A Travellerspoint blog

May 2008

Countdown to Lift-off and Visitors from Another Planet

semi-overcast 32 °C
View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

Our last couple of days in the Keys were spent relaxing (you may be surprised to hear). We had a little explore around the area, going North for half an hour to find somewhere to have a go on a Jetski. We found this place ....


Not bad hey!?! - anyhow - after our briefing about where to go and where not to go, we had a blast on a Jetski. The water is only a few feet deep in most places - it's a "Keys thing" - so it can be a little nerve racking doing 50kph over sand bars and the likes. Superb fun, and Kirst spent most of the time terrified and letting out yelps of terror.

After that we went off searching for a proper beach, and found one...


Other than that, it was chillin' time. I eventually worked out how to overcome the lack of shade problem on our sea deck. I up-ended two sun loungers, then attached one of our bed covers.

Job Done!!

Phew - I could play poker during the day too :-) - talking of which, once we left the Keys we headed back up to Fort Lauderdale. My poker friend there had received our passports and a watch I bought mail-order so we dopped in for a BBQ lunch and a swim.


Having a watch is cool - we started to notice not having one was becoming a major pain. It's no fun having to fish your camera out and go through all the menus to find out the time frequently. I got one for half price on the Internet - it has no batteries - it's solar, and it receives the time via radio from 5 atomic clocks around the world - so you never have to set it and it's never wrong. Waterproof too. All for £40. Bargain.

Moving on from lunch we set off on the remainder of our journey to Orlando, to the villa we have rented. It's in a lovely spot, right on the edge of a golf course. As we are discovering, everyone lives on a golf course here.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention... on the way to the villa we picked up..... Mum & Dad! :-)

They had a good flight with no problems, except being sent the entire length of the airport by a member of staff, to the wrong car park to meet us. Got there in the end.

So all tucked into our new villa....


.....we got stuck into what Orlando has to offer - starting with "GatorLand". I don't think I have to explain much about it really, only to say, well, it's a little lame. Sure it was cool seeing some aligators, but to be honest, once you've seen one, you've seen them all.

(Nice snap hey? - I know, I know)

Finished with Gatorland we went in search of some decent food. Problem is, in Orlando, the food joints are pretty much all fast food / burger houses. It's bloody tricky to find anywhere nice to eat. We were not giving up though - we read about a place near by called "Celebration" - "lovely restaurants by a lake" etc etc. so off we went.

The best way to describe Celebration is, well, have you seen the "Truman Show" film? - it is most exactly like being on set. We plumped for lunch at an Italian by the lake. The service was hillarious. Our waiter was 100% drunk or on drugs. He'd take an order from one of us, then literally 5 seconds later, ask what we'd chosen. At one stage he delivered two of the ravioli dishes and told us they were Calzones. wtf!?! How can you serve food from a 10 item menu and not see the difference between a calzone and a plate of ravioli? He got worse and worse. Don't know what dad tipped him but I hope it wasn't much.

After lunch we took a stroll around the lake.


There was one spot where water jets out of the pavement at random intervals, you know, like the kids like to run through at theme parks. Kirstin and Mum plucked up the courage and ran through, fully clothed, handbags and all, and got away with it. Dad, was WAY cooler. He walked though, taking his time. How we prayed the water jets fired up, but alas, he got away with it :-) The onlookers seemed most impressed!

I got a frickin' ticket there too! - and the offence? Parking with my left wheels by the pavement. That's right, it's an offence in Celebration to park on the "other" side of the road facing oncoming traffic. I assume it doesn't look "tidy" enough. Sigh.

The next day we went to the Kennedy Space Center. No, not Cape Canaveral, the Cape is there, it's stuck on the end , but it's an army base. They used to test military rockets there, but all the space rockets are launched from Kennedy, next door. There you go - a new interesting fact learnt, though try convincing the press that the shuttle luanches not from Cape Canaveral but the Kennedy Space Center......


First on the agenda was the coach tour. You get shuttled round the site and get off here and there to gawp at stuff. Our timing was superb, as there was/is a shuttle currently on the launchpad. Launchpads without spaceships are pretty dull.


You can't see the shuttle itself, only the fuel tank and boosters as it is rotated 180 degrees until launch day - to protect it. Still a mighty impressive sight.

(On the left are the gravel tracks for the giant crawler that transports the Shuttle to and from the Vehicle Assembly Building - there are not two gravel roads, just one, per se. The machine straddles the grass and puts a track on each one)

Which brings us onto the VAB....


This is the building they assemble the shuttle in, the doors to the left slide all the way up to let it out. Well, only a little way up, the shuttle is actually a tiddler compared to regular type rockets, which interestingly, they are switching back to as the shuttle has proven too dangerous and costly.

(This posing might take off...)

The whole tour was fascinating. We saw the clean room where they prep and load satellites, various launch pads, and loads of wildlife. The whole island is a nature reserve, and teeming with aligators, and a handful of bald eagles.

We also walked under the Saturn V rocket. It's bloody huge!!!


(The engines shot from below - amazing they work - looks like a mess to me!)

