About Me

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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Friday, May 31, 2013


“Wandering around our America has changed me more than I thought. I am not me any more. At least I’m not the same me I was.”
Ernesto Guevara de la Serna in “Motorcycle Diaries

Hooray for Hollywood!
I have remarked a few times on the impact that the James Bond series of movies and the various television shows I watched as a child had on my development into a person who loves travel. How the visuals and locations excited me as a young boy, and gave me the basis for valuing -- and wanting to go to -- "other places".

Over the years, films have played a large role in not only my life, but the lives of others. Making a list of favorite, best, and most influential travel films is as frequent as the debate over what, exactly, constitutes a "travel film".

For me, the location has to play an important role in the storyline. It cannot simply be the background -- I usually ask myself if the film could have been set anywhere else. If the answer is "no", then it's a travel film in some way. It evokes a sense of place and this somehow reflects in the overall storyline. The list below is far from comprehensive, and ignores other potential inclusions such as Captain Corelli's Mandolin;  The African Queen; Grand Prix (or LeMans for that matter); Romancing the Stone and a multitude of other wonderful films over the years.

Paris, An American in Paris

Another factor has to be that it shows the locale in something of a positive light. It has to, in some way, appeal to your sense of adventure or at the very least make you want to explore the setting(s) in a bit more detail. It does NOT need to be filmed on location, though for obvious reasons it helps. Two of my choices below were filmed on sound stages, but I will explain my thinking in more detail below.

But what these films share is an understanding of their environment and how much that environment can impact ourselves. In some of them the setting is a tapestry against which the action takes place. Would the biplane attack in North by Northwest have been as terrifying in a city or in a forest instead of on the Great Plains? Unlikely. The open space left nowhere to hide, leaving the main character exposed and vulnerable. 

Some of the films concentrate on their setting. Encounters at the End of the World is about Antarctica. As the only documentary in my list -- documentaries being a 'too-easy' category of films for this sort of list because they are exactly about locations and settings...it defies the central idea of film stories which motivate you to travel without being themselves explicitly about the destination -- it differs from the majority of "This is Antarctica" documentaries because it deals with the people who themselves have to contend with the environment and how that environment affects them. Yeah, that also applies to many other documentary-type films, but it's my list and I'll do it my way. (Argue with me about this and I'll trot out In Search of Ancient Astronauts to silence you once and for all!)

New Orleans, Cat People
This list does not contain solely films which had their affect on me as a child. Some of them did, but others served to reinforce my thinking as I grew and as I matured (some would tell you these were not simultaneous events). In a way, some of them have not yet materialized for me. I have not yet been to Antarctica, Wadi Rum, a Venezuelan plateau or the Amazon, though they all feature prominently in films below. They're still targets for the future.

Cortona, Under the Tuscan Sun
Finally, the shots I've used for this blog entry are from places I have been as a result of seeing them in
films. Had I not seen them, had them suggested to me, chances are they would never have been a chosen travel destination. All of the places you see photographed here came to me at some initial moment in a darkened movie theater. I found my way because some way, some how I saw them in a film and when it came time  to plaAnd not for the last time, either. I've cited what I think the inspirational film was, and even if I'm wrong you'll never know the difference. Life is funny like that.

So, all this in mind:

My Top Ten Travel Films, in no order of any kind

Under the Tuscan Sun - Commonly tossed aside as a chick flick, this is actually a pretty inspirational travel film. It features, of course, the town of Cortona in the Tuscan hills. The director of the film chose, rightly, to film the big city scenes in cool, blue gray tones which nicely offset the lively colors of Tuscany. This is a film about a character getting back in touch with her own self, restoring a sense and balance. Finding our own life balances is a task which all too frequently get brushed aside by daily activities which consume us and risk turing our world into that blue gray mess. Cortona, and to a lesser extent Positano (a picturesque town clinging to the side of the steep Amalfi Coast, are lessons in that balance, of taking the time and making the effort to establish connections and appreciate the world around us.

New York, North by Northwest
North by Northwest - A travel film? Really? Yep. New York and the Great Plains are but two of the locations in this film. The third, of course, is Mount Rushmore. Throughout the movie each contributes not only a setting, but a mood. As I noted above, I cannot think of a better spot for the biplane attack than the Plains. New York is shown as a vibrant, energetic place in complete contrast to the isolation of the Plains and the majesty of Rushmore. It typifies the Metropolitan New York of the 'forties, 'fifties and 'sixties. In this film, each setting establishes both the mood and the action.

