Adventure

Las Vegas, Nevada

 When it comes to bachelor parties, few if any other city can hold a candle to constant hysteria and hyper stimulation of Las Vegas.

While this age-old ritual of pre-matrimonial inebriation is one that for millions has been tried and true, there is more to The Entertainment Capital of the World than the glittery breasts of strange women or the thrill that accompanies the pairing of a royal face with an elusive ace.

At any hour, day or night, along this frantic sparkling strip of taxis, limousines, and malfeasance, one can find tight clusters of chino-clad, testosterone-crazed males puffing cigars, sipping purple tinted Everclear from “yard glasses” and scratching their heads in effort to unravel the mystery of the previous night’s nefarious activities.   While such a journey for many males is a Rite of Passage, Las Vegas also offers a variety of activities that provide thrill seeking travelers with rare opportunity and an unrivaled release of endorphins.

INDOOR SKYDIVING

Just one block off of The Strip, located off of Convention Center Drive on the north end of Las Vegas Blvd. is Las Vegas Indoor Skydiving. The first one of its kind in the country, Las Vegas Indoor Skydiving has been a part of Las Vegas since 1982.   Indoor Skydiving provides customers with the thrill of free falling without ever having to set foot on an airplane.

After a ten minute safety briefing, a friendly instructor escorts clients into a small room where they are issued a diving suit, Velcro shoes, goggles, gloves, a helmet and ear plugs.  Unlike actual skydiving suits, the suits at Indoor Skydiving must be extremely baggy so that they can capture the up to 140 MPH wind needed to lift them off of the ground.

 

Once waivers are signed and signals necessary to communicate with the instructor are understood, the participants make their way into the vertical wind tunnel, a three-story circular room with padded walls.  The mesh net floor functions like a trampoline to ensure jumper’s safety.

After a brief lesson in how to “fall,” guests, one at a time, lay flat on the net-like trampoline and the 1200 horsepower engine beneath them roars to life. Within seconds, their faces and suits begin to flap in the massive gust as they are suspended anywhere from five to fifteen feet off of the ground, where they will remain for roughly a minute to a minute and a half.

After this introduction to the art of flying, you are put into groups of four and allowed three attempts over a thirty-minute period to master the art of indoor flying.  The experience is surreal and inspiring. You are guaranteed to leave with your heart pounding.

Beginning at $89 for your first flight and $50 each additional flight, Las Vegas Indoor Skydiving offers a series of group rates and takes reservations.  For more information visit www.vegasindoorskydiving.com.

THE GUN STORE

If being suspended in mid-air isn’t enough to solidify a place within Masculinity’s Hall of Fame, it is easy to raise the bar.  Jump into a cab and make the three-minute drive down to 2900 E. Tropicana Ave. to The Gun Store where guests have the opportunity to fire a variety of weapons ranging from the infamous Dirty Harry 44 Magnum to the rapid fire of the inconceivably powerful M249 S.A.W.

Upon pulling into the rather inconspicuous parking lot of the gun store, guests are greeted by beautiful “Promo Girls” who wait in a tent just outside the Gun Store’s entrance.  These well-informed and scantily clad sirens hand visitors a pricing sheet, which is divided into three categories and prices:  Machine guns, which run $50 for anywhere from twenty-five to fifty shots, handguns which run $25 for anywhere from five to twenty shots, and semi-automatic rifles, also running $25 including anywhere from five to twenty shots.

The author and his Range Master

The Promo Girls inform shooters about the forty-five different guns they can choose from. The machine gun category includes the Thompson .45, the AK-47, and the Uzi.   Handgun options include the Ruger MKIII, the Beretta M9, the Glock 17, and the Dirty Harry 44 Magnum.

Rifles include the Sniper Rifle, Beretta CX4 and a 12 Gauge Shotgun among many others.

Once guns and/or gun packages have been selected, you make your way inside and wait in line to receive your ammo.  Lining the wall are a dozen or more targets with the likenesses of mischievous clowns, terrorists, and kidnappers, all waiting to be riddled with bullets.

