the road to angel fire

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angel fire. that kind of albuquerque morning where the sky is ablaze. magenta, cerise, amaranth, crimson.

6am, sad news reaches me on a day already planned to be in the car for eight hours to colorado, my sister, eventually london. I-25 seems too businesslike for all the many things in my heart this day, and when i pull into santa fe just before 7am, i know i’ll go off-course.

i consider the high road to taos and after a brief consultation of google maps in the alberston’s parking lot on cerrillos road, i realise i actually don’t know what the high road to taos even is.

we always took the low road. the two-laner carving its way along the reticent rio grande through the gorge, past embudo, the rafting center, then pilar. NM highway 68.

the high road goes through truchas, an unincorporated village with an adobe church. it set the scene for the 1988 film the milagro beanfield war, which, if you haven’t seen it, is worth a watch, if for nothing else than to understand rural northern new mexico (which is in fairness a skill probably of use to few not actively raised here). state road 76, up past chimayo and the santuario with its holy well and the good red chile stands; all the cañadas and miles of hand-dug acequias.

it was cold last night, a hard frost, and the 8000-foot altitude of the high road could mean ice. i’m in the mood for exploration, but not for off-roading particularly, and so set out on the well-trodden low road. this feels fitting – a road i’ve driven many times in my life, both in the back seat as a child for weekends visiting taos pueblo or tagging along to gigs my dad was playing at the sagebrush inn with bill & bonnie hearne, and then behind the wheel as an adult driving to and from something i seem to be revisiting in more ways than one, this trip home, this year.

it’s early and i make an unsuccessful stop at walmart in española to buy a six-pack of local marble red beer for my sister and to bring back to london. everyone present in walmart española at 8am on the monday after thanksgiving is either driving a mobility scooter and perusing ugly christmas sweaters or gossiping in norteño spanish or both.

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at the embudo station restaurant, i want to pause but forget where the turn-off is, and being tailgated by an impatient electrician’s truck, i push on. we used to make trips just to eat at embudo station, crossing the rio grande via a small bridge and settling onto a table under cottonwood trees, always shaded by the canyon walls which begin to climb here and higher as you go northwards toward agua caliente.

maybe the last time i drove this road was 2004, could that be right? on the way to and from the kind of last-hurrah tryst that signals the real and final end to a love affair you will never forget. three quiet nights in taos savouring all that, a glass of wine, things you’d rather not say, hot tears as you pull away from it and back down the canyon, not knowing where life will take you.

IMG_7262.JPGin taos, i pause at a blake’s lotaburger for one more green chile breakfast burrito. it’s a typical 1950s-styled white stucco fast-food joint with hard plastic red-and-white umbrellas shading hard plastic picnic tables no one ever uses out the front, and big letters spelling LOTABURGER in flintstones-esque font across the front. inside, a lady in a hair net takes my order from behind a red vinyl countertop and when i ask for the burrito ‘green’ she queries: ‘chile or sauce?’ i baulk here: how can i have been out of new mexico for so long as to be confronted with a chile-ordering question i’ve never heard. well…chile then, if there’s a difference?

from here, i follow the little 585 bypass across southern taos shortcutting to US highway 64, falling back into old habits. adjusting the music selection and steering with my knee while i unpeel the aluminium foil from around the egg-hashbrown-chile-filled burrito. there are no spillages, and no accidents – i’m still a new mexican after all.

US highway 64 is tremendously long. it goes right the way from the new mexico-arizona border to the whalebone junction at cape hatteras in north carolina – literally, as far east as you can go to the atlantic. i am at the western end of it and, out here, it’s just a tiny two-lane mountain byway that doesn’t feel like it would go anywhere at all except up over remote palo flechado pass and into angel fire and eagle nest. and in reality, that is all this highway does out here.

these places were the stuff of dreams on the evening weather report when i was a child. first of all, they have magical names that seemed even more magical as a kid. second of all, they were always forecast to get snow in the winter and for that i was constantly wishing to go to them.