UP! - Oh, who wouldn't want to pack up the house and move to a South American tepui (plateau) in search of adventure? In this case, the animators relied on their own travels to Mount Roraima as inspiration for the film's second half. The otherworldy landscapes and tremendous waterfalls are real, and the film uses them as the basis for the protagonist's dreams and then his reality. The message of the film is that paradise does exist if you're open to it.

Roman Holiday - The name of the film kid of gives it away, but a good deal of the plot revolves around  a princess who has escaped her overwhelmingly structured life for a chance to stop and appreciate the world around her. There is a good deal of travelogue-style footage of Rome, but also an attempt to show the lifestyle of an American expat/reporter living there. Much is made of the magic of Rome, including its romantic allure.

Rome, Roman Holiday
Aguirre: The Wrath of God - The Amazon is a full-blown character in this film, and I do mean character. The human search for gold, more accurately Eldorado itself, plays out against the jungle and river in a way that reflects badly on the men involved. As their pursuit descends into madness, the river becomes more than a conveyance, it becomes an implacable force demonstrating man's folly. Why, given all that, would it be a good travel film? Because the river and jungle are spectacularly beautiful. One gets the impression that if given the proper respect the region is full of adventure and opportunity -- just don't look for any lost cities of gold...

Raiders of the Lost Ark - I don't think I even need to go into detail on this one. One adventure after another, and all against a series of settings which look all the more romantic in the rose colored historic glasses Spielberg used to make it. From the Himalayas to the desert surrounding Cairo, the world itself is the playground complete with dotted lines on a victorian map as we transition from one exotic locale to another. 
London, Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins
No, I have not lost it. The London depicted in Mary Poppins does not, and never did, exist. I am thoroughly aware of that. But it is a fantasy version, an idealized London not dissimilar to Disney's Main Street as a stand in for the real thing. There is room for the imaginary version of a place to act as a motivator to see the real thing. The Paris of An American in Paris is a comparable setting, and yet both films manage to create such a vivid and three-dimensional fantasy that it inspires the viewer to want to go there. (The expectation that what you will find there is the only variable, of course. If you expect to find an imaginary Victorian London, then it is the expectations which are off, not the motivations.)

Lawrence of Arabia - When it comes to exotic and well-filmed locals, Lawrence of Arabia is perhaps the king of all travel films. David Lean used the desert as both a test of the characters, and a framework by which to define them. Visually he took the time to create the Arabian landscape in such a way as to bring it alive for the viewer. Not just a setting, a world into and of itself. For me it has inspired a desire to get to Wadi Rum and sleep under the stars. Though a demanding land, it also seems quite spiritual for the person who is open to such things. Lawrence was forever changed by the land and its people, and perhaps it can have an echo of the same impact on a modern day traveler.

Encounters at the End of the World - As I mentioned above, this is the only documentary in the list. It isn't a travelogue, however. It's the story of the people there, and how they are impacted and challenged by the frozen continent. In my own mind, it makes me want to go there, to not only visit but experience. Someday...

The Bing Crosby, Bob Hope Road Pictures - No discussion of inspirational travel films would be complete without a nod to the entire "Road to" series of films from Hope and Crosby. Yes, filmed on sound stages, and certainly not much more than recycled gags and plotlines set in different exotic locales around the world, the Road pictures were fun little romps which celebrated other cultures by depicting two everyday guys as stand ins for ourselves. Oftentimes the story would revolve around some sort of intrigue that the boys became innocently involved in -- with Dorothy Lamour somewhere in the mix. In their own way, and in a much more humorous vein, the Road pictures were distant cousins to the much later and far more serious James Bond films. Villains, heists, heroines and attempted murders were usually the order of the day, yet the boys managed to overcome the odds and set the world to right again. All seemingly accomplished while riding camels and singing in the Moroccan desert, and that seemed like just a whole lot of fun all the way around.


So, it's an unusual list in several ways, but if it matched every other kind of list made up by everyone else what would be the point?

We all learned, at some point in our lives, to want to travel. To go find new places to go and new things to do. The inspiration for this comes from a multitude of sources, not the least of which is the Silver Screen.

