Thursday, August 9, 2012

Road Trip Part 3 - Viva Las Vegas!

May 2012

The next morning we woke to that internationally renowned place of Huntington-by-the-Sea. And the amazing view of a power station right next to the RV park. Luuuurvley! As we were right by the sea, the morning (well late morning by the time we got going) was spent on the incredibly large and deserted beach. A few of us went swimming in the Pacific (again) which was rather rough and pretty cold. There was also a strong riptide so the supposed paddle turned into quite a workout in the end! Having not been to a proper sandy beach in quite a while (well, Spring Break) I really enjoyed lying there in the sun and chilling out chatting away to the others, as well as desperately trying to even out my tan which was becoming nice and brown on the extremities but with a lilly white torso – first world problems eh?! Amy took the tanning opportunity a little too far however and ended up burning herself badly. I mean so badly she was cripple for a few days and spent hours trying anything to try and reduce the pain and swelling. Including the advice of one Army veteran in Walmart who suggested using tea bags, which he used in his unit. Where did he serve to get this knowledge I hear you ask? Vietnam? Korea? Africa? Nope. Oklahoma. Yep, that notoriously sunny place where everyone burns…

The power station. Such beauty I know...

Huntington Beach in all its glory

We left Huntington-by-the-Sea in the afternoon after another round of showers, deciding to skip past San Diego and head east to Las Vegas. This involved a long old drive through the Californian desert, which wasn’t helped by getting lost looking for a Walmart. The beginning of recurring theme for the trip! We stopped for dinner on a random turnoff on the interstate and simply drove 'till the road ended in the desert. With the sun setting over the mountains in front of us, the RV doors open and music pumping I had the best evening of the trip to that point. Funnily enough however a couple of vehicle lights appeared on the high ground in front of us and just stopped there, spaced apart as if watching us. Trying to work out where we were on a map we may have been on the edge of a military area, possibly accounting for the presence of the vehicles for security but we weren’t sure. As it got dark however the vehicles moved away, hopefully deciding that a bunch of foreign students acting like fools in the desert weren’t too much of a threat!

RV Antics

After watching an amazing sunset, eating some fine food, dancing like complete loons and completing a spot of stargazing and moon hunting (no seriously, we couldn’t see the moon anywhere in the sky!), everyone was getting rather merry so with me as designated driver we hit the road again to find somewhere to spend the night. The hour journey was pretty uneventful apart from some absolutely mental lorry drivers appearing to have a race down the interstate, and we pulled off at another random exit, and pulled up next to a sign declaring the area as one of ‘natural and scenic importance’. Whatever that is… Anyways, I proceeded to get merry making up for lost time whilst the others simply continued!

Desert antics

Looking out the next morning it didn’t really seem much of a scenic area. Just a desert with some rocks, and interstate to one end and an abandoned school bus. Really scenic right? I had risen early to get on with driving whilst everyone else woke up and sorted their lives out, and because we “had” to be in Vegas for 3pm when we could check into the hotel, and I wanted to see Death Valley on the way. Pulling off the interstate and onto the highway to take us through the desert towards the entrance to the Death Valley National Park, it really struck me at how desolate parts of the states are. There was no sign of civilisation for miles and miles on end, and very little traffic on the highway. It also astounded me how quickly the scenery changed as we headed east – from luscious green mountains to desert mountains to just sand everywhere. Although I do love the desert scenery because it was so different to anything I have seen before.
It took a few hours to get to the Death Valley National Park (including a stop to get gas and for people to sort their lives out), on pretty much deserted highways. Death Valley is the lowest altitude, driest part of the States, and very few rental companies insure for breakdowns. Including ours, with an extortionate cost for car recovery, let alone RV’s. So obviously we wanted to go into the Valley. Negotiations had to be struck up again between those wanting to spend some time in Death Valley and those wanting to push on to Vegas, with a compromise of 25 miles in to an abandoned mine. The valley itself changed every turn and was absolutely stunning in a very rugged way. I loved it there – so different to anywhere else I had been previously in my life. And nice and dry compared to the humidity of North Carolina!

Death Valley
Posing on the road. With heavy traffic...
Driving in the valley

Death Valley
An ominous sign!
We didn’t spend anywhere near as much time as I wanted in Death Valley due to others cardinal wish to reach the bright lights, nor did we stop in the little village/town off the road into the Valley, being told it was “crap”. Right… Barney and Wahid took the drive to Vegas – about 2-3hours from Death Valley and with Amy leaving her purse in a McDonalds bathroom and the drama of how to get the RV into the entrance of the hotel (height clearance being an issue!) we arrived rather flustered and hot in the desert heat. We were staying in the MGM Grand for a night on the Vegas strip, simply to live it Vegas style for the duration of our stay, and because we found some cheap rooms online (later found out that it was because they were doing some major refurbishment in the hotel, but meh, whatever!). However, with 9 of us it meant one of the guys had to sleep on the hotel floor. The resort itself was huge, all based around gambling (obviously). To get anywhere in the resort you had to go through the casino floor, which was bloody huge and noisy with all the machine noises and wooping and cheering of gamblers. At all hours of the day!