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the high alpine deserts of southern colorado and northern new mexico were home to the muache, a southern tribe of the ute people, who came here specifically to perform fall ancestral ceremonies to the great spirit. they were the first here, and the first to notice the evening alpenglow that seemed to pulsate in blazing colours around a peak that later came to be known in spanish as agua fria: cold water peak. they called this glow the fire of the gods, and later in the 1780s, franciscan friars altered the semantics, poetically giving us angel fire. indeed, it was because of this burning colour that the spanish called the entire mountain range sangre de cristo: the blood of christ.

though it’s now just a ski resort (and a blissfully hidden-away one at that), angel fire is the sort of place where you feel in a bit of a dream. weaving my way down a gently switchbacking road through pine forest that had climbed to nearly 9100 feet at palo flechado pass a few miles ago, here opens an expansive, treeless brown valley surrounded on all sides by lumbering, dark-green peaks. swathes of this pasturous flatland are still covered in a snow that fell over the weekend.

there is not a single car heading northeast with me, so i pull off, roll down the driver’s side window, and begin snapping pictures of ‎13,167ft wheeler peak, the state’s highest mountain. though i know it’s treacherous, from here, it looks tame and seems almost ordinary compared with the mountains of similar altitude i crossed in tibet a few months ago.

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eagle nest – a resort village of under 300 – is next, and its lake is already partially frozen despite the white november sun that has come out and is bleaching everything in my windshield into a washed-out instagram filter. effectively it’s a one-street town lined with mining-style clapboard buildings. nothing is open. i pause briefly at a pull-out with a bathroom just past the village limit and spend a few minutes gazing at the lake until my eyes can’t take the sun glare anymore. then back into the camry, belle & sebastian getting me through new mexico like they did tibet, too.

minutes pass like hours for the rest of the 35 miles to cimarron, turning from high heaven to hell, as the road winds into a landscape of charred pine trees and burnt earth. it sometimes takes years for an arid landscape to recover from a forest fire in the southwest, and i mentally scan my memory for a fire that might’ve caused this devastation when i was younger. later, i read the damage was far more recent: in june this year, the ute park wildfire devastated nearly 37,000 acres right here and i am driving through ground zero of the aftermath. homes gone, animals lost, memories vanished in seconds, minutes, long and tortorous singeing days. and a few short months later, cars so casually zipping through a place that was literally engulfed in flame.

how long i will have to wait to drive this road again to see things growing?

the land flattens off at cimarron – another place-name-of-dreams (it could mean ‘where the wild things are’) – an all-but-forgotten town that once was a centre of trade for wagon trains and coal miners – at this point, US 64 is now following the course of the santa fe trail. a few signs posted along the highway through town denote outlaws and miners and fur trappers that once made this place busy, now a dusty memory in roadside black-and-white.

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after this, you wave goodbye to the mountains for good. to the son of god peaks, the rockies, to the pine trees, to any trees at all. from a 10,000ft apex less than 50 miles west, here is the flat desert, occasionally dotted with far-off buttes and blue mesas, eventually to give way to the kansas prairie.

before that, i’ll reach I-25 and then turn north to colorado and a plane home.

but i’ll go with new mexico – with angel fire – in my chest.

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independence day

it’s late afternoon in 1988 and we are in the car – my dad’s AMC eagle with faux wood panels down the sides. no air conditioning, and it’s hot in early july. a dry, still new mexico heat, the kind that makes your hair go all static-y and melts the plastic on the steering wheel if the car is parked too long in the sun. we pile out at santa fe downs – the racetrack my grandfather always took credit for building. as a girl, i imagined my larger-than-life ‘papa’ nailing up planks and dragging dirt, his face shaded by a huge stetson and his alligator-skin boots getting dusty driving a backhoe, though later i came to understand that his claim on the track was merely financial and, like a lot of my family history, complicated.

we pile out and walk for what feels like a year from the car to the entrance, where a giant concrete tunnel seems to pass underground and back up again, right out into the middle of the racetrack, over which looms a covered grandstand. for a horse-obsessed girl of almost eight, standing on the soft soil of an actual racetrack gave me the same feeling i’d later experience standing on the great wall of china and ascending the eiffel tower for the first time.

