Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lassen National Park

30 June 2012

Another wonderful day has been had. Woke up relatively early to a cold morning and headed out of the crowded campground to the official museum. Watched a 20 minute movie full of stock photos of vulcanism but it made a few interesting points. One of the quotes talked about how national parks are silent and invoke deep thought. Uh, yeah.

The museum was originally built by Mr Loomis, the photographer who captured the 1915 eruption. He and his wife had the same name and their only daughter died in the flu epidemic. Their impressive series of 6 photos took 20 minutes to take. We figured he didn't look at the back of the camera to see how the pic went.

While we were there a young girl was officially inducted into the Junior Ranger program, given a little lecture by the info booth attendant and it was all very solemn. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or rather creepy.

We drove off on our highway trip but before long we'd stopped to take photos at the Chaos Jumbles, a massive rockpile leftover from a rockslide 350 years ago. The trees are only just growing back.

We also visited the Devastated Area where mudslides and pyroclastic flows had ruined a huge amount of the hillside in 1915. Lots of boulders and old photos but it didn't look as devastated as we thought. I guess 100 years makes a difference.

The highway wound upwards. We stopped at the Hat Creek Meadow and wondered if the buildup of sticks was evidence of beavers or floods. The meadows are gorgeous, very Keats, although rather boggy. Luke waded in the stream but not for long.

We stopped on the side of the road when we hit the first snowline and Luke decided to jump around on the slushy pile without shoes on. It gave him an icecream headache in his feet.

Further on we contemplated walking to Kings Falls but it was a 4km round trip so we thought we'd save it for Bumpass Hell. We DID walk up Mt Lassen, two switchbacks worth. Very beautiful. Who'd have thought we'd be in snow in summer? The trail is being improved so it is only open for a few days this year. Today was the first of those days so the carpark was full and it was very busy.

Down the hill was a frozen lake, still thawing and then around the corner was the carpark for Bumpass Hell. This is the walk to the thermal areas, 5km round trip. Carpark was also full, had to squeeze the RV into a spot but it was OK.

The very start of the walk involved sliding down a builtup bit of snow. One rather large lady chickened out at that point. Luke nearly fell over immediately. We set off very carefully after that.

The walk was beautiful, went past lots of impressive vistas, uphill for a fair way and crossing patches of snow. The further we went, the more snow there was. Some bits were very tricky and you had to concentrate so as not to fall over (or off a cliff). We were wishing we'd had hiking shoes. My sneakers started to get pretty wet and my jeans were snow filled.

¾ of the way along we encountered a family where a little girl was having a hugely loud tantrum. “NO! I'm cold, I don't wanna, I'm not walking anymore, I hate this!” We laughed for a while but the parents looked so frazzled and she had wet feet so we felt a bit of sympathy. Also saw a family with two teenage girls. “I wish I was at the beach,” whined one. “We wish you were at the beach too,” said the dad.

Finally made it after some seriously slippery and scary bits. The thermal area smells like sulphur so Luke took the opportunity to do a lot of farting. There's a huge fumerole – steam vent – that's been getting larger over the last century. Made lots of boiling noises. The mud pots weren't very muddy, more watery, which was a bit disappointing. There was a boiling pool with iron pyrite floating on it. Amazing.

We were beaten to the pools by a family with two small boys, one of them carried in a backpack. The Dad had ended up carrying them both most of the way. Family of the year. Except the elder kid was called Trevor.

I put my finger into one of the streams... it was very warm but didn't burn me. Felt acidic though.

We finally turned and headed back. The return trip was a lot easier, mainly because we were climbing up the snow rather than trying not to fall down it.

Got back to the carpark and enjoyed a drink while looking at the gorgeous view. It was 6pm by then and very cold but a number of people were heading off on the track at that stage. Brave, I think.

We wound our way back down the mountain and decided to stop at Volcano Country RV Park in Mineral, very simple but nice place off the road, $25.

Right now it's 1st July and I'm waiting for Luke to do the washing.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fascinating Detours

McKinley and Trinity River at Big Bar 
28th June 2012

Sleeping at Safeway wasn't perfect due to trucks delivering stuff all night but a pair of earplugs helped a lot. Nobody stole our bikes. A homeless guy slept in his TINY Toyota Hilux nearby and Luke says he saw a couple pull up after 11pm and smoke a joint having suspiciously pulled the stash out of their gas tank.