(We're off to Button Moon, .....)

We grabbed lunch midway, happening accross the viewing seats for astronaught's wives during launch. Mum and K , somewhat disprespectfully played the parts of mourning widows....


No Oscars there then.... mind you, Dad fared little better....

(note the authentic-from-the-shop NASA hat)

The Jetsons

You could get inside a lunar module mockup, whcih was fun in itself...


But far more fun watching K and Mum trying to get out. Mum kicked K in the teeth.


Another highlight was going into the original misison control room, which is still all 100% in tact, and then they do a full "re-inactment" of a launch. All the screens firing up, all the computers doing their things, and the whole room vibrating to the deafening noise of the launch. Much like standing at the back and watching it all happen as if you were there, in the past.

The rest of the day was no less fun. We went in the shuttle launch simulator. A standard affair simulator that moves about etc, but they put a huge amount of effort into the build up and presentation. The sim is fun too, it shakes the hell out of you, and the seats deform to emulate G-forces. They say the real astronaughts rate it as very close to the real thing. We were not quite so convinced.

Even more mind blowing was a 45 minute iMax 3-D film all about the shuttle launches and the building of the International Space Station. the screen was HUGE, the sound HUGE and the 3D "real". I can tell you, there is no way you could watch the launch of a space shuttle any closer. It is shot right by the engines with remote cameras. Forget anything you have seen on TV - this was amazing. To top it off, you got a pilot's view (in 3D remember) of the launch , sat in the cockpit. I've seen good films and simulations before, but there is no way you could get any closer to the real thing other than doing it. Truly fantastic and not to be missed.

It carried on in the same awesome vein, with the rest of the film spent in and outside of the space station. I now have as close to I'll ever have, the experience of looking down from a space station to Earth. Trippy man :-)

An amazing day out. We all loved it, and it will really add to the experience when we watch the launch this Saturday.

The following day, K and I went to Seaworld (Mum & Dad have been before). I had some reservations about Seaworld - I mean, anyone that knows me well is aware I'm not really "nature's child". I don't collect whale music and rub charm beads, I've never knit my own yoghurt.. you get the picture - I like action.

We headed straight for the main attraction - the Whale show (He's called Shamu apparently, but with 3 Seaworlds I guess they are all called Shamu) and grabbed prime seats.

I have to be honest, that one show is worth the $65 alone. We were gobsmaked. The whales behave like people. The play up to the crowds, launch the actors in the air, come up for stroking, jump out of the water onto dry land. Incredible! A cheesy, to be fair, but amazing show. You really don't get it until you are there. Telly does it no justice.



(Shamu! - and yes, he gets out of the water)

We had a butchers round the aquarium - pretty satndard fare afer the one in Bangkok, though the weird sea-horses were great...


..and we had a look at some native Manitee's - very odd things....


.. and then we sat down to watch the dolphin show, and the inevitable happened, the thing Florida weather is famed for - RAIN! - lots of rain, so much that the pavements were ankle deep rivers. We sat with everyone else, cowering from the downpour and lightening until we got bored, and ran to the shelter of the nearest gift shop.

Fortunately, a very kind member of staff gave us two huge plastic shopping bags which we adapted to become rain coats :-)


They worked a treat and we fled the park before eveyone else would surely do soon after.

Another great day out.

We have tickets to go to Busch Gardens next - a top park with 6 huge coasters and lots of wildlife. We are holding off until Tuesday though - it's Memorial weekend here so all of America is on vacation and none of us are up for queuing for rides with millions of screaming kids and rednecks (the theme parks attract all the rednecks and fatties - don't know why, but they do)

T-Minus 1 week and counting.... :)

Oh - p.s. I entered a free game and have won a seat in the grand final for a World Series of Poker Main Event - a seat worth $215. If I win, I get a $12,000 seat in a game where I go to Vegas and play against about 7000 others for a 1st prize of about $14,000,000 - tall odds and to be honest, if I win a seat I'll take the $12k :-)

Update: Played the game last night. 5 hours. Was chip leader for some time. 3 seats to Vegas ($12k each) up for grabs. I came 5th :-( - one hand I lost that did it. Had I won that hand I'd be $12k better off and in Vegas playing the main event. Ahh well. PLayed a good game.

Posted by Dodgey 14:59 Archived in USA Comments (0)

It Aint' 'alf Hot Mum!

sunny 32 °C
View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

Hey Hey! – been a few days! – The firework display at San Francisco was a bit of a disappointment unfortunately. In the windiest city we’ve ever been in, yes, you guessed it, there was no wind the night of the display, so the whole lot went off in it’s own smoke. You couldn’t see a thing. Ahh well, seen plenty of fireworks in Valencia before so it was no biggie.

We did have the pleasure of talking to an older couple sitting next to us on the harbour wall. The lady was a textile artist by trade. When I probed further, I found out she makes sculptures out of bones…. And where does she get her bones? She buries animals in her garden. Any animals she can get her hands on. She waits a while, then digs up the bones when the critters have decomposed. She told us how her pet donkey is in the garden, so to speak, and she took a peek the other day (dug it up) and it was, in her own words, “not quite ready”. Lovely. They were actually. Just barking mad too.