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my sister is four and being pushed in a stroller by my mother while my dad points out the details.

back behind there are where the horses live.

can we go see them?

not today. he indicates toward a semi truck parked across the grass infield. look, see out there – that’s where the fireworks are going to come from.

the sun drifts downwards west behind the slate blue ortiz mountains, lighting the sky to their north above us in a crayola box of shades. a blanket is produced from the basket on the back of the stroller – an upright, spartan sling on wheels made of plastic piping and synthetic polka-dotted material and with a small pull-out sunshade that had done me no good as a baby and was currently not shading much of my sister.

we sit all evening and get hungry and cranky so that by the time the fireworks start going off, i am in an inexplicable rage and my sister, who’d been gazing upwards at the purple and blue blasts, gets a piece of ash in her eye and has to be bustled off to an ambulance waiting somewhere nearby. (she was fine but we were all traumatised and i wonder now what this experience was like for my parents who, i presume even at that point in their marriage, didn’t really like each other very much).

there were other fourths of july. the hour-long drive to albuquerque, past small juniper trees at the turn off for la cienega and down la bajada hill, beyond the pueblos and then bernalillo, where a ribbon of the rio grande could be glimpsed between rows of cottonwoods in years when there was rain, to the airport. my dad said this was the best place to watch the fireworks, which were set off somewhere from adjacent kirtland air force base, and i suppose the 1980s were a time when knowing you could use the open-air top level of a parking lot for a free family fireworks outing (hopefully one where no one got ash in their eye) was the essence of cool.

july 4th is the only holiday i remember us celebrating as a foursome; hell, one of the only things i remember us doing as a foursome full stop.

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when you’re a kid, people ask you dumb questions like ‘what’s your favorite holiday’ and my answer always was the fourth of july. at fifteen, this was highly idealised: it’s not a commercial holiday. i wasn’t wrong, but then time goes on and your family turns out to be messy and then so does your country and you move away to another state and then another country, and start to wonder how you could possibly have loved such nationalistic nonsense.

it was the shitty hot dogs. being smushed onto a blanket covered in pet hair, fingers smelling of ketchup and potato-chip salt. the wonder of fireworks cracking off against an indigo sky. sucking the last juice droplets out of a deflated capri sun bag through a strangely sharp straw that might slice your tongue. making cut-offs out of your old jeans with a pair of scissors and hoping you might get your first kiss under the cover of all that magic. swirling sparklers into fairy shapes that lingered on the thick air for an extra moment.

i loved that the fourth of july made me feel like, for one night a year, perfect life was possible. maybe my parents could be happy together. maybe i would be a normal kid who would meet an amazing crushable boy who liked her just as she was. that i lived in a great state in a great country where things were safe and happy. realities, of course, are different: my parents were so much better off apart, and as a result so were my sister and i. being a normal kid is overrated and turns out to be boring, and yes there have been several boys and there will be others, and so much the richer life is when you allow people to pass in and out of it in their natural time. there is no such thing as a great state or a great country – these are imagined things, it turns out – but the people that collectively make them up can be great and so can their cultures.

the fourth of july represents the unbridled optimism of childhood and a memorialised version of america – my version. it is nostalgia. but then maybe nostalgia is merely a yearning for things you think you remember having but that never really existed.

it’s late afternoon in 2018 and i set a pitcher of sun tea out to brew in the unusually sunny warmth of this year’s british july and think of my grandmother, who taught me this skill. she loved me but openly hated my cousin and it turns out people are really incredibly complex, and we never see all of their sides, even the ones we believe to be soul mates, or family, parents or anyone else.

it’s hot. i stick on a fan and some ani difranco, and sit down to write.

travelling outside your age (or, an ode to my cool aunt and uncle)


my aunt jane and uncle dave are legends.

