, insights, and observations of life on the road. And between the two of us, we took over 13,000 photos along the way. Now it’s time for us to share our adventures… 

We plan to pick up right where we left off, so many months ago, in the middle of the Australian Outback. Over the next few months, we’ll together revisit all the places we were so blessed to see last year: eastern Australia, Bali, Qatar, South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania (including Zanzibar!), Argentina, Chile (Patagonia!), Uruguay, and the land of the Incas, Peru. 

Thank you so much for the incredible support you have extended to us - for the excitement you’ve expressed about our trip, for the questions you’ve asked about our adventures, for the time you’ve dedicated to hearing our stories and seeing our photos. This journey has been so very significant and life-changing for us, and we love having friends join us on it, even if only through conversation and reflection. 

We hope this next year is a year of great adventure and self-discovery for us all, whether we’re traveling or at home. May your days be filled with significant conversations, with truly delicious meals, with awe-inspiring beauty, with challenges that grow and shape you. Our hope is that this is a year that you live with more intention and purpose than usual, and that you share your journey with others along the way…

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