Had a lot of fun the next day. After getting up at 4am to check out of our new hotel ( the meanest hotel in the world – they charge extra for onions on a burger. I mean, come on!) I discovered, just before getting into the airport taxi that we no longer had our passports. GULP! – Major panic!!

We quickly realised they only place they “should/could” be was in the room safe in our last hotel, so I called them and quickly ascertained that house-keeping had found them and put them in a locked room. Only problem was that house-keeping didn’t get in until 7am. Our flight was at 7.15 am…. I got guy on duty to call them but there was no reply. In the end, we decided to leave them behind rather than miss our 8 hour flight to the East coast. Fortunately you can fly domestically with other photo ID, so we used our driving licences. Phew! Mega relief. Would have cost a lot of money to reschedule the flights, the accommodation there, and the accommodation at the other end!

So sans-passports we set off to Florida. A long old journey. America is BIG, very big.

We checked into a superb hotel in Fort Lauderdale. I used hotwire.com again, and went for $89 a night 3 and a half star. Turned out to be an uber bargain. A proper suite plonked in a marina. Best hotel so far. Well, it was more like an apartment to be honest.

(this is the restaurant terrace at the hotel in Ft. Lauderdale)

The next morning I met up with a friend I’ve known on the Internet for a couple of years at least – I know him via online poker, Claudio. Top fellow. We headed to the local casino and entered a $100 No limit poker tournament. I lasted all of 27 minutes :--( I played like a total dick. He did a lot better and lasted a few more hours, which left me with little to do but sit by the pool and drink. I coped :--) All the while Kirstin went off shopping, probably glad to have me out of her hair for a day.

After that we hooked up with his wife Jennifer and the four of us had a lovely dinner. He’s also been a life saver – I’ve had our passports couriered the width of America but the problem is getting them delivered to a hotel that we are staying at long enough. As you can guess, problem solved, I’ve had them delivered to Claudio’s house. We are going to drop in on our way up to Orlando and grab them this Sunday. Sorted!.

As of now, we are in the Floriday Keys, on Long Key – it’s about half way down from Key Largo , which is at the top.

The keys are stunning. Nothing prepares you for how turquoise the water is, and how much of it there is!

There is one long highway, US Highway 1, which runs all the way down, much of it long, long bridges. One of them is seven miles long. Guess what it’s called? Yep, 7 mile bridge. I’ll see if I can dig out a library pic of one of the bridges. You can’t stop on them, and I was concentrating too much on not hitting oncoming traffic to take any pictures. Though I did liberate one from Google Images...


Our accommodation is cute, though a bit of a shock when we got here. It’s a motel on the water, and right by the US highway 1. Our room is basic, with a kitchenette. The shocks were:

Aircon unit: so loud you can’t even hold a conversation – let alone sleep
Smell – Oh My God! – like rotten eggs – and damn strong. Unbelievable
US Highway 1 about 40 ft away.

Luckily, after half a day we’d sorted everything:

Aircon: I went outside, and after much tinkering, I found ramming a spoon under part of the main unit shut it up. Eat my shorts McGuyver.
Smell: This was down to a thick layer of seaweed on the beach and under our sea deck. In the morning the staff came out and raked it all away. It had been washed in by recent rough seas apparently. Smell gone now.
US Highway 1 – well, it’s not busy, and we’ve driven all the way down to Key West , at the very end, and the one thing we realised is everyone is by the highway! – it’s the way it is. It is the only road all the way down and consequently everyone lives by it.

(This is the view out of our room. I sit outside at night and play poker online. We've seen oodles of stingrays and other fish in the water, and a baby shark!!)

Our balcony view in the evening - (I’ve started playing with HDR images – you take three different pictures with varying exposures and “mix” them together – that’s how I got the colour of the sunset without the sun being a massive white blob, and how you can see the boats near by – they would normally be black silhouettes with such a bright background - need practice but it’s a useful new skill) – Incidentally, that’s how I also got the room detail in the picture above this one. I’m getting photo-nerdy. Sorry.

My God is it hot here. We thought Phoenix was hot, where it was usually 90 degrees (gets to 120 in the summer!). Down here it is still in the high 80’s but due to the humidity, but more importantly, our position in relation to the sun, it is WAY hotter. Apparently it’s because we are at latitude 22, whatever that means. I’m assuming it basically means we are closer to the sun. Don’t understand why it is not therefore 150 degrees, but it isn’t.

You know there is a difference after your 1st 10 minutes sunbathing. You are burnt! We sunbathed on the 1st evening, from about 4pm to 5pm at the most, and are both like lobsters now. It is so hot that we simply cannot go out on our sea/sun deck during the day. Period. You just burn. You have to stay inside, or sit on the other side of the room , by the car park, in the shade. There is no in between, you simply cannot sit in the sun!

It’s a little frustrating as the only Internet I can get is by latching onto someone’s’ personal home wifi that they have not protected. Problem is, I can only get a signal sitting on our sun deck! – so no Internet until after 7pm, or before 9am.

