North America

After seeing the city in so many movies we had big expectations of Las Vegas. We were expecting glitsy nightlife, lights, fast cars, beautiful women, suits and more. Our first impressions however, were not so glamorous. We landed in the middle of the day, and the city seemed like a scaled up version of Logan. There were wide roads, huge blocks and cars, but not all of the cars were limousines or sports cars. The iconic Vegas landmarks were there, but they seemed much smaller in real life, especially in daylight, and they are spread out over a really long stretch of road.

We were originally booked into a hotel called the Stratosphere Tower, one of the major landmarks on the Vegas skyline. However, due to shifting plans, we had to cancel our booking and when we tried to rebook the prices had risen considerably, thus Sophie and I had to resolve with the fact that we would now be staying at the humble Howard Johnson Inn instead. Despite this disappointment, the place was, needless to say, at least as good as anywhere we’d stayed in South America. We dumped our bags, and after a short snooze, set out to explore the town.

The first thing I did was drag Sophie, kicking and screaming into the first burger place for a real American meal. Supersize? Hell yeah. It wasn’t really that different from an Australian burger place, except this one was full large American stereotypes. The supersize drink cup was huge, evidently the populace has yet to cotton on to the fact that that the drinks are refillable. On the other hand, I guess the huge cup saves a trip to the drinks dispensers, or three.

Unsurprisingly, the lunch left left us feeling a bit sick, but we walked it off over the course of the afternoon. If you are ever visiting Vegas, don’t try and do it on foot. Blocks are huge and everything is miles away. When someone tells you that a place is just down the road, they mean that it’s a short drive. Nobody walks anywhere in Vegas.

That evening, after recovering from an afternoon of walking, we went out to hit the pokies! We walked down the strip, observing the flora and fauna as we went. Most people were increadibly, average looking. Most guys were middle aged, white men wearing shorts with belts and buttoned shirts. There were also some black dudes walking around with their baggy jeans around their knees, and of course there was the odd limo driving past with either drunk girls screaming or drunk college boys hooting. It’s easy to get drunk in Vegas. If you can’t find your way to one of the bars offering one dollar beers, just drop in at your local pharmacy. As well as the usual pharmaceuticals and a range of groceries, they have a full selection of booze, and the beers come in huge one litre cans, often with an alcohol content of 8% or more.

We eventually made it into one of the big casinos. It was lit up with millions of lights on the outside and on the inside, even more. Apart for being huge though, it was not too different to casinos in Australia. We worked our way from casino to casino down the strip, but although quite impressive on the outside they were much the same inside. I think we got about halfway down, which is actually a very long walk, before we got tired and bored and caught the bus back up to our hotel.

The next day we got an authentic taste of Vegas, when we met a guy on the street while looking for directions. He claimed to be an out-of-luck high roller, cleaned out and on his way out of town. He said he had some tickets to one of the Cirque de Soleil shows that he could give us if we were keen to go. He made a quick call for us, and bam that was it! We’d be going to see Love that night! Soph was over the moon! I was excited but had the nagging feeling that it was too good to be true. And then came, “Ah by the way, I’m broke and need to get to the airport, would you mind giving me some money for a cab…”. Uh Oh, I thought, suspicious, but at the same time really hoping it was all true, it was Vegas after all, anything could happen. Luckily I only had five bucks in my wallet, which I started explaining was all we had the the moment, when in jumps Soph, “Thats ok! we can draw some more!” Ugh. So in the end, after a quick chat to Soph we managed to limit damages to 25 bucks. Needless to say, when we rang up later on in the day, the tickets did not exist. Not a great financial loss, but a big disappointment, especially for Soph who really wanted to see the show. That’s Vegas.

After two nights we’d seen enough. We picked up a rental car, packed it with all our luggage and headed out into the desert, next stop would be Zion National Park, Utah.

The first thing that caught my attention arriving in the US of A was that people were still speaking Spanish. Are we in the States yet? The sign says Houston, but everything is still in Spanish. People chatting, signs and announcements were all in Spanish as well as English. I had no idea, but according to Wiki, USA has more Spanish speakers than Spain. It was actually quite nice to be eased back into an English speaking environment after our 4 months or so in South America.

So there we were in Houston, in the Immigration queue, taking in the American-ness of it all. People chewing gum with their mouths open, people wearing baseball caps, fat people and black ladies who actually talk like Laverne from Scrubs. We got to the front of the queue and I got a big American welcome. “err, we got a lookout here”, “What’s a lookout?”, he doesn’t stamp my passport, “please sir could you stand over there and wait a moment.”
Sophie, who had a can of mace confiscated at the security station in Lima, gets through no problem.

I stand waiting for 10 minutes or so before I guy comes out and escorts me into one of the holding rooms where I wait another 20mins or so. I knew I should have had a shave. Finally I’m summoned into one of the offices for the 20 questions.
“Where do you live?”
“What do you do in Australia?”
“What were you doing in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru?”
“How did you afford to travel for so long?”
Then my favourite, “So, what military training have you had?”,
“Umm… I shot a kangeroo once…”

Later on Soph is dragged in with our bags. “Do you have any illegal substances in those bags?”,
“Umm… There is a small chance that we’ve left some Coca leaves in there, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t.”
“Could you show me where these Coca leaves might be.”
I dig into my bag and luckily there are no coca leaves. He seems happy. We are now free to go. Soph plays the guy a quick ditty on her Charango before we hurry off to try and make our connection to Las Vegas.

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