From Alice Springs

Alice Springs and Uluru, Australia: Budget Travel Guide 2016

When we began our journey across Australia’s Red Center, our tour guide-slash-driver handed us a marker and told us to write our names on the window of the van. It’s a way for everyone in the group to easily remember each other’s name.

Since then, every time I looked out the window, I saw my name etched in every dawn and dusk, every starry sky, every vivid picture that sped past me. Through the glass, every place is a canvass. Every moment a masterpiece. The Outback is a wild, insane artist.

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The Rock Tour: Camping Trip from Alice Springs to Uluru, Australia

“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” I whispered as I picked up another stick.

Middle of nowhere. No other collection of three words had been as overused since we first set foot in the vastness of the Australian Outback. In this part of the world, almost everywhere is the “middle of nowhere.”

Our group was divided into pairs, all collecting firewood in between low trees and tall shrubs, sparsely fringing the red dunes. It had all the makings of a tragic thriller: temperature dropping, light dwindling, and dingoes howling in the distance. Every stick we picked up from the ground was followed by a deep sigh (or a silent prayer, had I been a theist). It was always a relief not finding a venomous snake or spider underneath. Australia’s deadly reputation is hard to shake off.

I wrapped my left arm around a stack of half-dozen sticks and dragged a whole slender tree trunk with my right to the side of the road, where our van was parked. Then, we broke the big, long branches into smaller pieces before handing them one by one to Nick, our tour guide, who stood atop the trailer and ensured that every firewood, down to every last twig, was in place.

“We’re gonna need these to sleep soundly tonight,” Nick said as he jumped off the vehicle. “We’re spending the night in the middle of nowhere.”

There’s that phrase again.

“And by ‘middle of nowhere’, I mean the middle of fckin’ nowhere,” he added before climbing back to the driver seat. We followed suit, finding our spot inside the van, where we spent the next hour wondering where the hell we were. Soon, the concrete road turned to dirt and the van shook as we headed straight into pitch darkness. After several minutes, we pulled over and braved the cold.

“Welcome to the middle of nowhere,” he said as he started a small fire, allowing us a look at our home for the night. And he wasn’t kidding.

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Kings Canyon Rim Walk, Australia

I honestly thought I was going to die.

When I reached the top, I dropped my backpack unconsciously and mustered all the energy I had left to catch my breath. I was vomiting air, and my chest was starting to tighten. Ten minutes and ten gulps of water later, I began feeling alright. That quick climb kept me grounded both figuratively and literally. I remained seated on the rocky ground, wondering how it came down to this.

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Anzac Hill, Todd River, and a Brief History of Alice Springs, Australia

I looked at the town’s location on the map, and I was instantly intrigued. I had never been this far from the shore: Alice Springs is tucked 1200 km from the nearest ocean. And it appears to be almost at the very heart, the dead center of the continent.

Roger, the hostel manager, whipped out a street map this time and scribbled all over it. “Follow the river,” he said with a smile. “Turn left when you reach the corner, and you’ll see the hill.” He was recommending places to visit while we waited for the check-in time.

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