A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: paulandjes

Las Vegas & Grand Canyon

Viva Las Vegas!

sunny 28 °C

Paul:
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Las Vegas was our first stop in the US after Mexico. We got to our hotel, Excalibur, on the south strip, very tired after an early morning and long flight and were immediately snagged by what we thought was the check in desk but was actually someone who got us to agree to go to a demo of timeshares in exchange for a free show and some free gambling money. Suckers! Oh well, we figured we could be strong and avoid signing on the dotted line. (we did.....just!).

So after a quick nap and shower we headed out to the strip. The hotels and casinos on the strip are just ENORMOUS and amazingly themed. We walked through 'New York, New York' with it's copy of the Manhattan skyline, The MGM Grand which is the biggest hotel in the world, then we got a yard long margarita and wobbled further up the strip dodging drunk people and the odd Elvis impersonator. We had a look in a casino called The Venetian which has gondalas on canals and a whole shopping street and square inside with canals and bridges and sky painted ceiling with lighting which feels like dusk 24 hours. A total brain warping experience at midnight, or maybe it was the margatitas... We put a dollar in a 1c slot machine (hey big spender) and played for an hour or so, leaving with $2.60. He He, we'll break the bank yet...

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The sheer size of the strip is hard to comprehend. You can see the place you want to go to 'just down the road'. But, because the hotel is ENORMOUS, it takes 20 minutes to get there. After working this out, we started using the 'deuce' bus (the slowest bus service in the world by the way).

We took the 'deuce' to Fremont St. This used to be the main Vegas gambling street in the days of Elvis and Frank Sinatra. It is just crammed with casinos and flashing lights. Also, there is a roof over the entire length of the street which is an ENORMOUS TV screen where an amazing video and light show is shown every hour. We ducked into one of the casinos and put two dollars in a slot machine and lost. Maybe the bank is safe for now...

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Each of the big casinos offers a buffet restaurant with unlimited food. We decided on the Bellagio for a lunch buffet and starved ourselves until we got there at 2:30. The Bellagio is one of the top hotels $500 a night!! The foyer was absolutely stunning with 20,000 massive hand blown glass flowers attached to the ceiling and a beautiful garden complete with butterfly house.

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The food was unbelievable. Just phenomenal. We had huge fresh prawns with thousand island dressing, seven kinds of fish including salmon, swordfish and sea bass, salad with blue cheese, chick peas, mozzarella and four types of lettuce, veggies, roast beef and roast lamb for me and of course cake for desert. After struggling through 4 or 5 courses, we waddled back to our hotel for a well deserved nap.

In the evening we went to the Mirage to see an absolutely amazing show. The show was 'Love' by Cirque de Soleil which is a show setting Beatles songs to dance and acrobatics. The show was just amazing. The show is a bit trippy and psychadelic but so well done that I would imagine that all of the Beatles would approve of it totally. Both of us actually became quite emotional watching the show. The whole thing just seemed so right for the music (I am the walrus, day in the life, across the universe, elenor rigby to name a few. Octopus' garden even had acrobatic squid and, of course, octopus). The final song, All you need is Love, was very emotional with the whole cast involved for a very fitting finale. The show is in a theatre built especially for this show only with incredible sets which change for each song (sometimes several times during a single song). The show was so good that it is worth coming to Vegas for this alone.

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Next day we hired a Mustang convertible and drove to the Grand Canyon. This has been a dream of mine for many years. Probably since I saw James Bond driving a Mustang in a car chase in Diamonds are Forever in 1972!

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The drive was good fun and the Grand Canyon was just breathtaking. Pictures just do not do it justice. It is ENORMOUS! We stopped at several viewpoints including one which was very secluded and gave almost a 360 degree view with no other tourist in sight. We even saw a herd of elks in the forest on the way back to the car. Before heading back to Vegas we treated ourselves to a helicopter ride around the canyon which just confirmed the awesome size of the place (277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide).

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On our final nigh in Vegas we put our plan to break the bank into action. Me on the blackjack tables and Jess on the slot machines. Result: 15 minutes later I am bankrupt having lost 12 out of 14 rounds and 3 hours later Jess is $100 up. Net result a win for the McKennas of $10 and the Las Vegas bankers can sleep soundly after all.

Next stop New York.

