I’ve been very slack in writing this blog but I’m determined to make more than one or two posts before I return back to Aus -which seems like ages away, but very soon at the same time. Confused? So am I…anyway, the past week has been jam packed full of adventure that really has traversed a lot of American culture I would consider myself kind of familiar with. It has been an enlightening, exciting and slightly painful week (explanation to follow).
I could start right back at Hermosa Beach, but I already did a bit of a rough draft blog before and felt like I was writing some kind of tome, so I’ll just mash some of the highlights from the last eight days together.
After picking Yves and Katelijne up from the airport, we spent the first few nights in LA, which really was welcome down time after a pretty epic flight from Australia to China and then China to LA. Unfortunately I hadn’t been able to finish all of my homework before leaving Australia so I spent my second day in the US writing an essay on the integration of coastal and catchment management in Aus. We were staying in a really nice/basic apartment in Chinatown and after a late breakfast on the other side of town I returned back to the apartment and ‘chained’ myself to my laptop for five-six hours to write my last damn essay. I put on a few good tunes, finished my breakfast that I’d taken in a doggy bag and just really got in the homework zone. About five hours later I finished the essay and had this weird little quiet moment where I thought, ‘shit, I just finished my Undergraduate degree of five years in an apartment in LA’. It felt like a pretty significant moment and when the rest of the group came back with wine and ingredients for a rocking curry it really felt like the best way to celebrate finishing.
After LA we drove for what seemed like a long time and spent the night in a little town called Kingman. I wish I’d been a bit more camera savvy at this point because this town was straight out of a movie. It was dry, dusty and there were random little houses dotted all over the place with broken down rusty cars in the front yard and little patriotic signs. I’m starting to learn that the best way to describe a place is by defining it as either Obama or Romney country, and Kingman was deep deep in Romney country. We found a little diner called Grandpas Kitchen and settled in for our induction into the American breakfast. I thought I was being conservative when I ordered eggs with a strip of bacon and hash. But woah, I ended up with a hashbrown half the size of my head (considerable when you take my little ‘fro into account) four slices of bread, two eggs and bacon cooked beyond recognition, oh and of course a shit load of butter slathered over anything that you would identify as food. I feel like I got off light though because the rest of the group had breakfasts almost twice the size of mine. After making my way around the plate I stumbled out of Grandpa’s Kitchen feeling like a truck had parked in my stomach. Not a good feeling. Although this breakfast sustained me till dinner time, so that’s sayin’ something.
Grandpa’s Kitchen was a real slap in the face culture wise, I just couldn’t get over that feeling of being in some American movie. There was an old, dissatisfied looking couple in the corner chewing over dried bits of bacon, the decor was mostly green and the counter was covered in little frog statues and Halloween paraphernalia, it seemed like absolutely everybody was known by name and as one guy left the waitress yelled out ‘see ya later Santa’. It was amazing!
After our night in Kingman we made our way to the Grand Canyon. On our first day there the whole place was shrouded in fog and we only got a brief glimpse of the canyon before the fog rolled over and hid everything entirely. Once it started to snow/hail (still not sure what that was…) we decided against camping that night and headed into town and stayed at a place called the Red Feather. It was a pretty okay place, the most expensive we’ve stayed in so far, and we took full advantage of the extra amenities (i.e. spa) whilst there.
The next day the weather was absolutely amazing so we headed back to the canyon determined to do a hike. I was looking like the ill-prepared tourist on the walking trail in my sneakers and jeans, with one guy saying ‘watch you don’t slip over in those sneakers’ as I passed. I replied in a very occa Aussie accent, that ‘I’d be right’. The guy was absolutely transfixed by my sneakers and when he saw me at the end of the trail almost two hours later he asked if ‘I’d made it okay’, I think I’d said something like ‘yeah, I’m sweet’. Everybody on this trail was decked out in some ridiculously advanced walking gear and whilst it made me a little nervous at first, by the time we reached the bottom I was busting out my vibram ‘finger’ shoes and ready to really cause a stir. These things were made for walks like this and I was basically running up the hill like a little mountain goat, as Yves said at one point on the way down that watching me make my way down the trail was like ‘watching a leaf float to and fro’, that is seriously the most poetic thing anyone has ever said about the way I walk and comments like that always make me appreciate how beautiful and expressive English can be when spoken as a second language.
