Saturday, September 3, 2011

A trip to Vegas

South Africa has a couple of casino towns, Sun City being the most well known.  I had been there and to a couple of other of these towns back in the day.  The last one I visited was where the University of the North was located in Bophuthatswana.

It was a sad sight, seeing small, dirty children in threadbare clothing asleep on the stairs at the entrance to the casino while their parents played the slots and after losing some money of my own I had a pretty strong aversion to gambling.

This sets the stage for my recent trip to Vegas for a conference where I was to be available to assist in the booth for product demos.  I knew that I'd use the casino at least a little but wanted to also see what else there was on offer there.

Friends of mine moved to Vegas a few years ago.  I met one of them (Bruce) in 1979 when he spent a year studying in South Africa and we have kept in touch.  I met Gary, his partner, after I arrived in the USA in 2001.

I planned to leave for Vegas a couple of days early to spend a day with him seeing some of the natural attractions near the city.  It was lucky that I did because hurricane Irene wrecked havoc with travel on the East Coast on the day I should have left and would probably have prevented my trip.

I arrived in the afternoon and Bruce kindly agreed to drive me around in the evening in search of a good location to shoot the Strip as the sun set.  The Strip is a section of Las Vegas with tall beautifully lit buildings and is the main attraction for entertainment - certainly for tourists.  It turns out that there are casinos and attractions that the locals prefer out in the suburbs because the casinos in the Strip are a lot more expensive than these.

The city is spread over a pretty wide area in a large flat valley and it is hot!  We drove with the air conditioner on full blast and visited raised roads and some parking lots around the South West and West of the city before driving right into the strip.

I managed to get a few photographs but none of them were especially appealing.

Bruce had agreed to take a day trip with me on the next day leaving early (5:30am) to hike up some hills west of the city where there are some caves dug into the mountain (most likely from mining activity).  The dawn was beautiful and I got much better images of the Strip from there.  These caves are pretty big, but from a little googling it appears that there are larger caves that you can explore near Las Vegas in the Red Rock Canyon and elsewhere.

After the morning hike we went for a drive to Red Rock Canyon (more on this later) with a slight detour to look at some farmsteads on the eastern side of the canyon and then on a scenic drive through the canyon, stopping at several of the lookout points to take short walks and to photograph the amazing rock formations.

From there it was into the city to my hotel and an opportunity to visit some of the opulent hotels in the Las Vegas Strip.  Bruce and Gary both recommended the Belagio and Paris as two hotels worth visiting and they are both really close to the hotel I stayed in so after a shower I headed out to see them.

The hotels are something else.  They are massive!  Each of these hotels easily takes up the space of a large shopping mall in any big city and you have to look out when you walk through them because if you take a wrong turn down one of the corridors of shops you could end up with a mile long detour to get back to the main street of the Strip.

The first thing that I saw in the Belagio (I came in along one of the passages that is lined with designer shops) was the ceiling, festooned with inverted umbrellas of various colors and sizes.  The decor and attention to detail in the decoration is breathtaking and you can see that millions of dollars is spent on these amazing building architectures.  I have to say that having seen movies which feature these hotels, I was not prepared for the size or level of detail that I saw - I expected it to be more pre-fabricated, rather than brick and mortar and life-sized (in some cases larger than life) statues and decorations.

The Belagio is also famous for the fountains that are set to music and perform every 15minutes to the rapt attention of the people lined up along the road for the spectacle.

The Paris was similarly impressive with the large Eiffel tower structure straddling over the hotel.  I was very surprised to see how it came right into the building and I couldn't help snapping a shot of it as I came into the casino floor.

Out on the street, my amazement turned to dismay as I came across the grubby vendors with "Girls, girls" emblazoned on their Tee shirts handing out pamphlets advertizing the rent boys and college girls dying to come to my room (yeah, right!)  They slap the cards against their hand to get your attention and then shove them at you as you walk past.  A middle-aged single guy was of particular interest to them and after seeing what they were handing out I found myself shaking my head at them all the way down the street.

On the walkways between the buildings (did I mention that it is HOT - even at night) were a few dotted buskers who also seemed particularly sad to me - they, having not made it into the entertainment of the city shows, were sitting on the sidewalk trying to perform for money or simply begging with humorous signs that were somehow not amusing "I can't lie, I need a beer" and "Smile if you touch yourself".  One particularly poignant sign for me was "Too proud to prostitute" next to a young girl playing a keyboard.

A couple of these buskers also had animals with them.  One had a small kitten who looked pretty sick to me, lying in the music case of her violin and the other had a dog who looked pretty happy to be where we was.  His owner, when I asked if I could photograph offered to add interest to the shot with some actrobatics of his own.
I spent several days at the conference and took walks on my way back to the hotel each evening via some of the other hotels. You can see a slideshow of all the Vegas pictures here including some of the other hotels and street scenes and more pictures of the caves.

1 comment:

  1. We passed through Vegas on our way to the National Parks a few years ago. We stayed long enough to take in the sights and a show, but even that was too long. The artificial environment is just too toxic to me.