Positano, Under the Tuscan Sun

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Trinkets Gathered, Along the Way

"A molcajete is a stone mortar and pestle from Mexico. I've never collected anything, but I think I might start collecting these because each one is decorated differently."                                                           Bobby Flay 

(Apologies for the bizarre photo and paragraph spacing. Not sure what kind of "upgrade" there's been, but it's playing havoc with the format. I haven't touched a thing, honest!)

We've all done it. Brought along the extra suitcase for the things we know we're going to buy when out on the road. Whether traveling for business or pleasure, there's always the temptation to do a bit of shopping, whether it's for ourselves or others. Parents bringing home a trinket for their kids, or souvenirs to remind ourselves of a particularly great vacation spot.

Personally, after a few years of watching coffee mugs pile up in the cabinet, I collect shot glasses. Yes, very touristy, but they take up little space in my bag -- usually my camera bag -- and they're fun to go back to every once in a while. I have a pair of large display racks, one in the kitchen and the other in the laundry room, packed full of reminders of particular destination and/or fun places we went. Everything from a shot glass featuring the family crest of the British Queen to a simple black ink on a white glass that says "St. Barth" on it. And everything in between. 

For a while I would buy shots at anywhere I thought was interesting. The Kennedy Space Center and two lands at Walt Disney World made the cut one year. But since I'm already crowding out the two shelves I need to be a bit more circumspect and tend to limit my acquisitions to cities and in some cases entire states.

Other things we acquire and bring home can be gifts for others, such as food specific to a particular destination -- pineapples from Hawaii, chocolate from Santa Fe -- but since may run into serious storage problems we usually refrain from much beyond sweets. (Two years ago we went through security forgetting that chocolate sauce is considered a liquid in carry-ons by the TSA. Nice little waste of $10, plus we never got to eat the chocolate.)
If we're on a road trip things are easier. We worry less about volume and so purchase things like artwork for the walls or other more esoteric souvenirs. In some cases we'll go by outlet malls and buy up a few kitchen appliances we don't need or perhaps a few bits of clothing. Not really souvenirs, but local purchases nonetheless. 
Wine, oils and specialty drinks are another good thing, though tend to be as transitory as confections. An exception are mixes. We still have, I think a pair of now very old Hurricane Mixes from Pat O'Brien's in New Orleans. No, not from our visit just after Katrina, but from the visit before that in 2003. Decade old Hurricane Mix anyone?
Books, though heavy, can be a delightful thing to grab on a trip. A novel that takes place there, or perhaps a book of photography, particularly of natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon or Amalfi Coast. As a photographer, I make a point of this sort of thing. It both enhances my own efforts as well as giving me a real reminder of a place above and beyond my personal portfolio.

And speaking of portfolio, I'd be an idiot if I didn't mention photographs. Shots or videos of yourselves in a place, or engaged in some sort of an activity, are terrific things to bring home from a trip. It enables you to relive the experience more fully. For years I fought any sort of picture of myself in a plcae, but looking back I wish I had not. Yes, I was the person behind the camera, but there's not a sense of self in that sort of thing. It gives the impression, even in my own mind's eye, that I wasn't a participant, I was a spectator, which usually wasn't the case. Pictures of yourself with others can be a wonderful trigger for your memories.
The author and his wife doing the Beatles Shuffle

Dishes, plates, glasswork and pottery are another common take-home. Usually these we ship. It just isn't worth the lugging around involved, but still makes for a nice reminder until you get to the "where did we get that plate? Was it Vancouver? No, I thought it was Annapolis. Oh, you sure?" phase. Then it becomes just a nice plate. And we have a few. The serving trays are a bit easier to suss out, though in many cases it says "made in China" on the back.  

Local artisans often have things we want to bring home. Little collectibles that will sit on the shelf and remind us of a particular destination. On the wall directly next to our door is a beautiful wooden musical box, though box is hardly an appropriate term for it. The wood is nicely polished and oiled, and strings are aligned across the mouth. Hanging down from the top are four wires with balls at the tip, each of them lengthened to strike a single string. It's a musical instrument, made to play only when the door is opened or closed, and inevitably grabs the attention of visitors who are leaving. (Coming in you could easily miss it...not so much going out.)
Add caption

A friend of mine had a wonderful idea I could have used many years ago. He collects napkins from particularly good meals. He carries a pen with him for such an occasion. Asking for a cocktail napkin, he jots down the meal and the name of the restaurant (unless it is embossed) and the date. He collects them in a notebook. It's a nice tabletop conversation piece, and can be matched with corresponding photographs of the food or setting as possible. We used to collect receipts, but it seemed rather depressing after a while.