Posted by paulandjes 08:40 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Tulum

Just be......

sunny 32 °C

When you are travelling you can get stuck in a time warp. We have been without internet for a few days and have been immersed in the craziness of Vegas, but that is another blog. I am here to write about Tulum and it seems a lifetime away - how strange!

We finally took our very last overnight bus (well on this trip anyway) and what a relief it was to get it over with. We didn't have anywhere booked but knew we wanted to be in a beach hut right on the beach. As with most tourist destinations you dont need to look very far, as usual we were approached for accommodation and as it turned out it was probably the best basic accommodation along the coast. Papaya Playa has very basic beach huts, literally stick huts with a grass roof, a bed and a fly screen. "Cool" says Paul, "it will be like sleeping in a tree house". Although I was a little worried, I could see the sparkle in his eyes. Well, this is where we will park our backpacks for a week then. What a fantastically relaxing week we had. We did a little exploring and quickly realised that Papaya Playa had the best stretch of beach for about 30 mins in each direction, fabulous. One great bonus was that there were a few double day beds hanging from the deck too overlooking the ocean, a great spot to read. The facilities where we were staying are pretty basic and the food is not too good, however, we had the fortune of being next to a resort that was about 5 times more expensive than our place and had a splendid restaurant which we made a habit of visiting.
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We slipped easily into a routine. I would wake at sunrise and do an hour or so of yoga on the deck, a completely peaceful and special time. We would walk along the beach and find a nice spot for breakfast. Grab a day bed and read for several hours, swim in the azul ocean, slowly dry in the sun, potter down the beach again for lunch, more reading, perhaps a cold beer, another swim? As dusk approached we would shower then go and watch the sun set on the beach. Probably the hardest decision was deciding where we would go for dinner. As the days passed we became more adventurous and wandered further along the coast and discovered more amazing restaurants, we almost tried a new one each day. After enjoying the meal and live music with the wind blowing off the ocean cooling your skin we would stroll back to our little beach hut and fall into a peaceful slumber listening to the sound of the waves.
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Experiencing yoga at sunrise on the beach was a beautiful and blissful experience for me. I have been longing to immerse myself once again and finally got the chance (deep breath in and gentle lengthened exhale out) Ahhhhhhh, so amazing.

We did venture out a little further a field on a few days. We went into Tulum town which is about a 10 minute taxi ride and to be honest we would only go into town if it was absolutely necessary. Its not much to look at full of touristy tat and really expensive.
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Tulum mayan ruins on the other hand was amazing. We walked there first of all, about 40 minutes and most of it along one of the most pristine beaches I have ever seen. Sand like icing sugar, turquoise water, just absolutely stunning. The ruins were more ruined than other mayan temples that we have seen but the location was just paradise. It is speculated that the ruins were built there as a port so goods from around Mexico could be imported and exported. Paul and I however think that even the Mayans needed a holiday so they built themselves a resort :0)
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One evening when we were feeling especially adventurous we thought we would try out an Italian that was recommended in the lonely planet as the best Italian in Mexico or something of that Ilk so we thought we would give it a go. It was about a 30 minute walk but we were not in a hurry to get anywhere. When we turned up I felt immediately underdressed in my shorts and singlet. Hmmm, if, there had been any other restaurant nearby we probably would have left but we felt that we had made the effort to get there so we might as well sit down and eat. Well, actually that process was not that easy. This strange guy came and sat at our table and started asking us how we were? Bit odd, then he launched into what the dishes of the night were. Ohhhhh, I see, this is the waiter. The trouble is he obviously spoke with quite a strong spanish accent and was very quick so it was a little frustrating remembering what there was to eat, and he gave us no prices, when we asked the waiter looked confused then gave us a range. Very well, but when you are watching your pennies the prices are very important. We quickly realised that in this place if we needed to ask the prices then you couldn't afford it. Inside my head was saying to me "RUUUUUUUNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!" We didn't though and had a very nice dinner, not the best, but very nice. I ended up getting eaten alive by mozzies that evening too so that didn't help matters. Very embarrassingly we had to return the next day....... to pay the rest of the bill! Oops!! Oh well, it is nice to splurge every now and then but this time we just didn't plan too.

All good things have to come to an end and after a blissful week of lounging around it was time to head into the craziness of Vegas!!!!

