Sin City

The bright lights of Las Vegas…

It’s always struck me as the sort of place that would be polarising, you’re either going to love this ‘oasis’ in the middle of the desert, or you’re going to hate it.

It was originally never going to be part of our short US itinerary, however whilst investigating Grand Canyon tours it appeared a most obvious staging point.

That is how we found ourselves on a 16 hour overnight Greyhound bus from San Francisco to Las Vegas with a 2 hour stopover in Los Angeles. It was certainly a long trek, but with Wi-Fi on board, albeit slightly slow and temperamental, it did mean I was able to get some long overdue blogging done.

Face to face with the desert

Face to face with the desert

I actually really enjoyed the desert views. Baked earth, scraggly cacti, and even at one point, what appeared to be a giant solar power array!

Desert cacti and solar panels…

Desert cacti and solar panels…

It was a long time before we finally got to the Nevada border, however as soon as we did, you knew (a couple of opportunistic casinos are present right there in the middle of nowhere, in case you couldn’t wait to get all the way to Vegas)!

When you alight from the coach into the 44 degree celcius desert heat, all of sudden it matters little that you haven’t showered for a couple of days. It becomes completely inconsequential when you factor in the fact that in said heat, we then began a 2.7km (1.7 mile) trek to our hostel, fully laden with our packs!

It probably needn’t be said, but by the time we reached our destination, Hostel Cat (after passing by the shop from the TV show ‘Pawn Stars’), we were fairly saturated by sweat, and going to be very smelly anyway!

Even in this heat, people queued to get inside!

Even in this heat, people queued to get inside!

This was actually a pretty cool hostel. Just south of ‘The Strip’ (many people don’t actually realise that the Las Vegas strip, is not actually in Las Vegas), it boasted 20 odd dorms, a standard kitchen (where free pancakes are available for breakfast) and decently sized common room.

My hero however, came in the form of a $1.00 vending machine that dispensed either water, or beer (it wasn’t random you did choose your preference)! Not surprisingly, it came in for some very early use from us after that walk!

Hostel Cat: This courtyard also housed my favoured vending machine

Hostel Cat: This courtyard also housed my favoured vending machine

Despite the temperature, with little else to do but waste our afternoon at the hostel, we decided to venture back out into the heat and go for a walk. It wasn’t an aimless walk however, as we did have purpose.

That purpose was to locate Ricks shop (also of TV fame from ‘Ricks Restorations’), which we eventually did, but only as they were closing for the day! A useless fact we discovered during this amble around Las Vegas: You have about 5 minutes before your water is no longer cold, and perhaps 10-15 before it is hot and horrible to drink!

For the evening, we decided to venture on into the strip, both to have a look around, and also to figure out an option for dinner, and about 20 minutes later we started to hit the strip proper and get sight of the first tacky hotels/casinos.

Despite the sun dipping, the heat was still crazy, so we ducked into a few malls, or perhaps they were casinos (they were probably both. I’m sure you can even gamble on the toilet here), to take advantage of the air conditioning, top up our water bottle and check out the canals of Venice?!

A taste of Venice in Vegas…

A taste of Venice in Vegas…

Bright lights and Jimmy Buffett? Margaritas anyone?

Bright lights and Jimmy Buffett? Margaritas anyone?

After wandering for a couple of hours, dodging touts trying to lure me, then both Sarah and I to sex shows, we were only half way (we presumed) along the strip, so decided to turn back towards the hostel as we had an alarm set for just after 4am for our Grand Canyon tour the following morning (more of this, in another post).

We also realised we’d still not found anything for dinner, so at about 10:30 at night, dinner became a Turkey & Salad sandwich from a 7-Eleven, complemented by a double sized Big Gulp. Gourmet fare, I know (it was actually a pretty decent sandwich…)

Downtown Vegas. Like this sign, she’s a bit shabby around the edges

Downtown Vegas. Like this sign, she’s a bit shabby around the edges

Unwittingly, our trip found us in the United States of America on that day of days, the 4th of July.

Our celebrations began, as already alluded to, with a trip to the grandest of canyons, and after an afternoon of revelry with our fellow hostellers (and a delicious late lunch from a Cuban restaurant across the road), pretty much the whole hostel began the trek into the strip to see the mandatory fireworks show.

4th of July beers with many non (and a couple of actual) Americans

4th of July beers with many non (and a couple of actual) Americans

With an understanding in my head, that everything is bigger and better in the Unites States, understandably expectations were high… and expectations were nowhere near met.

In fact it was actually a very insipid fireworks display all round, so I was completely surprised to find even one half decent picture to share.

Independence Day fireworks failed to really impress

Independence Day fireworks failed to really impress

With most of the hostel set for a big night (and us oldies, not particularly enamoured with such a plan after an early start), we slipped away to wander more of the strip that we had neglected the previous night.

Then the most peculiar thing occurred.

It began to rain… in the desert!

Now apparently Las Vegas gets around 5-6 inches of rain per year, and I’d guess we saw a couple of those inches this very night!

After the heat of the day, it came as much welcomed relief, the only concern being how slippery the sidewalk (footpath) had become.

An oxymoronic, wet desert!

An oxymoronic, wet desert!

Catching some of the Bellagio’s light show during the rains

Catching some of the Bellagio’s light show during the rains

 This rain actually caused some minor flash flooding, as (I’m assuming) barely used gutters and drains began to quickly overflow.

With tired legs we continued walking until we got to the Luxor & Mandalay Bay casinos (two new English friend from Yosemite, Rachael & Natalie actually arrived to stay in Luxor luxury that very night), then with even more exhausted legs did we walk the entire return journey back to the hostel.

We did consider the bus as an option, but with the arrival of the wet weather, it appeared that everybody else was considering it as well, so we finally fell into bed around 1:30 in the morning.

Our final day in Vegas was as expected, hot (but high 30’s rather than the 40+ weather from days 1 and 2), but with our bus to Tijuana not until 8pm that night, we had some spare Saturday morning time before catching some World Cup quarter final back at the hostel to round out the day.

So, we decided on a second attempt at checking out Ricks, this time actually knowing the way, and got there pretty quickly.

As it was the weekend, there were no tours running, but we did get to at least have a quick peek around.

Finally getting to Ricks Restorations whilst the gates were open!

Finally getting to Ricks Restorations whilst the gates were open!

Some of the incredible items they restore

Some of the incredible items they restore

Back at the hostel, a tense afternoon followed, as us, along with some newfound Dutch friends Mike & Franklin endured some roller coaster football action as the match versus Costa Rica went to penalties!

Worried faces as the Netherlands vs Costa Rica goes to penalties

Worried faces as the Netherlands vs Costa Rica goes to penalties

Finally, it was time to bid farewell to hostel and new friends that I really did like, in a city I was pretty happy to turn my back on.

Las Vegas just really isn’t our kind of place.

The indulgent waste of water and electricity in the middle of the Nevada desert really stands against our own views on sustainable living (I guess the fact we have little interest in gambling doesn’t help either).

It did however serve us well in our quest to visit the Grand Canyon…

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One Response to Sin City

  1. Hi Chris: I tried posting a comment and it wouldn’t let me, so am trying again. Sounds like you’ve experienced the many personalities of Vegas. It’s a place like no other!

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