Archive for May, 2007

Beyond belief

May 29th, 2007

Cross the international dateline too frequently and soon your mind enters uncharted territory. The month of May saw me flit between Tahiti and the Tuamoto archipelago one week, spend two days back home, then fly to the USA. No wonder I experienced some discombombulation. How do trans-Pacific flight crews manage to cope with such regular temporal dislocation?

The effects of “crossing the line” thrice in short succession caught up with me in Las Vegas. Fortunately that’s one place in the world where, as the late Hunter Thompson said, “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro”. So my parlous state of mind undoubtedly went totally unnoticed by anyone other than myself.

I blame the effects of dateline hopping. But from what I saw and experienced I might just as easily have been experiencing a drug-induced hallucination. Feeling totally weird is the natural state of mind for being in Vegas. There’s nowhere else like it.

Macau may now be the world’s gambling capital yet Las Vegas appears totally unfazed by this distant Asian competition as it heads full tilt into the future. Billions of dollars have been committed to future construction and expansion along the already densely-packed Strip. More than 100 hotel, high-rise, condominium and mixed-used projects are currently underway or on the table. As fast as they knock down one old casino or hotel, another more extravagant one quickly takes its place.

One behemoth project, City Centre, billed at somewhere between $7 and $14 billion and reputedly the largest privately financed development in America, is now rising from the dust of the demolished Boardwalk Hotel and Casino. It’s located between Bellagio and Monte Carlo. At the far end of the Strip entrepreneur Steve Wynn is now building Encore to complement his recently-opened Wynn Las Vegas casino resort hotel. Immediately across the road is the half-built golden-clad Trump Tower.

The upsurge in development represents a spending spree of staggering proportions, largely funded by the tsunami of cash which continues to pour relentlessly from the pockets of millions of willing punters who flock to Las Vegas each year. How anyone could imagine ever leaving Vegas a winner totally escapes me. Mere observation of the city’s perpetual expansion, the ever-expanding glitz and glamour, is surely enough to convince even the simplest visitor that the money never, ever, really leaves town; it’s simply ploughed back into the bedrock.

Las Vegas acts a Black Hole in the middle of a desert sucking gamblers’ cash into another dimension, where it’s transformed into a fantasy land of gargantuan proportions. This process of transmutation is so amazing it has to be seen to be believed. And that’s exactly what keeps ’em all coming back year after year.

Bali for bookworms

May 5th, 2007

Anyone doubly blessed with an abiding love of literature and travel should definitely ink in the dates 25th -30th September into their diary and start plotting their attendance at the Ubud Writer’s & Reader’s Festival in Bali.

It’s six days of creative discussion, writing workshops, book launches, literary lunches and dinners, music and dance. This year’s festival will feature more than 80 writers from 16 different countries, including Kiran Desai, winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize, the author of Raise the Red Lantern, China’s Su Tong, and award-winning Australian author Richard Flanagan.

The literary talkfest is combined with poetry and jazz workshops, dance performances, market tours, cooking classes, mask carving, temple visits and walks through the paddy fields surrounding Ubud, my favourite hub in Bali. Workshops for children and teenagers aged from 3 to 18 include puppet and kite making, drawing and songwriting.

Australian Janet de Neefe is one of the festival directors. Originally from Melbourne, she married a Balinese and owns a restaurant in Ubud. Janet has since written a memoir
Fragrant Rice as well as opening other ventures on the island. Given Janet’s culinary skills and her focus on Balinese food you can expect literary lunches to spearhead the festival attractions.

She describes the event as “a celebration of the richness and diversity of the arts and literary cultures from both the east and west”, adding that Balinese hospitality is a particular highlight. The previous festival took place only a week after the bombings at Jimbaran and Kuta. It was more successful than she’d imagined. “The good wishes and solidarity generated by all the participants was especially heartwarming,” she says.

It’s an ideal recipe: a tropical holiday in a beautiful location with plenty of sustenance for both mind and body. Tickets go on sale 1st July. Festival website

50 years of snow fun

May 1st, 2007

The Australian ski resort village of Thredbo celebrates its 50th anniversary this winter season and there’ll be all sorts of celebrations. I was there recently collecting information and enjoying the summer program of outdoor activities that’s made Thredbo a year-round resort, something I don’t think was remotely contemplated in the 1950s by the guys who first had the vision of a ski resort at a place called Friday Flat. You can get a mountain of information about what’s planned for the big celebrations and even get involved by simply skiing over to here.

What’s your opinion of Thredbo? How do you rate it in comparison with other Australian ski resorts?