I was just re-reading the review I wrote last year on the Sounds of Silence dinner. I ended it by saying that WHEN I returned to Uluru, I would be sure to take up the arriving by camel option. It is funny reading that now, because while I was obviously quite certain that I would return to Uluru one day, I had no idea that it would be so soon and under the strangest of circumstances, all of which stem from that dinner last year.
You see, my husband Mark is a physics teacher with a passion for astronomy. It’s quite an expensive hobby when you get into it, but unfortunately not one which provides lots of opportunity to recoup those expenses. So I felt quite safe at the Sounds of Silence dinner last year when I flippantly said during the star talk, “That’s your dream job, isn’t it, Mark?” Ha. Ha. Ha. So funny. Have another wine.
Fast forward to April of this year, and Mark is engrossed in one of his nerdy little stargazing forums, when he pushes his laptop across to me and shows me the job ad – Astronomy Supervisor, Voyages Resort, Yulara NT. No need to bore you with the conversations that were had about the pay being half of what he earns as a teacher, that the job is three and a half thousand kilometres away (and not Fly In-Fly Out) and it would mean living apart. We decided as a family that these opportunities don’t come up very often and that he would be mad if he didn’t at least fill out an application to see what might happen.
Well, he’s been here for four and a half months having taken leave from teaching for a year, and now Connor and I are up here on holidays for eight days. No camping for us this time, though. We’re in five star luxury at Sails in the Desert. That’s one of the few perks of Mark’s job – special rates for family coming to visit (because at $478 per night, I wouldn’t be staying here otherwise!)
And just like that, I’m dining in the desert under the stars again, but this time I’ve arrived by camel. The dining experience I have reviewed before (you can read that here), so this time I’m just going to focus on the camel bit.
Camels are one of those animals that are hard to love, but just so easy to adore. They’re funny looking, they’re stubborn and cantankerous. They vomit up their food so they can enjoy it all over again and they are quite partial to spitting their regurgitation over you. The sound that comes out of them is like it comes from the bowels of hell. Aren’t they just wonderful?
The Sounds of Silence Camel Tour is operated by Uluru Camel Tours. We were picked up from Sails in the mini-bus and chauffeured out to the Uluru Camel farm where we were greeted by our guide, Saskia. Like all good outback tour guides, Saskia is Swiss. But she’s been in Yulara for two years, and in Yulara employee years, that’s about a decade. There were nine of us on this tour: we three Batemans, an American couple and four Japanese travellers. We begin with a quick tour of the saddle making room. Each camel’s saddle is custom made for the animal. This is about the camel’s comfort, more so than the rider. Fair enough too. Camels can easily carry at least half their body weight on their backs, but three hundred kilos of well-fed tourist is till three hundred kilos. Afterwards, Saskia takes you out to meet the camels that form our train. There’s Violet and Buddy and Randy and several others, but thankfully Spinifex wasn’t in our line-up. “He’s named after the Spinifex grass,” explains Saskia. “He’s a prick to sit on.”
Connor and I got to ride on Buddy. Mark scored Randy, who seemed determined to voice his guttural disgust at having anybody on his back and his extreme displeasure of having to do anything other than sit in the dirt chewing his cud. You get that I am talking about the camel, right?
If you have never ridden a camel before, then getting on the thing is the worst part. Actually, no. Getting on is easy, but when the camel stands up, it feels like you are going to be flung into orbit. And these are very tall camels. Connor went for a camel ride at Kings Canyon last year, but that old girl was nowhere near as tall as these ones. The first couple of steps, while you are getting accustomed to the wobbly gait is also a bit unnerving, but after only a couple of minutes, you’ve developed the confidence of Lawrence of Arabia, and you can enjoy the amble through the desert with Saskia providing her Swiss accent tinged commentary about why we love living in Australia…
“Three of the most deadly snakes in the world live in these bushes…”
“That plant over there will kill you if you eat it…”
“If you see a tail sticking out of a hole, it’s best not to touch it. It might be a lizard, or it could kill you…”
“When the lightning strikes the bush, it could start a fire and you may not be able to out run it…”
God girl! Get yourself back to Scandinavia before your job devours you!
Anyhow, most of those things can’t reach you when you are atop a camel, so you can sit back and enjoy the ride. And the timid Japanese girls were riding at the back of the camel train and probably couldn’t hear the commentary about imminent death.
When you get to the Sounds of Silence dining area, one of the wait staff comes down with a tray of champagne and the people up at the viewing area watch you disembark with the same sort of awe we plebs reserve for those who travel business class. They too are probably thinking, “WHEN I come back to Uluru, I’m going to come to this dinner by camel.”
Maybe for them too, it will be sooner than they think.