SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO – BOB DYLAN WAS RIGHT!

(Photo: Shopping Centre and Hotel in Santa Fe)

We left beautiful San Diego early on Monday morning and boarded the plane for our three hour flight eastbound to Albuquerque in New Mexico. Now flying to Albuquerque from San Diego involves some flight time over the hot desert and when a plane lands with desert heat rising below it, it can create turbulence of a very different kind. And on this occasion, it certainly did. My stomach was the first to realize it! Once we landed, I needed to quickly get to a chemist for stomach calming tablets to prevent me leaving my mark on the beautiful city of Albuquerque! No alcohol involved, I swear! 😂

Arriving in Albuquerque we unfortunately did not see any hot dogs or jumping frogs as the song had told us we might! We boarded a bus to the train station to take us to Santa Fe, almost 8000 feet above sea level. Travelling from Albuquerque to Santa Fe is pretty much like waking up in the middle of one of those old cowboy and Indian movies we all watched every Sunday afternoon back home when we were kids. Billy the Kid has strong connections with this city and is referred to by the tour guides daily! The land as far as the eye can see is desert and cactus and dry clumps of grass scattered sporadically across the terrain.

We had been advised to avoid anything alcoholic for the first two days following our arrival, and to drink ridiculous quantities of water to allow our bodies to readjust to the change in altitude. And I was thinkin…”sure we’ll be grand! Stop the fussing…its no big deal, sure I’ll have a sip of water and I’ll be fine”. Until the following morning when I woke up with a splitting headache, my tongue in my mouth, a mere extension of desert, and this wasn’t even brought on by the pleasures of alcohol! This was due to the rise in altitude that I had thought was only a bit of a drama going on. I should have listened! And so poor Colm was sent to the supermarket to gather as much water as he could carry back to me while I did the Cleopatra in the bed with the eyes rolling and the arms flailing (as I do) until I was hydrated enough to get out of my bed to recover from this unimaginable illness that had been bestowed on me as a result of (in my head) a climb that was the equivalent to climbing Mount Everest …which in fairness is not too far away from the altitude climb that we did when we arrived to reach our accommodation… Ahemmmm! (And I’m not one to exaggerate as you know!) So a word of advice! If you visit Santa Fe, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate before you arrive, when you arrive, and when you leave. It’s the difference between you feeling constantly hungover (without alcohol) and feeling well ..in a nutshell basically.

And so we settled in nicely to our wonderful accommodation which was part of an old traditional New Mexican adobe house only twenty minutes walk away from the Centre of Santa Fe. Now, Santa Fe is difficult to explain … it really has to be seen to be believed! It is probably one of the most unusual, unique cities I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Its history is extremely colourful and complex. To give a quick synopsis of the history, Santa Fe is the capital city of the state of New Mexico. Its name is Spanish for “Holy Faith” and is called after St. Francis of Assisi. It’s full and proper title is La Villa Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco de Assisi, basically meaning the Royal Town of the Holy Faith. It is the oldest city in the United States and you can actually visit the oldest house in the USA. The style of architecture here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. You would be forgiven for thinking you had landed in the middle of a Spanish city with the Pueblo style buildings made from burnt orange terra-cotta soil. Churches are plentiful and religion is very much a huge part of daily life here. One such church that we visited was the Loretto Chapel in the centre of the city. It’s a small catholic church with a gallery for choral performances and once owned by the Loretto Nuns. As you enter the church, there before you is a spiral staircase like no other in the world. It is called the “Miraculous Staircase” because it rises 20 feet to the choir gallery making two full turns without the support of a newel or centre pole. The wood used to build the staircase has never been identified, only that it is non-native to New Mexico. The story or legend goes way back to a time when the Loretto sisters needed to have access to the choir gallery. They did a novena for nine days straight to the patron saint of carpenters, St. Joseph. On the last day of the novena a mysterious stranger appeared and offered to build them a staircase. He interacted with nobody during his time working on the stairs and left without revealing his identify to the Loretto sisters or charging them for the job. The sisters believed it was St. Joseph himself who appeared to build the staircase and left, such was the wonder of the carpentry work done on the stairs. Now whether you believe in miracles of this sort or not, I have to say, the staircase is pretty impressive. Although I’m wondering if this happened today, would questions not be asked of the nuns as to where this individual might be? They were the only ones to interact with him apparently and then he just disappeared? Call me cynical, but surely a full blown investigation as to a missing person might have been called for back then? Anyway, sure it’s a magnificent story and worth a visit to see one of Santa Fe’s biggest tourist attraction at the very least.