We now fully understand why the Americans do a couple of classic things:

Wear socks with trainers: You either wear sandals, or if you need to be smarter, you have to wear trainers. But it’s so hot you’ll ruin your trainers and have sore feet. Hence socks. You can’t wear shoes. That would mean wearing trousers. Too hot for trousers.

Wear baseball caps backwards: Yes, I’m ashamed to admit, I now wear mine backwards here. You HAVE to to stop your neck getting frazzled. Even if it’s a bit cooler, you have to wear one, the right way round, or you’ll get sun stroke.

It is definitely too hot. Hotter than Thailand by a country mile. All the same, we were bloody glad to leave San Francisco. Having cold days reminded us of London and what we have fled. People get more up tight when it’s not hot. We really notice it as we travel. As soon as it’s hot, people chill and are more laid back.

Key West was beautiful. We didn’t see too much today but we got a good feel for it. We drove down and then hit the main “Duval” street which is all bars and live music. The houses are again beautiful, all colonial wooden style with verandas and balconies. The whole place has a real Bahamian feel to it, and I’ve not been to the Bahamas yet, but you know what I mean. Really relaxed, tropical, and up for a laugh.

No pics of Key West – the camera was flat. Silly me.

Right – another hour or so and I can venture outside and post this update!

p.s. Poker – after I lost the tournament in Fort Lauderdale I went online and played like a demon! – I learnt so much from that real game I’ve taken it into my online game. I played again last night and won another $170. :--)

Posted by Dodgey 15:57 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Streets of San Francisco

sunny 30 °C
View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

San Fran (they don't like you calling it that apparently) - a unique city. Its really nice in several ways. The architecture is wonderful - lots of wooden colourful houses. The people are lovely - laid back, all trying to be "groovy". The weather is, well, funny. One minute it is scorching hot, then a few seconds later it can turn bitterly cold with howling winds. The layout - easy to navigate, and the public transport - wicked - especially as their tube system is called the "BART" - Cowabunga Dude!

Our 1st hotel we stayed at was the Serrano - we got it for $119 a night (rack rates of $235 a night min normally) - through Hotwire - our 1st stab at it - a webiste where you tell it your desired area, you are offered a price but only know the star rating, and if it is a customer favourite, and what facilities it has. You don't know what hotel you have chosen until you pay up front. It didn't take a genuis to do some reasearch and narrow down what they were offering to a few hotels. Nice result - a "boutique" hotel - which we reckon means they stuff the room with LOADS of chargeable extras, give you a free glass of wine each day, and offer you aromatherapy. All in all a great hotel - very pleased with it. And no, we had no aromatherapy, and no Tarrot readings – both were on offer.

And a great location – one block from the Cable Car (Read Tram) system. It’s basically an upside down ski lift – the cable runs under the road and drags the cars around. There used to be about 32 routes but there are only two now since the great quake of – some time in the past. It’s a cute system, it’s also crap. The queues are horrific, even in the week. The cars are sometimes backed up in a line of three, yet they only let one go every quarter of an hour or so. Then they don’t really go where you need them to go. Worth a try for the tourist novelty element but after that you give up. Try and catch one from anywhere other than where they terminate and you’ll be confronted with full cars.


(these guys are turning it round on a turntable)


(this is what you are confronted with all the time and this was after a 40 minute wait)

The buses on the other hand are fantastic. They are the ones with electric overhead cables. The 1st one we got we were greeted with a female driver so jolly she practically sung each stop name. The 2nd one, the driver went to great lengths to explain to me the workings of the system etc, and I never even asked. Uber friendly drivers, and clearly paid well.

We had a good laugh on one of the busses – we stopped and someone disabled was clearly boarding – the driver activated the lifting ramp and it whirred away. I couldn’t see, but I knew something was up. The ramp sounded strained, and the bus leant to the right quite severely. The driver, a young chap, said, “hehe – I think you may be too heavy”, “what was that?” the guy on the lift responded, “um, nothing”, “what did you say??”, “umm. I think you may be a little heavy”. “I catch the bus every day, I know how it works!!” he barked. Then he appeared. He was sooooo huge, in a mobility scooter, that we had to put our feet on the chairs for him to get past.

Jabba the Hut had boarded our bus!

I know, I’m being fattist again, but you just can’t not notice these things. Unreal. God knows how long his batteries don’t last on his scoot.

We have spent a fair amount of time at Fisherman’s Wharf (read Brighton with clam chowder) – it’s actually quite cool – tonnes of seafood restaurants (at horrific prices) and various other tacky novelties that suite the sea side. They have a “Ripley’s believe it or not” place there – like a freak show but with more technical things to see too. We loved the Kaleidoscope room – all mirrors , including the floor – we had to probe with our feet a few times before we stepped in, it didn’t seem like there was really a floor at all! The best bit was a walkway where the walls rotated around you – so you got the feeling the floor was rotating sideways. It was so effective that you found yourself shifting all your weight to your left foot to stop yourself “falling over” (even though the floor never moves). SO much so, I walked through a good four or five times, knowing the trick, but each time, I found myself leaning to one side. Funny how you can’t tell your brain something is nonsense when it has already made it’s mind up!