they grew up in the 50s and 60s and have a million stories from high school in pasadena, california. surfing, playing in bluegrass bands like the smooothies, the heady early days of the rose parade, smoking in the mountains, seeing steve martin with an arrow through his head at the ice house. when all four egenes siblings (that’s my dad john, jane the youngest, aunt lonnie and uncle tim) get together under one roof, a lot of eating, drinking, swearing, arguing and laughing usually ensues. normal family things, and things i treasure, for they are rare and wonderful.


it doesn’t feel right to start writing about aunt jane and uncle dave without putting on a record, like rubber soul or django & jimmie. my family is musical: jane a professional violinist and teacher, dave an excellent guitarist, my dad a music lecturer and general music savant. i have meddled in music throughout my life, but was never as cool as my dad and his siblings; never cool enough to have a bluegrass band in high school.


my earliest memories of jane and dave are foggy visions of their house in albuquerque, clad in houseplants and mosaic coffee tables and home-knit throws, and a great big grandfather clock that struck resounding echoes on the hour – and still does.

tonight i stick joni mitchell’s blue on the turntable and wonder if they are gonna hate it that i’m about to write about them. probably, because they are nothing if not counter-culturalists and hippies in a way, as a slacker and member of generation x, i always envied. gen-x’ers wanted to care about causes but we were too busy not giving a shit about the man to bother doing anything.


friday at 3pm in santa maria novella railway station in florence. they appear off the rome high-speed service, dave with his signature lumbering six-foot-five, white-haired lanky figure and jane with her wave of pulled-back dark hair fronted by grey streaks in the exact same place my greys are coming in. hugs are brisk and conversation is immediate and easy despite a year apart.

we are spending six days in florence for what has become an annual international trip together. jane and dave started travelling later in their adult life; they are american baby boomers discovering the world as semi-retirees and they have definitely got the travel bug. watching them figure out the italian public transportation system on their own for the first time, for example, was truly beautiful.


the joy of intergenerational travel (what a terrible term) is not something i’d ever thought about. when we are travelling together, it isn’t like a ‘family trip’ where i imagine bickering and bad meals and complaining. we have pretty similar interests (wine, food, culture, chillaxing), and that makes it easy. but i find myself seeing the world through their eyes, and hopefully they are seeing it some through mine.

one thing that happens is that i slow down. being with them makes it pretty obvious just how fast i take life. i walk at a london pace, quite literally, and a gentle stroll through the piazza della repubblica now becomes a moment of wonderment, as opposed to something you just get past or through. queries about what a building corner’s embellishment is call me to question, wonder, then google a lot of things i probably would not notice. musings on just what, exactly, makes this particular pomodoro pasta so much better than any before it create amazement in the everyday, and confusion with a waiter causes questions in my mind about whether the term ‘marinara’ has a different meaning in the united states than it does in italy. now i’m thinking about things.


these interactions also lead to mindful questioning in a way that maybe my generation never would. we are slackers, we are jaded, we think we know, and a lot of the times we do know. if i may generalise, baby boomers wonder at things, and it is a joy for a member of my grunge generation to experience that purity of questioning.


on tuesday evening, our final night in florence, we crack open the last bottle of chianti classico we bought on saturday’s tour of tuscan wine country. three plastic chairs are perched on a narrow, high patio at our airbnb on the 7th floor of a suburban florentine building. before us, the arno river carving a rust-coloured ribbon through red-tiled roofs and the moon and saturn raising a ruckus over the duomo’s cupola, pinkened by the just-set sun.


dave lights up a cuban and talks about his father and fishing and high-school buddies; jane rolls her eyes having heard these stories a million times before. they got married young in LA city hall (or was it pasadena? because i am a slacker, i fail to remember these details, but i’m sure they will correct me, with the clarity of memory they maintain).

cigar smoke wafts over us in the heat of the italian june evening and we savour this moment, for it is the stuff of life.