There were several things that got me REALLY excited on the walking trial – namely, squirrels (I was basically bounding across the rocks to get pictures of them), rocks, rocks, beautiful rocks and the views (actually breathtaking). I’m sure the group was sick of me by the third mile because of my continuous pointing out of various rock formations or me screaming with excitement over things that kind of looked like fossils.
After exploring the Grand Canyon and the grueling climb back up we camped at the park, complete with a campfire, marshmallows and a vegetarian dinner. The next morning we all woke up feeling very sore and sorry for ourselves.
From there we hit the open road again and made a beeline for Vegas, via the Hoover dam. The Hoover Dam was pretty spectacular, but the day was so hot and it was hard to take it all in. By the time we reached Vegas we were all pretty stuffed but excited about the night and ready for what it had to offer.
We had dinner at the hotel (Tuscany) and hit the strip. It was instantly overwhelming. There were men and women every ten steps touting a strip show and basically throwing pictures of naked women at us. They all did this thing were they would slap the pictures between there fingers which was disturbing for some reason. We walked down the strip and then found a bar that was selling novelty sized drinks. Whilst at the bar I wandered over to the Karaoke table to check out what songs were on offer for singing, while standing there sipping my half litre spirits a random came up to me and decided it was time for a chat. The guy was missing about five front teeth and was obviously caught up in the world that is Las Vegas. He half-bent to speak to me and engaged me in a pretty loud conversation. ‘Say you gon’ sing something?’ …me being the kind of person I am, I was happy to have a conversation with a random, ‘maybe’. I replied, we talked shit about karaoke for a while and then he asked me my name and introduced himself as Larry. He told me he was from Chicago and I asked if it was the windy city, ‘why yes it is’, he replied, ‘and you know where you are now?’ ‘Vegas’, I replied, kind of stupidly…he looked me right in the eye, sucked in his breath and said ‘y’all in Sinnnn Cittyyyyy’. The lights were blazing all around him, a man was singing some pretty horrible karaoke in the background and everything felt pretty disorientating in general..it felt like a scene out of some Sofia Coppola film.
After grabbing our drinks we headed back down the strip, drinks in hand and soaked up the world of Vegas. We stopped by the Bellagio fountains and watched two fountain shows. The first one was to the soundtrack of a song about America being the land of the free and the second was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. It all seemed to make perfect sense at the time…once we realised that we were all becoming quite intoxicated and that finishing our drinks would probably have some pretty strong consequences we binned the drinks and headed into a casino for a taste of gambling and true temptation. I walked in, popped a dollar in a machine and casually flicked the handle. The numbers lined up and suddenly lots of sirens and bells started going off and coins just started to pour out of the machine…okay, that’s a lie – that didn’t happen at all, I lost my dollar to that machine and only had a return of ten cents.
Vegas is a desperately sad place, I realised this when I went to cash in the ten cents and turned to the guy in line next to me. I showed him my win and said something like, ‘I only got ten cents!’ He replied ‘yeah, some of us get lucky’. I laughed but then noticed that he was, in all seriousness, cashing in eight cents. I tapped him on the shoulder and gave him the ten cents, ‘maybe you’ll have more luck with this then me’. He smiled and cashed the ten cents and I didn’t see him again after that.
Okay, everyone is going to bed now so this will have to be continued..but I’ll probably be writing a little about how much I actually did win (only four dollars), Death Valley, beef jerky, a pizza place called Upper Crust and a little town called Bishop.