This is the story of my 6 months of studying in Arizona in 2010 and subsequent travels in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Day 4 and 5 - Last day in Las Vegas and driving to Merced

January 1st we woke up to have breakfast a little past 8. Nothing healthy what so ever in the complimentary breakfast, which consisted of muffins and other cakes, sugar coated cereals, and freshly made waffles. Luckily we could add some oat meal and fruits from our car stash, and had a great meal! After planning our day itinerary, we were off to the strip to see it in daylight. First we entered Circus Circus, which looked like the other casinos at the first sight. However, it is designed differently, tivoli inspired, and has shows with different performers all throughout the day. We saw one with a Ukrainian juggler, which kept us entertained for approximately 15 mins. Afterwards we had one of our suspicions confirmed. It is almost impossible to find the exits in the casinos. While there are loads of signs for restaurants etc., the exits are poorly marked, and it took us a while to find our way out. Same for many of the other places.

Fremont St. 
We continued down the strip for a while, and concluded that all the casinos are pretty much the same. Loads of machines and too many people sitting by them staring lifelessly into the screens. Rather depressing actually, and extremely chaotic with all the noise. We went back to the hotel to have lunch, the leftovers from the Indian New Year dinner.

Around 4, after resting a bit, we took the car and drove downtown. Pretty much the same deal as on the Strip. Casinos and souvenir shops. But what we really came to see was a light show at Fremont Street at 6 PM. It is hard to explain, so look at the pictures instead. :) It was REALLY COOL!

Outside Bellagio
We had agreed to meet my Swiss friend Nik and his friend Silvan at a Strip-casino for dinner at 6.30, but got delayed thinking that the short drive would take much less time than it did. So when we finally arrived, we found the guys playing a 1$ slot machine waiting for us. As we also got to pull the lever/push the button once, I can say that yes, I did play in Las Vegas. Not with my own money, but whatever... ;) Nik had got a recommendation for a restaurant in the casino, and it turned out to be great. Portions way too big but not very expensive, and very good. After dinner we went to Bellagio, another casino with a fountain water show every 15 minutes. We stayed around and watched two, and then said goodbye to the guys, who went to see a drag show. Helene and I went around to look a bit more at the casinos, then drove back to relax in the hotel.

Honestly leaving Las Vegas Sunday morning was something I enjoyed a lot. Not just to get back on the road, but leaving this huge, messy city - I'm just not so good with cities like that. So in a quest for fuel we headed off, well aware that we would probably be stuck in traffic along the way.

The first hours was pretty boring, with a lot of cars on the road and too many toilet breaks due to excessive coffee and water consumption by Helene and myself respectively. So we blame the lines in the restrooms for the fact that it took us 12 hours to get to Merced, a 720 km drive. Well, really a number of factors affected the driving time. We did have a lot of short stops, but the traffic was also rather slow. Passing Bakersfield a little over half way it started raining, which was great for the fact that our car was insanely dirty after driving on snowy, salty, sandy roads around Flagstaff. But it reduced our speed, especially when it became dark and the traffic was even closed on the dark roads around Fresno. Here we stopped to get dinner, and found a nice little Italian restaurant where we in a zombie-like state tried to decide wether we wanted to continue or stay in Fresno. Helene had already checked hostel options, so we knew that there was nothing in Fresno. Closest was a 8-bed hostel in Merced, an hour drive North. I called the owners, a married couple in their 70's, who for 21 years have run a hostel in their own home. Knowing that it was cheap, homely, and closer to our goal in San Francisco, I pulled myself together and with Helene acting well as DJ we had a good energy in the car, now driving on drier roads as it stopped raining. We arrived in Merced 8.30 PM.

The hostel in Merced was spectacular. I never tried anything like it - a regular house, where two rooms are equipped with bunk beds. There is a single bathroom, two living areas, and a family kitchen that hostellers are welcome to use. Larry, the owner, welcomed us warmly and showed us our beds. Very talkative, it was a challenge for us to stay engaged in the conversation with our all-day-driving-messed-up brains. In the end we excused ourselves and went to bed, though not without first having to decline a scoop of ice cream offered by Larry in the kitchen. Slept like a baby till 7 AM, with Larry knocking on the door 7.15 to let us know that the breakfast was ready. :)

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