The Gun Store offers fifteen shooting lanes and is currently adding more than thirty additional ones to accommodate its ever-increasing number of customers. Once your ammo and targets are in hand, a range master provides  eye and ear protection, escorting you to your lane.   The range master then provides instruction on how to handle each weapon before firing.

After that, the shooting begins.

Because one magazine of machine gun ammo takes just under twenty seconds to fire, guests are encouraged to choose two or three guns.  Typically such packages include one machine gun, one semi-automatic rifle, and finishing it off with the powerful blast of a machine gun.

Between the constant explosive percussion of guns being fired in every lane and the thrill that comes from firing forty bullets from a military style machine gun, there are few things more thrilling than an afternoon at The Gun Store.  For more information go to http://thegunstorelasvegas.com/.

EXOTICS CAR RACING

If high-powered weaponry or skydiving isn’t enough to satisfy that need for adrenaline, just twenty minutes outside of Las Vegas is Exotics Racing.  Located adjacent to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Exotics Racing offers customers a chance to drive some of the most expensive exotic cars in the world, including Audis, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis the way they were meant to be driven on an actual race track.

Guests arrive to a festive environment.  Over the loud hum of sports cars whizzing around the track, music blasts and a food trucks sells barbeque as guests await their turn to get behind the wheel.

After checking in and selecting your car, soon to be drivers are taken to a briefing room to be educated on not only how to operate the controls of the car but also how to actually drive the car on a race track to ensure that the car is driven at its maximum performance and speed.

Next, pile into one of two Porsche Cayennes where another instructor proceeds to drive you twice around the track familiarizing new drivers with the various apexes and straight-aways.

 

A Ferrari and a Lamborghini on the Exotics Racing Track

While guests may be overwhelmed at the vocabulary and expectations of the track, upon receiving your helmet, your personal instructor greets you and escorts you to your car, providing additional information.

Once in the car, the instructor reiterates the information from the briefing, tailoring it specifically to the vehicle you will be operating.

The flowing, friendly dialogue allows drivers to ask any questions or clarify any concerns before actually driving onto the track.

Once on the track, drivers are immediately instructed to gun their automobile as they make their way to the first turn.  Upon acceleration, drivers are thrown back into their seats as the automobile rockets forward reaching upwards of 80-MPH in just a couple of seconds before having to apply the brakes to scream through the track’s first turn.

Finally settled into the car, you grow comfortable, pushing the accelerator to the floor, taking turns at high speeds well over 100MPH, and ultimately feeling in control of the $500,000 piece of machinery.  By the last lap, you are taking the turns like NASCAR racers. Pulling  off the track you can’t help but feel exhilarated from the entire experience.

Each ride consists of five laps and range in price, depending on the car from $199 for a Porsche Carrera S to $399 for a Lamborghini Murcielago LP 640.  Other cars include the Ferrari 430 Scuderia, theFerrari 458 Italia, the Audi R8, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and the Nissan GTR.  Multiple car packages as well as private events are also available.  For more pricing go to exoticsracing.com.

What better last stand before a march down the aisle than an afternoon of being suspended in the air under a wind current of 140MPH, shooting off dozens of rounds of explosive weaponry and driving in exotic cars at breakneck speeds on a professional racetrack.

While it is easy for a memory to get lost in a night of joyful and celebratory debauchery, by taking Vegas truly to the limit, one can have an experience that is truly unforgettable.

The Philippines

It is early and I am jet lagged. While the roosters are loud, the monkeys, playing a pre-dawn game of tag are louder.  While I wish I could sleep more, there is something pleasant about being awakened by scurrying primates and opinionated roosters.

I arrived to Manila the previous day and caught a puddle jumper on Cebu Airlines to the Palawan Island chain, home to the quaint and undisturbed coastal town of Coron. The primary draw to Coron, a small fishing village, is diving. Despite the raucous monkeys, I manage to get a bit more sleep but as the sun blasts through my window at the Princess of Coron Resort, I begin my day.

 

Unlike many resort towns, little has been done to modernize Coron. The streets are narrow and lined with small shops and restaurants. Trikes and jeepneys, the primary form of transportation throughout most of the Philippines, whiz past me as I meander through the village towards the waterfront.