We headed off with the full intention of striking off East on Highway 299 but the tourist info book said there was a good biking trail at McKinley, just north of Eureka. The Hammond Trail is about 10 miles long and runs along the coast, often on a paved ex-railway line. After giving up on one parking spot because a shifty guy wearing only socks was hanging around, we put the RV in a very upright, clean street with basketball hoops on the edges of the gutters. This suburb was very high class, thank you, right near the beach, with two story wooden houses right out of The Birds.

We released the bikes and headed off on a very pleasant, if rather mundane, 10km bike ride along the shore. It was mostly beside the highway but we got to see some new flowers, birds and homeless people on the way. We pushed our bikes across the endless dunes (in single file, to hide our numbers) until we got to the beach. The Pacific on this side is pretty murky looking and the sand is almost black, with a quick-sandish feel to it. Nonetheless, people were in their swimmers and kids were happily building castles. We tootled along the tideline on our bikes, avoiding giant seagulls, but it was cold and the beach was endless so we turned around and headed back.

Made it up the gravel hill... just.

It was a nice ride and we decided not to do the full thing, intending to fill the rest of our day with driving the arduous mountain track that is 299.

Off we went through countryside that resembles Bli Bli... like all ex-forested land, I suspect. Then it was into the windy stuff, miles and miles of endless mountain curves, interspersed with campsites and old mining towns.

The road tracked with the Trinity River throughout all this spectacular scenery and as we went I started taking photos out the side window, admiring the pure green clear water and all of its rapids. Eventually I said “I think it would be nice to raft on this river.”

Within a few miles we'd happened on Big Bar, where two white water rafting companies were operating. It was 3pm and I didn't think we'd be able to do it but we pulled in to ask. The Trinity Rafting Co was a laid back office with a bunch of hippies in residence. We expressed concern about the cold water and so they threw in a free wetsuit for me with the $69 experience ($65 plus RIVER tax... plus tip). We were feeling adventurous so decided to go ahead.

After kitting out in swimmers, wetsuit, life jacket and helmet I looked pretty silly but never mind that... I was about to do some level 3 rapids. Which sounded fairly scary – especially when our guide (who'd recently been to Australia) told us what to do when the boat flipped over.

Still, we steeled ourselves, survived the van trip upstream and soaked up every bit of safety info Pete had to give us. Luckily his new bride of 2 years came long for the ride so we figured he wouldn't risk her too much.

We hopped in the small inflatable raft, gripped our oars and set off. The initial set of rapids were piss easy, giving us a false sense of security, I suspect. Pete pointed out scenery and we talked travelling. The first big rapid saw me get fairly wet so I was glad of the wetsuit. We coped well, paddling our way through the major waves and dips. Then came the Hellhole. It was pretty scary. I nearly fell out, Luke fell into the middle of the boat but we didn't get dunked. Thank goodness. The water was freezing.

After that we felt fairly brave and survived the next few big Level 3 rapids. Stopped and had beer and chips and salsa on a little beach. We also saw two minks, a rare sight. They look like tiny brown otters. And a bald eagle, although we couldn't give him much attention since the rapids were approaching.

We made it through without drowning, although by the end I was very wet and cold. But it was fantastic. The river is gorgeous.

Having tipped our guide heavily we set off because Luke thought he might like to get the rest of the drive done. I suggested we check out the Pigeon Point campground. It wasn't what we needed but by then I'd opened the chardonnay... so we headed back to the RV park near Trinity rafting. This dusty tiny strip by the road is also right on the river so we can't even hear the traffic. We have spent the evening drinking by the rapids. We probably should have cooked dinner but who cares when there's the most gorgeous river RIGHT THERE.

I wonder if we'll sleep OK with this rapids noise right there.

All up, a wonderful day.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ancient Redwoods

27th June 2012

I may have had a tiny hangover at the Ancient Redwoods RV Park but never mind that. We had a slow morning mucking about on the internet before finally getting moving at midday, having finally dried the washing.

