Like a Vacation, Only Different: June 2021

Thinking of taking a vacation? Think again. You may find yourself needing a vacation from that vacation as I recently discovered after taking flight to The Land of Enchantment, a.k.a. New Mexico.

I believe this year, trips will be like vacations – only different (am I the only one who loathes this phrase?).

Like many during the pandemic, I had been in possession of some un-booked flight credits that were set to expire. We had been planning a May cruise to Alaska but when those plans got docked, we thought a trip to the southwest might make for a nice, relaxing substitute.

It was so, but not entirely, and please don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people who whines at every little thing while traveling, in fact I’ve been told, I am fairly easy to travel with.

That said, we arrived at Burbank International Airport early one recent Saturday morning. Anyone who travels out of Burbank knows Lots A and C are the long-term parking areas that are the most reasonable in price. When we arrived we discovered they were both closed and had been since the pandemic started (this was our first trip out of Burbank since 2019).

We scrambled to find an open lot with the clock ticking away to our departure time. The other longer-term lots were all full and the only alternatives were the $32 a day short-term lot and valet (which actually would have been cheaper, but they had no prices listed, so I said “na-ah”).

We finally found a spot on the roof of the short-term lot and made our way to the gate. On the flight, a woman sitting across me began coughing profusely. She then proceeded to remove her mask as she hacked up a lung. WWHHAATT?  I asked, “Can you please put on your mask?” to which she complied.

Now, I am fully vaccinated and had my mask on tight as a drum, so I wasn’t too concerned. I was wrong. Two days into our trip, I developed a sore throat which after a few days turned into some sort of bug (not THAT bug). Thank you to the lady who was selfish enough to travel while sick and then take off your mask to infect fellow passengers.

We arrived in Albuquerque and had a hotel booked near Old Town Plaza. I figured we could walk there and grab a bite. I was wrong. The map on the hotel web site was a bit deceiving, so we had to drive. As we strolled upon the Plaza at 5:30 on a Saturday evening, we discovered… everything was closed! That’s right, “Cerrado” signs were strewn across the plaza like Mexican Papel Picado doilies.

We finally found a pseudo-Southwest restaurant in a hotel. It had the best tortilla chips ever. (We had a 45 minute wait for a table, and then nearly as long to get dinner, so I had plenty of time to enjoy them.)

We wanted to visit Acoma Pueblo – “The Sky City.” I was looking to book a reservation for a walking tour and called before departure as I couldn’t find a “buy tickets” button on the web site. “I’m sorry, the Reservation is closed, be safe,” was the response.  I went back to the web site and scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the very bottom and there it said: “Acoma is closed due to COVID.” Good thing I called as who scrolls to the bottom of a web page?

We instead spent the day hiking in Cebolla Wilderness Preserve near Grants City. It was amazing, beautiful and had very few visitors. We hiked on lava beds, which was like walking on broken ceramic, and saw the stunning “La Ventana” arch.

Our trek then led us to Santa Fe – it stormed hard on our drive and was cold (is this May weather?). We had a nice hotel room and wanting a true southwest meal, called a place called “The Shed.” “We are not taking reservations, but have a wait list and may be able to seat you around 8:30 or 9 p.m.” There weren’t many restaurants open on our Monday arrival date, so we left our names, and yup, they sat us at 8:45 next to the most obnoxious drunk, foul-mouthed sorority sisters I had ever encountered. They took turns laughing, cursing and then crying and hugging – seriously.

After 20 minutes of their histrionics, I asked the waiter to quiet them down and was told he couldn’t do anything about it. I then proceeded to ask them to pipe down myself, and the manager came to our table and shared: “If there is a problem, please notify me rather than put yourself in a situation.”

Alrighty then.

Actually though, the food was amazing and it was so good in fact that we ate there a second time. The second night was incredible and it was a relaxed, calm vibe, nothing like the Linda Blair sisters we had previously encountered.

We made it up to Taos with the knowledge the Pueblo was closed (I discovered this two-thirds of the way down their home page). It was again raining and we tried to sneak around the Pueblo’s parameter so I could show my spouse the beautiful adobe homes which Taos is known for.

No such luck. We headed to Taos Plaza and stopped by a diner to get a cup of coffee. While waiting in line to enter, the power went out. “We’re closing the diner in 10 minutes if the power doesn’t come back on by then.” It didn’t.

Are you sensing a pattern? I certainly was at this point.

We found some cool stores on the Plaza made famous in the film “Billy Jack” (I know, I’m dating myself), then headed back to Santa Fe where we visited “Meow Wolf,” an immersive art experience which is kind of like being in a modern art museum, only you are in the art. Really difficult to describe, but once you walk into the refrigerator of one of the set pieces, all will be revealed! Total time warp and amazingly fun.

I had been to Santa Fe about 35 years ago, so I was excited to show my spouse the town, and once the rain dried up, we had one glorious day of true southwest beauty. The Loretto Chapel brought me to tears (as it did in the past) and the Plaza came to life as fellow tourists ditched ponchos and umbrellas for shorts and t-shirts.

For our last dinner, we made reservations at a southwest restaurant which had been featured on one of those “diners and drive in places” on TV. You guessed it, we had to wait 15 minutes before the host even acknowledged us. It appeared there were only two waiters working the dining room, and I realized, some of the places we visited may not be back to the staffing levels they once had. Combine that with reduced capacity seating and you have a recipe for the stews we found ourselves in.

Although our post-COVID trip was “weird” (for lack of a better term), upon our return, it definitely felt like I had been on vacation. I felt much more relaxed, calm and content that I had hopped on that plane.

As I look upon the photos on my phone, I realize that it really was a great vacation – only different.

And, with that I end this as “Poolside from PS.”

Published by Manny P

Having written professionally for 35 years, I am working on fulfilling a life-long dream of publishing whatever I want -- novels, blogs, you name it.

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