Day 12 (June 17, 2008) Balboa Park and driving to Vegas


Route for day 12

   We must start early again this day. The morning will be spent in San Diego. We should visit the parts of Balboa Park we couldn’t see the previous day and, at the beginning of our way to Vegas, there is a place called Escondido with a wildlife reserve belonging to San Diego zoo where you can interact with the animals, like feeding giraffes and rhinos. Its name is Wild Animal Park and, although it is not a must-do visit, we will keep it in mind. Then, lunching there or in our way, we would drive through Mohave Desert until Las Vegas. I’m planning arriving at dark there as I’ve been told the appearance of the city in the middle of the dark is quite impressive.

   It is a long route: 535 Km. We should cover them in almost five hours.

   Once allocated in Vegas we would go out at night to visit some hotel in the Strip and living the party .


       After what happened yesterday, we only have this morning to spend in San Diego. I would like to visit the Wild Animal Park, but now I can’t see us doing that.

   Once I’m ready to go to breakfast I go to the garden for a cigarette while waiting for the women. It is beautiful and I’m enjoying my walk when I can hear a big buzzing which makes me look for the source expecting to find the biggest bumblebee ever but, instead, I find a hummingbird. I keep watching, amazed, how it is visiting every flower in the closest tree to me. I didn’t know I could find hummingbirds here! I wish I brought the camera, but I never thought it could be necessary in a cigarette in front of the room so I just enjoy that moment and don’t come back until I miss it.

   It’s a good beginning for this day and we go to breakfast while explaining my experience. Generically, this is the worst hotel of this travel, but it is not that bad, it’s more the rest wereBalboa Park very good.

   Once driving, I can find the highway quickly after what happened last night and park in the free and big Balboa Park parking some minutes past 11h. We notice then how close planes are flying from us, airport must be right here.

    There is a trolley, like a wheeled tram, which goes to the main spots in the park and is free too. That’s weird! It’s pretty, all wood, and driver is a guide too, explaining the things as we’re passing by them. There are a lot of museums here, and we can see some war planes outside the Aviation and Space one. We’re not going to get into any of them and the famous San Diego zoo, which is located in the park too, was discarded even before starting the travel. The idea is visiting what we can see around, while walking, but the feeling is you could spend 2 or 3 days exploring this park. We go down from the tram in the Square named in the map as “Panama Sq.”. It seems the main one and you can get anywhere in the park from here. We take the broad promenade called “El Prado”. Names are Spanish, and architecture seems to be too, besides, we find three statues of three famous Spanish painters: Velazquez, Murillo and Zurbaran.

Greenhouse in Balboa Park   We like everything we’re seeing here and we understand the recommendation we’ve got to visit it. Buildings architecture is the same for all of them, like in colonial Spain, with an excess of ornamentation in fašade, like the sample in the picture.

   We keep walking along El Prado until a space opens at our left with a nice lake and a semitransparent building, like herbarium. The map marks that place as the Botanic Garden and we go to there looking at the colorful fishes in the lake in our way.

   We look at the plants indoors, there are even tree, close to reach the ceiling. There are all kind of plants, but the ones we are attracted more to are the carnivorous ones, like the ones in the picture below at right, with a sort of “bags” with water with sugar in them and a top which can close the whole thing when an insect has got in to taste the nectar and becomes in food itself.

Balboa Park's Botanic GardenCarnivorous plant

   While leaving the place I admire the beauty of the view of the lake, full of water lilies, and the building in front.

Botanic Garden's lake in Balboa Park

   Following El Prado we reach the end of it, on a big square and with a round fountain in the middle. Here it is the Natural History Museum and the Science Center as well. It is beautiful and we walk around the square to coming back to Panama Square by the same way, where we wait the trolley which can get us back to our car. We feel the pity of having so few time to spend in San Diego, the delays and extras along our trip have ended by penalizing this city. We know now it deserves more.

   We take I15, just besides the park for a long and easy trip, ass this same highway goes to Vegas. In our way, I look the exit to Escondido as we have no chance of enjoying the wild animal reserve now, so I keep driving to changing landscape to desert. As far as I know, these views are going to be there along the whole ride.

