Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 13: Red Tape in the Red Centre

November 27, 2010

My plan was to get up early, head back to Uluru before the rush of sunrise-seeking tourists descends, and do the 10km loop around the base before breakfast. Even though it’s nearly midnight, I set my mobile phone alarm for 4.15am, then try to go to sleep. But Johan’s on the floor trolling through his emails and again, uncharacteristically, whispered expletives rise up to thwart my efforts at slumber.

He’s received an email from the American Embassy in Sydney. They’ve given him an interview date of 14 December, which fits in well with our travel plans. We can finish the Outback Way, then head south to get to Sydney in plenty of time to prepare for the visa interview. But there’s more: the bureaucratic red tape of applying for American residency, a quagmire of complex instructions thus far, has spit out several more demands for us to comply with prior to the interview. Some of them are feasible, given our mobile status; others could be tricky. One request, that I (the sponsoring spouse) submit a 2009 U.S. tax return, seems incomprehensible. I’ve lived in Australia for nearly 23 years, 19 as a citizen of this country; I haven’t submitted an American tax return since 1987.

I reach for my mobile phone, switch the alarm off and try again to fall asleep. It’s clear there are more important things to attend to than my love of walking.

We wake after sunrise. I make us a strong coffee and we sit in our camp chairs to discuss the Embassy’s email. Our plans were to take a detour off the Outback Way through the McDonnell Range before heading to Alice Springs, but with this latest development we decide it’s probably best to head straight to Alice, in time to make phone calls Monday morning. Johan also needs a federal finger-printed police check, a birth certificate for his daughter Noonja and a couple other things which will require time and telephone access.

As we drive out of Yulara, I feel disappointed over the lost opportunity to return to Uluru and engage with it more fully. Our time was primarily spent in the cultural centre and I didn’t get a good feel for the natural environment. But we’d expected this interference somewhere along our travels. Johan’s American visa is of primary importance and must take precedence over our leisurely holiday plans.

Johan sits in the passenger seat reading my stories as we head northeast, towards the Stuart Highway that runs from Adelaide on the south coast through Alice Springs to Darwin in the far north. “Oh Sui, how could you?” he mutters when he discovers that I’ve written I “ring out the clothes” rather than “wring out the clothes”. He’s always been a better proofreader of my work than I am.

The Lasseter Highway links Alice Springs with Uluru and is abuzz with tourist buses, every colour, shape and size. The few times we stop to search for caches or view a site, we must share space with rumbling parked buses spewing exhaust while their catchment of passengers point cameras at the distant landscape.

A red sand hill of the Finke bioregion, with Mt Connor in the distance

We're lucky that we're traveling in the off-season or the tourist buses could be unbearable!

It’s clear that bush camping is frowned upon in this high transit section of the Northern Territory, but at 3pm we spy an inconspicuous red track angling north off the highway. We follow it for a few kilometers and find a lovely grove of Desert Oak to pitch camp for the night. The day has been pleasantly warm, peaking at just 27˚ (80˚F), and the night is again cool. After a Saturday night pizza dinner (thanks to the Dutch oven), we retire early to the sound of humming crickets.

 Camping among the Desert Oaks

Saturday night pizza in the Dutch oven

Watching the sun set

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