Feed Your Inner Cowboy in Sante Fe
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Growing up enjoying the sand and water under the tropical Bermuda sun, you would think my natural inclination was not to be a cowboy. But everyone daydreams from time to time and some, like me, more than others. Sometimes you never get the opportunity to rekindle that boyhood dream. But when opportunity arises, one must leap at the chance. And that's exactly what I did  during a visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico – a place the locals have branded as a “City Different”.
Santa Fe, or “Holy Faith” in Spanish, is the oldest capital city in the United States and located 7,000 feet above sea level. Nearby mountain peaks are an amazing 12,000 feet above the sea. Voted one of the world's top travel destinations, the city features more than 5,700 rooms to rent, another 225 restaurants and 250 art galleries. Averaging more than 300 days of glorious sunshine a year doesn't hurt matters, either.
Our flight was an easy one from Toronto to Minnesota and then on to Albuquerque, New Mexico. A quick rental car and picturesque drive to Santa Fe and our true journey began.
Three things quickly stood out for me as we entered “that sleepy little town”: tremendous views, a lofty altitude that can create a little headache if not properly hydrated, and the friendliness of the locals. It was the latter that reminded me of Bermuda. You can exchange the khaki shirts for cowboy boots, but it's certainly refreshing to see how warm, charming and sincere people can be.

Our first night would become a highlight of the journey, thanks to the La Posada de Santa Fe Resort and Spa, located two blocks from the historic downtown plaza in the heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is an intimate village of 157 adobe-style suites and rooms, with a mixture of Old World and Spanish Colonial charm.
On arrival we were and given a tour of the resort that helped make our stay a comfortable one, including a stint at the spa, This recently updated 4,500-square-foot spa and beauty salon has been visited by Hollywood's top box office draws, and offers indigenous treatments and facial rooms, a fitness centre and heated outdoor pool and whirlpool.
The food at the La Posada is exquisite, thanks in large part to Chef Todd Hall, who was behind the world's first four-star Mexican restaurant – La Hacienda in Scottsdale. He oversees the Julia Restaurant and The Patio Restaurant, located in the 19th Century residence of one of the city's pioneers and a favourite gathering place. Dinner at the Julia Restaurant was an experience with the flair of the Staab mansion and overlooking the scenery admiring the horses in the corral, the open spaces and snow-dipped mountains.
The following two days we stayed at La Fonda, Santa Fe's most cherished landmark hotel, which combines illustrious character and ambiance, ultimate luxury and historic integrity. This 80-year-old, three-diamond hotel features original artwork set in an historic pueblo-style building on Santa Fe Plaza. The site has been home to an inn for nearly 400 years and official records show a “fonda” or inn among the first businesses established in the early 1600s. What followed was two days of what must be my favourite pastimes – shopping and food. It started with Back at the Ranch Cowboy Boots.
Wendy Lane isn't the first to fall in love with Santa Fe and probably won't be the last.
After working for years in women's ready-to-wear in New York, Wendy made the move to Santa Fe and opened Back at the Ranch Cowboy Boots on East Mercy Street. Although locals shop at her unique shop, she caters to the tourist trade. She sells both custom boots that she encourages her customers to help design, in addition to used boots that go well with faded jeans, denim shirts, western belts and buckles and hats. It gives tourists that “I belong here” look while enjoying their Santa Fe stay.
Boots are made with the most fabulous of colours and designs. Wendy, in fact, works with a Texas bootmaker who supplies her with the custom boots. Any style can be ordered, but she prefers the nine and 10-inch tall peewee of the 1940s and '50s with delicate inlays, colourful stitch patterns and narrow, square box toes.
Many visitors, including myself, believe that cowboy boots only come in brown and black. Funny enough, nine out of every 10 shoppers at Back at the Ranch believe that when they walk through Wendy's door. By the time they leave, nine out of every 10 shoppers know differently!
A highlight of any trip to New Mexico is a visit to the Santa Fe School of Cooking, founded in 1989 by Susan Curtis. Under her direction, the school achieved international acclaim. Located at 125 N Guadalupe St., Santa Fe, Nicole Curtis Ammerman, Susan's daughter and director of operations, has expanded the school's roster to include restaurant walking tours and increasing exposure to local Santa Fe restaurants.
The school's staff and chefs bring varied backgrounds and special interests to class, including professional restaurant service and catering, college culinary arts instruction, award-winning cookbook writing and restaurant consulting. Susan herself has co-authored several cookbooks, including The Santa Fe School of Cooking Cookbook, Tacos and Salsas and Southwest Flavours.
There are regularly scheduled classes that cover the hands-on experience as well as the demonstrated classes but the one with the greatest intensity must be the Southwest Culinary 3-day Boot Camp. It is very interactive and ends the day with a meal. The final meal serves as an exam prepared for some of Santa Fe's best palates. Special events include hands-on corporate team building classes, family reunions, wedding showers and salsa making contests.
At The Reel Life, Santa Fe, the motto of Nick Streit and Ivan Valdez is a belief that fishing is not a hobby, but a way of life. Located inside the De Vargas Mall at 526 North Guadalupe, The Reel Life provides professional guide services on hundreds of miles of public water and several private fisheries where they hold exclusive fishing rights. Whether your goal is to fish a small mountain creek or lake, a larger stream for larger fish or simply a private stretch of water without competition from other anglers, The Reel Life will do their best to deliver the angling experience you desire most.
Their talented guides possess an intimate knowledge of every watershed in northern New Mexico. They know the seasons and the hatches. They know where the big fish live and the techniques required for catching them. All guides are hired based on their ability to share their knowledge in a personable and low-pressure fashion to novices and experts alike. That includes the right clothing, gear and information to help get the most out of a fly fishing experience, with products from the best rod makers and some of the world's top outdoor gear and clothing manufacturers.
Santa Fe has an abundance of museums that cover all the local Spanish and western American culture. A tour of Museum Hill, with stops at the Spanish Colonial Art Museum, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture; Gerard Peters Gallery for Western American Art and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, is a must.

Finally I stumbled across a store window that looked to be right out of a John Wayne movie. The sign said O'Farrell, Santa Fe. The owner Scott O'Farrell makes the best cowboy hats in the land. For once, I was speechless looking at his collection for men, women and children alike. They come in all shapes, sizes and styles. Scott took the time to explain just how these cowboy hats are created and in the end I had to have one made for me.
Thanks Santa Fe for the dreams, memories and flashbacks.

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