Unique Things To Do in Sante Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico attracts people with varied interests and seems to fulfill everyone’s needs and desires. There are amazing places to hike, including the southernmost peak of the Rocky Mountains (Shaggy Peak). Visual art enthusiasts are in heaven in Sante Fe with so many art exhibits, including of course the famous Georgia O’Keeffe. Many folks flock to this small desert town for the large array of music performances from opera to jazz to flamenco and more. Some come to learn about and celebrate the tribal cultures and others come for the unique northern New Mexican cuisine.

All of the above brought me to Sante Fe. A few years ago I drove through this small town on my way to Taos, only stopping at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and having lunch at Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe. I quickly realized that a few hours in Santa Fe simply was not enough time, so I vowed to return. I booked an entire week at an AirBnb in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, about 20 minutes southeast of downtown. This time around I aimed to try activities that might be considered off the beaten path.

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Smash Room in Clearwater, Florida

From behind my protective headgear, I surveyed the cement room. A small wooden table with a glass top waited for me next to a white nightstand in the middle of the room. I faced a colorfully-splattered cement wall. A blue plastic barrel stood in one corner and a large black piece of furniture with drawers had been placed in the other. A black plastic tub filled with glasses, dishes and porcelain sat on the floor in front of the wall behind me. The wall adjacent the blue barrel was lined with golf clubs, baseball bats and sledgehammers. I picked up a heavy yellow sledgehammer, took a deep breath and waited for my playlist to start.

Inside the Smash Box 20 in Clearwater, Florida
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Vegan in the Amazon

As I twirled, the breeze of my bright blue billowing skirt cut the humidity in the night air. I closely followed the teacher, trying to mimic her from across the circle, and feel the Carimbó music blasting across the flooded Rio Negro from the big speakers in the corner. Sweat dripped down my face, but the anticipation of the next dance move kept me going. The spectators were smiling (or was it laughing) and it dawned on me that I was learning to dance by and with Indigenous women in the Amazon. This was exactly the kind of authentic activity I was hoping to experience!

Dancing the Carimbó with my Brazilian friend Paula in the Amazon jungle
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A Day in the Berkshires

I lay back on my colorful blanket with my head on my little backpack full of half-eaten vegan goodies. I looked up at the stars and let Mahler wash over me. The air smelled of fresh grass and images of the sunset still danced in my mind. I had finally made it to Tanglewood!

I wonder how many amazing performances this tree has experienced. (Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts)
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A Few Days in Rio de Janeiro

My hammock swayed a little in the ocean breeze way up on the 11th floor balcony of my spacious Airbnb apartment. I hummed along with “The Girl from Ipanema” which played on my phone and I took another sip of coconut juice from the fresh coconut I had just purchased at Zona Sul Grocery Store. My gaze focused on the beach front as I took it all in. I enjoyed the unique iconic Rio landscape, people walking along the beach and surfers hoping to get that perfect wave. I definitely felt like I was in Brazil.

Coconuts are ubiquitous in Rio! Picked these up from the local supermarket chain.
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Touring the Amazon Theater in Manaus

Teatro Amazonas (Amazon Theater) is first on the list of “things to do in Manaus”. I was completely taken aback that an opera house would be in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, yet the opera lover in me was intrigued. So intrigued in fact, that I booked a hotel (Casa dos Frades) right across the street from unmistakeable pink building.

After a wonderful weekend exploring the Iguazu Falls, my girlfriend Chrissy and I arrived in Manaus at 2am early Monday morning. But, we had to wait til Tuesday to visit the Amazon Theater as they are closed on Mondays. We paid 40 Brazilian Real for two adult tickets that included a tour in your choice of Portuguese (by far the largest group of people), Spanish (a handful of people) or English (only the two of us). Little did I know that I was about to learn about an incredible array of topics, from historical events to the Lego company to rubber bricks, Pavarotti, the first Black governor of Amazonas and so much more.

View of the Amazon Theater from the rooftop of the Casa dos Frades Hotel
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Crossing Iguazu Falls Off My Bucket List

Our Brazilian driver handed over our passports and rolled down the backseat window. The border agent looked at Chrissy and me and then back at her computer. We smiled and waited patiently, hoping we had filled out the immigration paperwork correctly the night before. Without expression she handed our documents back to the driver. She turned to us, smiled and said, “Welcome to Argentina”. We thanked her, returning her smile and continued on our way.

