A change of plans

That evening, camped up on Craggy Wash, we were able to let Aimee have free reign for the first time in a few days. While she had a great time, we made the most of the lovely sunshine. Not accustomed to wearing t-shirt in January, it was something to be enjoyed.

As it grew a bit colder, we were about to head inside when a couple from Canada walked past and we inevitably got chatting. As had happened many times over the weekend when we mentioned our future travel plans, they looked at us as if we were slightly mad. I realise that Canada is not the place to be this time of year, but when planning a trip like this, you have little to go off except average weather data for the previous years. Looking at the end of February, it hadn’t looked too bad. We had decided that we would probably have to head out to Vancouver Island once over the border, as it would be milder there surrounded by sea. We were also starting to believe that we wouldn’t be able to drive that far, or to the places we wanted to go due to the snow.

Sitting there in the warm we pondered our options. We had to leave the country in about 5 weeks one way or the other. The more Canadians we talked to the less appealing Canada became. A lot of people telling us that we shouldn’t even try it before April. We had experienced the cold back in Colorado, and at -14c Ruby is not particularly fun. A lot of people from Buses by the Bridge, seemed to be heading towards Baja, and we had always wanted to go there. Our main concerned was visas and insurance, perhaps a little more research was needed.

In the morning we had to head north regardless, as we had post waiting for us in Vegas, that we had been trying to pick up since Christmas. About two hours of driving north later, and I had emailed our insurance company asking for a quote for Mexican insurance as they had repeatedly told me that they would cover us. On the drive we debated the pros and cons of changing our plans. Mexico was more dangerous, we would have to pay extra for insurance as we had just found out that our current company wouldn’t cover it and we would need to try and re-enter the states which could be a pain. On the plus side, it would be warmer, cheaper and if we stayed over 30 days, our tourist visa would reset. Meaning that as long as we got back in, we could take out time driving up the west coast and arrive in Canada in April. Suddenly with a lot to think about, we arrived in Vegas for the third time.

This time we were in luck and we actually got hold of our post. We then decided we would like to see the volcano at The Mirage and The Bellagio fountains at night, which we didn’t get to see last time.  There is a place at the beginning of the strip where you can park and camp for free, but it’s completely the opposite end to the two hotels. Not fancying nearly an hours walk in either direction, we drove around to try and find parking closer. There is an abundance of parking on the strip, and a lot of it is even free, but the problem is that it is nearly all in a multistory car parks. This means we can’t have it, as even though we are a small van, we’re still taller than a regular car. In the end we managed to find a car park behind The High Roller, the world’s largest Ferris wheel. It was kinda pricey, about $12 for over 4 hours, but we also then realised that a load of RVs were parked up here and that for $15, we could stay the night. For convenience’s sake, we thought this would do, especially as it was only a 5-minute walk to The Mirage. Before we headed, I checked to see if there was any Groupon offers, as I really wanted to go on wheel, but it was pretty expensive. There was a deal, that meant we could go to Madame Tussauds and the wheel, for $69 each, we would also have access to a 30-minute free bar at both. A bit expensive, but every now and again you have to treat yourselves and spend a bit of money, it was also cheaper than if we had gone and just bought tickets. We decided to head over to  Madame Tussauds, and check that we could us the voucher that night, as I’ve made too many groupon mistakes already! As we got to the strip, I noticed the audience gathered at The Mirage, and it turned out we had timed it perfectly to watch the volcano erupting.

Glad we had seen the show finally, we headed back over to the museum. The guy on the desk confirmed, that we could use the ticket tonight and we had just 45 minutes till the museum shut. This suited us, and we got our tickets and went in, we were told that we could go and get drinks at the bar and take them around the museum if we wanted. I’ve never been to a wax work museum before, and it was pretty cool. I was surprised at just how short a lot of famous people are though!

The majority of the models are on the top floor, when you go downstairs you get to the bar, which is based on the film, The Hangover.

We asked for a glass of white wine to get us started, and watched as the barmaid struggled to open a new bottle. Clearly, she had never opened a bottle of wine before and in the end Lee had to jump in and save her. Armed with alcohol, we went to the next part of the museum.

This is pretty much all there is, it’s not a particularly big museum. Still with some time on our open bar, we had an incredibly strong gin and tonic. It was pretty much time for the museum to close, so we headed out with the rest of our drinks. In Vegas, it appears that you can pretty much drink wherever you want, whatever you want. Deciding that tackling another open bar without eating would be a bad idea, we went and grabbed a few slices of pizza.

Before making our way over to The High Roller, we walked up to The Bellagio to catch the fountains at night.

Stopping on the way to get ourselves a frozen daiquiri. The very friendly bartender gave us a whole bunch of samples and was pretty made up when we tipped him $5. So much so that he gave us both free Jello shots. I have no idea how they managed to get their Jello to set considering the extremely high alcohol content in it, I couldn’t even finish mine. I put myself off straight vodka a long time ago as a drunk teenager.

