- from Haiti to Vegas
15.06.2016 - 23.09.2016 42 °C
After such a wonderful time connecting with nature in Arizona and Utah, we arrived back to Las Vegas, Nevada late and tired after a full day of driving and exploring. We tried to check into our initial hotel, but they were booked out - and so was everything else the 3 of us could afford! I knew we were going to find something eventually - many years of traveling without a plan have always seen me right so far, and we even had a car so we were better off than ever in my opinion! I had the idea that we should head away from the main strip and try to find a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town - for godsake, in the Disneyland of strippers and sex workers there would have to be something dodgy and cheap somewhere right?
I was hating on the fact that the USA has only about 50 hostels nationwide because all I wanted was a cheap dorm bed and the idea of a coffee in the morning. However, we began to circle the one way streets and get lost through construction detours as we drove around...and around... and around. The GPS was blabbering non stop as we fought our way towards an unknown destination, and naturally Sarah and I began to giggle harder and harder until we were roaring with laughter as the tears streamed down our faces. Paul was certainly not at all accustomed to the ups and downs of being on the road and was getting more and more upset and angry at the lack of plan or bed in front of us, and the terrible thing was that the more upset he became the harder Sarah and I laughed - especially as the GPS was out of control telling us to turn right, then left, then she even said: "You really need to turn around RIGHT NOW." Even as I write this, I start to giggle remembering how absolutely hilarious it was. I feel slightly bad for laughing so hard when Paul was so distressed, but I do really hope that he has also gained some experience towards the number one rule on the road - everything will always work out somehow. And it did, of course it did! We finally stumbled across a street bursting with cheap hotel signs, and we drove straight for the one with the flashing sign we desired so much; VACANCY!
It was a long sleep for all of us, nearly missing the 11am checkout due to our checkin time of 2am after a full day driving through 3 states! We quickly got dressed and ready to drive over to our next destination: Wynn/ Encore resort where we would be meeting Paul's cousin. As we drove to the Vegas stip and began to look around everything, we knew that we were heading towards a hotel of a very different league. Paul's cousin does the lighting for a DJ and had been put up in the hotel where the event was to take place - and had kindly offered us to stay with him and to attend the show for free.
The lobby/ casino of the Wynn/ Encore resort was incredible and such an absolute extravagant waste of money. Gold embossing was on everything, the ridiculous number of flashing lights beamed from every direction, and the effort and detail on every object was ridiculously immaculate. Girls walked around in bikinis with high heels and faces full of make up (I don't think they realised that bikinis are for swimming and surfing, places where heels and makeup are not well received)... The ridiculous ammounts of luggage belonging to the other guests wore Gucci and LV signs that were a far cry from my bruised and battered carry on size backpack that I have lived out of for years now.
I felt instantly sick to my stomach and had to fight hard with myself not to vomit on the red, 20 billion thread count carpet I stood on. Two years straight of traveling through countries where many people don't even have access to drinkable water or electricity had led me to a place that had giant crystal balls for doorhandles on the bathrooms. We went up to the room and met with Ben, Paul's cousin who had moved from Wellington, NZ to pursue his career in lighting in LA. Very kindly he had arranged for 2 giant beds and a little trundle bed for me that had the aesthetic quality of sleeping in a cloud. The room itself was another level. There was a tablet style control pad next to the bed to control the lights and curtains. We could tap a button that would open or close the sheers or heavy curtains that would make the room as dark as night. There were night lights, full lights, dimmers, and brights that were all adjustable through the tablet. I must have closed and opened the curtains 40 times before I finally got bored of such a novelty. What struck me as the most ridiculous of all though was the touch sensitive mini bar. If an item is lifted for more than 30 seconds - it has already been charged to your room. What an absolute waste of money. Of all the things on this planet that money could be used for, to make societies safer, to raise education levels, to help clean up the environment - somebody instead decided that the best use for money and resources would be to create a touch sensitive mini bar and self closing curtains. I was torn between absolute awe and disgust. And I felt myself wanting to be sick again.
Ben had the evening off before the show, and he decided to take us to Fremont Street so we could look around. I had absolutely NO idea what we were in for as I had never seen much more of Vegas than the movies show us. At the last minute, Ben got called to work so he dropped us outside a casino called the Golden Nugget and just pointed us in the very nonchalant direction of "walk through the casino and go out the doors on the other side." Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw - the original strip of Las Vegas!
The whole thing had a domed ceiling, and the lights flashed in every direction. There were multiple stages down the near 1km strip, that each had bands and artists singing or dancing upon them. There were people in costumes everywhere - we saw superman, minions, hillbillys, cowboys, and near naked dominatrix ladies offering spankings in return for dollars. It was one of the most bizarre places to end up without any warning at all !
We were dragged into some strange choreographed dance audience in front of one of the big stages as leatherbound dragqueens blew kisses at us, we drank (FREE!) bloody marys and cuba libres as we fed pennys into slot machines in the different casinos, and we screamed victory every single time we won just 20 cents. It was like being in a very weird dream...
We left around 11 and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the gig.
Again, I had no idea what to expect but figured I would need to dress semi nice since it was going to be held within the hotel's onsite club. We went downstairs through the VIP entry (ohhh la la) and met with the DJ who was a really nice guy and seemed interested to hear our story. We were hustled and bustled through a few doors and BAM - there we were in the most beautiful club I have ever stepped foot in.
