Standing on the corner of Goodge Street in central London, ten months ago I reluctantly waved goodbye to my friend Lucy. Under strict instruction not to open the card she had left for me until I got on the plane for Peru, we each went our separate ways. Lucy and her boyfriend, Mark were about to embark upon their own adventure. Exchanging their lively London lifestyles for clean, sun-kissed living in Santa Monica, California. Neither of us knew when or where we would see each other again but we both knew we would ensure it wouldn’t be too far down the line.
In the card that Luce had left for me, she had asked three things of me. Firstly to be safe, something I think she thought went out the window three days into the trip when I jumped off the cliffs of Lima, Peru. Secondly, to keep in touch and finally to come home and avoid the temptation to live a life of never-ending wanderlust.
Eight months and six countries later and we found ourselves in Venice, California surrounded by string bikini’s, surfers and yoga bunnies. Bursting with uncontrollable excitement at the thought of seeing our friends, we arrived at Lucy and Marks new home armed with bottles of Sauvignon Blanc to lubricate the hours of catching up that would undoubtedly fill the coming days and nights.
Luce and Mark had very generously offered to put Jake and I up for a fortnight. We were to be joined by our partner in crime, Miss Charlotte Cody. A colleague and friend from London who, for the past five years had been constantly by our sides. Thrilled by the fact we had a place we could call home for the next two weeks, we were spoilt to delicious some home-cooked meals and found ourselves revelling in menial yet missed tasks such as cleaning, cooking and trips to the supermarket.
Keen to get a glimpse of the Californian lifestyle, Luce and Mark took us to Malibu Wines for a day of Californian wine drinking and picnicking in the Malibu Hills. The day was spent in a rose haze, people watching, laughing and regaling tails of each couple’s adventures over the past eight months. Lazing in the hot Californian sun, it was as if no time had passed at all and everything was as it always was, just with slightly better weather.
Days of mandatory LA hikes through the Malibu and Hollywood hills were rewarded with some of Santa Monica delicacies such as Mint Mojito Mocha’s at Philz Coffee, gigantic Italian subs from Bay Cities and gargantuan sized portions of pasta at Fritto Misto.
Our stay was to be punctuated with a three day trip to Vegas. A first for both jake and I, it was a trip we had both been eagerly anticipating and saving for. Our trip to Vegas also coincidently coincided with Jake’s brother in law, Sam being on tour with the British Army and as such, we had arranged to meet him on the strip for some blackjack and beers.
Equipped with an itinerary of happy hours, Jake and I dropped Luce, Mark and Charlotte at LAX in the small hours of the morning and left LA for Vegas. We had decided to race the three of them, us in our car, them by plane, to see who could be the first to Vegas. Long distance driving had become somewhat of a sport to us, so nonplussed by the five hours of driving that lay before us, we set off for the desert.
Jake tells me that the drive was beautiful. Unfortunately (for Jake) I slept 90% of the way. With our first glimpse of the Vegas Strip appearing like a technicoloured oasis in the middle of the Mojave desert, adrenalin kicked in and we were wide awake.
Unsurprisingly, Luce, Mark and Charlotte had beaten us there and had already taken up residence by the hotel pool, cocktails in one hand and breakfast burritos’ in the other. The day was spent in a margarita haze, rotating from sun lounger to pool to the hotel casino and back again in an attempt to dodge the dazzling desert sun.
That evening, with the $20 each that we had allocated to gambling (high rollers!), we took to the strip. Weaving in and out the never ending waves of partyers each with a 3ft frozen margarita tied around their necks we passed through countries at a time, Rome, France, Egypt. Systematically we started to strike off each happy hour from one casino to the next $36 bottomless bubbles at Elton and David Furnish’s champagne bar FIZZ at Ceasars Palace followed by Sushi at Katsuya at the SLS and of course a 2am McDonalds to remedy the next morning’s hangover. Time stood still, with no clocks in sight or last hours to catch, the hours rolled by with a blink of an eye.
Passing by the fountains outside the Bellagio, it struck me how this small slice of land could offer up such sophistication and such smut in such a small space. From the glitz and glamour of the Wynn Tower suites and Mandarin Oriental to the grimy back alley gambling halls and strip clubs, Vegas is the only place on earth where the gazillionaire parties with the pauper, both with the shared desire to having the best night of their life.
Reunited with Sam and his fellow Army friends we attempted to bleed New York, New York dry at their roulette and blackjack tables. An overly confident “all in” on red saw our $50 diminish to $0 and with that we finished our free casino cocktails and headed to FatBurger for an over indulgent but necessary 3am beer pitcher and burger to drown our sorrows.
Bleary eyed and resisting the urge to win our $50 back we packed up our glad rags and said goodbye to Sin City. Desperate to not yet say goodbye to Lucy, Mark and Charlotte we headed back to Santa Monica where we would feed our broken bodies bowls of healthy goodness from Sweetgreen and cosy up on the sofa for a Game of Thrones marathon.
Saying goodbye was hard, really hard. We would have another four months until we were all reunited again, but at that point and with 6,000 miles still to drive, it seemed like a lifetime. That was the first time on our trip that Jake and I found ourselves having to gee ourselves up for the next stretch. What was to come next would be wonderfully wild and with our tent packed and cold box stacked with food, we headed to Yosemite National Park for our next adventure.