Monday, 26 October 2009

South West USA: Las Vegas

Las Vegas. I don't like it. There are some things that are fun to see and do and I enjoy those. It is fun to see all the different casinos and their weirdness; standing in the Venetian in the 'San Marco Square' and thinking "what a nice day to have an ice cream outside on the terrace" and then doubling back on your own thoughts. Of course it's a nice day! You're inside the hotel, the 'sky' is a ceiling with really good lighting. The terraces are not outside... Outside in the Nevada desert means about 40 degrees Celsius. Not nice for icecreams because they liquify instantly.

Of course the thoughts quickly dissolve too when the comedia dell'arte opera troupe enters the square, singing Verdi classics.

The guy had the biggest win in the casino: $200. We only played the slot machines and tended to go for the fun ones: ones with lights and noises and freaky wheels that start turning when you get the right combination. My highest win was $89 in one go. But there is a Victoria's Secret in the casino so it didn't last.

The show KA by Cirque du Soleil was amazing. The hotel room was luxury. The food was okay. The sights were seen. The vacation, alas, came to an end as we flew back from Vegas. All the way home.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

South West USA: Zion

Zion Canyon. There is something about it. The short version: I love being there. The long version includes notions of manageable beauty and size, tales of soul searching and coming home, feeling both tiny and strong, endless surprises and a general sense of being home away from home. The problem is that at a certain point even the long version does not suffice and it all comes down the ultra-short version: Zion.

The park Zion Canyon was founded early in the twentieth century. Before that the canyon had been a sacred place for the native peoples for centuries, until European settlers broke the spell and explored it, made it accessible for cattle and carts, and made orchards in it. The Virgin river, the one that carved out the canyon in the first place, is really the life blood of the canyon. It still moves around and keeps carving. The little town of Springdale, situated just outside the park’s limits, seems to have a healthy relationship with the park itself. It has a calm, small-scale feel to it. No big chain hotels, restaurants or stores in Springdale: too much growth, it knows, would mean destruction of the unique character and appeal of both town and park. And so despite its proximity to horrible Las Vegas, Springdale takes it easy. Many other parks in the US have not been so fortunate.

My parents had often heard about Zion from me and they were naturally curious about the place. I think they loved it too. What my parents did not hear from me is the spiritual connection I have always felt with that place, from the first time I was there which is about twelve years ago. It was a lot like coming home, as I said above, but back then to a landscape I had never experienced before. I was a stranger in a strange land up to the point where I drove into Zion. The wonder of visiting a new place was still there but it was my place. That feeling never left over the years. (More about Zion and me in a later entry, I promise.)

We did two hiking trails the first day: Emerald pools (relatively easy) and Angel’s Landing. The latter is also described as the ‘grandfather of all trails’.

For those of you unfamiliar with it: Angel’s Landing consists of a very steep climb with long switchbacks, a short and relatively easy stroll into a shady and luscious (and cool!) narrow side canyon, some (very) short switchbacks to a resting place, and finally a steep and risky (okay: scary) climb along a narrow rocky ridgeback to the very top of a high outcrop in the middle of Zion Canyon. The whole thing is about 5 miles, it is marked down for about four hours. That should tell you something. We’ve ‘done’ Angel’s Landing several times now, usually in less than four hours, but it never ceases to amaze. This time my parents joined us until the resting point just below the climb. We took it easy and they met the (substantial) challenge admirably. On the way down we met a desert tarantula. Talk about facing one’s fears…

The beers and burgers at Oscar’s that night tasted particularly good.