That’s a pretty good list. Don’t worry: She also gets to stalwarts such as Frontier, the Balloon Fiesta, the Bosque, the KiMo and the trolley.
O’Neill mentions that the sprawl is intimidating to travelers—an overlooked point in the argument for infill. She also makes a point of talking about Albuquerque’s “vibrant organic movement.” The Alibi’s food section has been emphasizing that unusual aspect of our desert city since early summer.
Late Sunday night found my roommate and I sitting on top of a dune in White Sands National Monument with an English couple we'd met earlier that morning. We'd lent them a tent, dropped their backpacks at our house and set out for a five-hour road trip through southwestern New Mexico. Bring a swimsuit for Elephant Butte Lake, we said, and a sleeping bag.
As bizarre as it was for my roommate and I to find ourselves camping with strangers, it was stranger for Julia and Fen who had started the day at Einstein Bagels without a plan.
Such is the beauty of CouchSurfing.org, a global nonprofit network connecting travelers with locals. The network encompasses more than 230 countries and three million members.
Each surfer (or surfer-couple) creates a profile describing their interests, goals, travel stories and pictures. Travelers send out messages asking if they can crash on a couch during their time in a city. Some people host every week, others only do so occasionally. No money changes hands, although it's considered polite to offer a bottle of wine or a home-cooked meal.
It takes a lot of trust to open your doors to a stranger or to spend the night on a foreign couch, so the network has set up a series of verification practices. The site confirms a member's name and address but the community relies on hosts and surfers vouching for each other. Perhaps the leap of faith is that the person you connect with will be someone with whom you want to spend a couple hours or even days.
While the four of us lounged on the marshmallow frosting dunes, we discussed the unusual circumstances that brought us together. Perhaps all CouchSurfers share a willingness to be spontaneous in the search for adventure—even if it means journeying deep into a 275-square-mile desert with strangers.
It’s a Wednesday morning, and the New Mexico Rail Runner Express presents a smorgasbord of snacking children, camera flashes, gimmicky tourist cowboy hats and the unmistakable crinkling sounds of unfolded, then refolded, maps. A handful of bowed head locals immerse themselves in the faint glow of a laptop screen, but the average age of rider seems to be about seven.
We leave the city and pass mobile homes, parking lots of eighteen-wheelers and neat stacks of bricks and cement blocks waiting for transport. A cluster of horses snooze under the shade of a lone tree, and a shirtless older man pushes a wheelbarrow through the hay brown fields.
The train jostles past the snarled mess of mangled electronics at the dump before gliding sweetly past white linens hanging on a laundry line. Shrubs like cotton balls dot the twisting mesas and low hills.
Eventually the buzz of just-boarded passengers dies down to a reasonable murmur. I sit back in the red canvas seat and settle in to research the budget deficit facing this train.
The Rio Metro Regional Transit District Board voted on June 17 to eliminate weekend train service, starting at the end of August. They also plan to replace the early morning northbound and southbound trains with a bus service due to the limited number of pre-dawn commuters.
The schedule changes reflect an attempt to alleviate the $1.2 million budget shortfall this year. Since the train was completed in 2008, it received federal money labeled Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Funds. The funds’ three year expiration date just passed, leaving us to grapple with serious deficit.
Some people argue the Rail Runner is money pit that will never even earn enough money to cover the start up cost. Others say that trains are the wave of the future and encourage growth in cities.
Attempts to raise fares have met with resistance since part of the train’s appeal lies in its laughably cheap ticket cost. With my student ID, I paid $6 for a round trip. That’s only half the cost for lunch in Santa Fe.
Personally I love the ease, convenience and affordability the train offers and will continue to ride it as long as it’s around. Plus, I could never have written this article on I-25.
The highest resolution picture ever taken of a major city has been posted online. The London Gigapixel Project took six weeks to complete using high tech computer software and “a powerful Fujitsu Celsius workstation with dual 6-core CPUs, 192GB of RAM, and a 4GB graphics card.” The resulting image is made from 7,886 high-resolution individual photos, adding up to an incredible 80 billion pixels. Allegedly, the creators at 360cities.net had to Photoshop out a woman who was standing in her window naked, but other than that, the image is untouched. The interactive website allows you to move around and zoom in like mad. Quite the vacation photo!
Damn, my car was parked over there. I just made the last payment.