Posted by paulandjes 18:11 Archived in Mexico Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Palenque

Historical Mayan City

sunny 30 °C

Paul:
We arrived in Palenque in the afternoon and found lovely accommodation in a place in the jungle called El Panchan. El Panchan is an area with a number of cabins and a couple of restaurants where there were a lot of travellers and a few hippies (judging by the number of people with guitars, big beards and dreads walking about). We found a place there which did really good pizza and cold beers. Nice.

Next day we got up early to go and visit the Mayan ruins. We managed to get a good guide for the ruins at the ticket office quite cheaply which was very worthwhile as it gives a much better understanding of the ruins. Palenque was quite a large city which was established around 200 ad and abandoned by the Mayans around 800 - 900 ad and was swallowed by the jungle. It was rediscovered during Spanish rule around 1750. There are thought to be around 1100 buildings but only 27 have been excavated at the moment.

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There are thought to be many more temples and buildings, some of which have been seen by drilling down into the chambers with video cameras, in the area with Mayan treasures and artifacts still almost completely covered by the jungle vegitation. The royal palace was quite impressive with many carvings on the walls. The palace was constructed so that the sun and moon shon through windows and doorways in ways which could be predicted by the rulers according to the Mayan calendar. For example, the setting sun can be seen in four diffefent positions every 7th May. Some events of this kind only occur every 52 years.

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The most poweful ruler at Palenque was Pakal who lived around 400ad. His tomb is the next most impressive building in Palenque and is called the hall of inscriptions. This building obviously has many inscriptions and also had the tomb secured by lots of complex stone keys and passage ways. Real Indiana Jones stuff. The building is well preserved but is just grey stone now. 1500 years ago it was brightly coloured in blues, yellows and reds.

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The belief is that the city was abandoned due to two reasons. Firstly, the royal family became a bit inbred and lost control as marriage was only possible from within their own class. Also, because of the size the city grew to, the people who lived on the outskirts realised that they could exist without the help of the rulers and their supersticions and sacrifices.

The next day, we visited Agua Azul and Misol Ha. Misol Ha is a waterfall in the jungle which was nice. You can walk right under the waterfall without getting too wet. Agua Azul is a series of waterfalls with stunning bright blue water. We went for a bit of a swim in the pools around the falls. I thought it was going to be absolutely freezing but it was actually quite nice and refreshing.

Our next destination is Tulum on the Caribean coast for a bit of a relaxing week on the beach.

Posted by paulandjes 09:55 Archived in Mexico Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Mexico

The gringo shopping trail

sunny 26 °C

We absolutely love, love, love Mexico. We have only been here for 10 days and have squeezed in so much already. We arrived in Mexico City and we are little worried as it is such a huge city. We were very fortunate and had a guy we met in Santiago pick us up from the airport and show us a few sights and gave us some ideas as to what we should see while we were here. Mexico City was such a pleasant surprise. We heard that it was really polluted and hard to breath, it was a bit smoggy but not half as bad as some of the places we went to in China. The city is situated around a vast plaza with enormous buildings and a stunning cathedral. Each street has many bars and cafes and was much more european than we expected. We spent the first day walking our little feet of visiting the many churches and museums and generally taking in the feel of the city. The food in Mexico is varied and of great quality, not just beans and rice or torillas wrapped in many forms as we had expected.

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The next day was our first visit to a large Mayan site Teotihuacan. This site is huge and there has been a lot of resoration so you can really get the feel of how this empire lived. There were 2 huge pyramids one was the sun temple nd the other the moon temple. There were several much smaller pyramids surrounding them. We spend a few hours walking around and climbing up to the top of the pyramids. although we got there pretty early the sun was already beating down on us, there was no shade whatsoever, the ground was baked dry and dusty and the heat was becoming a bit oppressive. There was a fantastic museum on site too and we spent a huge portion of our visit looking at the many relics and carvings and information on how the Mayans lived. It was also a welcome relief from the sun.

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Oaxaca (Wah-ha-ka) was our next stop, a fantastic town, full of amazing and beautifully coloured buildings and many Artisan markets. The traditional people of Oaxaca are very skilled in wooden and pottery crafts so it was a great opportunity to buy gifts. The markets are amazing and I especially enjoyed walking around the local markets full of women trimming and peeling cactus leaves and cactus fruits, a local delicasy. I didn´t so much enjoy the meat market which stank for a start and was full of flies. They sell every part of the animal with trotters, intestines and heads hanging in the open air, chickens complete with feet all piled high.