We retraced our steps south on the Avenue of the Giants and came to the Women's Groups of America heartstone. These ladies knew the value of a campfire. This is a four-sided outdoor fireplace, with four hearths under shelting eaves, great for a bit of singing. The grove is a big day use area for picnickers and swimming. The river was being owned by four screaming teenage girls, although we noticed a gaggle of teen boys on the far bank, huddled around what looked like an iphone. Porn, I guess. The river had a temporary bridge over it which we crossed just for fun (“What is your favourite colour?” "What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?"). The Eel River is floody in winter but relaxed in summer with wide gravel banks on either side of the water. Lots of skimming fun.

After we left there we headed up the hill to the Rockefeller forest which has the really big trees. Got to the carpark and promptly set up a pleasant picnic in the shade, French Lunch under the redwoods. Then we did a small hike, about 4km, to the official campground and back. Sites there cost $35 with no hookups and some people had a cage full of yappy dogs so we decided against that. After that we went and admired the Giant Tree, the largest tree in the world by height. It was big. A little tired we headed off and decided we'd seen our share of redwoods.

We drove to Eureka which is actually a bit dingy. Had fairly boring Mexican food for tea and retired to the Safeway supermarket carpark for the night. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Stuffing Around Sonoma

25th June 2012

Woke up late. Discovered Sugarloaf was supposed to be alcohol free. Hah. Hung about but it was REALLY COLD so we just had to leave.

Lots of stuffing around. Driving north, went to look at Lake Sonoma, too hilly, dry and dusty campground. Also wasted time driving to KOA which was $55 a night and still offered a shitty dry and dusty campground. Went to Fritz winery which has underground cellars. Couldn't see them on a Monday. Great wines though.

Finally gave up and headed north, ate dinner in a parking lot in Ukiah before driving on to Willits (what chu talkin' 'bout?) and by chance parking in a nice quiet spot at the Fairgrounds.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Screw You, San Francisco

24th June 2012 - Sonoma Wine Country

Screw you, San Francisco. Tired of the ripped off feeling from $82 a night Candlestick park and feeling disinclined towards braving the million-strong crowds at Pride on the Sunday, we bailed. I thought we MIGHT try Alcatraz but learned it was all booked out except for a Monday 9.30am tour. 

So we thought we'd high tail it to the Golden Gate Bridge and ride our bikes across it. Except it was really cold and windy and the parking lot was jammed. Luke said we could have parked at another place at the bottom of the hill but by then I was over it.

I felt really upset that it had all gone so badly and also that we should have done the bike thing. But jeez, this is supposed to be a holiday, not work. So to hell with it.

After a bit of driving we stopped at Petaluma for supplies then went on to Sonoma. The area is very pleasant and we finally felt relaxed for the first time in a couple of days.

Lonely Planet book guided us to Kaz Winery which is a tiny place that offers weird varieties. The owner was an interesting guy. Bought a hat and a strange wine. 

Also went to Loxton which is run by an Aussie, their wines were nicer. Feeling very pleasant we took the advice of the Loxton wine laides and climbed the hill to Sugarloaf rec area which was nearly empty, windswept, cold and beautiful. Drank a lot of wine while eating dill pickled flavoured chips. Love them! Enjoyed dinner parked by the creek, slept well.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Crowded Mandalay Bay

17th June 2012 Las Vegas again

The aircon in the RV is very LOUD so you can be cool and deaf or hot and calm. We survived the night, checked out of the Lake Mead park and headed into Vegas, 50km away.

We turned up at the Atomic Testing Museum only to discover that it didn't open until midday, as did many other things. Sunday. The churches were full, the roads were quieter. It's American Father's Day as well, so Happy Father's Day Dad.

Instead of the museum we opted for Walmart to find more supplies (tongs! A potato masher! Why aren't these considered standard kitchen items anywhere?) and wasted more time wandering the massive warehouse shelves.

Finally got to Mandalay Bay hotel and put the RV in the massive convention centre carpark. I hope it's still there. Very hot 300m walk to the hotel. There was a long queue to check in and that set the scene for the rest of the day. We are on level 17 at the end of a long corridor that looks disarmingly like it belonged in The Shining. Nice big room and bathroom, nuclear powered toilet (this thing creates a vacuum of air when you flush it).

Had a late lunch, I went back up to the room while Luke bought coffee and got caught in a 100-person queue for the elevators. Then finally made it down to the pools.

What a nightmare.

