Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Stop 12: Las Vegas, Nevada

“I like the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas more than the actual one.” David LaChapelle

Vegas is Vegas. Always a good time! This was my third time visiting the city. The first was with my family, second with high school friends on a driving trip to Los Angeles, and now alone for the documentary. I stayed with some family members who live just outside the Strip. My only childhood memory from their house was all these creepy lizards running around outside, so I was happy to form some more substantial memories with this part of the family. Arriving in Vegas is literally like one of those apparitions you see in movies where the guy lost in the desert starts to see a pool of water emerge hazily in front of him. After 12 hours of driving in blazing heat with a broken iPod hookup and the only thing that is clear on the radio is Spanish mariachi music, I really thought Vegas was a fake town when I saw it in the distance. It really does appear out of nowhere. Then you get closer and closer and finally arrive on the Strip with millions of flashing lights, signs, and party-goers.

When I first arrived to a city, I always asked about the most dangerous areas to stay away from. This is kind of a good thing to know if I am travelling alone. My family members said Vegas is relatively safe, except for parking garages and the areas around them at night time. I drove my car to the Strip one evening and parked at the Bellagio hotel. I explored a bit and came back to my car relatively late. It takes quite a lot to make me scared, but I was terrified when I somehow took a wrong door and was locked out of the parking garage. I was on some back alley with no lights, but I could see the big street like a one minute walk away. So I started walking towards the big street but immediately someone turned their car lights on behind me in the alley and started screaming, “Hey you!” I sprinted to the main road without looking back and was so freaked out. Then I found my car in that stupid mousetrap of a parking garage and never will park there again. I learned two things that night: 1) Park in a place that is easy to get to from the elevator of a parking garage. 2) I can run amazingly fast in heels when I want to.

One evening I went to a CouchSurfing meetup at an area off the Strip, called the Fremont Street Experience. I almost liked this area more than the Strip. The bars and clubs were more affordable and there were street performers and a zipline running over the street. At this meet up I met an actor, a stripper, and two really cool girls from New Zealand. I really enjoyed my conversation with the stripper. She has no problem with her profession because she chooses to use her body in this way, makes enough money to support her 2 children by herself, and sees stripping more as dancing, rather than a form of prostitution. I took a cab back to the Strip with the two girls from New Zealand (I would call them Kiwis but I feel awkward using that word because it makes people sound like exotic birds or weird, green, furry fruits). We ended up finding an amazingly beautiful bar in the Cosmopolitan Hotel, called the Chandelier Bar. Wow! It really looks like a giant chandelier dripping in diamonds and each level of the chandelier is a new level of the bar.

There is no other word to describe exploring nightlife by yourself but “lame.” What was I supposed to do? I had 3 nights in Vegas and one of them I spent with all those cool people from CouchSurfing, but there are not events like that every night. So I went one evening out on the town by myself. Wow I feel so lame admitting that. Oh well. I had no choice. My alternative option was to stay with my family members watching reruns of “America’s Got Talent”, which honestly would have been great family time, but I was looking for a bit more out of my Vegas experience. I actually met people relatively quickly and ended up having a super fun night. Of the people I met, I think my favorite were three 50 year old married men that seemed like they were taken right out of the movie, “The Hangover.”


Well, I like the Eiffel Tower in Paris more than the one in Las Vegas. But I chose this quote because Las Vegas has the potential to be one of the most internationally cultural places in the entire world. This sounds crazy since the whole city now is about drinking, gambling, bachelorette parties, and strip shows, but it is a city that highlights so many different places around the world. Each hotel is like its own attraction because they personify different regions of the world. For example, Caesar’s Palace = Italy, The Venetian = Venice, Italy, The Luxor = Egypt, New York New York = America, Paris = Paris, France. I was talking with a friend, and they said that, in a post-apocalyptic world, if a new species were exploring Earth and gathering information, that Las Vegas would look like the Capitol of the world, with so many countries represented. Las Vegas is like the grown-up Disney World, where businesses profit from fantasies. Except the fantasies of fairies and Mickey Mouse at age 5 are definitely not the same fantasies people search for in Vegas…  

Explore Las Vegas Now
Fremont Street Experience

The Bellagio Hotel

The Cosmopolitan Hotel

The Luxor

Paris Hotel

The Venetian

New York New York Hotel

Caesar's Palace 

Stop 11: Los Angeles, California

“Bob Marley isn’t my name. I don’t even know my name yet.” Bob Marley

My couchsurfing host this time was a tour guide in Hollywood, so we had a great time exploring that area as well as tons of thrift stores…my favorite! Her roommate, a Disneyland employee, and I went swimming in the pool at their apartment complex, which was a great break from the heat. For one day, I went to Venice Beach, which is a long boardwalk along the ocean with tons of rollerblading hippies, photographers, singers, drunks, druggies, and tourists. I found this environment incredibly refreshing. I loved seeing all the different kinds of people and the acceptance of so many lifestyles. The energy in this place is amazing and everyone should try to go at least one time in their life.

Route 66 was absolutely my most favorite part of the drive across the country. This very empty road swerves up and down through mountains and red rocks, making it the perfect place to blast music and drive with all the windows down. I was so happy but felt lonely for the first time on my trip. That was such a special experience driving on that road, and I really wish I had someone there to share it with. I usually liked my solitude while driving for 12-16 hours, but I was sad at this moment that I couldn’t smile at someone sitting in the passenger seat next to me.