I think I first became aware of Iguazu Falls when I was living in Thailand. I had seen pictures from fellow lesbian travellers, the Globetrotter Girls, and I quite quickly added this natural wonder to my ever-growing travel bucket list. But, living on the other side of the world at the time meant that visiting the border of Argentina and Brazil was a relatively distant dream.

Moving back to North America brought me that much closer to my recently added destination south of the equator. After five wonderful days in iconic Rio de Janeiro, I was very excited about flying into the small city of Foz do Iguaçu in the Pananá state of Brazil. As the name suggests, it is the closest town to the Brazil side of the famous falls (about 30 minutes Uber ride or about 45 minutes via the 120 bus.)

Garganta del Diablo in Parque de Iguazú, Argentina
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Learning About the Maya in Northern Yucatán

“Malu-KEEN”, I said to the Maya guard at Uxmal. He repeated the “good morning” greeting in Yucatec with a smile. I had learned that 30% of people living in the Mayab (known today by many as the Yucatán Peninsula) speak one of 32 Maya languages, all derived from Yucatec. With such a high percentage, I was behoved to learn a few local phrases and this effort was quite well-received.

My favorite aspect of traveling around the northern part of the Yucatán was learning about the Maya. From trying new foods, reading about the history and exploring the Mayab, I left Mexico with an entirely new appreciation for, and understanding of, the area.

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Experiencing Robert Frost in Vermont

I have always been drawn to Robert Frost’s most popular poem, Road Not Taken. The idea of living some sort of “alternate”, more adventurous life strongly appealed to me. In my opinion, this poem highlights the value that American culture places on uniqueness, an aspect of our culture that I like very much.

I was encouraged to write poetry in my youth and, like Frost, was often drawn to the woods for inspiration. Deciduous forests have always filled my soul in a way that no other can. Perhaps Frost felt the same way.

I was elated to discover there was a place that, not only displayed Robert Frost’s poetry, but that a trail had also been created connecting his poems to the nature he wrote about. I could think of no better way to experience Frost, nor to begin my week in Vermont.

Having just landed at the Burlington airport only an hour prior, I pulled my rental car into the parking lot off of Route 125 in Ripton, Vermont. My heart raced when I saw the sign “Robert Frost Trail“, confirming I was indeed in the right place (GPS hadn’t worked so well in that area).

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Vegan Fine-Dining in London – The Gautier Experience

I rang the doorbell not knowing what to expect. Little did I know then that I would be experiencing the gastronomical event of my life. I had entered a world of Michelin-Star Chef Alexis Gauthier, where the idea of fast food simply doesn’t exist. The food inside this unassuming townhouse in London’s Soho district was not simply cooked, assembled or prepared; instead, I was sitting down to a meal whose every dish had been carefully crafted like a piece of art. The patrons were few, the decor minimal and the waitstaff was not only familiar with the ingredients of each dish, they also knew the process in which each delicacy, which reached my little table, was created.

Gauthier Soho is located at 21 Romilly Street in London, England
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My Love Affair With Opera

I love walking into an opera house for the first time. I can equate it to seeing a new ballpark for baseball fans. Perhaps they see the green of the field and they are filled with excitement. For me, the colors of the seats, the decorations on the balcony and the anticipation of the performance causes my heart to race. I try to take it all in until my little seat feels like home. 

Just some of the opera tickets I have accumulated over the years

I enjoy arriving early to listen to the musicians warm up. I love to hear bits and pieces of the opera I am about to experience. People usher themselves in and take their seats. Some are dressed for a special occasion and others dressed for comfort. One of my favorite moments before the opera begins is the applause that welcomes the conductor. First, you can hear those in the balcony clapping because the conductor is seen from above first. I can’t help but smile when I hear the roar of those below joining the appreciation. I like thinking of myself as a single drop in a sea of pure joy. 

