Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Vegas: An Atypical Experience in an Atypical City

The "City of Sparkle"

What?!?! You are going to Vegas? That doesn’t seem like a very Melissa place to go. What is an Oregon “Granola-Girl” like you doing in the “City of Sparkles”?  Ok, you've got a point.  True, it isn’t a place I would necessairly chose for a weekend get-away, but since I was going from point A to B (Death Valley to The Grand Canyon), Vegas just happened to be on the way, not to mention, I hadn't ever been!  And the truth is, I had a wonderful time, although my experience was far from the typical Vegas trip!

I was actually going to live it up in Vegas, and treat myself to a fancy hotel on the strip since there are a lot of last minute deals to be had online.  However, I saw the profiles of the Warmshowers hosts in the area, and decided I didn’t need a fancy hotel.  I wanted to see what life was really like in Vegas through the eyes of keen cyclist, who live there day in, and day out. 

Here they are, Greg and Dawn, indulging in Spanish Tapas 

Greg and Dawn’s profile caught my attention.  Greg is featured in a pretty snazzy bike jersey.  Reviews from past guests are top notch.  How could I go wrong? They are a couple in their mid-fifties, originally from the Northwest (Seattle), like myself, and have lived in Vegas for nearly 20 years.  They have an active and healthy lifestyle.  Dawn is a dancer. She performed in Jubilee for almost 10 years and after that she opened up a pilates studio at their home.   Greg is a keen cyclist and a nautical engineer.  He is on a boat for four months, then comes home for four months, and so on.  Their professions are up the list for "more unusual professions" out of all my hosts, just down from the Slovenian army parachuters I had close to Ljubljana.   

I spent a lot of time in the massage chair, with the Yoga Toes

I knew I was going to have a great time at their house from the moment I walked through the door.  You see, in the first 5 minutes, while re-hydrating in the kitchen, something caught my eye in the living room.  It was a special chair.  Greg and Dawn had a full body massage chair; one of those chairs you sit in and use the remote to choose a program and it gives you a massage. How could I be so lucky?  Ever since I left SE Asia, I've been dying for a massage.  This was my lucky day!  As soon as I showered, my bum was glued to that chair trying out the different programs.  Each of them had their own preferred programs and they used the chair quite often themselves, although Greg discovered a few new programs while I was visiting.

Even after 5 years, Greg still enjoys his massage chair

Another great gadget, Yoga Toes

While I was in the chair relaxing, Greg and Dawn were on the sofa telling me about how they ended up in Vegas and what life was like in this world famous city.  Dawn pulled out what looked to be a fancy toe spacer, like they use at nail salons.  I hadn’t ever seen something like this before.  It was called Yoga Toes.  She apparently had a big bunion on her foot and used the Yoga toes in order to straighten out her bones and alleviate herself of the bunion.  She swore by Yoga Toes and so I showed her my funky toes.  I inherited the Pritchard toes on my left foot and my second toe crosses over and squashes the big toe.  As a result I have a huge bunion!  It isn’t painful, just ugly, and with the nice tan lines I have now after cycling in sandals, well, my feet are pretty hopeless, or at least that is what I thought.  Dawn explained to me how Yoga toes worked my only problem being that they have to be used while sitting still, which just doesn't happen very often in my life.  On they went, though, while I was in the massage chair!  
I can't get enough fresh Mexican food in The States
That night, however, I finally managed to get out of the massage chair and we went out for Mexican at their favorite restaurant followed by wacky named drinks at a local bar in town.  I shared some of my travel stories fresh in my mind that became more and more hysterical the more rum I drank.  I had arrived to Greg and Dawn’s absolutely exhausted that day from a long ride in the heat, but now I was plenty hydrated and having a great time!

A great local bar in Las Vegas....not on the strip!

These guys were up for trying my self-serve yogurt store, my new favorite pit stops on the road

Most people come to Vegas to check out the strip, but why bother when there are so many fun gadgets to try out at my hosts’ house.  What fun I was going to have here.  The next morning we chilled out around the house and finally made it out for lunch and frozen yogurt and took a field trip to REI. When you are on your bike, and have to carry all your life belongings, you jsut start to drool looking at all the cool gear you'd love to buy!  After REI, we went to the "REI of grocery stores", Trader Joes. I wanted to cook tapas for them and needed to pick up the works.  I could also spend hours in Trader Joes looking at all the products, not to mention they have free coffee and are always serving samples.  We actually arrived for the free wine tasting event, but refrained from participating. 

Tapas and microbrews, you can't go wrong

That night while having tapas, which I had been craving for awhile, we discussed plans for the next day.  I was really only counting on spending one day off in Vegas.  I had a host 40 miles to the east of the city, close to Hoover Dam and I was going to go there the following night.  However, I'd been here for a day and a half now and I hadn’t even been to the strip.  I thought I could ride down it on my way out of town, but Greg and Dawn convinced me to spend another full day in Vegas.  They really didn't have to do much convincing, I was enjoying my time so with them it was an easy decision!  Although I had no desire to gamble, I did want to see the main artery of the city.

Wait, I in Venice? How did that happen....

On Saturday, again we had a lazy morning which included using the massage chair and Yoga Toes, and then I went down to the strip.  Greg and Dawn dropped me off for the afternoon to explore.  I had no idea what to expect, and was completely blown away by what I saw!  It is consumer central craziness!  You get the sense that money is being thrown around constantly, as if it has no value whatsoever!  I must have seen a handful of Louis Vuitton and Gucci stores in half a mile radius.  You really never have to actually step outside, because once you enter a hotel, you get lost trying to find your way around or even find the exit to the street.  This is done on purpose of course so that you will be lured into the casinos to press your luck.  I hovered over some Poker and Black Jack tables and saw the coin slot machines, but none of it really enticed me.  My strategy was to make a list of the places and attractions to see on the strip with the help of Greag and Dawn and this list helped me not get so overwhelmed.  I had a good laugh with all the imitation architecture.  It was like I had back tracked on my trip when I walked through the canals in the Venetian and saw Caesar’s Palace.  No wonder so many Americans never have a desire to travel abroad.   All you need to do is go to Vegas and you have the most iconic sights from around the world all in one 5-mile strip of land.  There is the Eiffel Tower, Atlantis, The Arc de Triumf, and erupting volcano, Roman statues, even white tigers, dolphins, and lions!  I couldn’t resist my urge to knock on the cement walls of Venice.  Hollow of course!  The whole place reminded me a bit of Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, where the buildings were also hollow, imitating the old stuff. The States

I arrived at the Atlantis just in time for a light and fountain show

After 3 or 4 hours, everything started looking the same, except the people.  They just kept getting crazier and crazier.  Go figure, they are all walking around with open bottles on the streets and huge drink cups that are harnessed around their necks!  By the early evening, I was ready to be picked up, the massage chair was calling and so was my desire to make dinner.  On my last night, we each made a dish and had a delicious dinner with Margarita’s to toast to my Vegas experience and the Warmshowers for introducing us.  I was sad to leave the next morning.  I had fit right into Greg and Dawn’s life in Vegas and I was really enjoying myself. Greg and Dawn are just good old fun!  They have a great life in Vegas, far far away from the strip!  I have a feeling these two are going to become the most popular Warmshowers hosts in Vegas the way they spoil their guests!

Hoover Dam, also man-made, but way cooler than the Vegas strip

I have to cherish moments like these because you never know where you will be the following day. I ended up pedaling from Vegas to Hoover Dam and found myself pitching my tent that night on a machine gun shooting range just after crossing the Arizona border.  That's a whole other story to be told!

A shooting range, a great place to pitch a tent, who would have thought?!?

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