You know you're getting to Vegas when you see this!

The bright lights

The first night of Vegas was an epic fail. Everyone except Kim, Jon, Antonia and myself fell asleep. Yup, fell asleep in Vegas. So we went out and hit the casino floor after a few drinks in the room. Placing a lucky dollar into my first ever slot machine I had a promising start with a $20 win, although this was soon lost on the roulette wheel with Jon, and a further $5 on blackjack. Calling it a night for gambling we wandered up the strip. It was 2am by this point and the only ones out were those who had obviously lost everything. We turned back and went to bed. Thank god it wasn’t a complete fail of an evening but was rather close! The next day I was determined to make the most of the day. I had planned to try and get to the Old Downtown part of Vegas on the advice of my friend Audra from UNC. However looking at the distance on the map it I realised it was an hour plus walk, and in the searing Vegas heat I decided against it. Instead I had a wonder around the MGM Grand and neighbouring casinos (much and much the same as each other really except for the outsides tobe honest!). Gaining another $10 and losing a further $20 (keeping it low for the day!) I went and found the others chilling by the pool. Which was a tiny bit epic with waterfalls, a DJ and bars. Although the heat made it uncomfortable to sit outside for too long.

On the strip

Outside the Belagio
Grabbing an early dinner to take advantage of the happy hour deals (being students and all!), it was time to make a proper night of Vegas. Wahid had found a poker tournament with low stakes in the Excalibur Casino opposite the MGM Grand for himself, Barney, Jon and I to play in. However when we got there it was discovered it was actually a $50 buy in, which none of us except Wahid were willing to pay. Instead we trekked up to “Bills”, about a mile away, instead. Only to be told there weren’t enough dealers. Bloody typical! Wahid decided to enter into a cash game, and the three of us tried to play a bit of blackjack. Only to then be told that our driving licenses weren’t adequate enough ID to play because they weren’t ‘attached’ to the USA. Excuse me? Totally stupid rule if you ask me, but not being able to do anything about it we did what all pissed off customers do: took our business elsewhere. The Bellagio to be exact (setting of the Ocean’s Eleven film if you didn’t know!), in which it was very easy to see the sort of money the place attracted as we walked in. Obviously needing to gamble there – I mean you’ve got to! – I managed to exit $10 up and Jon $5 which wasn’t too bad at all! We then watched the infamous fountain show outside (to the totally cringe-worthy tune of “I’m proud to be an American, because at least I know I’m free” – Jon’s reaction to that was hilarious!) and walked back down the strip to the room to get some more drinks down us. And found the others all asleep. I mean seriously?! Luckily they all rallied and getting a few drinking games going people go merry, with Kim proposing to Antonia. I mean when in Vegas!

The lads looking sophisticated...

And the girls (minus Eshe) looking lovely!

Heading back out and trying to find some $5 tables we wondered over to New York New York, connected to MGM Grand by a walkway over the strip. The amount of money within Vegas means a company will own a number of resorts next to each other with easy access between the lot of them in an effort to keep customers/gamblers/patrons/whatever you call those who part with their cash within their own resorts. Watching a rather merry Barney attempt to play Blackjack was a sight, and I enjoyed a decent game too with only $20 – decent entertainment, although I then lost $40 on poker. Woops! Getting back to the hotel room we were followed in by Barney who was very pissed off at some Argies who were laughing at him from across the blackjack table. Which then lead to a very drunken argument about the Falkland’s war, life and history, and removing one’s self from reality. Yeah, I have no idea where that all came from either! A perfect end to a Vegas night made even more perfect by me crashing into the lads room and passing out with Wahid and Eshe looking very guilty about something. Sod it, I just went to sleep and left them to it. I was later informed that Michael came in and collapsed on top of Eshe – oh dear! The next day proved to be a bit of a challenge getting everyone out of the rooms and into the RV with hangovers galore. Especially as people kept disappearing off to gamble some more (Wahid!!). Eventually 2 hours after we were supposed to check out with a rather annoyed security guard trying to move us on and out of the MGM Grand driveway we headed out. All the way down the road to Bank of America for finances to be sorted out. And an RV clean up that not many people helped with. Surprise, surprise…

Vegas was an interesting experience to say the least. Whilst I enjoyed myself, I’m not sure if some others did. I would like to return to the place another time, with more money and with a bit more time to explore the place beyond the resorts we were in and around. Having said that, it really is one very big, tacky, neon-filled place, despite the large amounts of money rolling around the place. However, in my usual attitude I liked the place for what it was and would never take the place seriously on any level. Nor gamble too much there – there is so much else to do within Vegas that you could easily go a week without actually parting with any money on a casino floor at all!

The 'Band of Brothers' shot

(map taken from Google Maps)
(additional photos from Amy, Eshe and Kimberly)

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