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The Surprise English Road Trip

My road trip began when I got picked up at the Lichfield Trent Valley train station by a friend of mine. All I knew at that point was that I was staying with my friend and her wife. It turned out that due to an issue with their shower in their new home, we were to take a road trip from town to town enjoying the countryside along the way. I was completely onboard, wondering what sights I might see, what I might learn and what vegan food I might discover in each town.

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Three Days in Soho, London

Having traveled to over 50 countries, it was hard to believe that it took me so long to travel to merry ole’ England. After all, how could I really say that I was a well-seasoned traveler when I hadn’t even been to London?! I figured it was time to remedy this embarrassing reality. As a start to my England venture, I naturally spent a few days in England’s capital city. Having found a great accommodation on AirBnb, I focused my time in and around the Soho area. It turns out this was a very smart thing to do as the majority of the aspects to this cosmopolitan city was located quite near the flat I had rented.

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Vegan Fine Dining and the Opera – Date Night in Sarasota

It just so happened that my favorite opera, Puccini’s Tosca, was playing at the Sarasota Opera House. Chrissy bought tickets for a few weeks out to ensure that they wouldn’t be sold out. Sarasota, Florida is anywhere from 1 hour and a half hours to two hours to drive from our home in Clearwater depending on traffic. This trek is a beautiful drive, however as it combines Highway 60 which includes a narrow drive from Clearwater to Tampa, with the Gulf of Mexico on either side. Coming from the north, the Sarasota journey also includes the beautiful Skyway Bridge, which is lit up with colorful lights at night.

I felt like a queen when Chrissy opened the door to her truck for me. We were both dressed up and she looked fabulous. And just in case her sexy butch self wasn’t enough, I caught a whiff of her Polo cologne as she closed the door. “This is going to be a great night”, I thought to myself. A fancy dinner at an upscale vegan restaurant and the opera? What’s not to like!

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Florida Strawberry Festival – Plus Savory Vegan Strawberry Recipes

One of the many bonuses about living in Florida is that strawberry season is in February/March. Plant City is known throughout the Sunshine State as the place to get strawberries. I went to this small town with three goals: to buy fresh strawberries, find a cowboy hat and to try the vegan options they would have at the fair this year.

Vegan Strawberry Shortcake from Seasoned Greens
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Visiting a Gun Show as a Vegan Lesbian

I grew up in a Quaker family, where I was taught that “guns are bad”. As a result, I never saw a gun growing up. None of my family members owned a gun and if my childhood friends’ parents owned any weapons, they kept them well hidden from us. Then, just out of college, I got a job at Southwest Airlines at the BWI airport. As a result, I was suddenly thrown into a world where I was expected to have a basic understanding of guns. While working at the ticket counter, it was part of my job to inspect all guns to ensure they were not loaded. I had no idea so many people carried guns in their checked luggage. It was at this job that I learned words like “magazine”, “chamber” and “dry shoot”.

I was also raised vegetarian (and have since become vegan), so I was completely unfamiliar with hunting or fishing. Frankly, I was happy to grow up without dead animals around me, in the kitchen or elsewhere.

When I moved to Berlin, Germany in my late 20s, I was surprisingly expected to own a gun, or at least be familiar with them. So, when I returned to the United States for a visit, I decided to ask a friend to take me to a gun range. After listening to my friend’s safety spiel, I learned some basics: 1) always assume a gun is loaded and 2) always point guns down range even when resting. The indoor range was fun. It was here that I learned what “kickback” was.

Since then I tried two more ranges and one included using “big guns”. Those were fun. It is at one of these ranges that I first heard of “conceal carry” and “open carry”. To be honest, I found the differences confusing, especially when you include the requirements for each and the fact that these change in every state. With my limited knowledge, I walked into the Tampa Gun Show with “GUN” stamped in blue on my hand.

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A Year of Traveling During Covid

Traveling in 2021 involved staying up-to-date on the CDC guidelines, the government policy on arriving back to the USA and monitoring the Covid situation in other states and countries. This included staying informed about where I was allowed to visit, be it domestic or international. Despite these limitations my wanderlust took me on two Florida weekend excursions, Mexico a couple times, Africa, New England and a road trip to Baltimore.