Something for the Walls?

Other collectibles include hotel items such as shampoo, pens and notepads. And plastic card keys. We always ask for two upon checkin and invariably find we've still got one -- not by design but by inattention -- when we get home. Seriously. How many generic "Westin" card keys does one need in a collection?

If you're heading to a destination noted for gambling, it can be fun to go to the casinos and register for their in-house gaming program. You get a membership card which itself can be a great item for your drawer, but has the benefit of taking up little room.

It's all a personal matter of triggering those memories and making sure that whatever we lug home -- being it light, heavy, or moose -- it's something that is destined for more than just a garage sale in a few years' time.

Lots and lots of things to bring home!!!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Meaning...of Meaningful

"Happiness comes when you believe that you have done something truly meaningful."                                                     - Chef Martin Yan

"2 Rms, Cty Vw", London
I suppose it might be because this has already been a year of changes, of transitions, that the subject of mortality and our own permanent -- as much as this is possible -- contribution to the world becomes a thing foremost in my mind. 

When I look back at my relatively modest success as a photographer/blogger, I have to consider the responses from others and the degree to which my comments and illustrations  rise up and evaporate like some sort of mythic volcano, though -- admittedly -- my volcano is really more of a pinprick in a watering hose at the moment. And it may never become more than that, which is satisfying as long as a handful of folks see, read and appreciate what it is I am trying to do. I have discovered that invariably the most popular blog entries are the ON THE ROAD series, which are pretty much photo essays without a whole lot of commentary. So be it. My first voice is my camera, and only the second is my keyboard.

A good friend of mine, social psychologist and novelist  Susan K Perry (that's her blog uppermost right on this page) recently asked the question "is your life meaningful?" suggested her readers ask themselves "What can I do that gives me a sense of being engaged in something larger than my own smallish daily self?"

It's a terrific question.

This of course begs a lot of introspection to properly address. I've written a few essays -- most notably The Bohemian Hedonist -- which deal with the difference between being satisfied in life with business achievements, parental successes, and with the more intense sort of personal accomplishments such as physical conditioning or artistic development.
"Here The Be Vampires" - New Orleans

Despite the looming fact that I will not be remembered beyond much of our current generation, as an artist or even as a person, I find myself satisfied that I have, in some small way, added to the world's Oeuvre of art by both doing my own, and by encouraging others in their own endeavors. It's my pleasure to know a lot of very gifted creative types, and it is with them I suppose my more lasting legacy will be accomplished. Almost nobody remembers the name of Georgia O'Keeffe's great aunt -- or whoever it was -- who was the first person to give her a pastel set, but everyone sees the result.

Likewise the family member who saw a young Ansel Adams with his first developed photographs and told him he might have a talent.

It's often the little things which count.

But this is not the focus of this essay. Below are a handful of shots I have taken on my travels. As I repeat constantly, the purpose of travel is to see new things, to experience new experiences and get a feel for cultures other than our own. My recent trip around the Southwest reaffirmed these values. (The mention of O'Keeffe and Adams is not accidental. The two of them contributed greatly to our appreciation of the Southwest's unique beauty.)

I have added a title to each shot, but otherwise no comment. These are among my favorites and for a variety of reasons. (I have quite a few others which it is killing me to leave out, but this is not a full gallery, it's a tiny snippet.) Some of these shots clearly evoke their locale, others merely exist and the setting is more important than the coordinates. But each, I think, is part of my artistic side. The side that sees the lens as the access to the canvas, and allows me to do a bit more than simply document the scene before me.

Is my value as an artist -- and as a contributor to society -- based more upon the body of my work, or is based more upon the value of a single impact upon -- or gesture towards -- another person?

Each one of these shots has a meaning for me, but is it the place of the photographer to impose that on the viewer? If these were strictly travel-related, I might be tempted to add notes and state what it was about each destination that made me want to express myself in this way....but speaking strictly as a photographic artist, I need to let the image speak for itself (with maybe a subtle helping had from the title). It can go either way. Does the audience want to know the context, or do they want to suss it out themselves and determine their own resonance with a piece?

You decide.