I am eager to get on the water, but first I must eat. There are many unique dining options in Coron.  The Kawayanan Grill Station catches my eye. The open-air restaurant is centered on a thatch-thatch roofed bar. Each table is under a similar canopy.

The menu features the usual Filipino cuisine, including chicken adobo, which is chicken stewed in vinegar and soy, as well as a variety of pork dishes, but given that I am in a fishing village, I decide to go with the seafood.  Within minutes, three small but beautiful lobsters and a side of fried shrimp are placed in front of me and for the next ten minutes times stops, as I devour the garlic covered crustacean, washing it down with a San Miguel beer. San Miguel is the pride of The Philippines.

One sip and I know exactly why. It tastes perfect.

My belly full, it’s time to hit the water. I walk through the local wet market. The air is thick and the sky is slightly overcast. The smell of fish is so strong that I nearly choke. Beyond the wet market is the town square where the local children play a curious game, which involves throwing their shoes at one another. I narrowly avoid a flip-flop careening towards me.

As I arrive to the waterfront, I recall the owner of the hotel telling me that finding a guide for the day will be simple. He wasn’t kidding. Within seconds, Filipino men approach me, urging me to hire them for the day. I find a guide with a solid mastery of the English language and a good sense of humor. He takes me to his banca.

Most boats in the Philippine Islands are called Bancas. Bancas are similar to canoes only on each side are long bamboo poles that reach out like legs over the water giving the boat a bug-like appearance. This is to keep the banca stable in rough sea waters.

My guide and his son and I take off to the sea. He tells me that he is going to take me to four spots. First, a popular snorkel spot, followed by lagoon. Then to a beach that is home to an indigenous tribe accessible only by water, and last to a small island that is home to a fresh water lake. Given that I am surrounded by stunning reefs and beaches a lake sounds like an uneventful climax to the day but I am willing to go with it.

We begin with snorkeling at the Siete Pecados Marine Park, a twenty-minute boat ride along the Coron coast. The warm water sprays across my face as I watch schools of flying fish skip along the top of the water. The reef itself is a small but beautiful one with a strong current. While on this particular day we are the only people at the dive spot, the fish are used to humans.

Unlike other snorkeling spots, the fish are extremely curious and within seconds of entering the crystal clear, bath-warm water, a rainbow cloud of a thousand fish envelops me. So dense is the school of fish that I breech the surface to regain my bearings.

My guide laughs as I rip of my mask and snorkel, looking down at the fish still orbiting my legs. I see the guide reach into his pocket and toss a handful of fish food into the water a few feet from me and with that, the school of fish head in that direction to continue to dine.

After an hour of exploring the rich marine life of Siete Pecados, we make our way to the beach. The water turns a deep, exotic; almost alien blue as we cross towards our destination. As we come closer to a sheer and extremely high island wall, I notice a small crescent beach and on it a hut. My guide pulls up and a little girl, about five-years old comes out and asks for twenty pesos. I had her some coins and jump into the shallow water and wade to the powdered sand beach.

The lagoon beach

Once on the little beach, I am invited into the family’s hut. They make their living as host to guests and they call this beach their home. While to me it is one of the most serene places I have ever been, to them, it is business as usual. An old man sips a beer while his wife cooks over an open fire.

They offer me a piece of candy which tastes like cashew and honey. Their eldest boy is out fishing. At least that is what I can gather from our game of charades. They encourage me to enjoy the beach on a hammock that hangs between two palms. I do so, eating the cashew candy.

As I rest, finally, the sun comes out and I watch as the sea turns from a grey blue to an electric blue. My cue to move to the next stop. I bid my hosts adieu and I told them I hoped to return. The mother suggested that the next time I come back, I should bring a girlfriend. I agreed.

The next stop is a lagoon. We approach another sheer Cliffside. A shack sits precariously along a jagged rock just above the water. Two young men tie our banca to a mooring.  I am confused as there is no lagoon to be seen anywhere. What I can see, however are ten or so pieces of bamboo, each about twenty feet long and tied together making a crude raft.

I am instructed to board. One of the young men and I make our way around the side of the island and he gestures that I lay flat as we move towards a small cave. There is about a foot’s clearance between the top of the cave and the water.