I went to the Trinity Site on Saturday.
The Trinity Site is the spot in the desert southeast of Socorro where scientists first demonstrated – in the beautiful desert no less – they could compress a ball of plutonium or uranium into a critical mass, causing a nuclear explosion. The United States would later demonstrate that such a device can turn people into star dust. Twice.
The site is only open to the public twice a year. I couldn't help but notice that the desert seems to have swallowed whatever was once there. There was some trinitite, greenish glass created by a fission bomb, but mostly just sand. Of course, the radiation levels are much higher than the surrounding area, but I was assured that they weren't anything to be afraid of. Still, holding radioactive glass wreaked havoc on my OCD. I am abundantly aware of my left hand as I write this.
One thing I noticed: When I travel into the desert, I am often overwhelmed with a sense of otherworldliness. The desert is a mystical place and I love to bask in it. But it does not exist at the Trinity Site. The government nuked the mystical mysticism. I was at least expecting the feeling I got at the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial, the sense that something horrible happened here. But nothing. The absence of any profound feeling is scary.
So the government killed the magic and the desert ate the tourist attraction. My boots are still covered in radioactive dust and I appear to be growing a sixth toe on my left foot. Freaky.
Two weeks ago, because we didn’t strike out for Califor-nah-ay this summer as planned, my husband and I opted to take a regional vacation and went to Taos instead. Despite having lived in New Mexico for most of 11 years, I’d never been. I was excited to see the metaphysical mountain town, and experience its fabled vortexes firsthand. The two-hour drive from Albuquerque was quick and pretty, and the road into town took us directly to our accommodations for the evening. Not so long ago I attained a half-price one-night stay at the Historic Taos Inn through Alibi Bucks—not because I’m thrifty, but because boutique and/or historic hotels are one of my great joys in life. The couches of friends are fine, but when given an option, I’ll take Ace, Kimpton or Hotel Congress-type lodging any day.
As soon as we arrived at the Taos Inn we felt free and easy, and distinctly on vacation. The grounds were manicured and easy to navigate, and a friendly Tom cat even greeted us with a mewl. We made our way to the front desk and upon checking in were given real, metal keys to a room in the Sandoval House portion of the Inn. Our room, which was flanked by greenery and an antique water fountain, was well-appointed, and furnished with cozy New Mexican-style decor. A kiva fireplace sat dormant in the corner, coaxing us into return in the winter.
It was already about sunset, and the Adobe Bar beaconed us. The bar’s boozeverages were delicious—the extensive, expensive margarita menu is famous. Sitting on the patio, we also ordered dinner, and while the chips and salsa were a yawn, the pumpkin seed-accented chile relleno (which came from the attached Doc Martin’s Restaurant) was truly one of the best rellenos I’ve ever tasted. During all of this, a singer-songwriter from Denver was performing. The music wasn’t our speed, but the Adobe Bar has different kinds of quieter performers (not black metal bands or anything) every night of the week. With a half-bottle of champagne in tow, we returned to our room for much-needed relax-o time.
At 11:30 a.m., our check-out extended by a half-hour, we vacated the room and went out in search of coffee. Wandering the plaza we found a not only coffee, more delicious chile rellenos and a bunch of zia-emblazoned trinkets, but also Governor Bill Richardson. He was in Taos to speak about some water-related thing. When the“huh?” moment passed, we visited a few local retail shops: Common Thread (where I purchased embroidery scissors, vintage lace and imported fabrics), Taos Sound (where I picked up a Waitresses record) and some thrift store (where I acquired a beautiful, framed landscape oil painting for $20). Before leaving for dinner in Santa Fe, we also dropped by the Rio Grande Gorge, which was smaller than I’d imagined.
In summary, I’m revisiting the Historic Taos Inn, in all of its gourmet relleno-ed, metaphysical margarita-ed and cozy-roomed glory, before the year’s end.