Returning to the United States from Mexico
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Recovering from a Lesbian Divorce

“I want to end the relationship”, she clearly spoke those words I dreaded to hear. It had been three days since I had seen her. I had picked her up from the hotel she stayed in for three days trying to decide if she wanted to leave or continue to work on our relationship. Covid hadn’t helped.

Ever since I could remember, people who knew me always told me how strong I was. Some had even told me that I was the strongest person they had ever met. I survived abuse, struggled with Borderline Personality Disorder, and was kicked out of my parents’ house at 19. But, this… this crushed me in a way that nothing ever had. I felt I was a fragile piece of glass that had been smashed to a million pieces. I was doubled over in pain so bad that I couldn’t even stand up straight. My best friend saw me crumple to the floor of his office at work. How was I going to be able to pick myself up after the most devastating blow of my life?

Picture was taken after hiking up a steep climb in 95 degree heat in Montenegro
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My First Vegan Christmas Dinner

I celebrated my ninth veganniversary a few months ago. But, until this year I was never in charge of the Christmas meal. “Make whatever you want”, I was told. So, I began looking through various vegan recipes searching for recipes I thought I could manage, as well as recipes that would go well together. After a few days of contemplating, I decided on the meal:

First vegan Christmas dinner
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An Unexpected Extra 24 Hours in Mexico!

As a seasoned traveler, I am honestly embarrassed to write this post. I have traveled to over 50 countries and have dealt with all kinds of travel woes and a variety of surprises. Having worked as a customer service agent at Southwest Airlines for over 5 years also gave me an inside understanding of air travel, in particular. I’ve always known how to handle delays and cancelations, I know my rights as a passenger and know what requests are reasonable and what are out of the question based on the contract of carriage and the FAA regulations. I thought my years of working at the airport (at the check-in counter, the gates and baggage service) as well as taking hundreds of flights all over the world, put me in the unique position of knowing how to be perfectly prepared for any eventuality in air travel. “People who have issues with air travel simply are inexperienced travelers”, I arrogantly said to myself, usually followed with an even more arrogant, “that would never happen to me.” Well, I was very humbled at Gate 61 of the Cancun airport! After my experience, I have changed my inner dialogue to “it could happen to anyone.”

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Weekend Getaway to Melbourne Beach, Florida

I stood on the 16th floor balcony after setting my bag down. As if out of a Hollywood romance, two pelicans flew by close enough for me to see the details of their feathers. The various shades of blue sparkled just behind them, I could hear the powerful crashes of the waves and the familiar smell of salt filled the air. “This was going to be a fantastic weekend”, I thought.

The sunrise on Melbourne Beach, FLorida
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Celebrating My 9th Veganniversary With Tapas

Nine years ago I decided to go vegan. I was living in Chiang Mai, Thailand at the time. While I had grown up vegetarian, going vegan had seemed to difficult. However, after taking the time to learn about the horrors of the dairy and egg industries, I simply could no longer eat eggs and cheese in good conscience. And so I took the plunge, which actually wasn’t as big of a deal as I had though it would be. Nine years later, the only thing I regret is not doing it sooner.

I pondered ideas of how to celebrate. I considered cooking dishes with 9 ingredients, thought about making a nine-course meal and then I came up with the perfect idea: tapas! I decided to make 9 tapas dishes. I read though recipe ideas online and even got out several of my vegan cookbooks. In the end, I came up with a menu highlighting variety.

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Officiating a Lesbian Wedding Over Zoom

“I wanted to ask if you know anybody who officiates weddings. I would like to get married this year with Milena and, since same- sex marriage is not legal in Poland, we thought we might look for someone online who would like to do that for us.” This simple, yet profound, message I received from my Polish friend Kate through Facebook Messenger was the start of an amazing journey, that I will not soon forget.

I had met Kate while traveling in Jerusalem. Sensing a kindred spirit, I talked to her and an international friendship was born. Kate and I are both English teachers and we love adventure and traveling. I visited Kate in Poland and she very successfully showed off her beautiful country, introducing me to some great places, while also helping me with some family genealogy.

So, when I received the Facebook message above, I jumped at the opportunity to help out my amazingly generous friend. Little did I know that this would be an amazing experience for me too! Once they accepted my offer, I began by doing research on how to marry people. I was so excited!