They also had a giant “pin head” thing where you make an “impression”


(yep, she made an impression)

San Fran is steep! – you’ve seen Bullit, you’ve seen the Streets of San Francisco, it’s very very steep in places. We made the mistake of walking UP Lombard – the most crooked street in the US – you know, the really windy street. It was so steep that you could almost touch the ground in front of you without leaning forward. And we walked up it. Doh! – I don’t have pics as we happened upon it and I had no camera on me. We’ve done a lot of walking here, and my beer gut is still on the rampage. It’s a shame. I lost weight in Asia, but cakes and beer in America are taking their toll.

We went on the obligatory Alcatraz Tour – we did the “Night” one. Not quite sure how they get to that conclusion. It is from 5.40 pm until 8pm and it is still not dark by then… A great tour though – one of the ones with headsets on where the whole thing is read by the real guards and convicts. We synchronised our tapes perfectly, and then consequently played the fool each time we were told to stop, turn, look up etc. Childish but fun :-)


(B&W from now on - I found it more "fitting" :-) - and the light was poor ! )






Just before we boarded the outgoing boat they made us stand in front of a tacky background poster of Alcatraz and took a picture…. On the way back on the boat the pictures were there for sale. We laughed our socks off! – Everyone on the tour, standing in front of Alcatraz in great sunny weather. $24 bucks too! We both joked that is was just one step ahead of having a cardboard cut out of us in prison gear with our head poking through the “head holes” like you see at the sea side. No way would we pay, amusing as they were. Then Kirstin overhears someone behind us say , “why don’t you just take a picture of the picture”. Genius!! So I did. Off with the flash, K holding the pic really still…. And here is the masterpiece!..... ( a bit of reflection from the glossy photo paper...)


The people sitting next to us on the boat we clearly miffed they’d paid for theirs. Totally miffed. They stopped talking to each other after looking at what we were up to and pushed their pictures aside.

We’ve eaten some great meals here in SF, including a Fondue at the “Matterhorn” – a Swiss Fondue-only joint – hilariously when we arrived the woman said “you here for the Fondue?” – Duh! What else would we be here for (and it has “Fondue Festival” on a giant banner above the entrance…..). SF has more restaurants per capital than anywhere else in America. We’ve eaten well. Problem is it’s mega costly. We are spending at least $200 a day, plus at least $120 a day on accommodation, plus taxes. And we are trying to be careful. You just can’t do it on the cheap. This alerted us to the fact New York is going to be mega costly. The accommodation alone is at leaxt three times as much.

So much so that we have changed our flights (Again!) so we are now going to be in NY for 1 and a half days rather than 1 week. We figure £150 in fees is far far less than it’ll cost us to stay in NY for a week. Rather daftly we’ve changed our flight twice now. So flights to the UK for £400 for the both of us have been topped up with two changes now, at £150 a time lol. £400 flight, £300 in changes. We are learning by our mistakes though, that much is a comfort at least.

We won’t be scheduling long stops in big cities in future. We get bored quickly and it’s desperately expensive.

Today we got adventurous. We went cycling! – We hired bikes and cycled over the Golden Gate bridge. We then had the choice of catching a ferry back, or cycling another 8 miles to the next port (Tiburon). We stopped for lunch and a few beers, then hit the next leg. And some hills. By the time we got there, 16 miles away, we were both knackered, thirsty, and we’d missed the boat!



(Had to get the bridge in at some point... and not bad from behind either)

No probs – more beer, a kip on the grass and we got the 5pm boat.


(Tiburon - a nice place - pretty, peaceful, not a place to party though)

When we got back we had to cycle to the starting point to return the bikes. The moment we both mounted our trusty steeds we both yelped out “My Arse!!!” – talk about saddle sore! – after 16 miles of cycling for untrained sloths like us, the last thing you want to do is get back onto the saddle – I rode all the way standing up!.

A lovely day again. Great scenery, met an expat who was very content and chatty and got maybe a little healthier.

We’ve found out on Saturday there is a HUGE 20 min firework display on the Wharf, and Los Lobos (a lalalalal Bamba! – remember?) are playing. Sorted. Then we are flying to Fort Lauderdale in Florida on Sunday and hooking up with someone I’ve know on the Internet for years (Poker) for a tournament and dinner.

Then it’s Orlando and Shuttle Launch time!!! :-)


Posted by Dodgey 20:05 Archived in USA Comments (0)

We 'aint City folk No More!

semi-overcast 15 °C
View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

Grand Canyon.... what a place, and definately one of the seven wonders of the world. After Vegas we set off on the 6 hour drive (which incidentally is not a big deal over here) and hit the Grand Canyon National Park.

I don't think I need to tell anyone that its spectacular. That's a given.

We arrived mid afternoon and it was bloody chilly compared to the desert that is Nevada - you guessed it, we were still in shorts and sandals. We swept through a couple of vantage points and then headed off to our Motel, saving the next day for proper viewing and givign us a chance to dress appropriately :-)

We did get a few shots in though.....

