Day 1: “when the locals invite you, you go.”

I don’t have a picture [boo!], but I spent Friday night in the glorious company and warm home of Stephanie Madsen. She greeted me with a delicious meal in accordance with my diet, some white wine, and we sat on the back deck in the sweet evening air, catching up and watching the fireflies come out. The best way to start any trip.

Saturday morning, oh so bright and early!, I head to Oklahoma City to pick up my road trip buddy. “We’re REALLY doing this!”, we laugh in disbelief as he loads his bags into my car.

We had the ideal send-off. John & Rachel [our mutual friends through whom Matt and I connected], Nate & Lindsey, Scott & Ansley met us for breakfast [at 8 am on a Saturday, mind you!] at a hidden gem in OKC – Cafe Antigua: Guatemalan cuisine, that frankly, I’m tempted to drive 5 1/2 hours right now to get again…

And so we go! Our first destination: Sante Fe, New Mexico.

“By the way,” I tell Matt, “We have no idea where we are staying tonight…”

I had mapped out our routes according to a map and distances, figuring we’d fill in the holes with couchsurfing and camping.

An aside: for those who are not familiar with couchsurfing, it is an online network of travelers who open up their homes-couches-spare rooms to other travelers for free [“Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch at a Time”]. I had never done it or hosted before, but have been on the couchsurfing website for well over a year and connected with several people. I was itching to finally do the deal!

I don’t care what you say, driving through Texas is simply the WORST. I’d take Kansas any day. To much of our surprise, we zipped across to New Mexico with ease. Hark! THE LAND OF ENCHANTMENT? Awesome.

We decided to find a hostel for the night, which we had no problem doing since 1) there was only one in the city, and 2) Matt had an iPhone to help us get it all lined up.

Driving into the mountains of New Mexico...yessss

Hostel! It was perfect.

When we checked in, a group of three older men chatted us up about the area and their travels. One mischievous looking man with white hair, a black leather jacket, and a bandana – “Doc” – recommended “The best Taco Bell in the city!” which happened to be right down the road, when we asked where to eat dinner! Ha ha. He also said downtown was all “artsy fartsy” and didn’t seem too enthused by any suggestion of it.

Despite the local’s suggestion of Taco Bell, we headed downtown to the square. Set against the mountains, it was a cute, clean little area with lots of art galleries, restaurants, jewelry and souvenir shops, bookstores, and bars. We grabbed some really good local coffee and met a quirky, but friendly barista – a thin, hip dude in suspenders and golf cap  – who recommended some music venues for the evening.

We went into an amazing gallery, featuring vibrant photographs from around the world by Lisa Kristine. See some of her work here. We also found a charming Mexican food place called The Shed that we decided to come back to for dinner, drank in the eclectic mix of people from bohemian to high class [and of all ages], and made our way to St. Francis Cathedral:

"Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." - Francis of Assisi

Broze doors - 20 panels, each depicting scenes and events in the history of the church in Santa Fe.

"Love one another constantly."

"The labyrinth's path is like the path of life..."

The labyrinth..."there are twists and turns, feelings of being lost, encounters with others on your path, the thrill of accomplishment at the center..."

It was after this that we decided to take a break from walking and sit in the square and listen to the street musicians. We were hard pressed to find a place to find a place to sit – the park was packed. We were immediately intrigued with a young, beautiful girl who was about to sing and play guitar. She seemed unsure, bashful. And after some finagling with a microphone, she began to sing. We held our breaths. Incredible! Who was this girl? Matt compared her to Norah Jones. We clapped with fervor, yelling for her to keep singing.

I took her picture, and [just noticed today actually, that I capture this moment in the pic!] an older man yelled at me that I must tip her if I was going to do this. I said “Of course!”, and soon came to know this man as Pedro…but I’ll get to that.

Listening to Alina sing in the Sante Fe square, before we met her.

Please note Pedro, the man yelling and pointing at me on the right side of this pic.

Pedro comes around after she finishes her songs, collecting money in his hat. Thanking us, he introduces himself and continues collecting money from on-watchers. Matt and I look at each other: “Let’s go talk to her!”, and we made our way to her side. Her name is Alina, and she is from Chicago, but now living in New Orleans; she is starting up and working on community gardens and development projects, rehabbing abandoned houses, etc. She is 21 [I think?], and currently couchsurfing her way across the West because she had never been.