We go underneath it, my nose barely clearing and come up on the other side into a beautiful lagoon. The lagoon is surrounded by jagged cliff-sides draped in tropical foliage. Water pours into the lagoon from a tropical spring. When I swim, I can feel the cold current running underneath me in the otherwise warm water. After cooling off, it is time to head to the fresh water lake.

Crystal Blue lagoon

To get to the lake, we cruise through another lagoon. I still struggle to wrap my brain around how a lake could be more beautiful then the beaches and corals I have seen. Perhaps we forego the lake and I can snorkel one more time. The guide will have none of it.

He tells me to have my camera out and ready as the entrance is a spectacular sight. He is right. Reef-wrapped giant rocks emerge from the water against the backdrop of a tropical forest in this tiny lagoon. Like the previous lagoon, there is a small boathouse where a family greets us.

They point me to a staircase where there is a sign that reads Kayangan Lake. This is my destination. Sunbathing monitor lizards watch lazily as I climb the nearly four hundred stairs to get to over the Cliffside to the lake. By the time I reach the top, I am perspiring from the humid air.

If there was any breath left in my body upon reaching the top of the stairs, it was immediately taken away as I looked at this lake I hadn’t even wanted to see. A rudimentary dock wound around the emerald green water that lapped up against the cliff sides that housed the lake. The green waters give way to a rich, deep blue towards the lake’s deep center.

Along one side of the lake is a cave. I swim to it. Aside from the screech of a Seahawk, there is no sound, spare my breathing. The water runs into a cave, so I follow it inside. The stalactites have a reddish hue to them and hang down eerily close to the water.

Sunlight blasts through a small hole kicking up the crystal blue reflection on the cave’s ceiling, filling the cave with a serene, heart-stopping light. I sit there a moment, floating in silence. All things seem to fold into one as the water’s reflection dances all around me on the exotic ceiling. My imagination runs wild yet stops in the same beat… and then the sun moves past it’s window into the cave and the cave goes dark. After a moment in the darkness, I swim out of the cave, certain that I’d just rested for a minute in whatever beauty waits after life.

The author perched on the rock over the lagoon

I float out in the middle of the lake and listen to the sounds of the jungle, not quite ready to call it a day.

We return to Coron as the sun is setting. Vendors sell exotic meats on street corners and children continue to throw shoes at one another. My guide tries to convince me to eat Balut. Balut, a Filipino delicacy, at first looks like a hard boiled egg, but when cracked, you discover that it is fully developed baby duck that has not yet hatched from its egg. You eat it bones, bill and all. With a little bit of salt, they tell me, it is delicious.

After the day I’ve had, I feel that perhaps a lobster and a San Miguel might be a better way to end the day. With that, I head back to e Kawayanan Grill Station to relive my lunch.

Batu Caves, Malaysia

The air is so thick that I feel like I am wearing it as I climb the 272 steps leading to the Batu Caves, a Hindu Temple just outside of Malaysia’s expanding metropolis, Kuala Lumpur.

The temple, which is the largest Hindu Temple outside of India is said to be an impressive one. To my right, standing an impressive one hundred forty feet tall, is a gold statue of the Hindu God Murugan. Mischievous macaque monkeys scurry up and down the steep staircase, eyeing the purses and travel bags of unsuspecting tourists.

At the top of the stairs just outside the massive cave, a swami (monastic Hindu) awaits.  He is barefoot, dressed in an ochre robe.   Even with his perfect posture, he barely comes up to the center of my chest.  He has a soft gaze and pleasant smile despite a boa constrictor that wraps itself around his neck.  He walks in my direction as I avoid eye contact.

In a calm, heavily accented voice, he reminds me that if I want to free myself from my fears, I must face them.  I point out that my journey to Malaysia had little to do with facing fears.  He tersely disagrees, then removes the snake from his neck and holds it in my direction as though it were as benign as a pink bow tie.

Somewhere on the steps below, a woman screams as a duo of monkeys steal something from her purse.  From what I could recall, meditation was a cornerstone of Hinduism, which is about being calm.  Here I am at their largest Hindu monument outside of India and monkeys are committing petty theft and assault and a ripe smelling, sparsely dressed yogi is peer-pressuring me into wearing a deadly snake like a scarf.  All this, not to mention the fact that even getting to the entrance of this “tranquil place” required me to walk up 272 stairs in 100% humidity.