texas state capitol

rediscovering the lone star state (trip report, part 2)

texas and i go way back. i have a few dirty little secrets, and one of them is that i spent ‘the best years of my life’ (aka high school, also not the best years of my life to date) in west texas (aka bush country). actually, lubbock (or low-buck as i sometimes like to call it) was not all bad, in that i came away with some very good friends and a full cultural immersion in the ways of texas. there is also good music there.

to be fair, texas runs in my blood. my grandfather was born in a tiny east texas village called groveton. in the 2000 census, groveton had a population of 1,107, so one can only imagine what it was like in the 1930s, when at the age of 16, my granddad walked in overalls and bare feet, to the nearest “big” town, lufkin (a thriving metropolis of just over 35k in 2000), and eventually got work on the then-thriving oil fields of east texas.

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my grandad – j.w. eaves – in his ubiquitous cowboy hat

i believe it’s precisely because of my grandfather, who fed me barbecue ribs and cornbread and deep-fried catfish growing up, never lost his drawl and always wore a twelve-gallon stetson, that i’ve always felt strangely at home in texas.

this year’s stop in texas was to be a brief but brimming one. a short flight on my favourite american carrier, southwest airlines, brought me from albuquerque to houston, where i picked up a car hire and battled insane houston traffic (always insane) and a random monsoon downpour before retrieving bill, who’d spent the week working at his company’s houston office.

downtown houston traffic & storm
downtown houston traffic and impending storm.

i’ll have to be honest here in saying houston is not my favourite place. i have spent a fair bit of time there – although never as a resident – and to me, it’s the epitome of a big, ugly american sprawling city. it’s polluted, traffic-heavy and full of concrete flyovers and ugly, late-century architecture. but, i have a couple of houstonian friends that’d be quick to defend their city. it is gaining a reputation as a foodie destination (lots of african and southeast asian immigrants equals stellar eats) and bill had a great number of delicious craft brews at cute beer bars, so it can’t be all bad. nonetheless, i was glad to get on the road to austin with houston in the rearview.

it just so happened that my dad, a brilliant musician who now lives in new zealand, had been touring around the southwest for a few weeks with singer-songwriter donna dean and would be in austin that very night whilst attending a folk music conference.

we had booked in to the habitat suites, an eco-friendly hotel located in a converted apartment complex next to a dead mall in north austin. it sounds bad but it was outstanding. the rooms are all suites with a living area, kitchenette and huge beds. there was a complimentary hot breakfast every morning (with one of my favourite southern staples: biscuits and gravy. for the brits in the audience, this is like a savoury, fluffy scone covered in a cream-based sauce made from sausage drippings. a delightful heart attack on a plate.), and the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. it’s also a stone’s throw to austin’s new light rail – convenient for getting downtown to see live music and have dinner.

biscuits and gravy
biscuits and gravy with heart-healthy turkey sausages.

we met my dad in the car park (he was staying at a motel on the other side of the dead mall) and, being the rock stars we are, opted to grab a taxi downtown for dinner and live music.

in an effort to sample as many american classics as possible on this trip, i wanted barbecue for dinner, so we made for stubb’s, a legendary barbecue joint and music club. the food here is super southern – we were heaped with plates of barbecue ribs and brisket, fried okra, macaroni and cheese and fried green tomatoes, all washed down with some serious local austin ales. stuffed to the gills, we toddled outside and – this being austin – straight into a street festival with – literally – live music tents on every corner along the legendary nightlife strip, 6th street. oh, and all for free.

austin is said to have more live music venues per capita than any other city in the u.s. and, walking around here, it’s not a difficult statistic to believe. from each passing door or bar pours a different genre of music almost every night of the week.

downtown austin at night
downtown austin at night

our speed was a little slower, so we ducked into the chicago house, a craft beer bar just off 6th street that opened earlier this year. like almost everywhere in the u.s., the craft beer scene has exploded here and i was surprised at the number of texas-produced beers on the menu. the place was fairly dead, especially for a saturday evening, but i imagine if the festival hadn’t been going on outside it would’ve been bumper-to-bumper (in a good way).

