THREE weeks confined to a mountain hideaway or tropical beach hut might sound like any other couple’s idea of a lovers’ Paradise.
But when it came to our honeymoon, Paul and I decided to opt for the road less travelled — you know the one that brings you down California’s iconic Pacific coast Highway to the Mexican border, followed by a blast deep inland in a Tango orange Ford Mustang v8.
Of course, the adventure didn’t stop there.
During our travels we were lucky enough to take in the awe-inspiring sights of Palm Springs, the Grand Canyon, and Death Valley. And who could forget good old Sin City?
I’ve been told that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but as the old American saying goes — “sometimes you gotta break the rules”.
So allow me to let you in on a few little secrets as I shed light on some of the highlights of our unforgettable honeymoon.
Arriving in Vegas is like crossing the threshold between reality and fantasy.
In one corner a homeless man is scolding his dog for urinating on his makeshift bed, just inches away from a topless transsexual blowing kisses to passers-by.
All, it seems, are oblivious to one another in the midst of this twisted circus.
The dust has far from settled following the Orlando nightclub shooting, yet everyone appears oblivious to events occurring in the outside world.
All that matters is the here and now.
Attractions might include resident artists like pop princess Britney Spears, but the biggest source of amusement has to be the local characters.
Even vagrants wear their outrageous façades like badges of honour.
One such gentleman is frantically waving a cardboard sign emblazoned with the words: “My wife had a sex change and ran away with my mistress.”
Another adopts a more controversial approach boasting a placard that reads: “not gonna lie… it’s for beer.”
Vegas all but completely drains you of the ability to distinguish between what’s real and cheap imitation.
At one point I find myself trapped in a mammoth casino.
One suspects its labyrinth design is intended to shut gamblers in rather than ease the flow of heavy traffic.
My relief at seeing daylight is short lived when I realise that what I’m actually staring at is a ceiling mural with frighteningly realistic clouds and a blue sky.
Even the sight of a beautiful bride and groom illuminated by camera flashes isn’t all it seems.
After holding back tears at how beautiful they look we’re bitterly disappointed to learn the pair have actually invested in what’s known as a faux wedding package.
An advertisement for the non-legally binding nuptials states that you can wear the dress and even indulge in wedding cake before leaving “without a care in the world or a spouse for that matter”.
It takes your mind quite a while to catch up with reality after a trip to Sin City.
Just when it looks like the day can’t get any more bizarre we stumble upon an attraction that offers tourists an opportunity to paint - yes, you’ve read this correctly — with dolphins.
Maybe it’s not as exploitative as it sounds and we’re actually holding Fungi back from becoming the next Picasso but logic tells me otherwise.
So what better place to retire for some peace and quiet than the community library?
It transpires there really is no escaping the sequins and feather boas.
You can even have a fairy tale read to you by a local drag queen. God bless America.
Thankfully our next port of call — Death Valley — is a little too hot for feather boas — 44 degrees to be exact.
In comparison to the searing 56.7 degree temperatures recorded by weather experts in the past we should probably count ourselves lucky.
We stop in the quaint Rustic Oasis Motel in Olancha the night before.
Thankfully at $86.49 it doesn’t break the bank.
The absence of a television and horse shoe pit only add to its charm, although I must confess to experiencing relief at the availability of wi-fi allowing us to book a motel ahead for our next pitstop.
Death Valley can only be described as one of the most other worldly destinations on the planet.
It’s no surprise to learn that the scenic desert land served as a location for the original Star Wars movie.
As beautiful as it is the heat can be fatal if ill-prepared.
Recently a man was found dead close to his motorcycle which it is believed was in full working condition when discovered.
This marked the third heat related incident in just a few weeks. At 282 feet below sea level, Death Valley’s Badwater Basin lies at the lowest point of elevation in North America
A full tank of petrol, a reliable air conditioning system, and copious bottles of water are a must in these parts.
An outsider witnessing our meticulous packing might have assumed we were preparing to board a space shuttle rather than hop in a car but one has to be prepared for every possible scenario.