Yesterday following a very successful (I bought an excellent dresser) and celebrity-sprinkled (wouldn’t have known it was him, as I’d never heard of him, if it weren’t for my movie industry companions) trip to the Antique Specialty Mall, we were driving east towards my favorite thrift store for new crap, T.J. Maxx. As I admired the lovely grey day and the wonderfully gloomy cloud cover on the mountains, it occurred to me that Albuquerque has a tram—the longest one in the world, at that. Offhandedly, I said it’d be a nice day to take the novelty ride. Rather than digging through “active bottoms” at the Maxx, I soon found myself forking over $20 for a Sandia Peak Tramway “flight” and suffering screaming children. This began to seem like a very bad idea. Once we boarded (without the sobbing three-year-old who was still apparently wearing diapers) things got freaking pretty. The rain and views of the city were beautiful. Snow flurried around at the peak and it was suddenly winter. After shooting camera phone photos, we headed to the High Finance bar for whiskey and snacks. We hung around the bar for about half an hour, listening to some smooth-ass jazz (”God, how do you make a guitar sound this gay?”) and wondering why there’s no mountain lodge for overnight stays. We caught a handsome buzz at 10,000 feet, then boarded he tram back to town, giggling all the way down. Between the three of us the whole experience cost about $100, but I deem the monsoon season peak experience money well-spent.
I somehow managed to become deathly ill on my very last night in Peru. It was the dreaded "stomach thing" again. Everyone traveling here gets it at one point or another. I've had it twice in six weeks, as have all my voluntario housemates and people I've traveled with. Milt, who flew here to visit Machu Picchu with me, and to make sure I actually came home from Peru, got it a few days after he arrived, despite brushing his teeth with bottled water and following all the suggested food precautions. Generally this is nothing that a little imodium won't cure. But what hit me on this last night was the "stomach thing" with a vengeance. It came on swiftly, relentlessly and violently, con mucha fuerza. I spent my last night in Peru camped out on the bathroom floor in a hotel room in Cusco, memorizing every floor tile. By the next morning, I was so sick I could not stand up. The problem was, I had not one, but two flights to take that day, one from Cusco (the airport closest to Machu Picchu) to Lima, then later from Lima to the United States.
I crawled out of the bathroom, which I had locked myself in six hours earlier, and knew there was no way I was getting on a plane in this condition. I just couldn't imagine camping out in an airplane lavatory for eight hours, and certainly couldn't fathom what the turbulence would do to my stomach. I told Milt to go without me, that I would fly home sometime in the future when my stomach stopped hurting. When Milt realized I was totally serious about spending the rest of my life on that bathroom floor, he sprang into action. After all, part of his mission here in Peru was getting me home. He dressed me, packed my suitcase and ran to the nearest store to buy me the Peruvian facsimile of Gatorade. Meanwhile, the hotel sent someone up to my room to administer oxygen, which they made me breathe for 10 minutes. Then they tried to make me drink something, anything—coca tea, Gatorade, water—to help revive me, as at that point I was completely dehydrated. But to no avail. I could not even keep an imodium pill down.
All I wanted to do was to lay down on the cool bathroom floor again, next to my new best friend the toilet, but no one was having any of that. Milt practically carried me downstairs, and handed me three or four plastic bolsas, which he had thoughtfully confiscated from our hotel, for me to use as barf bags. Upon our arrival at the Cusco airport, no Spanish translations were necessary. The staff from LAN Peru Airlines took one look at me, promptly put me in a wheelchair and rushed over an oxygen tank for me. Then they wheeled me to the plane. OMG, was this really happening? Aren't I still too young to be pushed through a busy airport in a wheelchair with an oxygen mask over my face?
Despite their efficiency at keeping paying customers like me alive, LAN Airlines does have a track record of removing really sick people from flights before takeoff. Milt, having heard horror stories about this, kept propping up my limp-as-a-ragdoll body in my airplane seat after we pre-boarded (being in a wheelchair has its perks), and lifting up my lolling head, begging me to smile and look happy every time the flight attendants walked by my seat. I tried to tell him that if anything were to give away my true condition, it would be the unattractive pale green color of my skin, not whether I was smiling. But at that point, my words were coming out slurred, so I'm not sure if he understood. I made it through the 1 hour flight, clutching my barf bags for dear life. I spent my last afternoon in Lima sleeping in a dark hotel room until it was time to catch the next plane, not having enough energy to even go outside to give my beloved city of Lima a last look, or a proper goodbye.
I was still feeling shaky as we headed to the airport for our flight to the U.S. I slept for the entire eight hours home, something I have never done before. Milt kept checking to see if I was still breathing. I still couldn't look at food, even though I hadn't eaten in almost 36 hours. This isn't the method I would recommend for losing a quick 10 pounds overnight.