(The 1st view we were greeted with)




(I think this gives a good perspective of scale)

The path that runs along the canyon at the most popular viewing place on the South Rim is amazingly close to the edge, and its a drop of at least 500 feet until the first land below. and then much further down to the bottom - about a mile or two. There are no railings or warnings, and that's fine. We are both believers that people should be able to look after themselves without all the over protection that we are now becoming familiar with in the Western world. All the same, we were very suprised it was like this and we wondered how many people had fallen over in the past. More worryingly parents were happy to let their kids run riot. That, we found astonishing.

(That is the path you can see, and then a few feet away.... whooaaa!!!!)

So with a few pictures, a general feel for the place, and a need for rest and beer we headed off to Cameron for our motel.

Cameron is about 50 miles East and you drive along the Canyon itself to get there. Pete recommended Cameron as a logical point to stay as the drive is nice. Understatement of the year! The drive was something dreams are made of. The first half was a twisty road through a forest , for a good forty minutes - great fun in the Merc and beautiful scenery. Then.... we burst out into the open again and followed the Grand Canyon as it sank below us, so we were driving along the plains with the cravass which is the canyon, just visible as a gaping crack, the view changing as we rounded each corner. It was something to behold. Like the painted desert but on a scale 100 times bigger. We were both astonished.

Hot clear evening, fast winding roads and scenery to die for. And the best thing? We had to do the same rout in reverse in the morning :-) - not often you relish going over old ground....

(this was the kind of view we had along the way)

When we arrived at Cameron we soon realised we were wise to book ahead. There was only one place to stay anyway! - the Cameron Trading Post - a preserved original trading post from the days of the Wild West. There was nothing else there bar trailer parks in the dust. It was a lovely place and at $70 a bargain.


So we checked in, dumped our bags and headed for the restaurant, noticing, incidentally, that the check in girl was a "Native American" (Indian), as was the girl at the restaurant desk. "Are you here for dinner?", "Actually, we'd just like to grab a couble of beers for now".... "We don't have alcohol sir". "Oh, Ok, where can we get some, is there a store near by?", "nearest is 8 miles down the road in the next town".

Turns out Cameron is part of a Navajo Reserve, and it's a dry one.

We drove 8 miles, stocked up with beer and wine and headed back. Phew! - though I later read it's illegal to even have booze on you in the Reserve. No one noticed, though when I read about it I brought in my beers that were chilling on the doorstep outside :-)

I also did some research on accidents at the Grand Canyon, and sure enough, people go over the edge. The majority seem to be over zealous amateur photographers, though this year, tragically, a 4 year old girl fell over the edge, pretty much where I took the photo of the path......

The next day we headed back, once again enjoyoing the amazing scenery. We stopped at few different scenic points, mostly we were the only people as the view points were on the far side, which none of the coaches go to and most people can't be bothered to drive to. No less breathtaking than the previous day.

......... scenery schmenery... we had an appointment with a helicopter flight over the canyon :-)

We checked in with the tour company and then watched the dull safety video. At this stage I noticed you could pay an extra $50 each to get the front seats in the helicopter so I enquired with the lady (ok, I flirted) at the desk as to whether we might get them by luck anyway, if no one else paid the extra. She informed me that is was entirely possible depending on body weights as they like to balance the helis.

Whatever. I was fairly sure my irresistable charm had already done the work :-)

When it came to boarding, we were lined up in two rows (7 of us altogether) inside the building. Me and K in one row and everyone else in another. I had a good feeling about this.... and sure enough... we both got the two seats by the pilot!! :---) result!! - I've flown in helis a few times and know for a fact the only place to be is in the front, heck I've even flown one myself once ! :-)

So my charm worked. Or the lady was a lesbian. The two other admin ladies surely were - Rayban Aviators, smokes, and crew cuts.

(Happy as hell! :-) )

(Best seats in the house/heli)



(All done)

(Our transport for the day)

It was a fantastic flight. Kirsty has never sat it the front before and she was blown away.

All in all a great experience and throughly recommended.

After that we drove back to Phoenix, set Pete's alarm off, stopped the Police from coming ang gunning us down (quick thinking on my part - guessed Pete's alarm password!) and then flew to San Francisco......More to come on that shortly. We are having a good time, but we've both realised we don't like Westernised cities unless there are some major attractions. A city us a city, unless you have a bundle to spend.

So much so that we've now curtailed out New York visit by four days. That means we have changed the dated to fly back to Europe twice now, but even then it saves us a lot of money. You can't do USA big cities on the cheap and we ar done with cities for now.

Posted by Dodgey 17:28 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Loving America

View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

So, where did I leave it last time... oh yeah, we were in Mexico. I forgot to mention two things... 1) Bud, Pete and Mary all caught fish on the last day!

(Bud was a happy man, as you can see!)

I however, didn't - though I shouldn't have been trying in the 1st place. You see I'd been kite flying for ages in the baking sun, proper UK style, i.e. with no sunscreen, hat or water. I noticed something was amiss when I started feeling all tired midday so I went for a lie down.... in the sun. Doh!