The place was absolutely teeming with people. The hotel has a “beach” complex with 5 pools including a wave pool and a “river” which is essentially a loop with a self-sustaining whirlpool (whirlpool! Whirlpool!) Brilliant fun except that it was chock full of bodies, screaming kids keen to kick you and fat adults clinging to inflatable donuts. Zealous lifeguards blew whistles, thumping music blared, the concrete was too hot to walk on and the heat was almost unbearable out of the water. I'd had this foolish idea that I could spend an afternoon lazing by the pool here but it was utterly out of the question. Every single lounge chair (of which there were thousands) was taken. All of them were in full sun anyway. It was loud and crowded and unpleasant and it made me squint.

We had a go in the wave pool, did four laps of the lazy river and gave up. In theory we could have gone into the topless pool as I got it free with the room but the ads in the lift suggested it was a great place for guys to perve on women... not the vibe we wanted.

So we bailed.

By then it was 5pm and time to find a happy hour drink. Ended up at the House Of Blues which was neither house-y or blues-y. More just boring bar-y, with sport on the television and an uninspired booze list.

After a few drinks we went through to the Luxor which is a giant hollow pyramid hotel (very impressive architecture) and went into the Bodies exhibition. This is where they have preserved real human bodies with chemicals and plastic so you can look at bones, nerves, muscles and arteries. Amazing stuff. All the specimens were from China and they all had black lungs, either from smoking or from the smog over there.

We had planned to ride our bikes up and down the strip but got too lazy and opted for a late dinner and then some net surfing. And now it's midnight and time to sleep.

Route 66 and Lake Mead

16th June 2012
Why yes, the sun DOES shine out of it

The sun was up at 5am and so was I. The question was: did I want to get up and enjoy the Grand Canyon again since I'd only be here once in my life... or did I want to stay in bed?

Bed won.

We didn't get up until 8am and then we made the decision to just head off without doing anymore sightseeing. Wasteful, perhaps, but we had such a good day yesterday that it wasn't a big deal.

Headed back the way we came, arriving at Williams around 11am. We thought we'd stroll around the place and see what it had to offer. In essence, it's a Route 66 tourist dive with a lot of souvenir shops and a traffic jam (not helped by 4 way stop sign intersections which are very confusing and worse if you're a pedestrian). There were a couple of old servos that had been turned into restaurants and they looked nice. Luke had a quick coffee, we visited the tourist info centre and headed off, thinking we'd do a bit of Route 66 instead of the interstate.

We turned into Seligman which is the start of the longest unbroken section of old Route 66 left. The town is dusty, one street long and features several diners and souvenir stores. The Snowcap looked too full so we went to the Roadkill cafe, where the slogan is “You Kill It, We Grill It.” The menu was amusing, all the items were called things like “Racoon Roast” and "Squashed Skunk Special". But it was just basic road food. Luke had a buffalo meat hamburger and I had onion rings.
Today's lesson: don't have the onion rings

Was very average food. In fact, half an hour later, I felt pretty sick. Thankfully a beer, obtained from the RV fridge while hurtling along the interstate, made me feel better.

We were back on the interstate because we decided that we'd had enough of Route 66 after the Road Kill Diner. That was probably all we needed to see.

Got along much better than the trip out, mainly because we weren't going 90 or uphill. Before long we were at Hoover Dam and back in 40 degree temperatures. The new bridge across the canyon is impressive and we walked onto that happily and took all the Dam photos we liked.

Then we drove across the dam, discovered that RV parking was $7 and drove back the way we'd come. Took a few Dam photos. The Hoover dam is huge, impressive and amazing but not worth leaving the AC for.
Not long after we turned into Lake Mead recreation area and secured a nice $38 spot in the RV park. We rode our bikes down 1km to the lake shore at about 6pm in searing heat and gratefully went in for a swim. The “beach” is just an accessible stretch of dust on the lake shore with soaring desert mountains in the distance. Nothing grows in this area, even with a dammed lake just there. There were heaps of people swimming, we thought it looked a bit like that scene from Jaws. Thankfully no sharks in this freshwater lake. Smelled just like Keepit.

We swam, opened a beer (I drank chardy from a water bottle) and sat in the shallows, balancing our bums on a couple of old thongs that had been thrown away. Watched the sun set on the mountains, glorious orange and pink panoramas. Very fabulous. Also drank too much wine.