As we were chatting, Pedro comes grabs our elbows. “Come, come! We must go, hurry!” We look at each other with raised brows. “If you’d like to join us, I am taking her [motioning to Alina] to this rooftop to watch the sunset, but we must go! There is time to talk later, we have to catch the sun.” I think I just nod and say, “Sure!”, But I look at Matt who is not as gung-ho…we step aside and I say, “Matt. When the locals invite you, you go.” He probably saw that resisting me was not going to work, so we are swept with Pedro’s prodding through the streets to a fancy hotel, making out way to the rooftop.

And he was right. It was absolutely beautiful.

Sunset from the rooftop bar of a hotel in downtown Sante Fe. With the locals :)

We grabbed our drinks and pulled some chairs together. Pedro, who is from Pueblo, CO, whose real name is Ernesto, begins to tell us about the last time he was up here. He plays the accordion with a band…wait, I’m sorry, he doesn’t PLAY the  accordion…“I molest the accordion!” Yes, direct quote, you heard it here folks.

So he continues on about molesting his accordion, playing music up here with a beautiful woman – which he got quite hung up on her beauty, and finally, Alina rolls her eyes and motions for him to continue the story. Come to find out they [Alina and Pedro] had only met at a bar the night before, and he let her stay at his place. Later, she privately admitted he was driving her crazy. I gave her my number and told her she was welcome to stay with us in our hostel, but never heard from her. She told me more about her travels and community development projects – she was such a neat person. That night she was hitching a ride to a cool city a bit north, Taos [where Georgia O’Keefe is from].

Alina & I

During our conversation, I had noticed this couple next to us. But then again, I think everyone on the rooftop had noticed them. The man was in all black, with a black cowboy hat, and the woman was in all white, with a white cowboy hat. They had huge pieces of matching turquoise jewelry. The seems deep in discussion. She had long blond hair down her back, thick dark makeup with some obvious plastic surgery, high high heels, a short, tight, thin white dress with [bra-less] nipples that were barely covered – and kind of a jacket. I snuck this picture of them [heh heh]:

Yet somehow, and I honestly don’t even remember how, we began chatting with them – Randy and Tara – and hit it off. Because guess what – they live in BRANSON, Missouri! [For those of you who don’t know me, I’m from Springfield, MO, only 40 miles away]. It also ends up that Matt and Randy are from the same town in Oklahoma. Randy and Tara have been married 34 years, and they were on vacation at one of their vacation homes in Sante Fe [the other one is in Destin, FL]. Randy is a geriatric doctor and Tara throws political tea parties in Branson, as well as works as the receptionist at his practice. They have two girls together, one who is attend MSU and the other who is in high school. Crazy!

Matt with our new friends Tara & Randy - mind you, all this was before the sun even set!

Somewhere along our bonding with them, Pedro and Alina left. We said a quick goodbye and I really hoped to hear from Alina again. As we continued to chat with the couple, Matt had to overt his eyes several times as Tara’s boob awkwardly popped out of her dress, and other random people with video cameras, claiming to be filming about Sante Fe, came up and talked to the table as well.

By this time we were getting hungry and decided to make our way to dinner. We started to say goodbye to Tara and Randy and they asked where we were going, and said, “Oh! That place is so good. Mind if we join you?” “Of course not!”, we laughed, and meandered down and out of the hotel, back through the square, with this tipsy spectacle of a couple. We immediately got a table at the restaurant, turning heads along the way. Known for blue corn everything, margaritas, and green chile, we order an array of amazing things and launch into deep discussions.

Randy told us how he became a Messianic Jew after years of struggle and questioning and hardship when their one year old daughter had bone marrow cancer, and how they had another daughter to be a bone marrow match for the first [but she wasn’t!]; how he was baptized in the Jordan River, how they both think the government and military is out to undermine all of us, how “the muslims” apparently own all the kiosks in the mall, how we all need to have three months worth of food stocked up for when disaster strikes [“It’s not a matter of if, but of when!”], and how “I don’t let her dress like this normally, but we’re on vacation…” [as Matt again had to avert his eyes and Randy had to motion for his wife to cover herself], and “We don’t normally drink like this, but we’re on vacation”.

We just smiled, nodded, asked questions, and thoroughly enjoyed the place and these people that our adventures had brought us – on the first day, no less! [And yes, at times thinking, “WHAT?! You really think that?!”] Much to our delight, Randy kindly paid for our whole meal.It meant a lot to us as we were both planning to scrape along on this trip. God bless ’em, outlandish conspiracies and all!

The beginning of Day 2: we woke up, did our chores [we each had to do one that was listed], check out, chatted with more cool people we met, had coffee, grabbed some fruit at a grocery store, and hit the road…

Cool mural.

A sweeping fool.

Hostel hall to our room.

Bunk beds & a full bed in our room. Clean, simple little space.

Somehow I ended up having to sweep and mop the kitchen?

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