"Night in the Bastille" - Paris

"Hiking the Red Rocks" - Nevada
"Winter Along the Emerald Isles" - North Carolina

"Bistro" - New Orleans
"Galleries" - Brussels

"Watcher" - Chenonceau, France

"Romantic Dreams" - Venice
"Street of Dreams and Nightmares" - Hollywood

"Paradise in Hanalei" - Kauai

"Waiting" - North Carolina

"Stormy Skies Above Bandelier" - New Mexico

"Two Sisters" - Sierra Nevada

"Stopped Along the Strip" - Las Vegas
"Bear" - Churchill, Canada

"Southwest" - Sedona

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Another Day, Another Adventure! (UPDATED)

"Well! Well! Well!... This is wonderful. No one told me it was like this!" 
- Georgia O'Keeffe

UPDATE May 20th: 

I don't usually post an update so quickly after a column, but this was too good not to pass along. Got an email from Chuck Higgins with some terrific news: 

"As an interesting footnote since you were here, C.G. Higgins will be opening an additional downtown location, just a half block NORTH of the Historic, Santa Fe Plaza at 130 Lincoln Avenue. We will be adding fresh, chocolate dipped strawberries and our signature caramel apples.

The plan is to be open around mid June, 2013."

(Mmmmmm, strawberries AND caramel apples.  Just a month away and within an easy walk of the Plaza. Thanks for the news, Chuck, and congrats to everyone at CG Higgins!)

(Now, about that sopapilla corn...)


The indication of any good trip is the wish, once you're safely home again, that you were still out there, on the road. That a week or so afterward you're longing for the next time. 
Aloft over Albuquerque

We've all been on voyages that no matter how good they begin, towards the end of them we begin to look forward to getting home. This doesn't mean they're not great trips, it just means that we've done enough for now are looking for our normal lives to resume. For some people this is a week. For others it could be months. (And in some extreme cases, it may be years. Or a lifetime.)

And so it was that the timing for our brief spin around the American Southwest was perfect. (The collective noun includes my wife and for a good portion of the trip our friends Jim and Glenda. You'll remember Jim from a couple of blogged trips into the California desert -- he's the man cooly leaning up against my red car in the Mojave, and mentioned in my drive through the Joshua Tree National Park.)

In the short span of a week plus two days we covered some 2300 miles, stayed in three different towns, visited a half-dozen more and had a solid handful of lifetime experiences -- two of which served as checkmarks on our respective Lists for Life. The adventures ranged from the grand: a flight over downtown Albuquerque in a hot air balloon; to the pedestrian: a walk around the famous Santa Fe Square. From the brutally punishing: an off-road drive through the red rocks of Arizona (which I will blog about in the future, but a video excerpt of which can be found here); to the serene: massages at the Body Bliss shop in downtown Sedona. From the ridiculous(ly fun) to the sublime.

And the food? Crazy, man, crazy.

Inn of the Anasazi
The premiere meal was hands-down at the Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe. An utterly brilliant evening of wonderful and eclectic cuisine -- Jim had elk, while I dined on rabbit. Our ladies went for more sensible and yet still wonderfully tasty entrees. The mood, the wine, the food and the service were all first-rate, as one might expect for an establishment documented as one of the 'THOUSAND PLACES TO SEE BEFORE YOU DIE. Or eat at. Whatever. But truly a stupendous evening.

Also on the culinary list have to be The Dragonfly Cafe in in Taos. This little gem of a place has both an eclectic menu and truly spectacular flavors. It's a very homey, comfortable setting, and you feel a bit like you're visiting a local hole in the wall where everyone knows everyone else and it's more of a hangout with great food than a formal restaurant. And that may be exactly what we were lucky enough to stumble upon.
Dragonfly Cafe

A speaking of stumbling, any mention of food invariable has to connect to wine. On the road to Taos we quite literally braked hard and stopped at the Vivac winery tasting room off highway 68. I admit to being a bit of a California wine snob (with nods of respect towards Oregon, Washington, New York and Virginia), but New Mexico wasn't on my list of producers. Vivac has changed my minds -- the wines we tasted were uniformly very good and several were excellent. If you're open to education and change on your voyages, some wonderful discoveries can be made.

Another surprise, which I blogged about last week, was the Santa Fe Chocolate Trail. 