The ride back to the Rv was hard, it was instantly hot and we were going up a hill. Cool shower in order, followed by pasta. It's still about 34 degrees and it's 10pm. This is why we're paying for the RV park: electricity and air conditioning so we can sleep. It seems to take a long time to cool down here in the desert – even with a massive artificial lake nearby.

Tomorrow we go to the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas. There have been reports of bedbugs there but i'm going to quiz them  on that. I just want to relax by their pools.

Grand Canyon

15th June 2012

Woke up with first light at 4.30am and dragged our sleepy arses out of bed and onto our new pushbikes. Determined to see the sun rise, we threw a few things into backpacks and headed off. Unfortunately the Grand Canyon park people haven't grasped the idea of providing good bike signage so we got a little lost and didn't quite make it to the rim in time. Still, we saw the sun just as it topped the ridge and got to watch the canyon filling with colour.

It is rather grand.

You can't really describe the sense of immensity, the distance is so great that your eyes tend to flatten out the perspective. It's pretty freaky looking down, though, especially near some of the unfenced steep drops. I had a few attacks of the heebie geebies in places.

We stood on Mather Point, the most popular lookout here, and watched the sun come up, along with a swarm of japanese tourists. They went away after a while so we had a bit more space, were able to do the obligatory National Lampoon's Vacation “look”.

After that we decided to ride to the Kaibob Trailhead and hike down a short way. We didn't have a big water bottle or sunscreen but we had muesli bars and the sun wasn't very high anyway because it was about 5.30am. Also, they provide water at the trailhead, which is nice.

Our new bikes from Walmart were fairly rickety and I had to put up with the horrible narrow seat that came with it (could only put one cheek on it at a time) but they did well enough. The ride along the rim is quite spectacular and all paved so lots of fun.

The altitude here is pretty high – 2100m above sea level. As we discovered, you get puffed really quickly and it's harder to ride or walk. So we took it relatively easy.

Halfway along we came upon a small flock of deer. They weren't shy and didn't flinch when we hurtled up to them. Took some video, carried on. Also saw numerous tiny squirrels. And one very angry Swedish woman who was berating her partner as they walked along the track.

Got to the trailhead, drank far too much water and started down into the canyon. The trail had a lot of switchbacks at the start and was gravelly in places so you had to watch your footing. Also had a lot of mule poo. The view was spectacular and got better once we got to Ooh Aah Point, our destination. Took lots of photos, watched a squirrel, got a bit of vertigo and generally enoyed it. We headed back up when the number of people walking down increased. Wasn't too bad a climb, got back at about 9.15am. Cycled back to the RV with a short stop at the visitor centre. The whole place is very spread out and built up, able to cater to the millions of people that come here. Shuttle buses drive you around the place, lots of parking, shops and restaurants. Just outside the park there's a major town with McDonalds and Imax theatres.

Mather Campground where we're staying is fairly dusty with a lot of pine trees but rather pleasant. Very busy, of course and you are camping right next to people. We had to move the truck from one spot to the next because I couldn't get a consecutive booking. No problem though.

Luke did the washing, I went to bed and had a very large nap during the heat of the day.

We lazed around in the afternoon and decided to have dinner before heading off to look at the sunset. This was probably a mistake as we were a bit late in getting away and naturally became instantly lost on the non-marked bike tracks. We had intended to ride out to Hopi Point but the road involved a massive hill that was pretty hard going in the high altitude.  By the time we made it to a viewpoint the sun was almost gone. Very pretty, of course. We were looking down on Bright Angel Trail, the first path into the canyon, originally forged by the Indians. In the 1920s it was privately owned until the National Parks wrestled it off the bloke who was charging $1 per visitor. The trail runs along a major fault line that bisects the valley.

We both agreed that we'd like to try the hike down to the river. But you have to book a year in advance and be well prepared for it. One day.

Shark Tank Waterslide

14th June 2012

Golden Nugget hotel: Woke early, psyched for the shark tank. Alas, it didn't open until 10am. We consoled ourselves with a breakfast in the smokey cafe and went out to look at the shark tank. The pool deck is massive, covered with recliners and even has several gambling tables. I noticed a brochure at the side of one that said “When the fun is over”. Curious, I went over to read what it had to say, only vaguely aware of an incredibly nasal voice saying “Maam! Maam! Maam!” Turns out the duck-voiced staff member guarding the pool didn't want me near the closed tables. Or -more likely - the casino will go to great lengths to stop you from reading info about not gambling.

