How To Not Look Like A Tourist In Santa Fe

Although I was 26 before I visited New Mexico, I’ve always felt a strange kinship with the state. I suspect it’s because much of my childhood was spent traveling to see my grandparents in Arizona (where my dad grew up). We’d attend pow-wows, visit local museums, and explore the high desert landscape, and I always yearned to cross the state line, and delve deeper into the Southwest.

On my first visit, I spent several days in Santa Fe, and it was love at first sight. Since then, I’ve made many trips to New Mexico, but I always try to spend time in Santa Fe. Hordes of tourists flock there for a reason: its cultural, historical, architectural, scenic, and culinary charms make it one of America’s most alluring small cities.

I recently spent a weekend in Santa Fe, as it’s an enjoyable, six-hour drive from my home in Boulder. As I wandered the city each day, I was repeatedly asked for directions by befuddled visitors. I dislike looking like a tourist, and the upside of being a bit of a dirtbag is that I’m often mistaken for a local when I travel domestically. I’m secretly delighted when tourists ask me for intel, even if I don’t know the answer.

In Santa Fe, however, it’s easy to tell the natives from the tourists if you know what to look for. I’ve compiled a handy list, so that when you visit, you, too, can fake it. Native Santa Feans, please know that these observations come from a deep place of affection … and that there’s a reason I’m not telling you the location of my hometown.

How to look like a Santa Fean

Wear natural fibers.

Smile. Say hello. Mean it.

Know the meaning of “Christmas.”Have your own, strongly held beliefs on where the best chiles come from, and be prepared to defend them to the death.

Know how to correctly pronounce and use the following words: acequia; luminaria; viga; portales; ristra; sopapilla; adovada, posole.

Wearing lots of turquoise and silver jewelry is good, as long as it doesn’t look new.

Know where Canyon Road is.

Own well-worn cowboy boots and hat. Quality counts.

Get your gossip on at the farmers market.

Rock a hairstyle 20 to 30 years out of date, regardless of your gender. Males should ideally have hair that reaches at least the shoulders, even if balding on top; pony-tail optional.

Food: the spicier, the better.

Heels or a tie for dinner at a restaurant? Nah.

Drive an old pickup.

Breakfast: posole, green chile, or a burrito.

Leathery, sun-burnished skin trumps a spray tan, any day.

[Photo credit: Flickr user kenkopal]

SkyMall Monday: Top 5 products for hurricane season

Here on the East Coast, Hurricane Irene made for quite the weekend. First, we braved the hordes of crazy people in the supermarket (no one needs that much peanut butter), then the torrential rains and, more than anything, the constant barrage of media hype. Thankfully, we’re all safe and accounted for here at SkyMall Monday headquarters. However, we’re now well aware that hurricane season is underway and still has weeks to go. That’s why it’s time to make sure that you’re prepared. By now, you should have flashlights and batteries (and to the people who needed to buy them this weekend, why didn’t you own them already?), but there are plenty of other items that you should own to ensure that you’re prepared for the next month or so of tropical weather. Here are the top five SkyMall products you need for hurricane season.5. Monet Rain Boots (pictured above)

When the weather is bad, it doesn’t matter how ugly you look so long as you stay dry. Since it doesn’t matter, you might as well be the ugliest.

4. Make Your Own Truffle Kit

There’s a good chance that your local chocolatier will be closed during storms so they can hoard their confections for their own family. Fear not, however, as you can easily whip up some emergency truffles. Disaster has never been so decadent.

3. The Spectator Umbrella

Let’s go right to the product description:

When not providing rain protection, it can be converted into a seat cane with a comfortable 13″ wide leather strap seat by simply spreading the handles.

You want to stay dry as you brave the storm, but you also want to relax once you get to the shelter and using the cots that they provide just sounds unsanitary.

2. Women’s Waterproof Rain Cape

Over the river (which is flooding over its banks) and through the woods (which is full of fallen trees), to grandmother’s house you go (because she’s outside of the evacuation zone and still has electricity). Ponchos are so last year and jackets are cliche. This hurricane season, it’s all about capes. Just look out for the big, bad wolf (or, you know, downed power lines).

1. Testosterole Sexual Enhancer

You’re going to be spending a lot of time inside the house with no TV, internet or electronic entertainment options. Eventually, you’ll want to have some fun with what’s underneath that cape. [Note: I would have posted the product description but it’s painfully long and includes the word “secretion,” which makes me very uncomfortable.]