Melina and Kate
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Overnight at the Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa, Florida

We had just enjoyed the three-day weekend celebrating Independence Day, Tampa Bay Lightning was to play game four of the Stanley Cup finals and Tropical Storm Elsa, which kept threatening to become a Cat 1 hurricane, was on her way.

Chrissy reminded me that she had received a free night stay at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa. I had only been there once before for about an hour, not nearly enough time to really give it a chance. We decided to do a little gambling, check out the vegan scene and (hopefully) watch Tampa Bay win the Stanley Cup.

Despite this picture sans people, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino was quite full.
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Riding In a Pride Parade

I love Pride! I get invigorated hearing “Happy Pride” from complete strangers, I love watching the parades and reveling in the amazing loving energy! My absolute favorite part of the parade, whether seeing it for the first time in the 1990s in my home town of Baltimore or in the Tampa Bay area where I now call home, has always been the very beginning when the sexy women ride on the motorcycles. I would often dream about being one of them.

Riding in the Pride parade in Tampa, Florida!
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Visiting Egypt as a Lesbian

“There’s no one around”, she whispered to me as we waited for the old-fashioned elevator to reach the floor of our AirBnB. As we stood in the hallway of this old apartment building on the Nile in the Dokka district of Cairo, Chrissy leaned in to kiss me. “No!” I said suddenly and pushed her back to her surprise. I pointed out the camera I had just seen in the corner behind her. That was a close one!

Lesbians in front of Hatshepsut’s Palace in the Valley of the Queens, Luxor, Egypt
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Visiting Bok Towers in Lake Wales, Florida

Bok Towers was always one of those places that I meant to visit one day. Yet, every time I found myself traveling on I-4, I always came up with an excuse as to why I should skip this unusual, yet relatively local, destination.

One day, I finally ran out of excuses. The promise of botanical gardens, historical grounds and a live carrion concert seemed like the perfect date.

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Vegan in Egypt

“Small, medium or large?”, the young waiter asked us from behind his mask. El Tahrir, an Egyptian chain restaurant, serves only one item: koshary, a traditional Egyptian dish that is a popular street food and that also happens to be vegan.

Within a short time, a medium bowl appeared with a bed of noodles, lentils, crispy onions, rice and chickpeas served with a bowl of tomato sauce and packets of garlic sauce and chili sauce. You are meant to use these to adjust to your own taste. I poured the entire bowl of tomato sauce on my koshary and squeezed some of the chili sauce from its packet.

I had posed the question “How do you enjoy your koshary?” to the Vegetarian/Vegan Egypt Facebook group and got back over 70 varied responses. The majority seemed to use a combination of garlic and chili sauce. A few liked theirs with more tomato sauce. I left El Tahrir wondering how I would prepare mine the next time I tried this delicious Egyptian vegan dish. I also knew that next time I would order a small as the carb and protein packed meal filled me up quickly.

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Camping in the White Desert, Egypt

“Don’t flush”, Chrissy told me, “I have to go too”. I laughed from my squatting position over the sandy hole I had just dug with my hands. I quickly took stock as to how I got to this point – peeing while watching the sun rise over the White Desert in western Egypt.

The previous morning we walked out of the Steigenberger Hotel to find Mo standing there with a suitcase on rollers. We hadn’t seen him since our Giza excursion and so we spent some time catching him up on our time in Luxor while we waited for Sayed, our driver. I had loved learning about the various ancient eras of the Egyptians: marveled at the architecture; reveled in the linguistic scripts and enjoyed the stories of each pharaoh we came across. But, I was looking forward to this excursion most of all as it had the biggest potential of being the highlight of the trip for me.

Camping in Egypt’s White Desert under a super moon!
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Spending My Birthday at Peacefield in Newberry, Florida

I had just survived Covid and 2021 was not even a week old. The thought of spending my 48th birthday at an animal sanctuary appealed to me even more than usual. My internet search landed me at Peacefield in Newberry, Florida, a place I hadn’t even heard of but was only a few hours drive away.

Cuddling with Freddie at Peacefield
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