“Face your fears,” the little guy says to me again.  While facing my fears, in a broader sense doesn’t really feel like what I want to be doing on my vacation to Southeast Asia, the guy’s request isn’t really that big of a deal.  He’s dedicated his whole life to religion and all he wants is for me to put a snake around my neck for a second.

I’m in a highly populated tourist spot (though on a Monday, it is less so).  He’s obviously not trying to kill me.  It should be fine.

Yet I don’t want the thing around my neck.  I want to go into the massive cavernous system and look at the temples built to the various gods and then go back to Kuala Lumpur where an evening on the town awaits.

In fact, he has made this entire day- trip a bit of a laugh.  I had hoped, in the caves, for a moment of austerity and insight.  Now I am forced to push past this guy and his pet, both of whom I am certain will be eyeing me the entire time I explore the caves, judging me.

“Well…,” he will say to the snake, as I attempt to not notice him, “that weak individual lacks the courage to face his fears,” he will say to his snake.  And the entire time I will have to pretend that he isn’t there, which will be challenging because he is half naked and will be chatting to a snake around his neck.

“Don’t be afraid,” he says to me, bringing me back to the present.  This time I am annoyed.

“I’m not,” I retort looking around.  Now I feel claustrophobic.  The snake he holds out is inches from my face.  It’s tongue flicking.  Its eyes like round dots of black ink just off its triangle shaped head, taunt me. In fact, the eyes of the thousand kaleidoscopic deities lining all the temples in the caves just beyond where I stand seem to watching me.  “I’m not afraid of a snake.  You want to hear about fear?  Last night I ate a jellyfish!  How’s that Yogi?

I think about turning to leave.  Just as escape begins to feel like my only option, something else occurs to me.

In hindsight, how I would feel about him and his snake and if  they prevented me from enjoying one of the most extra ordinary wonders of Malaysia.   Even from where I stood, I could see that what was beyond would be epic. To miss it would mean that I traveled 8,000 miles only to miss out on something because of a snake.

That would be ridiculous.  More specifically, that would be regret.  Regret is something that I fear. Realizing this, I start to laugh at myself.  The yogi sees the break in my veneer and without asking, he puts the snake around my neck and a dot of red ash on my forehead.  The snake slithers around my neck.  Its dry scaly skin tickles me and as it does.

I ask my tour guide John to take a picture and then ask the ochre-robed yogi to be in the picture with me.  He laughs and says he doesn’t want to.

“Why not?” I ask him.  “Are you afraid?”

With his soft gaze, he looks at me, and with the kind of certainty that comes only with years and years of prayer, devotion, and affirmation of life and self.  “I don’t want to,” he says.  I believe him.

He removes the snake and I head into the infamous Batu Caves.

Santa Monica Pier

While the historic Santa Monica Pier, located at the end of Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica is home to a colorful, kitschy assortment of clanking carnival rides at Pacific Park, neither the celestial orbits of the park’s Ferris wheel nor the fifties throwback roller coaster are the Pier’s premiere conduits of the adrenaline rush so many tourists to Southern California crave.

To achieve such a rush, one needs to stop just before Pacific Park at the infamous Trapeze School New York.

As its name suggests, Trapeze School New York began in New York City on the corner of 30th and 10th nearly ten years ago. In May of 2008, Trapeze School New York opened a second school on the Santa Monica Pier where they teach the art of the trapeze to both the curious and the aspiring. I fall into the curious category.

Classes, which are limited to ten participants, run for roughly two hours and while walk on’s are allowed, participants are encouraged to make reservations in advance, particularly on weekends, as classes fill quickly. Weekend prices are $65 for a beginning course. Weekdays are $47 before noon and $57 afternoon. Participants are encouraged to wear comfortable clothing. Pants are preferable to shorts.