Chastised, we went back to our room to do a bit of Facebooking and report on our wedding. Unfortunately intenet was $12 at the hotel so we thought we'd use our unlocked Telstra modem.

We got as far as opening FB before suddenly we went offline. Luke checked things and noticed that we had $0 credit. He rang Telstra and discovered that they charged $15 a mb (not what the Telstra shop people in Gympie had said) and the bill was now $128 for 8mb. I think I managed to get one George Takai pic for that.

Thankfully they agreed to waive the bill and we now know not to use our Australian Telstra modem here.

After that little disaster it was time to go swimming.

Went straight up to the top of the slide and swung into the tube. The waterslide descends 3 stories and a clear section shoots straight through the middle of the massive aquarium, filled with tuna, groper and several massive sharks. We were keen to see the sharks as we went through. Unfortunately, the laws of physics conspired against us. The larger the mass, the faster we went down the slide. The sharks were just a bluey grey blur lasting half a second before we were spat out into the pull with a wedgie and a nose full of pool water.


We did the slide four times, would have probably repeated the experience more but the queue was getting  bigger each time we climbed the stairs and I'd forgotten to put sunscreen on. It was so hot we were almost dry by the time we got to the slide again.

Luke managed to sit up on the last go and slow himself down with his feet so he got a look. We also made friends with a little girl who was having her first go, her grandpa was very nervous about her doing it. We let her cut in front... and so she promptly threw herself in straight after another kid, even though the lifeguard normally makes you wait until the person in front is in the pool (checking via a video camera). She survived with a big grin to show for it.

We only had an hour and a half in the pool, then it was time to leave. The Golden Nugget was pretty crass (awful piped music, smoke, no Rv parking, dreadful d├ęcor and less-than-friendly staff) but the pool made it all worthwhile.

We did the hot, slow walk back to Main Street Station where we'd parked, took our pirate costumes back (after giving some serious consideration to just keeping them) and then headed east. A bit of grocery shopping delayed us, though, as we stopped at Walmart to find more supplies. American food is rather perplexing. All the cheese is orange (there's no camembert!!), the “cereal” aisle consists entirely of Froot Loop clones and everything has high fructose corn syrup in it.

Finally set off. Headed over the Hoover Dam bridge despite strong advisories against high profile vehicles using it due to strong winds. I panicked but Luke was fine.

The trip to the Grand Canyon was 450km or so, a long drive. We travelled across Arizona, steadily climbing the whole way. The landscape went from creosote desert like the mojave to greener uplands, still pretty arid. Saw some flat topped mesas although we're not quite in the right area for that. It was fairly scenic but didn't change much. Looked like Armidale country.

We didn't stop except to rescue the fridge which swung open. We took one small detour into Williams, the town before the Grand Canyon. It is a tourist mecca, lots of restaurants and hotels. Thanks to getting a bit lost, we ended up on Route 66 – for one block. We had to turn around because it was closed off due to a horse festival or something.

The sun was setting as we turned north and travelled the last 80km to the Canyon. Unfortunately we were too late for the sunset so our first look at it was in the near-dark. Not much to see, I admit. Also, cold! Bit of a shock after the 40 degree heat of vegas.

Had French lunch for dinner, very pleasant, and then collapsed into bed.

*Note: I didn't take the above image (it's from here). Our photos from this part of the trip were wiped by the dodgy 65gig card :(

Elvis Wedding Day

Las Vegas June 13, 2012

Another hot day, 35 degrees at 8.20am. After a shower in the RV park (even the bathrooms are air conditioned) I walked up to the Golden Nugget and got us checked in early. Our next job was to secure pirate costumes.

Williams Costume store was something of a drag queen's wonderland. So many sequins, feathers, glittery things and crazy dress-ups. The costume hire section was amazing, I wanted to stay and play all day. So, it seems, does everyone else, which is why they only let you try on a maximum of three costumes. It's perhaps a good thing that sizing meant we didn't have a huge choice. I only tried on two pirate wench costumes and I went with the first one, the green wenchy raider costume. The second one fitted better but was itchier and more matronly. Luke's Captain Hook outfit was spectacular. The hat didn't quite work but we improvised and bought an extra feather.