(Photo: The Miraculous Staircase at the Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe)

The population of Santa Fe is roughly 93,000 and is made up mainly of renowned artists of all descriptions. It is a thriving Centre of Arts and Culture and has a huge number of art galleries and museums. One such art gallery that created a huge impression on me was the Georgia O’Keeffe art collection on display just off the main square in Santa Fe. Her paintings are heavily influenced by the unique scenery of the deserts around Santa Fe and this gallery is a must see for anyone visiting the city.

An exciting turn of events happened shortly after we arrived. My daughter Alison decided to pay a surprise visit to Santa Fe to spend time with us on our final leg of our stay in the USA. I was ecstatic as you can imagine! She arrived on the Saturday night following our arrival the previous Monday. And so we headed out for a really special day at the most famous art centre in the city called “Meow Wolf”. Now to try to describe this Centre is a huge challenge in itself. Suffice to say there is no other experience like it anywhere else in the world and the locals tell you this about the centre when you ask them what exactly it’s all about. It was designed by a 35 year old Vince Kadlubek and his partners (including Game of Thrones creator and Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin). It’s basically a company of accomplished artists from all disciplines of the arts who have worked together to design this magical and multidimensional mystery house and playground with different realms throughout the building and secret passages leading from room to room. The uncertainty of what we were about to experience added to the excitement of the trip, and boy we were not disappointed! On arrival, you basically walk into a set constructed to look like a standard American house. Nothing overly impressive until you walk inside the house and into the kitchen area. You open the fridge in the kitchen and walk inside and lo and behold you are in a different place filled with lights and a dreamlike universe with little pathways and interactive activities. The same in the Dining Room. The fireplace is like something from the Harry Potter movie. You walk into the fireplace and through to another area filled with amazing activities. Upstairs, the children’s bedrooms look like pretty standard bedrooms until you open wardrobes and walk through into what can only be described as a beautiful three dimensional “other” universe. It is a fantastic art experience that I can only explain as being a child’s (and adult’s) paradise. Being transported to a different realm with each step you take is jaw dropping! At one point I turned around to find Alison climbing into the washing machine in the kitchen to travel to a different part of the house…laughing and shouting “Mum, don’t put me on a hot wash” … ha ha. A fun-filled day of laughter and wonderful experiences to look back on for sure!

Something I didn’t realize until my visit was that New Mexico existed even before Mexico itself. It was occupied by the beautiful tribes of Native American Indians way back, until the Spanish arrived and claimed it as theirs, forcing the Native American Indians to give up their traditions and practices and indeed their very own mother tongue. The local museum tells stories about Indians having their mouths washed in all sorts of painful and disturbing practices if they were caught speaking their own native tongue. The Native Americans were also forced to convert to Catholicism and deny their own native Indian tribal beliefs. Sad but true! The last invasion of New Mexico was by the United States of America hundreds of years ago and the State is now recognized as part of the USA and not Mexico (which confused me somewhat when I arrived first). Although there is a very Mexican feel to the place in parts and there is a large Mexican population living in the city and its environs.

On my first trip into the centre of Santa Fe, I was absolutely blown away by the presence of real Native American Indians selling their wares on the fringes of the plaza. I was dumbstruck by their beauty! Their beautiful sleek black hair, dark sallow flawless skin, chiseled facial features and dark dark pools for eyes. They are a race of people that I have always admired for their dignified and gentle manner (although I do appreciate that history may reflect otherwise), and I certainly witnessed this here first hand during my time in Santa Fe. They sit silently every day along the plaza displaying their wares while potential customers walk by admiring and purchasing their carefully handcrafted jewellery made from the local turquoise stone, pottery and rugs. Unlike other similar markets where I have experienced sellers heckling their audience to buy something, these people don’t engage in this practice at all. They sit in gentle and dignified silence until asked a question by someone interested in purchasing one of their pieces. There are huge numbers of Native American Indians wanting to sell their wares along this plaza and having spoken to one of the women, she explained that they operate a lottery system within their group of sellers to ensure that, each day, places along the plaza are distributed fairly to all of the people wishing to display and sell their handmade pieces. You can’t get fairer than that I guess!