Now, I don't know if it was noticeable in the Chocolate Trail blog, but my favorite of the confectionary shops was undoubtedly CG Higgins. 
Chuck Higgins of CG Higgins

Not only were the chocolates and other treats world class, but the people and warmth of the operation really got to all of us. Chuck Higgins, the "C" in CG, was there and spent a good deal of time talking to us, sharing the ideas and philosophy of his approach, the suggestions he had for what were their best treats (with so many, it was great to have someone pointing at the "must try"s). 

Chuck's enthusiasm is infectious, and his staff were every bit reflecting this -- at the end of our visit we were pulled into the kitchen by one of his assistants to see the mixing of a batch of caramel for the caramel corn which is very much a signature staple for CG Higgins. We left with a terrific experience, full tummies, full bags and a full set of memories of their shop. Highly, highly, recommended. (Tell them the Thumbnail Traveler sent you. Won't get you anywhere, but this way Chuck can blame someone else.)

And on and on. The discovery of sopapillas, which are wonderful little fried bread pockets which are doused in confectioner's sugar and honey. Just amazing flavors, and a dish that set off a bit of a regular hunt for "the best". I think our votes went collectively to the Plaza Cafe in Santa Fe, but each and every place we tried them it was delicious. 

(Hey, Chuck!! Any chance of a sopapilla-flavored candy corn? Just asking...)

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting memories and thoughts regarding this last trip. It's one which leaves us with that desire to be back, to have stayed a little longer. Each of the places visited on this voyage left us with that special desire to return, to continue to experience Santa Fe, Sedona, Taos, and parts in between and around. From three thousand feet above Albuquerque to a massage in Sedona, this one makes us long for more.

And, as I noted, that's the mark of a great adventure.


Sunset in the Southwest

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Riding the Chocolate Trail

“Nine out of ten people like chocolate. The tenth is lying.” 
                                (Graffiti scrawled on a wall )

The best part of any journey is the discovery of the unexpected. The good unexpected, to be specific. (I had a momentary image of a flat tire on Route 666 on a hot August day some fifteen miles out in the desert with no tow trucks in sight...unexpected, and certainly not the best part of the journey.)

Often times, our travels take on a culinary edge. The local flavors and ingredients can deepen your relationship with a destination as almost nothing else can do.

C.G. Higgins
Southwestern cuisine, with its exotic herbs, chiles and spices, is a wonderful mix of Mexican, American and Native American combinations. A wonderful taste of a regional wine, unexpectedly flavorful and worthy of standing beside its Napa cousins. A nip of a pickled cactus. The best nachos this side of Laredo. The discovery of sopapillas and the incredible taste they have with a drizzle of honey as their only condiment. These are the sorts of things which are true and enduring pleasures of what, at its best, can be called "New Mexican" cooking.

But that was to be expected in many ways. New Mexican foods are well known in the restaurant world, and are often calling cards in and of themselves.

And, as I started out this column I noted that it was the unexpected which can be the greatest reward for a traveler with an open mind. Or palate. Or both.

The Chocolate Smith
When I say "chocolate tourism", a large number of destinations come to mind. Chocolatiers from numerous places around the globe often lay claim to producing the best, the richest, the most sensual confections known to man or woman. Zurich, Switzerland. Brussels, Belgium. Paris, of course. (In fact, the argument -- for there is no discussion -- of whether it is the Swiss, Belgian or French chocolates that are the best has raged and will continue to rage for centuries.) Germany. Britain. Our own Hershey, Pennsylvania -- love or hate American chocolate, it's a destination. South and Central America, home of the cacao bean itself.

So when I say "chocolate" chances are remote you would respond with "Santa Fe, New Mexico". And you'd be wrong.

Todos Santos
Santa Fe, perhaps more than any equitably-sized city, can honestly lay claim to some of the finest boutique chocolate houses in the U.S. So much so that one of the most highly recommended activities -- perhaps spanning a couple of days to avoid the risk of a tummy ache -- is the locally created and presented "Chocolate Trail" which features the work of four distinct and terrific chocolatiers. Each of them approaches the subject from a different perspective and philosophy, allowing the casual visitor to taste classic, historic and innovative flavors without wandering more than a mile from one end to the other (use a car, however. Santa Fe is imminently walkable, but you will want a way to transport all of your hard-won treasures before they melt).

And true to the region, each of the four chocolatiers emphasizes local ingredients and flavors in their concoctions, enabling them to present truly unique treats for the casual chocoholic and connoisseur alike.