Filling out the voucher and liability waiver, outside the window, there is a stocky man in his mid forties who takes the trapeze in his hand and leaps from the platform. In a flash, he has flipped, tucked, spun and contorted in impossible directions, ultimately grasping the arms of another man swinging from another bar across from him. He ends the routine with a flip, landing miraculously uninjured in a net below him.

“That guy is pretty good,” I say to the man checking me in.

He casually agrees, flipping through what I assume is acrobat paperwork.

“He been doing it long?” I ask.

“About two hours,” he tells me.

I stop reading a paragraph indicating that if something goes wrong, that I won’t sue.   “I am going to be doing that?”

“Not in the first hour,” he responds.

I finish signing the paperwork and he turns me over to a young woman with the spritely name of Morningstar.

Morningstar, a cheerful, bright-eyed instructor introduces me to two other instructors and my fellow classmates.  Dana, a trim blonde will be calling “Commands” when I am “flying” and Ryan, an acrobat with intense blue eyes will walk me through the basics of take off.

My only other classmates are spindly Australians twins, no more than thirteen years old with a combined body weight of a hundred pounds. I find false comfort in their apparent lack of physical prowess.

Morningstar cinches me into a harness so tight that I am sure she has damaged at least one major organ. She explains that it has to fit snugly so that it doesn’t come off while in flight and it will prevent impromptu flights into the Pacific Ocean.

I acknowledge her point and make my way to Ryan who walks me through the very basics of flight before pointing me towards a ladder leading to the swing and platform twenty-seven feet in the air.

I watch with Ryan as one of the Aussies manages to cumbersomely attempt to get his knees over the bar after his initial descent.  Upon his completion, he looks confused and uncomfortable.

“Does it hurt?” I ask.

“Does what hurt?” he says back.

“I don’t know…. All of it?”

“Not if you do it right,” he says and with that, I climb.

At the top, the view of the Pacific Coast is spectacular. So spectacular that for a moment I almost forget that I’m about to swing upside down from a trapeze three stories high.

Mouthwatering wafts of corndog batter emerge from the original “Hotdog on a Stick,” located at the base of the pier but the delightful smell nor the gentle pastels of the retiring sun careening slowly into the pacific are enough to quell my nerves as I take a metal trapeze bar into my hand.

Once again, Morningstar is there to help me with my plunge. I put my hand into a dusty bucket of chalk that is somehow supposed to make the whole event easier on my hands. Once my hands are a nice corpse-like color of white, she tells me it is time to go.

“I am pretty sure that none of this is safe,” I tell her.

Ignoring me, she adjusts my harness and safety ropes one last time. As I am yanked and pulled, she tells me about a cancer survivor in her sixties that managed to successfully complete each excercise just a few weeks ago. I had just seen one of the twiggy Australian teenagers manage to do it with relative ease and I was fairly certain that he wasn’t even capable of successfully doing a push up.  I have to be able to do this no matter what my mind tells me.

I think about all the times that I’ve mocked people who are afraid of sharks or snakes and I send them a silent apology. Somewhere below me, Dana yells “Hep,” which is acrobat-speak for “go.”

“Uhhh,” I say, for some idiotic reason.

“Hep!” Dana yells again.

“Probably can’t get out of this, can I?” I ask.

“Go!” says Morningstar says, with non-negotiable enthusiasm, and with that, I leap.

 

For a moment, the Pacific is my sky and my sky is my sea.  At once I am both gliding on ice and tumbling around like an ice skate in a dryer,yet somehow I feel in complete control. I’m hanging from my knees on a trapeze! The whole thing seems impossibly ridiculous yet here I am and there is no stopping it.

As quick as it begun it ends and I dangle from the bar over the net laughing hysterically. My appendages and pride seem intact. I’ve somehow survived and am acutely aware of all of the joys around me.

I can smell a corn dog and it smells delicious.

“Let go of the bar and land in the net on your back,” says Dana. I hear her, but choose to hang there a second longer, taking in the sunset and all that is good in the world.

Finally, I let go, landing delicately in the net and flip my way onto the ground, which suddenly feels significantly more real and while I’m grateful for the solidness of terra firma, I can’t wait to get back up there on top of the world and give it another go.

To learn more about Trapeze School New York please go to http://losangeles.trapezeschool.com/.