Quality costumes aren't cheap... the whole thing cost us $170 plus $200 deposit. We had to go to an ATM around the block to stock up on cash. Luckily the machine only gave out $20 notes. So Luke was withdrawing hundreds of dollars, with people queued up behind him, in a dodgy Las Vegas neighbourhood. Makes you feel good to be alive.

Costumes secured, we were all ready for a swim in the shark tank pool at the Golden Nugget. Unfortunately it took a long time to get the RV parked. The hotel didn't have a space, the Plaza wanted $20 so we ended up back with our good friends Main St Station, three blocks away. Still cost $10 to park. The security guard, with gun on hip, knocked on the door of the parking lot and asked what we were doing there. He didn't want us sleeping in the vehicle. He was happy once we explained things and he said he'd make sure no one stole our bikes.

Before long it was time to get dressed and then, resplendent in our costumes, we took a taxi to the Graceland Wedding Chapel.

It wasn't a huge place. We crammed into the "staging area" office, handed over far too much money, my online friend Holly and her family arrived and then bam, we were in the tiny chapel with it's dovey stained glass windows. Before we were psyched the doors had closed and Elvis was there, in a pale blue jumpsuit. He really did look and sound like Elvis. The video guy was lined up ready and so it was on. Elvis walked me up the aisle singing "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You."

And suddenly I was all choked up. It was such a silly thing we were doing but right at that moment I got rather emotional and thought about when we first got married 17 years ago. So I was trying not to cry.

It was a very short sort of thing, very funny, also rather sweet. Elvis was great and Luke was lovely and Holly cried. I nearly cried but held it in, thankfully. We said our special "Elvis Vows" which were hilarious. The whole thing ended with a rendition of "Viva Las Vegas. And then suddenly our guests got ushered out a side door onto the street, we were posing for photos, meanwhile the DVD was burned and it was all over. So we effectively blew $500 in 15 minutes but it was SO worth it.

After that we went to the restaurant Holly had chosen. With us were Holly's son Spud, Spud's Dad Clifton and his wife (both of them were from Jamaica). The food was upmarket Mexican, very nice. We looked out of place in our pirate costumes but the waiters were amused and gave Luke a free drink.

Here's a huge thanks to Holly who shouted us dinner at our "reception". It was great to have someone with us on our crazy special day.

After that we headed back to the hotel and made waves as we walked through the corridors and casino. Lots of people said "Yarr" at us and laughed. It was fun being a sideshow so we decided we'd wear our costumes out onto the Fremont Street Experience, which is a pedestrian mall given over to bright lights and entertainment. The funny thing is that the whole area is peppered with people dressed up, posing for photos - for a fee. So people looked at us but avoided us.

We were tourist attractions in the hotel. A whole tour group of Brazilians wanted to take our photos and so we posed for photos with them. Which was hilarious.

We strolled up and down Fremont St, looked at the neon signs. I had wanted a drink but the bars were smokey and noisy. At 9pm all the casino lights shut down and the arching LED roof over the street became a Bon Jovi concert. Everyone stopped and looked up and enjoyed the show. Amazing sense of shared experience. Everyone cheered a the end.

We eventually went back to our room and sadly took off our costumes. We went and drank hot chocolate by the pool, looking at the shark tank.

Like all the Casinos in Las Vegas, smoking is allowed indoors. They do a fairly good job of filtering the air but by the end of the night we were both sick of the smell and our clothes stank.

All in all, a good wedding day. We should do this more often.
(Note: We can't get the photos off the SD card for some reason so we're going to be lacking in pics for a bit.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Qantas Flight 107, All Expenses Spared

Right. So we're in LA and we're completely knackered. We've had a short nap of 2 hours sleep after being awake for 24 hours... now we're trying to stay awake until it gets dark here.

The most important thing is that we're alive. Thanks to Qantas and its dodgy maintenance work, this is something I'm especially grateful for. More on that in a bit.

Our big trip started at 3am in the pouring rain on Sunday 10th when the limo arrived.. We thought it was worth an extra $35 to get a limo instead of risking a taxi at 3am on a public holiday. The driver was all dressed up and helped us pack stuff in the pouring rain before whisking us off in the super-clean Statesman. We felt very special and rock-star-ish. In a jiiffy we were at Brisbane international, arriving three hours before our flight like we're supposed to.

There was nobody there.