The Bellagio fountain’s are definitely good to see at night, and we watched the show a couple of times while we finished off our daiquiris.

Finally, it was time to head over to the High Roller. There was no queue, and we walked right up to the front of the ride. There was a few other couple also waiting for the pod with the bar in to come around, but we there wasn’t too many other people. The bartender here was very efficient, and soon I was sipping another gin while we climbed high into the sky and took in the surrounding views.

The wheel climbs 550ft above the city and takes 30 minutes too complete one rotation. During this time, we made full use of the open bar, and enjoyed the fantastic views. Vegas lights up at night something amazing!

We spied Ruby from the top too!

By the time we had finished, it was getting late but Lee still hadn’t got his game of roulette. We headed to the nearest casino and found a digital roulette table. There’s no croupier, and the spinning of the wheel is all computer generated. You play on a little screen in front of you. We both took a seat and put $20 in, then I managed to lose my $20 in about a minute as I obviously pressed the wrong button. The second $20 was more successful though. While Lee slowly lost his, I was actually making some money.

That was until he completely ran out of money, whereupon he came over and started losing mine for me too. I clearly shouldn’t have let him play, as in the end we walked away without any money, but at least he was happy that he had finally played roulette properly. I get the feeling that ‘properly’ involved losing all the money. Still, feeling like we had now ‘done’ Vegas properly, we headed back to Ruby.

Feeling a little worse for wear in the morning it was time to make a decision about whether we were going north or south. First though I required a stodgy breakfast, and we headed off to a Dunkin’ drive thru. The one thing left on the list was to see the Vegas sign, so it was here that we parked up and ate our breakfast. We then had to queue up to get a picture at the sign, but here we are and we’re headed wearing our newly designed tops!

To inform our decision about which direction to go in, we decided to head to a local insurance company that had been recommended to us to see if they would insure us for Mexico. We also started looking at the requirements to take Aimee across the border. It turns out that we could get insurance, but it would cost just under $600 for 35 days, that’s not going to happen. While our current insurance company wouldn’t cover it, they had recommended one who might and sure enough we could get cover through them for less that $300, and it was for 3 months so we wouldn’t have to worry about it running out if we had any problems re-entering the states. Looking at what Aimee needed, it was only a health check certificate and to have up to date vaccines. She already has her vaccines, so we would just need a vet to do us a health certificate, pretty straightforward. The final tipping point was looking at the two weather forecasts, in the end, the sun won and we set our sights on the Mexican border.

For the first time in a long time, we felt like we didn’t have a deadline to meet. Normally I don’t like big changes to plans, but actually we felt more relaxed. Firstly, knowing that we didn’t have to bomb it up the entire west coast and secondly knowing that we were going somewhere that was much more suited to living in a VW dub weather-wise. This also meant we could visited Joshua Tree National Park and San Diego, both of which we had missed on our first time round. With no need to rush, we drove towards the Mojave Desert, and stopped up after only around an hour and a half on a large flat area beside a dirt road.

It was nice to only drive a short distance for once. Recently we had been driving 3-5 hours a day and while Ruby can do it, that doesn’t make it overly enjoyable. Parked up in the sun, surrounded by Joshua trees, we took a minute to take stock of our new plan. As always with the desert, darkness brings a big drop in temperature and before we knew it the heating was on and I was wearing my wooly jumper.

The sun brought back the warmth the following morning, and I finally decided that this was the time to start doing my Pilates again. Having only managed it once, before getting quite ill in December we had then lost the yoga mat in the dark, gale force winds of Taos, while trying to sort out our antifreeze. New year, new yoga mats. This seemed like the perfect place, and there was something quite lovely about doing Pilates, in the sun in the middle of the desert, it definitely beats me trying to wrestle a space in between the bed and the chest of drawers in our spare bedroom back in Birmingham.

We got ready at a leisurely pace, while Aimee explored.

Got stuck.

And then continued exploring.

She had plenty of time to enjoy the outside, as we had to sort out our toilet again. Still, by the time we were ready to leave we had a nice clean van, and were ready to spend a few days off grid.

Leaving with no particularly plan in place, except that we would be heading to Joshua tree at some point, we continued to drive south. It wasn’t long to we unexpectedly came across several signs that let us know we were on the old route 66 again, and for the first time we saw it printed on the road so we had to stop for a photo or two.

I then realised that the hill we could see ahead was actually a volcano, so we decided to go and check it out. It’s a three mile walk up to the crater, and so we set off to have a look.

You climb into the crater from one side which is lower than the other, this is the side that it exploded out off.

Some pretty views as you climb up. I can see why there are signs about heat warnings, I wished I wasn’t wearing trousers and it was winter! This wasn’t a problem that Lee was suffering from.

The crater itself.

I played around with my new camera features…

By the time we returned, it there was only an hour or so of daylight left. There were no signs saying we couldn’t stay right there in the car park so we let Aimee out to dig holes and enjoyed the rest of the sun. The weather here is gorgeous!

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