Stay safe out there, kids.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Top North American rodeos to check out this summer

In honor of the approaching National Day of the American Cowboy, which I wrote about earlier in the week, I wanted to highlight some of the best rodeos North America has to offer.

Even city slickers can enjoy a rodeo; it is, after all, a sporting event. With a lot of beer. And grilled meat. And a lack of giant foam fingers and face-painting (not a bad thing, I might add).

In all seriousness, rodeos are great family fare. There are usually parades and drill team exhibitions, down-to-earth people, great camaraderie, and you can watch some truly amazing human, equine, and bovine athletes perform in independent and team events. At day’s end, you can always count on a big barbecue, live music, and a dance. The below rodeos are all located in places of great historic interest if you love the Old West or Americana. Git boot-scootin’.

Calgary Stampede
It may be surprising to learn that Canada has a cowboy culture, but Alberta does, and is home to this world-famous event, which is an integral part of the community. Critter lovers should note that the Stampede places extreme emphasis on animal welfare, which you can read about here (FYI, the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) also has strict animal welfare regulations in place, so contrary to belief, livestock are not being tortured for the sake of entertainment). Events ranging from steer wrestling and women’s barrel racing to junior steer riding will be happening July eighth through the 17th.

[Photo credit: bronc, Flicker user Bill Gracey;Sheridan WYO Rodeo
Located in the heart of Yellowstone Country at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains, Sheridan has no shortage of pastoral pleasures to go with its Western heritage. Rodeo Week–July eighth through the 17th–kicks off with a parade, and night rodeos are held the 13-16th. Part of the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour, Sheridan WYO also features events like the Indian Relay Races (Those of you who are offended by the non-PC-ness of the name…remember we are not in Berkeley, and there’s a $25,000 payout prize), and a public Boot Kick-off event featuring live music, food vendors, and more.

Cheyenne Frontier Days
Know as the “Daddy of Em All,” the world’s largest outdoor rodeo has celebrated the American West since 1897. From July 23rd to the 31st, crowds from all over the world gather to watch arena events. You can also visit Cheyenne’s excellent Old West Museum, tour historic homes and “Behind the Chutes(don’t miss if you want to see what goes on before that gate swings open and bulls and broncs cut loose),” and attend Western Art Shows, concerts (Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow headline this year), a carnival midway, an Indian Village handicraft/historic recreation, and more.

Days of ’76 Rodeo

Held in one of the Old West’s most historic and notorious towns, this Deadwood, South Dakota event has been named Best PRCA Small Outdoor Rodeo four times, as well as PRCA Midsize Rodeo of the Year since 2004. This, the 89th year, runs from July 26-30th, and features two parades and lots of local Native American culture. The entire city of Deadwood is a national historic landmark located in the Black Hills Territory, so be sure to plan on an extra day or two for exploring.

Pendleton Roundup
Eastern Oregon is at the heart of the state’s cowboy country, and Pendleton is one of the ten largest rodeos in the world. Have a last-days-of-summer trip September 14-17th, when the weather is hot and sunny (it does happen in the Pacific Northwest, really). Bareback and saddle bronc riding, team roping, bull riding, Indian relay races, wild cow milking, children’s rodeo, and parade: it’s all here. Trivia: Pendleton is one of the first rodeos to have women officially compete. In 1914, Bertha Blanchett came within 12 points of winning the All-Around title.

[Photo credit: team roping, Flickr user Al_HikesAZ]

Austin, Texas: How to buy your first pair of cowboy boots

There’s something romantic about cowboy boots that’s inexplicable. They’re unique, mysterious, and, on the right pair of legs, they are downright sexy.

The legends surrounding cowboys and the American West are as rich and colorful as the boots themselves. From Hollywood legends like Roy Rogers and John Wayne, to stories of Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp, cowboy legends linger in our minds and there’s no escaping the western attraction when you land in Austin, Texas.

I was headed down to Austin to meet other members of the Gadling team for our annual weekend meet-up, but I secretly had another mission in mind: buying my first pair of cowboy boots.

Earlier in the day, I met up with Gadling’s Heather Poole and her family for some boot perusing. Taking a lesson from her husband I knew these boots would be an investment, so I had to absolutely love them. Now with Catherine Bodry and Leigh Caldwell by my side, I gallivanted around Austin in search the perfect pair of cowboy boots. I stopped in a few stores to take some boots for a test ride and learned there’s more to buying cowboy boots than meets the eye. I’m no foreigner to buying shoes, but cowboy boot shopping is an entirely other breed. Before you buy, consider these tips:

1. Size does matter.
Cowboy boots do not fit like regular shoes, so before you start looking around at shapes and colors, measure your foot. A good cowboy boot will fit as if it’s made for your feet. While the leather will stretch a little bit, the fit you feel when you first put on the boot is about as real as it gets. Remember: cowboy boots are expensive so if you’re going to spend the money, be sure the fit is perfect.