Well, nobody except the cleaners and the three backpackers that had opted to save money and just sleep at the airport. And us.

Check in didn't open until 4.30am. Security didn't open until 5am. Lucky we got there early (and paid for a limo!).

We were waiting at the bag drop when two familiar faces strolled up  - Toni and Phil Powell, who originally started Gympie's Hearr of Gold Festival. They were off on a six week USA adventure like us, making a documentary on the philosophy of gratefulness. By co-incidence they also booked the same flight home as us. So suddenly we had a couple of travelling companions and had a good chat over coffee.

The first leg was so promising. A Qantas 747-400 that had been newly refurbished. It was so shiny that the crew seemed to be distracted by its fabulousness. Their announcements were the vaguest I've heard.

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We'd... er... we'd like to... er.." Silence. "The seatbelt sign... has been er... so... er..."

Our seats were in the middle, there were two empty seats beside us. The entertainment system was so swish and had more movies than you could poke an ipad at. I started the trip by listening to Elvis (seemed appropriate) and then set about going through Status Quo's Greatest Hits to see if all of their songs really do sound the same.

Yes, yes they do. ( But they're still brilliant.)

We had to change planes at Sydney and we filled the waiting time with a quick shower and felt great.

LA, here we come.

I think I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the 2nd leg was the Worst. Flight. Ever.

Qantas no longer lets you choose your seats unless you pay them a $20 fee. So we were at the mercy of the seating fairy. And this time around there wasn't much mercy to be had.

We got put in a set of three seats right down the back. Every single seat on the plane was taken. And those seats  must be the crappliest ones I've ever sat in. Bar Jetstar. Never mind the fabulous 747 we had from Brisbane. Now we were crammed into what could be the oldest 747 in the fleet. Tiny screens, clunky computer things taking up foot space, the seats smelled like urine, Luke's seat was broken, my headrest was buggered, the American next to me at the window seat couldn't get his TV to work at all.

All that would have been fine except for the almost 2 hour delay where we sat, crammed into that goddam plane, going absolutely nowhere. It turned out that they had a problem with a fuel gauge. Then they discoverd they didn't have enough fuel for the flight. THEN they discovered that there were issues with the refuelling valves so a whole mainenance team swung into action. While we sat there. For two hours.

I was fervently hoping they'd give it up as a bad joke and let us get on the A380 like they'd promised me in the ads. No dice. Which didn't make me feel very confident. If you've had a problem with a fuel line... do you really want to fly that thing 11,000km?

At least they discovered it on the ground.

It took another 15 minutes to take off due to delays. Even then I thought they were going to abandon the flight when we sat on the tarmac and nothing happened. I thought I was getting good with flying but that was not a pleasant takeoff. I really did expect something awful to happen.

Throughout the flight people's reading lights kept flickering on and off. Then we had a major bit of turbulance over the Pacific that had us strapped in for an hour (and Luke got pretty airsick).

Finally, finally, after 13 hours (plus 2 on the ground) the plane touched down safely at LAX and we taxied to the gate. We were waiting to be towed in when the whole plane just shut down. Lights, air conditioning, everything. Dead silent. The attended came on and said:

"Oh, well, it seems we've had a complete shutdown of the electrical system. I'll... er... we'll just crank that over and get it back up again for you."

I am very grateful that happened on the ground.

And I'm now feeling very nervous about the trip home. I really, REALLY hope we get a new plane. And  I don't think I'll be flying Qantas anytime soon.after this.

So anyway, here we are in LAX, staying at an airport hotel and doing nothing much until tomorrow. We walked to the chain diner Denny's and I ordered $2 pancakes, couldn't finished them, so much food. Luke's pancakes had icing on them. Because maple syrup and sweet cream and strawberries are not enough. The waiter didn't look happy when we asked him how much we should tip. Will try not to do that next time. This tipping thing is going to take some getting used to.

* Update: It turns out that our horror flight was the very last one that plane did. It was apparently decommissioned straight after. And thank the sky fairies, we got a new 747 on the way back.

Friday, June 8, 2012

So. This will be our travel blog for the grand USA Trip, June-July 2012.

We're calling it "This Is Bat Country" after the line from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Vegas will be one of our first stops and we'll be travelling through bat country in our rental RV to get there. I'll be pouring beer on my chest to facilitate the tanning process.

Will try and add posts when I get time and internet access.