08.10.2013 - 10.10.2013 32 °C
I'm not entirely sure how many travellers end up in Vegas, but I'm guessing the bright lights and pseudo glamour doesn't sit well with the 'finding yourself new age dreadlocked hackey sack backpackers'. Also, as travellers on a strict daily budget (including accommodation) who could possibly afford Vegas 1/10th of the way through the trip? But hey, they give you free drinks if you gamble... So we heard.
We had hired a car from LAX airport and slightly overwhelmed by the prospect of driving across LA Chiara was hesitant over the choice of car.
"Dodge Dodge lets get the white Dodge!"
Chiara wanted a small car, easy to manoeuvre and control. I chose the Dodge Avenger because it was flash, huge and ugly all at the same time. Kind of like America, definitely like Vegas.
We drove out of LA across a maze of highways, freeways and interstates including 66, before the long stretch of route 15 to Nevada. The radio we picked up was Bierber-esque teenage angst or classic rock bangers. The latter was just perfect for a roadtrip. Skynard again! Yes. We made it by 4pm.
We turned up at the Flamingo hotel (from Fear and Loathing, Hunter S Thompson fame) where we were to spend 2 nights and stood to check in behind hundreds of others, in total amazement, the hotel was like an airport but with people walking around in flip flops drinking beers and sitting on the slots early afternoon. The hotel must have housed thousands of people, with 75 rooms on each floor and 21 floors.
Our room was HUGE, a king bed, futon, plasma screen, insane views of the strip from the 14th floor and ironically the cheapest we had paid for accommodation in weeks. We offloaded and headed out to the strip. Chiara's ankle hugely swollen from Venice mosquito bites, we took it easy and drank in the sites of the strip. Ceasar's Palace, MGM, New York New York, Little Venice and Paris, and the Bellagio fountain show, filled with people from all over the globe slowly departing with their cash with huge smiles on their faces. It's a parallel universe, people en masse in their own raucous street party, grasping enormous novelty cups (resembling huge child beakers with super long straws) spilling with booze, and loads of whooping from excited gamblers and stag dos. Also smoking indoors - well you wouldn't want to have to leave the casino to smoke now!
Torn between wanting to bet big and not wanting to lose everything within the first hour of being there, we walked the length of the strip and headed up to the Wynn Casino where we had been tipped they do the best cocktails, for free!
We hit the blackjack and roulette tables, but with a minimum of $15 bets, the stakes were a little high for budget travellers. Yes, the drinks were free... But the rounds of blackjack were very quick, and the hostess didn't come by for 20 minutes... So much to lose in this time! After a bit of yoyoing with our chips we nailed the blagger's technique and played on the roulette machine where you can stake a quarter and still get free drinks... all night! (+ tipping $1 a drink) Few margeritas later, we had fallen into the Vegas trap - no windows = no idea how late it is, and we headed back to the Flamingo a little down but definitely not out.
The plan for the next day was to drive to the Grand Canyon and back to Vegas for the evening. But Chiara's ankle had gotten really bad so much that it was difficult to walk, nevermind a whole day of driving. Unfortunately we had to give it a miss and opted for a hotel day, poolside. Not a bad fallback plan. The sun was beating down with desert force and terrible music blared out to the hungover heads surrounding the huge faux-glam pool in the bizarre tropical grounds of our hotel; which featured a sanctuary with flamingos, wild birds, catfish and turtles. The crowd was very tacky and even the leathered oldies were supping cocktails from their flashy beakers in the pool, bikini clad and getting a bit too involved in the aqua dancing, like an unwatchable Eric Prydz video. Our hotel had three wedding chapels, and a ceremony was taking place whilst we were there. We didn't elope don't worry, although we had joked about it before we came.
When in Rome...
Pre-gamble pizza delivered to our room with margheritas in a can... We are classy!
In the evening we bussed to Fremont Street, the original strip and we heard that the stakes were more budget friendly and the vibe was more "authentic" of old Vegas, although the spectacle was still dazzlingly tacky and high wattage naff. We settled on 4 Queens, after a quick round in Binions where the World Poker Series is held.
That afternoon Chiara had received a message from her mums partner Jon, "Get $5 on 22".... We had both turned $50 into chips, and without me even knowing she sneaked the $5 on. Being the 'locals casinos' they don't tolerate novice tourists, its very fast and they don't announce the results... Chiara didn't even know 22 had come in until a huge pile of chips were pushed towards her and the others at the table gawped at her luck.
It was such a big win (relative to our budget) that we didn't really know what to do - be sensible travellers and put it towards our trip or bet big?? We bet half of it and Chiara fast learnt blackjack, and even faster burnt the spending money. The croupiers at these casinos were fast and aloof, rounds flying by and we lost and regained chips many times. We both walked away up that evening though! Nothing could top the early evening victory, we tried 22 again later on... Obviously it didn't come in!
A surreal desert jaunt in the midst of our whirlwind month in America, and an experience we definitely wont forget...
We do plan to come back one day.... but with a slightly bigger budget! Thanks for the top up and we'll see you sometime LV.