2. Identify your shape.
Boot toes come in all different cuts and sizes. Before you start grabbing boots off the shelves take a look at your toes. Are you comfortable wearing pointed-toe shoes? Or do you prefer a round toe with some give across the bridge of your foot? Choose a boot toe shape for comfort first, and style second.

3. Determining your height.
Cowboy boots are generally made with a heel both for men and women. Most boots have a heel between three-quarters of an inch and one and three-quarters an inch. Go with what’s most comfortable. Cowboy boots are meant to take you from day into night, so stick with what feels best and don’t push the heel height. Unlike other boots, the statement isn’t in the heel of this shoe.

4. Now comes the fun part – finding your boot.
Now that you’ve assessed your size and narrowed down your heel height, it’s time to find a pair of boots that suits your style, or as Ryan from Allens Boots would say, find a pair of boots that talks to you. Allow me to explain…

I stood bewildered at the all the sizes, shapes and colors in front of me. It’s no secret I have a shoe fetish, but walking into Allens Boots on South Congress Street in Austin was like entering a cowboy graveyard – boots made for legends were piled up high on the walls.

We walked down the aisles ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the various styles and colors. The dynamics ranged from plain brown and black boots to boots with skull embellishments and rhinestone crosses.

There were purple boots, pink boots, Texas A&M boots, boots with spurs, boots with tassels, boots for kids, and boots with bells.

Some boots were multi-colored while other boots were two-toned. Some boots had pointed toes, others were square-toed and round-toed. There were tall boots, short boots, ankle boots, booties and mid-calf boots. The boots ranged in price from around $200 to upwards of $800, and those were just the boots I grabbed to try on. Just as I fell into the boot-shaped chair ready to give up on my boot buying endeavors, he appeared. Hellooooo, cowboy.

Ryan stood about 6’5″ tall, had feathered blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and, we guessed, was somewhere between 25- and 30-years-old. He walked with a swagger – or maybe it’s a saunter – and finished his sentences with “yes ma’am” and “my pleasure.” He politely asked me if I needed some help.

“I have no idea where to start or what to do,” I confessed. Ryan simply replied, “Just take a walk through and let the boots talk to you.”

I stood staring at him for a moment, wondering if he was serious. He smiled, nodded and walked off, which I suppose was my cue to do the same and seek out the boots that speak.

5. Finding the right fit.
Trying on your cowboy boots is equally as important as the boot’s size and style. There’s a process every veteran cowboy knows and here’s how it’s done:

* Roll up your pant to just below the knee.
* Each boot comes with ‘tabs’ as part of the leather. Hook your index fingers into the leather tabs on each side so you’re pulling the boot up and over your foot.
* Your foot should slide easily in the boot and should not bind. The leg should be loose and comfortable and you should be able to wiggle your toes. As you start walking, your heel should slide up a little.

I grabbed about half a dozen pairs of boots to try on. A few whispered, I think one boot winked at me, but none of them really “spoke” to me. In hopes they talked once they were on my feet, I tried each pair on and walked them up and down the aisles, stealing glances in mirrors along the way.

I grabbed one last pair of boots – a red pair that kept tugging at me – and when I put them on they talked, no screamed, “I’M YOURS!” Ryan was right – the right pair will speak to you, and when they do you’ll know it. My boots were perfect – fire engine red and stitched perfectly with white and gold designs. The heel is stacked about one-and-one-half inches and the top of the boot comes just to my calf – perfect enough to wear with jeans or a dress. They make a statement, for sure, but it’s a statement I’m proud to make. My fire engine red cowboy boots were made for walking!

I modeled the various boots for the girls and we all agreed, the red ones were THE pair. They were comfortable, the perfect size, the perfect height and I could pair them with just about everything in my closet. The best part? They were the right price. Authentic cowboy boots aren’t cheap, but they’ll last a lifetime. Go in with a budget and don’t waiver – you’ll find the right pair that fits your feet and your bank account.

As for Ryan? I showed him my fire-engine red Lucchese-brand boots, and he nodded and said, “Those are some serious boots but I think you can handle them. Every girl should own a pair of red boots at one point in her life.”

I couldn’t agree more.