having said a bittersweet goodbye to my dad, the next morning we made for the texas state capitol – something i wanted to take the chance to revisit (and photograph) while we had the chance. built with local red granite that gives it a groovy pinkish hue, at the time of its construction in 1885, it was said to be the 7th largest building in the world. whether or not that’s true, it is an impressive structure, especially the central atrium and dome, and it’s free to visit.

texas state capitol
texas state capitol – a rosé affair

after a quick scoff at the george w. bush portrait and a refuel at my favourite austin coffeehouse – mozart’s – which has a huge deck overlooking lake austin – we were back on the road to houston, where we’d return our car and hop a plane to boston.

the thing is, no matter how well travelled you are, if your information is 10 years old, it may not be the most reliable. my memory said that it was a 2.5-hour drive from austin to houston. i’d done the drive a million times (not really a million). and, sure, we’d hit rain and traffic on the way over, so it’d be quick enough. no problem to have a lunch pitstop. a few pictures of a passing oil tanker train? why not!

needless to say, this is not a tactic i’d recommend. an hour and a half before our departure time, we were still in the car on the houston freeway. houston freeways are long, and no matter that i was driving like a bat out of hell, we were simply not going to make this flight.

this astoundingly artistic photo of an oil tanker train (not pictured) could've cost us our flight.
this artistic photo of an oil tanker train (not pictured) almost cost us our flight.

an hour before the departure time, we barrelled into the avis return centre and came to a screeching halt in front of a man with a clipboard who took one look at us and knew. ‘how late are you?’ was the first thing he said to us.

‘our flight’s in less than an hour,’ we panted, watching the terminal shuttle pull away as we scrambled to get our suitcases out of the back.

‘hop in, i’ll drive you.’ so, he drove us straight up to the departure terminal (we tipped him heartily) in that brave little ford fiesta that did most of the work to get us there in the first place. when we finally got to the gate – sweaty and out of breath – we were told the plane had been delayed. hashtag typical.

if you are out there, kind avis employee, i swear, you saved us about $400 in change fees. we owe you a drink.

santa fe, new mexico sunrise with windmill

rediscovering my home of enchantment (trip report, part 1)

santa fe, new mexico sunrise with windmill
sunrise at mom’s house

it’s been three years since i was back in new mexico. well, that is until three weeks ago, when i finally went home. bill was working out of his houston office, so i took the chance for a couple of days visiting my family and eating lots and lots of green chile.

if you aren’t familiar with new mexico, the first thing you should probably know about is our food. we have very special food. it is not quite mexican, it is not quite native american and it is not quite spanish, but it is definitely a mix of all three. and here’s one for your next pub quiz: new mexico is also the only state in the US to have an official state question, which is, “red or green?”. this refers to our incredible chile sauces, the green derived from unripened, roasted chile peppers and the red from ripened peppers of the same plant.

combination plate at la choza - red and green chile present.
combination plate at la choza – red and green chile present.

i stayed the first couple of days with my mom in my childhood home – a stately little adobe house that sits on a good few acres of lovely, scrubby high desert land with views of the mountains in every direction. we ate at a few of my favourite spots. the first morning was a breakfast of huevos rancheros (eggs with beans, cheese, corn tortilla and chile sauce) at san marcos cafe.

huevos rancheros at san marcos cafe, santa fe, new mexico
breakfast of jetlagged champs: green chile huevos at sue’s.

growing up, this was the only restaurant local to us, as our house is rurally 20 miles south of santa fe. we called it either sue’s (in reference to the owner/chef, susan macdonell), or ‘the feed store’, as there is an actual feed store connected to the back where local ranchers buy everything from hay to halters to live chicks in the spring.