This was NOT, needless to say, how I wanted my last memory of Peru, the country I had fallen in love with, to be. No one wants to remember leaving anywhere in a wheelchair, with an oxygen mask on, in extreme pain, convinced she is going to die. I cannot allow myself to remember my goodbye to Peru like that. So, I will remember my farewell in a different way. Perhaps whatever brought on this illness the day I was to fly out of the country was telling me that it wasn’t time for me to leave Peru yet. Perhaps I was meant to stay longer. Perhaps I still had unfinished work to do here. I don't know. It's a nice thought. Whatever it was, I have made peace with it, and the less-than-perfect ending to my mission will in no way tarnish my feelings for this wonderful country, or my feelings of happiness and pride in making a small contribution to the community of Villa el Salvador during my short stay here. In the words of my seatmate who got sick in our tiny plane in Nasca, "It's all part of the experience."
I received an amusingly large number of responses from many of you after I mentioned in one of my first emails that Peru is the world's second largest producer of cocaine. Here are more facts on that subject.
Peru is one of only two countries where it is legal to cultivate coca. The country grows about 56,000 hectares of coca, and can produce about 400 metric tons of cocaine.
Cocaine is the second most popular illegal recreational drug in the U.S., behind marijuana. The U.S. is the world's largest consumer of cocaine, accounting for 50 percent of the world's annual consumption.
The U.S. has spent roughly $1 billion in Peru since the year 2000 on anti-drug efforts. The result? A net increase of 18% in land here used for drug crops. Back to the drawing board, Washington.
According to Peruvian sources, 1 gram of cocaine that would cost between $80 and $120 in the U.S. would cost between $5 and $10 here in Peru. And, it is pure, not cut, like it is by the time it arrives in the U.S. There is a test, involving plain household bleach, that can determine how pure your cocaine is. Most drug dealers or addicts are familiar with this test. Sorry, amigos, but I was sworn to secrecy on the method.
Drinking coca tea (mate de coca), an infusion made from the leaves of the coca plant, is a popular remedy for alleviating altitude sickness, which many tourists get when traveling to Machu Picchu, Peru's most popular tourist destination. Chewing on the actual coca leaves themselves is also a well-known remedy. This method of consumption has been practiced for many centuries by the indigenous people of Peru. I have attached a photo of a coca leaf.
Drinking coca tea or chewing on coca leaves does NOT give you the same high as cocaine, although it will give you a mild stimulation and mood lift. However, you should be aware that you WILL test positive for cocaine if you are subject to a drug test after using these remedies. It is best to refrain if you will be looking for a job after your vacation to Machu Picchu!
Peru has the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca in Puno. It sits 12,500 ft. above sea level.
Peru has the two deepest canyons in the world, Colca Canyon and Cotahuasi Canyon. They dip down 10,600 ft. and 11,000 ft. respectively.
Peru has the second highest peak in the Americas, the mighty Huascaran, which rises to 22,200 ft.
Lima, Peru, is the second largest city in the world that is located in a desert, after Cairo.
Annual rainfall in Lima is 0 inches. It NEVER rains there. And I thought Albuquerque, with its mere 8 inches a year, was dry.
The world's longest river, the Amazon, starts in Iquitos, Peru. Iquitos is the gateway to the world's largest and most diverse natural reserve, the Amazon rainforest.
With a population of 400,000, Iquitos, in the Amazon rainforest, is the world's largest city that cannot be reached by road, only by water or air.
Sixty percent of Peru is jungle, or selva. Most of Peru's Amazon remains unexplored, and hence has some of the best untouched rain forests anywhere in the world.
Should you decide to explore the unexplored Peruvian selva, make sure you get vaccinated for typhoid, yellow fever and malaria. And be sure to bring LOTS of bug repellent, with at least 30 percent DEET. I can always spot tourists who have recently been to the jungle by the huge red welts all over their arms and legs!
Machu Picchu, the most famous archaeological site in South America, is the iconic symbol of Peru. It is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, rubbing elbows with India's Taj Mahal, Rome's Colosseum and the Great Wall of China. It was discovered in 1911 by Yale University historian Hiram Bingham, who, incidentally, was the role model for the Indiana Jones’ character in films like Raiders of the Lost Ark"