   Buildings have progressively disappeared from the road sides along with the cars. After a couple of hours we are looking for a place to lunch but there is no place anywhere, whether for lunching or for anything else. Somehow, after some kilometers appear, in the middle of nowhere, what seems to be a big shopping mall. I can see a Hooters from the road but, once inside the area, with all similar buildings, short and brown, I cannot finding it anymore and we end parking in front of a restaurant from a Mexican food franchise: Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill. The whole area is like a city, with business, shops and restaurant, but we can barely see people around. Who is going to come to here! How these shops and restaurant can do any business here? Where the people working here come from if we cannot see any house in several kilometers around?. Mysteries…. and also, it results here they have the cheapest prices: one dollar tacos!

   So, we lunch by 14$ all three, tacos and the all-you-can-drink cokes! It’s like 3€ per person. I cannot find an explanation to all together, but we’re happy and ready for going on with our drive.

Mohave desert's straight road

   Joshua trees have been appearing filling the desert at both sides of the road. This is the Mohave Desert. The road is like an infinite straight line to the horizon. You cannot see the end although there is open sight for several kilometers. It must be it is new for us but the 5 hours’ drive is not boring or monotonous as we keep looking amazed around.

   In the very moment we cross the state border, along with the “Welcome to Nevada” sign, we can see a huge hotel with a giant roller coaster. We can read “Buffalo Bill’s” as name and we think Las Vegas is at the corner, but it is just a preview, there is still road for us .

Arrival to VegasJohua trees

   I can see we’re going to arrive to Vegas at daylight and we could spend more time in San Diego, then. About 30 minutes after being in Nevada, the city of Las Vegas appears like a huge oasis in the middle of the desert. I15 goes across the city, in parallel to the Strip, so we can see at our right the back side of the famous hotels. Mandalay Bay has a big screen at road promoting its shows and a little bit later appears, as a white Titan, our hotel, Excalibur, with its towers with a blue or red top.

Road screen from Mandalay Bay HotelHotel Excalibur

   We take the exit and drive with New York New York hotel at left keeping an eye to our hotel at right, so we cannot miss it. Then we get the car into a roundabout belonging to the hotel, but that is not the main entrance, so we go on by the Strip – which real name is Las Vegas Boulevard - and go around the complex until I reach a matter of ramp with a row of cars on it waiting for the valet parking. Here is the entrance.

   I can see how the guy is taking our car giving us a ticket in exchange and we go in Excalibur with carrying our baggage and our open mouth. These hotels has nothing to do with the ones we know, there is no hall itself in the entrance, instead, a huge and carpeted floor full of machine slots and all kind of casino stuff. It’s not easy trying to find a reception desk or the way to the rooms. Then, our eyes get used to the soft light in here and we can see the signs to go wherever you want to go there. We walk looking at the amount of gamblers around or the fancy car displayed as prize for a winner, but we cannot see the end of it. Finally, we find the reception desk and it is not small, there is a row of people waiting for their turn, which we join to .

Hotel ExcaliburHotel New York New York

   We get a hotel map, the key card and we’ve told we’re in Tower 2. Following the signs we arrive to the only entrance to Tower 2 with a guard which checks all the people coming in have a valid key. The room is good, as expected, with the big flat screen and the magnificent views to NYNY hotel as the shown in the picture above at right. We rest for a while and dress for night and go out for our first contact with the Strip.

Hotel Excalibur by night   Once again in the unavoidable casino, we’re called by a big man, dressing as a bodyguard, so we thought he was from hotel security. He propose to us to go to a Cirque du Soleil show in Treasure Island hotel by just 40$ each. As I checked rates before coming, I know it uses to cost 100$, so I’m interested on it. The trick is we must attend to a marketing talk tomorrow evening, but we already have tickets for the Elton John concert for then, he says it could be the day after tomorrow, but we’re going to spend the whole day in Grand Canyon. The he looks at me as saying “so what?, you already have plans for all days here!”, and the answer is yes. But we still have tonight, so I ask about any way of having discounted tickets for tonight without any commitment for the future days and he nicely explains to me the way locals go to these shows. They purchase 40$ tickets in the place he is going to address me and then tip with 20$ to the usher telling him we want good chairs, he’ll understand. He tells me could explain more things, but as I already have got the days busy… So, we go out with the idea of reaching Treasure Island on time.