C.G. Higgins Confections – "Welcome to C.G. Higgins, a boutique chocolatier, candymaker, and the home of Chuck's Nuts Originals. We hand-make fine chocolate truffles, caramel corn, and many types of nut brittle, most recently featured on the Food Network's "Road Tasted" with the Neelys. Also known for our specialty fudge, C.G Higgins incorporates local flavors of the New Mexico including red and green chiles." 
The two-part tasting room and cafe is warm and inviting, as are the staff and Chuck Higgins himself. He took the time to explain the history of his company, his love of the confection business, and a bit of background on the whole Chocolate Trail idea. Chuck got into the business through the sale of his homemade fudge,  classic truffles, and caramel corn -- which remain a staple of his business along with a large assortment of delicious brittles. He mixes local ingredients to create such flavors as chile peanut brittle and lavender pecan brittle, lavender caramel corn, and a completely natural fudge that is creamy and tastier than most varieties -- the flavors are more subtle and textured rather than the one-note fudge you may be used to eating..
CG Higgins is easily visible from highway 285 (St Francis Drive) just north of Cerillos. 
847 Ninita St. (at St. Francis) 505-820-1315.  www.cghiggins.com

Kakawa Chocolate House – Kakawa isn't your usual chocolate shop either. They are dedicated to preserving the true historic flavors of chocolate drinks and creations such as chile chocolate ice cream and dark chocolate candies. 
We are a specialty chocolate company located in the beautiful high desert town of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Our passion is authentic and historic drinking chocolates. Historic drinking chocolates include traditional Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican Mayan Aztec drinking chocolates; 1600's European drinking chocolates, Colonial American and Colonial Mexican drinking chocolates. Kakawa Chocolate House drinking chocolates are representative of these historic recipes and span the time period 1000 BC to the mid-1900s AD.
Relax and indulge
The flavors are truly unique, and some of them will surprise you with their flavors -- this is not for the Hershey's crowd, this is for the adventurous palate delving into the crafted original tastes and sensations of hundreds of years before factory production created instant hot chocolate. The tasting is part of the fun of visiting Kakawa, and you will find the people behind the counter helpful and well-versed in the subject. As with CG Higgins, there is a small cafe area in which you can sit down with your choice and sip to your heart's content.
1050 Paseo de Peralta  505-982-0388.  www.kakawachocolates.com.  

The Chocolate Smith – The Chocolate Smith is perhaps the most traditional of chocolatiers on the Chocolate Trail, but don't let the appearance fool you. The flavors and creations here are as authentically Santa Fe as as any of the other three houses. Dark chocolate flavors, some with a healthy red or green chili kick, greet you as you enter the store. Take a moment to peruse the room and see all of the various products and services they offer, then wander the few feet to the main counter and check out the options.
Gourmet dark chocolate by The Chocolate Smith is made by hand using a bittersweet blend of dark chocolate and premium, fresh, local, and organic ingredients. Indulge in timeless chocolate classics or explore contemporary twists and regional flairs. Whichever your preference, be ready for an over-the-top chocolate experience.
They specialize in barks (the dark chocolate chili bark is amazing and genuinely spicy), caramels, bon bons and candy-covered nuts.
851-A Cerillos Road.  505-473-2111.  www.chocolatesmith.com.

Todos Santos Chocolates and Confections - Todos Santos is perhaps the most eclectic of the group, with a variety of candies that range from marshmallow sticks through to delicious hand-crafted chocolate treats. They cater to a higher-end clientele and seem to do a brisk business in candy catering.
Todos Santos carries housemade creations including truffles, toffee and gold or silver leaf covered chocolate milagros as well as eclectic confections from around the world.
Choices, choices...
Todos Santos
The flavors are as fabulous as those at the other establishments, with a premium presentation and approach. The shop is small, but packed with a variety of treats, many centered around the Dia De Los Muertos theme common to the Southwest and Mexico. A bit difficult to track down compared to the other three, but certainly worth a visit. Within an easy walk to the Basilica St Francis ad the famous Plaza Santa Fe.
Todos Santos is hidden away In the Sena Plaza Courtyard at 125 E. Palace #31 in Santa Fe.  505-982-3855. (Unfortunately no website available for ordering)

The Santa Fe Chocolate Trail. Expect the unexpected and Happy hunting!!!

Dreaming of Sweets the Santa Fe Chocolate Trail style!