while in santa fe, i also did some touristy stuff – not something most locals get up to. on santa fe’s plaza, most days local native americans from various tribes set up on blankets under the long portico outside the historic palace of the governors (now the museum of new mexico) and sell handmade jewellery, much of it turquoise. growing up in new mexico, wearing turquoise was always something for tourists, but now living away for so long, i really wanted a nice piece to remind me of home. i came away with lovely necklace stone and silver and turquoise bracelet made by a navajo craftswoman – so beautiful.

palace of the governors, santa fe plaza
palace of the governors, where native americans sell jewellery

time goes a lot slower in new mexico than it does in london. there is time to just sit and watch the sunrise. and the sunset. there is the space of the day when dusk falls over the house silently like a blanket of snow. there was time to enjoy that quiet, which i realised i miss a lot. even when london is quiet, the city still has a faraway rumble. and, not least, i got to play with my horsie, ren’ai, who lives at my mother’s house and is a complete dote. some readers here may not know about my past life as a horse trainer, which i did for many years before i became a world traveller and writer.

me and ren'ai chilling out
me and ren’ai chilling out

after not nearly enough time with mom, it was off to a packed day of breaking bad tourism in albuquerque, which is 60 miles south of santa fe, for a work article. my stepdad was the lucky candidate to drive me around the city, where we went from breaking bad location to location, seeing and photographing in the space of a few hours walter white’s house, the infamous “a-1 car wash” (actually the octopus car wash on menaul and eubank) and many others. all of that driving called for a hearty lunch, so we had to stop at my favourite restaurant on god’s green earth: duran’s.

green chile burrito at duran's station, albuquerque
green chile burrito at duran’s station

duran’s has two locations, though the original is literally a cafe in the back of a pharmacy in old town albuquerque where little old hispanic ladies in hair nets cook some of the meanest new mexican fare ever, including homemade tortillas. their second location – duran’s station – opened a few years ago and has become a rival to the original and one much easier to reach, though for atmosphere i still prefer the original. either way, the food is INCREDIBLE and we stuffed our faces.

that afternoon, i was scheduled for a press visit to routes rentals for a breaking bad-themed bike tour. perhaps a bit ill-advised after such a large lunch, but the prospect of beer at one of my favourite albuquerque breweries helped me press to the end. actually, heather and josh (partners and owners) gave one hell of a tour, showcasing the downtown filming locations (such as jesse’s house and tuco’s hideout) and bringing a laptop so we could watch the scenes at their filming locations. the tour ended with a sampler of marble’s heisenberg dark, which i will talk more about on brew travel.

by the end of the day, i was wrecked, but made two last stops: one into the candy lady, to buy samples of the prop ‘blue meth’ used on the show to bring back to colleagues in london, and two into a kelly’s liquor store to buy a nice bottle of wine to bring to my aunt’s house. my aunt just so happens to be a regular customer of saul goodman’s nail salon (breaking bad reference), so we stopped in for a quick pedicure and to chat with the owners about what it was like to have breaking bad filmed in their store.

the evening was topped off family-style, with all of my paternal aunts and uncles turning up for green chile-topped pizza and many bottles of wine on my aunt’s beautiful back patio, overlooking the sandia mountains. there is nothing better than sipping a nice cab in the crisp desert air with family and laughter (and some good old fashioned egenes arguing) all around.

this is part 1 of what will be a 3-part series.

Photo by hobvias sudoneighm

check-ups in a foreign land

Photo by hobvias sudoneighmone of my favorite stories to tell people is about the time that i got rolled over on by a horse two weeks before my first trip to china and fractured my wrist and L3 vertebra. i was pretty out of it for a few days, but i got a cute, short cast (in purple) put on my left forearm and somehow managed to go on my merry way across the world for nearly a month of english teaching and then traveling.

despite my pleading, the US hospital was unwilling to take off my cast just four weeks into the healing process when i was due to fly out. instead, i’d have to wear the cast for an extra unnecessary four weeks because of my trip.

i was not prepared for the 40-degree heat and high humidity that would make my cast an unbearable prison within the first two days in china. the itching was so bad that i began sticking a chopstick down the cast, which would inevitably bring up chunks of rotting skin. that’s when i asked marco, an enigmatic chinese dude who wore aviators, carried a black man-purse and had connections in the nanjing mafia, to help me out.

