Through the window, a small, reinforced square, I could see the palm trees of LAX swaying in the warm breeze. Our four month Americas adventure has just begun.
The plan for the first leg of our trip this week – having left the coldest winter on record in the UK – is to drive through the balmy, Mediterranean climate of Los Angeles, the welcomingly arid sun in Nevada, then six different climates – in one day – in Arizona. All of which will kick off a trip that will eventually take in the best of south west USA, adventures through Central America, and the wild Amazonian jungles and historic Inca trails of South America. Phew. Still, the views will be better than from my desk.
Oscar buzz in Lala Land
If you think LaLa Land – Los Angeles – is weird and wonderful year round, then at this time of year it’s weirder and even more wonderful than usual – it’s Oscar season. The cream of the world’s movie talent – not to mention the sediment – has descended into LaLa Land for its most glamorous event, so the place is buzzing.
We stay in Los Feliz, near Hollywood, to soak in the excitement at night, whilst checking out the legendary Malibu surf scene during the day. No trip to L.A. would be complete without a cruise through the A-list residences on Mulholland Drive, nor a sun-burnt stroll along the immaculate Venice Beach, where the body beautiful meets the mental meltdown to reveal a cast of thousands of strange and fantastic characters.
We feel suitably z-list on the one hand, and misshapen and pasty on the other. Still, we’re on a round the world trip of a lifetime. And, since there’s no award for ‘best Round the World Experts customer’, nor any invite to Tatler’s glamorous Oscars after-party, we hire a car – convertible, of course, darling! – and leave a cloud of dust as the sun sets on our L.A. stay.
Milkshakes and exploding white tigers
We’re off to Vegas, baby! Four and half hours drive from Hollywood is the ‘city of sin’, a place whose gaudy, neon lights are visible from space. Vegas does tacky brilliantly – so we decided to go for an all-out cheese-fest.
We wolf down huge burgers and gulp thick milkshakes at the leather and chrome Peppermill diner on The Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard, the beating heart of the city). Having grown four waist sizes, we waddle next door into the neon-lit Peppermill Ultra Lounge, to sip cocktails in the bar’s ‘fire pit‘, which featured in Scorcese’s movie, Casino. The only thing more impressive than the cocktail was the hostess’ cleavage – I think that was a trick to make the men want to stay – that’s just so Vegas.
Continuing the cheesy theme, we went to the tackiest show we could find – ‘Extreme Magic’ with illusionist, Dirk Arthur. What can be more Vegas than seeing hot babes sawn into 9 pieces or watching albino tigers explode? Great fun – and surprisingly skilled and talented illusions you wouldn‘t see elsewhere.
We walked the four miles of the Strip, time disappearing with the glittering distractions, to see the water show at the Bellagio. It’s OTT but beautiful – seeing it in Ocean’s Eleven doesn’t really compare to the real thing. We rounded off our stay by betting the house, the pension – the lot – and doubling our stake. Actually, we bet pathetically small – but a win’s a win!
Crowds watch the fountains at the Bellagio
Crampons and leg cramps
To round off our first week in the US, we go from the ridiculous to the sublime. As I type this, a blizzard has left 12 foot snow drifts in the motel car park. We’re 7,000 feet up in the beautiful town of Flagstaff, Arizona after visiting that grandest of all geological wonders, the Grand Canyon. Words can barely describe how awe-inspiring this natural marvel is. You simply have to visit it. On a tight budget, we decided against the spectacular helicopter flight, opting instead for a difficult hike into the canyon.
Somewhat unnervingly, we had to buy crampons for the first stretch – and embarked on a six hour, seven mile, 5,000 foot descent into one of the most beautiful natural landscapes I have ever seen. Hiking is a superb way to experience this 6 million year old place – you get to wonder at it for hours for starters.
All ages climb this route – I’m amazed at the endurance and athleticism of the older hikers here. So as moved as I feel by the environment, I feel inspired by the people who call it their playground. A big surprise is how the climate changes dramatically – from alpine at the top to hot desert at the bottom – they say there are six different climates on the descent, like the climates in between Canada and Mexico. Unluckily for me, my legs feel like I’ve just walked from Canada to Mexico.
Spectacular Grand Canyon views after a hard day's hike
So it’s time to drink cool beer and eat spicy tacos in Flagstaff – and plan the next week through native American Arizona and Utah, before doubling back to northern California and San Francisco, via Death Valley, and Yosemite and Sequoia national parks.