Brooklyn Bridge replicaInside of New York New York

   When going outside it is night, but not dark, as there are lights everywhere. It’s hot. We’re in rush if we want to be in Treasure Island on time, but the Strip by night is so attractive for us as per forgetting about the show. There are bridges over the roads so pedestrians can go across them. We can see the green MDM in front of us, NYNY is at our right, which is the way we follow. Pictures with the Brooklyn Bridge – which is different from the real one just because that has no screen displaying advices -, the statue of Liberty, Empire State and Chrysler buildings,… We go inside and we’re delivered coupons for Coyote Bar from one man in the door, it is just here. At this moment we’re quite sure we’re not going to try the trick to get into the show. We’re amazed by what we’re seeing: apart from the Casino, there is an area with restaurants and bars on a kind of set with Manhattan streets, with trees, and the ceiling painted as the sky in a sunny day.Hotel Montecarlo

   We come back to the Strip. There are pass ways to go down the street avoiding the sight of the works. It seems they are building a colossal hotel or something. I keep being delivered vouchers. The most of them has the picture of a hot woman, a name, a phone number and a ridiculous price: “Special 35$”. My wife keeps telling me not taking more of them. “It’s just a souvenir!”.

   Montecarlo is luxury, so we go inside. There are a few people in Casino. We look at the machine slots. These machines have evolved from what we knew about them: no more coins bucket; these gamblers keep pushing the button without inserting any count as their credit card is permanently inserted in the machine. You can use bills too, but there is no place to insert a coin on them. If you win, the prize is not given in hundreds of coins either, instead you receive a printed receipt which can be exchanged by money in the cashier or, of course, used on another machine. We get the dinner there, in a Chinese - with Japanese food too – restaurant named Dragon Noodle. It’s not cheap, but we’re living our first night in Las Vegas. We want sushi and, as you can get a 7 pieces dish by 10$, we end paying 63$ for the whole dinner for a couple, tips included.

   Next hotel is Bellagio and Paris is in front of it. We do some pictures in this last one waiting to the fountains start their show which, I read, is every 15 minutes.

Eiffel Tower in Hotel ParisArc du Triomphe in Hotel Paris

   We see an Eiffel Tower, Arc du Triomphe and Opera house replicas and even the whole building recalls the Louvre architecture. It’s spectacular. But we must focus across the street as the music starts in Bellagio.

   Water streams, on different highs and shapes during the performance, follow their choreography along with the music. Besides the show in the pool, there is the magnificent facade of Bellagio Hotel at the bottom.

Bellagio fountains  It’s a fantastic show which is performed during the whole night with different musics and different water moves.

   We choose the Casino in Hotel Paris for a little of gambling. I just set a limit of 40$ and if I lose them then we play no more. Inside, it is set as street in Paris, with the ceiling, again, simulating a sunny day. These casinos are thought to be timeless: no clocks, no windows… no time references. It could be 4 AM or 12PM and you wouldn’t notice a difference.

   I choose a roulette with the lowest limit with a free chair, close to the bar, where Eva takes her seat. Limit is 10$, so I exchange a 20$ bills in two chips. I start betting on “1 to 18” or “19 to 36” based on what have already happened. When I’ve got some more chips, then I go for the a third bet, I mean, lower numbers, middle or higher. I go for combinations, but never betting to a single number, but 6 numbers as minimum.

   As I’m winning, the rest of the table, young Irish men from the same group, start talking with me saying they’re following me as I use to guess the high or low tendency. It seems strange their chips have no number on them but we celebrate winnings together and the waitress keeps bringing me a Corona every time I’ve emptied the bottle. Eva comes and when seeing I’ve got a good amount of 10$ chips she suggest to save some of them: I give 100$ to her.

Inside Hotel Paris   It results winning is fantastic here. Well, it must be fantastic anywhere, but here, apart from the extra money, there is free bar as drinks keep being served for free as long as you keep gambling, and you can smoke!! Somehow, we will have to pay Eva drinks, but they’re not expensive and Eva has a gift taking hours for a cup of champagne. I use to visit her with 100$ on chips to save every time. I don’t know how long I’m there gambling when it seems I’m starting to lose: from 200$ I had on the table now there are 40$ and I decide to bet all four chips at a time. I lose them and we leave knowing I’ve visited Eva 5 times, so that’s 500$ to take from the cashier. We go back to our room very happy tonight.