[tweetmeme]off we went in marco’s little black VW jetta with its tailpipe barely rigged on by a coat hanger. we were staying at a private boarding school quite some distance from nanjing city, so the nearest hospital was one village away. it looked like something straight out of the cultural revolution. nurses wearing paper hats with red crosses on them had me fill in paperwork (thanks to marco, for my chinese reading was minimal at the time) and head down the bare concrete hall for x-rays to see if i was fit to have the cast off.

after two x-rays (the first of my casted arm and the second of my good arm, for comparison) taken by a massive and indescribably ancient machine, i was sent in to see the head honcho, who was seated in a dusty office with several other doctors, musing about my x-rays over green tea and cigarettes.

i was fit to have the cast taken off, he said, and i would be tended to in his private office, no less, just around the corner. after paying the mere $13 for x-rays and consultation, i sat nervously in the office.

Photo by David Schroeter

two nurses arrived and inspected the cast as if it were made from the intestines of an alien life form. they murmured a moment, disappeared and then reappeared with what can only be described as a humongous pair of scissors. one of the nurses struggled to stick an edge of the giant scissors down my teeny, silicon cast while the other watched with mysterious eyes. a lot of intense sawing ensued, none of which was successful in breaking me free of the little purple cast.

more murmuring and they were off again, this time returning with a tiny round saw. as they approached my cast, i prayed to god that this was the type of saw that could cut material but not skin and finally, my arm felt fresh air for the first time in five weeks. meanwhile, the nurses were enthralled with the cast and wanted to keep it as a souvenir, nasty rotten skin and all.

most people i tell this story to are fairly horrified by it, and that is in part why i love to tell it, but also because it is an apt example of just how harrowing it can be to receive medical attention in a foreign country. in all my moving around the world, i would venture to say that having a medical problem abroad has got to be the single worst part of expat life. the language barrier alone is enough to scare the lights out of you, not a mind fears about hygiene, sanitation, general medical knowledge of the doctors and everything else.

having just come from my first appointment at a sparkling new czech clinic with a brilliant doctor that spoke perfect english – all of which cost me only $1.69 in total – i can safely say that what is most interesting is that the scariest, most expensive and generally WORST doctor’s experiences i’ve ever had have been in the united states.

Photo by Flickr user Sugar Pondsure, the chinese hospital was dusty and old and the doctors were smoking inside, but they cared for me perfectly and didn’t send me bankrupt for it. and yeah, chinese pharmacists have given me a pill made out of cow gall bladder to soothe a cold before, but guess what? it worked.

same experiences in ireland, even seeing basic student doctors or walk-in clinics – all were incredibly well-appointed, clean and, most of all, the physicians were quite competent.

and best of all, unlike in the united states, most doctors around the world don’t just brush off your symptoms and shove the latest Pill of the Moment down your throat. they listen to your symptoms, check you thoroughly and offer remedies – whether they be herbal, pharmaceutical, dietary or otherwise – that are right for your condition. best of all, you are not asked to hand over ungodly sums of money to them for it.

and that makes all the scary moments of “will the doctor understand me?” and “will my medical history translate” completely worthwhile.

oh, and if anyone in prague wants the name of my awesome, english-speaking doctor, just lemme know and i’ll gladly send you her way.

we hated americans

Photo by ardenswayoflifei was having a discussion with my friend, lydia, earlier about travel. she was picking my brain in anticipation of her first international trip and she posed this question to me:

will they hate me because i am a damn yankee?

this is not an easy question to answer, but what i came up with (and told her) was essentially… yes and no. in addition to our often horrific politics, as travelers, we americans do a lot on an individual basis to give ourselves a bad name across the world. i’ve even written about it in the past. it is a subject that every first-time american traveler should consider before embarking on a trip abroad, and one that far too few actually do.

let’s take this photo above. Continue reading “we hated americans”