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It was time for a scenery change so we headed to San Augustillo right on the coast. What a stunning coast, blue water ant whilte sands,although the sea was quite rough, an excellent surfing spot. I tried not to get bowled over by the huge waves. A couple of days relaxing by the sea under grassed roof huts was just what we needed.

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We then took an overnight bus, there are warnings about travelling on overnight buses in Mexico but we needed to take a 12 hour journey and didn´t want to waste a day travelling so we just made sure our belongings were really secure and jumped on. The bus was good, nice and clean but the seats did not recline so sleeping was not really an option although we tried our hardest only and hour or two was had. San Cristobal is a gorgeous town in the hills of Chiapas. There are many indigenous people in San Cristobal. I expected to see men walking around it huge sombraroes but instead they were oversize cowboy hats which is quite a sight. The women wear huge fury skirts and although it does cool of an evening it must be pretty hot for them during the day.

Having coffee in one of the gorgeous cobbled streets is one of my favourite things to do, just watching people go by, having the many street sellers approach you to sell their wares. It is sad to see the small children though selling tat. I guess it is how their family makes its money but they should be in school. I guess is is something I will never get used to is how the kids here have responsibilitiy thrust upon then. You often see young girls, not even 8 years of age with a sibling strapped to them using a blanket. They seem happy enough though so you just have to accept the different culture. I love seeing the guys walk around with huge helium balloons or the many shoe shiners that line the main square. It seems to be the way that towns are here. There is a huge tree lined square in the centre of the town, usually with the main church or cathedral. Circling the main square are streets lined with cafes and shops then the markets. San Cristobal has been another great opportunity to look at the local crafts and I have had to be really restrained. Paul has just stopped bringing money out with us when we go out now!!

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We are off to Palenque next to see apparently the most beautiful Mayan site and then we are off to Tulum on the Caribean coast for a much needed rest, and hopefully no shops :0)

Posted by paulandjes 11:27 Archived in Mexico Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Miami, Florida

Land of the free, home of the weird

sunny 25 °C

Paul:
We arrived in Miami in the afternoon and got the train and bus to our hostel in Fort Lauderdale. When we got off the bus, we struggled to find our hostel but a friendly local helped us out with directions and even gave us a lift in his convertible. Very helpful.

Our hostel was just a short walk from the beach, but we took advantage of being back in a developed country by heading for the local supermarket for some quality food. The choice was just staggering, but we managed to keep our food prchases to the bare minimum (kind of).

Next day we explored the local area. Fort Lauderdale is massive and we ended up walking our poor little feet off but still only made it half way to the town centre. So, we got on the bus and headed to the science museum which was great fun and included flight simulators and even a mission to Mars simulator. I had fun pretending to be 10 years old again.

We came across a strange guy fron Texas in the bus station with a badge which read "God bless America" who delighted in telling us "Gaad Ah Lurve that Tony Blair" once he found out we were English. According to him, the only people saving the world from the 'terrusts' is that Tony Blair and George W of course. Fortunately another good old boy from Arkansas took up the conversation with him so we could escape.

Next day was good fun. We rented a car and drove into the Everglades for a fan boat ride. It took me a while to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road, but it was god to have the freedom a car gives you. The fan boat was basically a tin boat with a couple of big V8 engines attaced to a couple of ceiling fans.

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But the boat sped across the water at huge speed and made lots of noise. Tremendous! Probably not very carbon neutral, but good fun. We saw a few alligators including one huge one (about nine foot long) which came right up to the side of the boat!

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Next we headed to the Florida Keys which is a series of islands linked by a long main road about 100 miles long. We stopped for lunch by the water and then stopped at a place called Holiday Island.

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The Island was pretty busy as it was a Sunday afternoon. We got there just in time for the bikini contest. This was not just a series of girls parading on stage, oh no. Each girl got 2 minutes to shake her booty down to the ground. Great stuff. Some of the Bikinis were pretty scanty including one which was basically a one inch strip of material which looped over the shoulders just about covered the important bits.

So our first trip to the good old US of A was pretty good fun and not quite as full of wierdos as expected. Next stop Mexico

Posted by paulandjes 11:06 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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