The Encore Beach Club was a far cry from the beach bars of my town Cabarete in the Dominican Republic! There wasn't a spot of sand anywhere, and my usual $2 mojito was at 16 times the price - and nowhere near as good may I add! There were a LOT of people who had paid a LOT of money to be at the event, and I (sorry to say) had absolutely no idea who the DJ was or what type of music he would be playing.
Bottles of Grey Goose vodka were on sale for $500USD a bottle, and multiple bottles lay on every table surrounded by magazine perfect bodies sipping them with their long arms and legs draped over themselves or the human next to them. It is suffice to say that nothing in my energy or attitude aligned with anyone around me and the only thing physically the same was my Caribbean tan - except even then, mine was 100% natural. Sarah, Paul, and I were all far too poor to drink there and felt way out of our league. People were all very high on a large cocktail of party drugs - and we were very very obviously not. I don't even imagine we would have been let in considering the way we were dressed if we hadn't been with the DJ (yes we were dressed with actual clothes instead of material scraps).
The whole event was so far from what the people I love stand for that I was in utter shock the entire time. I found out that the table next to the stage had spent $10,000USD just to sit there before spending a further $17,000USD on alcohol. Again, I felt the familiar feeling of Vegas return to the pit of my stomach as I tried not to either vomit or cry. $27,000USD; enough money to buy the land and construct the building for our school. $27,000USD; enough money to travel the world for 2 years - if you know how to do it right anyway. $27,000USD; enough money to set up solar panels in a community and provide food for a year. A month before I had seen people living in cardboard tents on a hillside in Haiti, that same $27,000 could have built stable housing for their community and given beds to the children. Yet that $27,000USD was spent on getting 10 people drunk while sitting on chair at a table next to a stage in Las Vegas. What priorities. What empathy. What a sickening environment full of stagnant & negative energy I had landed myself in. I wanted to be sick again, and this time I was.
I found myself crying in the corridoor of one of the most expensive hotels I had ever entered with the taste of vomit at the back of my throat. Two young men passed screaming "don't cry pretty lady, you're in Vegas baby!" had me laugh at their ignorance - I was crying because it was Vegas, baby! I Slumped down, rambling rapidfire Spanish down the phone to a loving Billy who was technically too busy to talk as he was doing translating and building work in an extremely poor community of the Dominican Republic with a group of North American Missionaries. How far away from each other our two worlds were. How wholeheartedly did I wish I was back in his world. I knew instantly that I belonged where my existence could bring change and development. He had to go, just as a cleaner passed me on his way to clean a room. He heard my Spanish and began to talk to me, as he was from Guatemala. He spoke about how his job cleaning supports his family, yet how the energy of the entire city is so oppressing that he wishes more than anything that his family had never left Guatemala. That having money was nothing in comparison to the beautiful life he had in Guatemala surrounded by the lands of his forefathers and the waters of his youth. I smiled sadly at him, "El sueño Americano es una mierda" and he laughed as he hugged me tight, telling me to smile because after all I am the lucky one - in just 24 hours I would be out of the city. He, however, would be stuck there; trying desperately to fulfill the non existent American dream.
The next day we moved to New York, New York casino & hotel at (very kindly) Ben's shout because the Encore had no more space. NY NY is another hotel of crazy structure - it even has a rollercoaster that travels through and around the building!
And the lower level has an eating area that mimics the streets of New York City but is all undercover - and sells some deliciously cheap food too if you search through each of the options!
Sarah was bursting to see Penn & Teller but there was no way I would be going at tickets of nearly $100USD each. Ben, Paul & Sarah booked their tickets and I prepared to spend an evening skyping Billy and wandering around town to try and find a real connection with someone who felt the way I did. As it turned out, Ben cancelled at the last minute but promised to pay for his ticket and give it to me! I had never heard of the magicians that my favourite cousin loved so much, but knew they would be awesome - and they were! They were certainly a wonderful respite from the madness of Vegas. Their show was tasteful, politically charged, and funny. It questioned the ridiculousness of society and the materialistic nature of the western world. And it was full of magic that left me feeling that of course it still exists. I felt like I had been blessed by the universe with a surprise ticket and an opportunity to feel something real while stuck in the madness of a city where anyone no longer in the 3rd dimension or 'sushi and shoes mentality' clearly doesn't belong. And it was a joy to see my cousin cry with happiness as she got to join a line of fans after the show to meet and greet each of the two artists for a photo and a signed momento. What a wonderful moment in time for us both.
We left the theatre and made our way back to the strip, deciding to walk our way back towards our hotel instead of taking a taxi.
We stopped at the Belaggio to watch the fountains dance before us - and wow, they were magnificent.
We wandered inside to see the Chihuly glass for Mamma, and we stumbled upon a living and breathing garden display that was just beautiful. The scent of those flowers filled me with much needed peace and a connection to nature. We spent a long time wandering around the gardens, marveling at how the flowers had been used to create such an amazing gallery of art.
We walked down the strip - ignoring the calls for strip clubs and the offers for cocaine. We stopped outside the Eiffel tower for a photo, and we laughed at those wasting all of their money on pokie machines.
We tossed up going to a casino for Paul to play poker or to go for late night dinner of fried chicken ...he and I both shared very similar feelings towards Las Vegas so guess which won...
And then guess who lost almost immediately after - and had to run to use the toilet at one of the flashest most fanciest shopping malls I had ever been in. I completely destroyed the bathroom that sat right next to a shop selling $15,000USD handbags ... Take that ya bastards!
Las Vegas was an eye opener. I have known for many years that life is about balance. We cannot have happiness without sadness, or poverty without wealth. But nothing had ever prepared me for the extremities such as traveling from Haiti to Las Vegas.