Fortune Hotel, $159.49 for two nights.
An octogenarian whizzes past blasting guns and roses from his motorised wheelchair. This introduction more or less sums up the spirit of San Francisco.
People have a kind of freedom about them you don’t see anywhere else. It’s a far cry from the streets of Hollywood Boulevard where a youthful and beautiful appearance make life just about tolerable.
When it comes to finding a place to eat out the Cheesecake Factory is like the Holy Grail of restaurants.
The few lucky enough to secure a reservation are presented with an electronic pager to inform them when their table is ready.
What’s most impressive is that it works from half way down the street and sends an alert 15 minutes in advance so there’s always an option of trying out one of the nearby bars while waiting.
Once known only for its signature cheesecake dishes, the restaurant now boasts a menu as thick as the book of Kells.
But out of all the 200 dishes listed health conscious diners would be hard pushed to find anything below 1000 calories.
The Cheesecake Factory is definitely worth a visit but be warned… unlike a lot of restaurants in California this is not a place where you can watch the world go by while sipping unlimited refills of coffee.
Overwhelming demand for tables forces staff to be vigilant about the 90 minute time slots.
Luckily, you burn off most of the calories racing for the cable cars which run through the city like an intricately woven thread through fabric.
It’s a spectacle like no other, with passengers clinging on from every conceivable angle, bar the roof. The cable cars’ aesthetically pleasing designs lead you to forget that this is a viable form of transport and not an ornate Disneyland ride.
The Pickwick Hotel, $564 for four nights, (excluding tax)
It’s a bizarre sensation to go from mild heat exhaustion to feeling like your bones are slowly turning into ice.
One could be forgiven for mistaking this part of the world for the Swiss Alps, with its milky white peaked mountains and locals gliding by on roller skis. The locality is very peaceful with a little string of stores. They’re mostly very charming — the kind of places that stock buttons and bits of elastic as opposed to Prada handbags.
Travelodge, Mammoth Lakes, $114 per night.
There are a string of attractions to marvel at along the pacific Coast Highway, but all pale in comparison to the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. Your mind finds it difficult to absorb the bizarre scene at first glance. It’s basically like Santa Ponsa for elephant seals — and probably equally as rowdy.
What’s remarkable is that these breathtaking mammals only started frequenting the beach in the 1990s and numbers are rapidly increasing with each year. The area now accommodates around 10,000 seals at a time. Observing their behaviour can be an intense experience.
While human beach-goers mark their territory with a towel and inflatable ring, elephant seals adopt a more aggressive strategy.
The battles between adult male seals are always dramatic and often bloody but luckily seldom result in life-threatening injuries.
A dominant or alpha bull emerges from these violent conflicts as well as beta males which are lower in the overall hierarchy.
Motel 6, $118 per night.
The fact that tours are restricted to children over eight years old means it’s not marred by the sound of crying infants and whining toddlers jolting you back to reality every five minutes.
In a lot of ways the tour elicits bitter-sweet feelings, like revisiting your childhood home as an adult only to find it’s considerably smaller than you remembered.
Notwithstanding, this does little to detract from its magic.
One of the prominent features of the studios is Hennessy Street-a New York backlot set capturing the grittier corners of East Manhattan constructed in 1937 in response to the gangster film.
In later years the construction has provided the backdrop for iconic productions such as Annie, Sex and the City and Friends.
Los Angeles can leave you struggling to ascertain where the film sets end and the real houses begin such is their beauty.
But, underneath its sparkling veneer hides a dark side seldom shown on television.
While walking back to our motel, located in a significantly less lavish part of the town, we find ourselves just about dodging an inebriated driver guzzling down vodka like it was Evian.
We get talking to a foreign taxi driver who tells us how the sound of gun shots has become mere background noise in a town pockmarked by criminal activity.
On the whole though our LA experience was quite pleasant and one we hope to regale our grandchildren with in years to come.
America’s Best Value Inn, $114.99 per night.