(yep - notice the purple face.. )

I thought a little nap in the sun would get me back on form. Then as the others started catching fish I decided I couldn't miss out on the action and had a go myself. I had to give up after a few casts, I didn't seem to have any energy in my arms. Then after another hour or so I started feeling sick. Silly arse. Heat exhaustion. Spent the rest of the afternoon in bed and wasn't right until the next day. WHen will I learn. Well, perhaps I have. Won't be doing that again :-)

Anyhow, all was well and we went back to Phoenix. A couple of days later we hooked up with Bud and his friends and went to the music festival I mentioned before, at Glendale. Jason, Bud's pal rocked up in a humungous RV - it was a coach. Jason is a little "exitable" and drove it like it was a sports car. Quite a sight to see him tearing through the RV parking area with a plume of dust behind the monster :-)


(That's an "RV"!)

Awesome vehicle. When you are parked up you press a button and the sides come out electrically to make it twice as large inside. A/C, TV, proper bedroom, all the toys. I want one of those too :-) Jason was even forward thinking enough to make sure we didn't run out of cold beer...

(That's a whole keg of Stella, avec ice. Nice touch!)

We had a hoot. Jason's friends are beyond description. One guy, Tom, from Vegas, was so hyper you just can't put it into words. I mentioned to him we were going to his home city and he (all at hyper speed) took four steps backwards, spun 360 degrees , outstretched his hands and shouted, "DUUUUUUUUUDE!, that is Soooo awesome...I'll tell you where you need to go..." and so it went on. He would shout at you, face to face, noses touching. That was his way of talking. It was intense to say the least. Top entertainment, if a little daunting at times.

The music itself was great. We caught a band that we'd recently seen on DVD. Don't know the name but it's a guy that plays a "table guitar". It's an instrument that is essentially a guitar but mounted horizontally like a keyboard. He's reputedly the best at his art, and it showed. Great fun.

(Not a great pic I'm afraid. Was many Stellas worse for the wear)

(A photo opportunity we couldn't pass up)

(we got into the spirit of things...)

Getting home was a bit interesting to say the least. You see we saw loads of cabs waiting by the road earlier on, but by 2am we had kind of lost track of time. It was getting cold and we wanted to go home. We wandered back to the main site entrance and it was deserted!!! And we are in the middle of nowhere...

I saw a lone security staff girl and asked her if she could call a cab for us and she replied, "you aint got no hope now, all the cabs have gone for the night". Then , when she clocked our UK accents I think she took pity and offered to drive us home as it was "on her way". Cooool!!! result!!. Then it all started going a bit, well, weird.

First of all, we spent over half an hour helping her look for her car, in a practically empty parking lot.... She didn't really know what it looked like and wandered around pressing her keyfob waiting for a car to flash. Either she was a little dim, or as we presumed, had probably realised taking two strangers home at 2am in the middle of nowhere was not such a good idea.

We found the car in the end and off we went. After a short while of silence she opened the gambit with, "I used to carry a sidearm (gun), but after my problems I only work on the main gate now, I still have my gun mind you, I'm just not allowed to use it at work". ... o....k..... WHAT PROBLEMS??? we are both silently thinking. "I'm OK really", she added after a few more minutes of silence, "I haven't had an episode for 4 days now".

Bear in mind Kirst could not find the seatbelt in the back through all the MacDonalds bags and stuff and she had told her not to worry as she was a "safe" driver.

So now Kirstin can't hold her tongue any more and asks "episodes? what kind of "episodes??". "Oh, you know, like seizures", "I shouldn't be driving really, but I think I'm ok". GREAT. We are going to die.

At this stage she is also getting lost, and at junctions, coming out with such wonders as, "hmm, I think this is right, I'm not sure, lol, I don't know". Then someone calls her and chats for ages with her repeatedly saying to the caller, "yes, I'm ok... ok, yep, I'm ok" etc. When she gets off the phone she informs us it was her sister who is really angry because she shoudn't be driving at all". Even more encouraging.

Then she comes out with the best one. I asked her why we were not taking the Freeway and she says, "I don't like using the Freeways, they are dangerous.."..... "because of people like me" (She chuckles to herself). She then proceeded to drive us through a very rough district, and points this out to us. By now we are just a little bit tense.

For the love of God. She carried on getting lost. Fortunately we knew they way home after a while as we'd been driving the same route recently. We got her to drop us off half a mile away. We were glad to get out and leg it.

The whole journey I was watching her, ready to grab the wheel, and at the same time, checking she was not reaching for her gun in her holster......

At least we got home! - Funny thing was - I later found out Bud gave another security guard a lift home so we obviously cashed in on his "Karma pool".

We chilled for a few more days and then headed for Vegas! :-) The drive was out of this world. Most of the 5 hours is spent driving through the desert. There is literally nothing out there bar a few trailer parks. You drive through one section that is all Cactus, then another that is barren, then another that is all Joshua Trees. It alternates depending on altitude. You make damn sure you have drinking water and a full tank of gas. Running out is not funny - it would take hours for a rescue vehicle to reach you at some points.