The art galleries in Santa Fe contain pieces of art made by these wonderful Native American Indians, and through their art on display they have etched permanent messages to the world about the sadness and oppression that they and their ancestors have faced throughout history. Paintings and sculptures about them having been overthrown and forced to live on reservations in the middle of this desert. On our train journey to Santa Fe a huge man of Native American Indian extraction began chatting to us. For a man his size, he had a gentle manner and explained that he was living on an Indian Reservation a few miles outside of Santa Fe but had recently moved into the city to stay with his niece in Santa Fe as he had got some work nearer to the city. He also told us stories about how his tribe was forced to speak Spanish instead of their native tongue. After our conversation I couldn’t help feel that maybe these Indian people had more in common with Irish people than I ever realized.

(Photo: A Native American Indian in the Plaza at Santa Fe)

We were also fortunate enough to be in Santa Fe for the huge Mexican celebration of Cinco De Mayo which is basically celebrating the Mexican Army’s victory over the French in Mexico way back on the 5th May in 1862. We came across the annual celebrations on Saturday 5th of May in a nearby park. And we sat on the grass in the glorious sunshine and were treated to a day of Mexican music and dance with the Mexican community in their full traditional costumes celebrating their annual festival. Beautiful ladies danced and performed in colourful dresses on stage with young male dance partners dressed as Matadors. Spectacular to watch and an education in itself to see them perform. Oh how I love to see how people of different cultures still celebrate their uniqueness in such a wonderfully diverse society.

Something else that Santa Fe is famous for is its breathtaking sunsets. The altitude and thin air lends itself to a spectacular combination of nature when the sun begins to set over the mountains. And so on Alison’s last night before she returned to Chicago we climbed a steep hill on the outskirts of the city where we were told we would get the most impressive view of the setting sun. Out of breath on reaching the summit, I was thinking to myself “this better be worth it”! Climbing hills at that altitude in such high temperatures and humidity is not for the faint hearted. But we did it and brought with us a bottle of wine to share and celebrate our first Santa Fe sunset experience. Perched high on the hill we waited, and waited. It was a cloudy evening and we were not anticipating anything spectacular as a result. How wrong we were. With every minute that the sun began to drop in the sky, the hue of colours before us was indescribable. Bursts of yellows and orange, pink and blues unfolded minute by minute across the sky. The sunset in all its glory must be an artist’s dream, to sit on this hill and paint what we were witnessing. We took hundreds of photos, but not one would justifiably display this wonder of nature we were witnessing, try as we might to capture it. The last time Alison and I watched a beautiful sunset with a glass of wine was on my visit to her in China five years ago when we took a boat out on the lake at the Summer Palace in Beijing. On that occasion we overstayed our time on the lake by far in order to wait for the setting of the sun over the Great Wall of China. Shortly after the sunset we were almost arrested for not returning the boat on time, but thankfully Alison’s quick thinking and her ability to speak fluent Chinese to the guy who was sent out to bring us back in off the lake saved the day. She began to berate the poor Chinese guy who was sent out to find us, telling him that the reason we hadn’t returned the boat on time was because it had run out of diesel. Now he wasn’t going to start checking the diesel tank on the boat in the middle of the lake and so attached a rope to our boat and towed us in. I guess by the time we had disembarked and run as fast as we could out the main gates, he realized that there was in fact plenty of diesel left and this was Alison’s way of giving us some time to flee. I reared her well! 🤪

(The sun setting over Santa Fe, New Mexico)

Following a girlie night with just me and Allie at Alison’s apartment and a healthy breakfast the next morning, we said our goodbyes as she headed back to Albuquerque for her flight back to Chicago. She will no doubt join us again at a later stage of our trip hopefully.

And so after almost two weeks we packed up and left in the small wee hours of the morning, waving goodbye to our wonderful hosts Jennipher and Michelle who were so welcoming and treated us like part of their family while we were there. We headed for our flight back to San Diego and then on to Los Angeles to catch our next flight which brings us to Tokyo in Japan for a week and then onwards to Beijing for a month long stay in China.

This will be the most challenging part of our trip given the fact that we are now entering countries where English is not the first language. We don’t speak Japanese or Chinese and so now the fun begins. Let’s see how this one fares out ! 😱😱😱

See ye again soon for the start of the Asian adventures 👀

🙃

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