In the Heart of Central America: Cowboys and coffee in Copan, Honduras

Located in the northwest of Honduras, just a few miles from the Guatemalan border, the area known as Copan has a landscape of lush green rolling hills, coffee plantations and cattle ranches. This is pure cowboy country. In Copan Ruins, horses clip-clop softy over the stone streets and the jangle of spurs can be heard as men in boots, jeans and cowboy hats wander through town. A few miles away, cowboy Carlos Castejon warmly welcomes guests to his family’s coffee, cardamom, and cattle ranch to learn about the farm’s production.

Finca el Cisne has been owned Carlos’ family since 1885. What started as a simple farm growing Arabica coffee, corn, and beans, has grown to encompass 800 hectares (40% of which is primary forest). Visitors to the Finca will drive for nearly twenty minutes from the start of the family’s land to the main house, passing by the dwellings of Carlos’ employees who live on the land. In 2002 Carlos decided to expand the farm’s operations to include agritourism. With a subtle, quick wit, a penchant for teasing his guests (in a good-natured way) while providing an interesting and informative experience, and a clear passion for his home country, Carlos is the perfect host.

While in Honduras, I was able to spend a day at the Finca, which starts with a stop at Carlos’ rustic guesthouse. Equipped with five rooms, running water and electricity, the guesthouse is very basic but inviting. Guests who chose to come just for the day will arrive at 8am and depart at 6pm. With transportation from town the outing costs $64 per person. Once you arrive at the Finca, you’ll get to sample some of Carlos’ coffee and a light breakfast prepared from ingredients grown on the farm, such as mashed banana stuffed with beans and served with cheese, an unusual combination that was actually delicious.

From there Carlos took my group on a tour, stopping to point out the many fruits grown on the property, including passion-fruit, mango, mandarin, avocado, banana, plantain, breadfruit, starfruit, lime and grapefruit. Along the way, he’d reach for a fruit, sliver off a piece with his knife, and pass out samples.

Then we were off to the coffee mill to learn about how coffee is produced from start to finish. First Carlos showed us the fruit, which blooms in stages from January to April and begins ripening in December. When the fruit turns red, it is handpicked and the beans are extracted from the fruit (which is used for compost) by machine. The beans are fermented, washed, and then cycled through a series of troughs that allow the low-quality beans to run off and the higher quality (heavier) beans to remain until they are pushed through.

The beans are then spread on the ground to sun dry (and then often moved to a drum to machine dry) and the finished green beans are extracted from their shells. The majority of the beans will be exported while they are still green and then roasted to the taste of their destination country.

While all of this was fascinating for me (and the smell of the coffee was making me rethink my aversion to caffeine), I was anxious to get to the next part….the horseback riding. So Carlos led us over to a small pasture where several horses were saddled and waiting. As the most experienced in the group, I was given the horse Carlos normally rides, while he rode a younger horse that he was training.

With Carlos and another guide we set out to explore the property. Again Carlos would stop, point out the many fruits and edible flowers growing around us, and offer up tasty samples. We walked and trotted our way along a dirt road and then entered a field where Carlos gave us the go-ahead to pick up a little speed. I leaned forward, gave my horse some free rein, and we were off, galloping through the brush and up a hill. After an exhilarating ride to the top, my horse simply stopped and waited for the rest of the group to catch up.

For another hour we explored the property, taking in the views of the rolling green valley below, passing cows and horses grazing in the fields, and again and again taking off at a breathtaking but controlled gallop through the countryside. I can honestly say it was the single best horseback riding experience I have ever had while traveling. All too soon it was time to head back to the house for lunch.

We wandered around the main house gawking at photos of Carlo’s ancestors with jaguars they shot on the property to keep them from eating the cattle. We sat down to a lunch of traditional Honduran food (the menu for which changes based on seasonal availability). We started with coffee (of course), fresh orange juice, and a bean soup with fresh-made corn tortillas and cheese. Then heaping plates of food were served family-style, including potatoes, watercress salad, braised beef, and more beans, tortillas, and fresh cheese. A sweet plantain in a syrup of cardamom from the farm was served for dessert. To complete the day, and to help soothe any sore muscles from the ride, Carlos takes guests to the local hot springs for a relaxing soak.

There are other coffee tours in Copan, and I had the opportunity to do another one during my time in the region. But this one was the best. The tour was informative and, thanks to Carlos’ humor and passion, very entertaining. Lunch was delicious, the property was beautiful, and I think there is no better way to see this area of cowboys and coffee plantations than on the back of a horse.

This trip was paid for by the Honduras Institute of Tourism, but the views express are entirely my own.

You can read other posts from my series on Honduras here.