(A Joshua Tree I believe - there were millions of them!)

The drive was totally spectacular, and all the more so when we arrived at the.....


...Hoover Dam! - we went on the "full monty" tour - which means you get to go inside the dam itself instead of just seeing the turbines. I've seen all this stuff on the Discovery channel so I was like a kid in a candy shop.

(Nerdy shot for you - this is one of the pipes that feed the water turbines - big stuff!!)

(Me inside the dam)

(Kirsty in a pipe!)



We had a suitably nerdy guide too. All very fascinating!

Moving on we set off for Las Vegas. What a place! - It's like Disney for adults. Naughty adults.

We got a good deal at the Flamingo - right in the middle of the main strip. We got a superior room for the price of a regular. Funny thing was the girl at the check in desk told me she'd upgraded me to the superior room and I was a lucky chap! - I was kind of bemused, she'd upgraded us to the room we actually booked??? Turns out we later found out it's customary to tip the check in people $10-$50 of they upgrade you. Cheeky cow! - tried to pull a fast one on us :-) - the room was great - giant plasma, DVD etc, plus the mirror in the bathroom turned into a TV so you could bathe and watch movies. All very "Vegas".

We started by watching all the slot machine junkies stuffing their money in them. They are really hooked! - we had a go - lost $20 in about a minute and it was about as much fun as watching paint dry. Not for us we decided. There were slot machines that cost $100 per spin, and people played them! We saw lots of money getting burned. People playing $1000 a hand blackjack was a shocker.

For most of the time we had a good old explore of all the famous hotel/casinos. Most of them are wonderfully over the top. New York New York is inspired....

(New York New York - just a little over the top? - p.s. that is ONE hotel, not several)

The Belagio is stunning, the MGM Grand, is, well, Grand.

(MGM Grand)

The Paris is wonderful. No way could they have left out the Eiffel Tower, and of course they didn't. In fact they also have out favourite restaurant with seating on the strip outside. We had a lovely French lunch and then spent an hour or so sipping our wine and watching with incredulation as people even fatter than we saw at Disney waddled past. I have loads of fattie pictures but I dare not post them in case I get sued! - One chap in the Belagio poker room was so fat I had to get a pic so K pretended to pose and I took pics of him. He rumbled me and I have a pic of him looking rather pissed off at me :-) His belly was so huge and floppy that not only did he have a front-bottom, but it "ran" down both his legs in his trousers. Eughhhh!

(having lunch at the Paris and fattie watching)

We watched the famous water fountain show at the Belagio and thought it was great but wanted to see it again. Unfortunately it got windy and the shows were cancelled. But then we had a turn of luck... we were in the Belagio looking for somewhere to eat and found they had a terrace so we plonked ourselves outside and found we were sitting right above the lake - and just as we ordered a show started. Then another, then another. They ran about 5 shows whilst we ate. Been there, done that now! :-) Kind of funny seeing as how we'd been told how hard it is to get a good vantage point for the shows.

(Belagio lunch - We were sitting and eating just to Kirstin's right)

Talking of shows - we went to one.... David Copperfield!! - not an opportunity to miss, and he did not dissapoint. We were sat RIGHT at the stage - i.e. I had my arm resting on the stage - you could not get any closer. I told Kirsty that if he could pull magic off this close then I'd be amazed, and he did. I won't run through the whole thing, but at one point in the show, about 4 feet from my nose, he made a full size car appear from nowhere! Very cool.

Gambling: Well you know I like poker just a little bit so I tried my luck! :-) - On the first night I sat at a Texas Hold 'em $1/$2 No limit cash table. I sat down with $100 and lasted 2 hours. I got eaten alive! Not my thing, cash games, but I had to give it a go.

The next night I entered the $65 buy-in No limit tournament at the Paris. Great place, nice dealers, free drinks. I loved it. There were about 40 entrants and I came 5th. 4th and up won money so I just missed out, but I played a good game and fulfilled a dream. I was totally pumped after that and didn't get to sleep until 2am :-)

I also entered a $45 NL tournament at O'Sheas but there were only 9 entrants and I bust out in 7th when my pair of Kings was beaten by two pairs by a daft caller.

So not much lost and superb fun! I was going to enter the $120 No Limit tournament at Caesars on the last night but it started at 11pm, was a 4000 chip game (long) and we'd already seen the Copperfield show and I was exhausted.

Next time!

When I checked out the tournament details at Caesars we stumbled accross a televised World Series Qualifier....


(One day I'll be on the other side...... )

Kirst had her 1st try at roulette. She put $10 on red, and Won!. Then cashed in! - women hey!?! too safe! :-) Then she put $5 on red again on another table, and won again - and cashed in again. Safe but wise - she won $15, I lost about $250 :-)

We had a superb time. Totally knackered ourselves with all the walking, drinking and gambling. Now at the Grand Canyon staying in a Navajo Reserve after driving the most breathtaking road you could possibly imagine! - more on that soon.....

r&k xxx

Posted by Dodgey 19:19 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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