While driving on Route 66, I came across a real ghost town tucked away in the red rocks. There were little shacks everywhere and stores selling fabrics. The people were all very old and wrinkly. Not to mention there were tons of stray goats, cows, and chickens running around. Another crazy experience I had was while exploring Venice Beach. A man ran up to me and claimed to be an energy healer, like a psychic but instead of seeing the future he sees energy. He asked if I would like to hear what he has to say about my energy. I was a bit freaked out but said ok. Based on my energies, he told me two concerns that I think about every day: a physical one and an emotional one. I am not one to believe in this kind of stuff, but he was amazingly accurate. This experience made me wonder more about how our energies influence those around us and if there are people on Earth that really do have the power to see energy. Wow I sound so psychedelic or something right now.

I was so sleepy after the drive to Los Angeles and really wanted to sleep in the next day. But both of the girls I was staying with had work very early in the morning. So I actually drove from Los Angeles to Venice Beach early in the morning and arrived around 8am. I slept in my car until noon. It was so cloudy and I felt in a daze for the first hour I was there. I was really not feeling it, which was sad because Venice Beach is such a cool place. But then the sun came out, I bought myself some ice cream, got a free makeover from a professional makeup artist that was doing promotions on the beach, received a rose because it was Mother’s Day (Do I look like a mother? I hope not.), and ended up having a very enriching afternoon talking to all the characters.


I’m not really sure what this quote means. Like it suggests that he has more searching before finding his true self, but still it’s confusing to me. I felt like was my experience talking to about 90% of the people on Venice Beach. They would say things like this, that sound relatively simple but are hugely complex when you get to thinking about the underlying meanings. I didn’t even know how to respond to people when they were talking about finding consciousness through unconsciousness, looking within to find true imaginary versions of the self, or soaking up rays of sun to reach a state of harmony with the universe.

Explore Los Angeles, California now

Route 66

Venice Beach


Venice Beach Freakshow

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Stop 10: Albuquerque, New Mexico

“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” Mother Teresa

This time, I couchsurfed with a couple and their 1 year old baby. All of the houses in their neighborhood looked like adobe huts and they took me to eat a delicious meal at a true New Mexican restaurant. The big question is whether you like red or green chilli. I got both and honestly could not taste a huge difference so I just told people I liked the green because I like that color more. Albuquerque was quiet, focused on exercise, and valued a connection with nature. The woman I was couchsurfing with brought me to play beach volleyball at a big warehouse with her teammates. My skills were definitely rusty, but it was fun to get on the court again after not playing volleyball for 4 years! I met a firefighter/yoga instructor friend through couchsurfing who invited me to his hot yoga class. Later in the week we went to a reggae concert, Tribal Seeds, with another friend of his that was very thoughtful and kind. At the beginning of my journey I planned for 5 “flexible” days, meaning these days could be used to stay in a place for a bit longer or allow for some car maintenance if necessary along the way. I spent all 5 of these days in Albuquerque I liked it that much J

I was really scared of the dogs in my couchsurfing house. Small dogs are ok, but I really do not like big dogs. I feel like they swarm around your feet like sharks and you never know when they could bite. Also, I took a beautiful tram ride to the top of Sandia Peak and hiked around there for longer than expected. I got really bad sunburn. That sucked.

I chose to take a random trip to Santa Fe one day, which was totally unplanned. It was only an hour away so why not? There is a street called Canyon Road with over 100 art galleries. I realized I really like kinesthetic art, which is basically art that moves. My favorite were these wind sculptures by Mark White that changed color and shape when it got windy outside. Also, once back in Albuquerque I was talking with a store owner about Katrina dolls, which look a bit like the character in “The Nightmare Before Christmas” movie. These dolls are popular in New Mexico because they are decorations for the holiday The Day of Dead which is celebrated throughout the state. I didn’t know this was a holiday people still celebrated.

I really wanted to enter an Indian reservation. There are tours you can do through organizations online, but I wanted to go by myself on a less commercial route. I asked around all week and people said it was really hard to enter the reservation if you are not a member of the tribe and that filming would be nearly impossible since they want to preserve their traditions within the territory of the reservation. Sadly, people told me the easiest way to talk to Native Americans was to go to any casino, since they dominate that industry in New Mexico. Growing up in Colorado, the Native Americans were always a big topic in history classes, museum exhibits, and school projects. I remember my first Native American project was in 2nd grade about the Apache Tribe. This was my chance to experience that culture, but I was unable to figure out how to do it.


The people in Albuquerque were so happy, engaging, and lived relatively simple lives. I spent more time talking to each link in this city since they had the time and interest to talk to a stranger like me. I was amazed at how smiley people were in general and this made me realize that I need to live in a place where people smile. It’s such a simple gesture but can really mean a lot.

Explore Albuquerque, New Mexico now
Sandia Peak Tram

Off Broadway Costume Store (used in lots of Hollywood productions)

Tribal Seeds concert

Canyon Road, Santa Fe

Body Cafe (yoga studio and lunch spot)

Mark White kinetic wind sculptures