In Salta, Mummies, Mountains, and Melodies

The Andes stratovolcano Llullaillaco rises to 22,110 feet from the neutral reds, yellows, and greys of the Atacama Plateau.

From its airy, chilly summit, adventurous alpinists can see Chile’s Antofagasta Region to the West and Argentina’s illustrious Salta Province to the East.

And nearly 20 years ago, on March 16th, 1999, after a month of brutal winds, -40°F chills, blizzards, and nearly calling it quits, a team of Argentine, Peruvian, and American archaeologists led by Johan Reinhard noticed a small disturbance of “fill” dirt near the summit.

Llullaillaco via Lisardo Maggipinto on behalf of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport of the Province of Salta.

After digging four feet (and nine inches) into the soil and rock, they discovered what is now known as the the highest archaeological site in the world. There, among a collection of carefully placed textiles, headdresses, statues, and pottery, were three perfectly preserved Incan mummies — the remains of child sacrifices drugged on coca leaves and chicha from a religious practice known as capacocha — from some 500 years ago. They were so intact, Reinhard noted, that even their arm hairs remained.

The mummies, now known as El niño (the boy), La doncella (the maiden), and La niña del rayo (the lightning girl) were carefully extracted from their five-hundred-year-old grave and transported over 150 miles to La Ciudad de Salta, the capital city of the vast Argentine province of the same name which sits in the foothills of the Andes in the Lerma Valley at 3,780 feet.

For nearly 8 years the mummies were kept in the Catholic University of Salta as tests were conducted to determine how to best display the mummies to the public without compromising their delicate compositions.

A team of scientists was eventually able to mimic a controlled climate similar to Llullaillaco’s summit—and so in 2007, The Museum of High Altitude Archaeology opened in Salta to permanently display the mummies and artifacts found on the dormant volcano.

Salta via Miles W. Griffis

Mummies

It’s early summer when I visit La Ciudad de Salta.

It’s humid and overcast and the Andes that typically act as the city’s stunning backdrop are hiding in thick clouds that swirl in a lazy breeze.

It’s a Saturday and the city’s main plaza is filled with vendors selling leather belts with gaucho designs, hand-carved wood gourds and bombillas for sipping yerba mate, colorful wool blankets and textiles, and children’s toys, like the a wind-up plastic Spiderman that crawls on the ground with an AK-47 on its back.  

The highlight, though, of walking through the plaza is stealing glances at the neoclassical Cathedral of Salta that glows light pink in the grey and gloom of the day.

When I step off the humid streets into The Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, I feel the cool whisk of air conditioning as we ascend to the second floor to take in the world famous exhibition.

MAAM via Lisardo Maggipinto on behalf of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport of the Province of Salta

As we meander the neat maze of placards, feathered headdresses, and little stones carved into the shape of llamas, I wonder which of the three mummies will be on display around the corner, at the end of the exhibit.

For whatever reason, only one of the three mummies is displayed at a time and they rotate every few months.

La niña del rayo via Lisardo Maggipinto on behalf of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport of the Province of Salta

I am hoping to see the lightning girl—after years of mountaineering, one of my greatest fears remains electric storms that scare, scar, and strike the alpine and La nina del rayo is said to have been hit more than once.

I approach the display case—a large, see-through tube where the seasonal mummy on display rests. I press the button that turns on the lights so the the squeamish aren’t exposed to the corpse in full light against their wishes.

Before me is the not the girl of lighting, but El niño, the smallest and youngest of the three sacrifices who is said to have struggled the most, as evidenced by blood and vomit found in his garments, as well as the materials that were used to bound him. He rests forever in the fetal position, in a sunset red tunic, hiding his face.

Mountains

Cerro San Bernardo via Miles W. Griffis

Later in the afternoon, after seeing the nationally popular museum, Museo Güemes, “the museum of the people”—dedicated to Martín Miguel de Güemes’s life and leadership in the 1800s War of Independence against the Spanish—we zip over to Cerro San Bernardo, a recreational hill that gently rests above the city.

Many Salteños hike the hill beginning at the stately Güemes Monument that sits at the edge of town before trekking the 1,021 steps to the top, where there is a small park, fountains, a wine bar, and storefronts selling regional crafts.

But since we had a packed itinerary, we took the most direct route, the teleférico, a cable car that gradually rises over the city’s orange tiled roofs and white stucco, before climbing a full  kilometer over the thick forest of the hill’s western face to its summit.

From the hill’s vista, the city stretches and sprawls in a wonder of white buildings that blend into the green Yerma Valley like water colors. Then a wildness takes over and more hills buckle to obscure the province’s most famous wine region, Cafayate, where the acclaimed torrontes and malbec grapes are grown, plucked, squished, barreled, fermented, corked, poured, and shipped around the world. And lancing the sky in the West, the snowy 16,509 foot Cerro Malcante shows its snowy self.

The view is an argument for two things. The first—the possibilities for extending time in Salta, seeing the city elongate before you from its rich plaza full of Spanish and indigenous influence to its expansive festival grounds that light up in April for the city’s popular arts and culture festival. And second, for the landscapes and adventures for which the city serves as a launching point—for alpinists, hikers, train to the clouds riders, peripatetic roadtrippers, wine sippers, and empanada tasters.

Melodies

Via La Casona del Molino

Speaking of empanadas, they are delicious tonight at the rock of Salta’s nightlife, La Casona del Molino.

We arrived for a ten o’clock seating. That’s early, even for Salteños who extend their nights and eat famously late. After a five-minute drive from the city center, we parked and were greeted warmly by the restaurateur. We wound through rooms where families dined before we picked a table in the courtyard ornamented by trees and beautiful worn brick flooring.

After appetizers and the sweetest white sangria, our empanadas arrive.

Empanadas in Argentina’s northern provinces, like Salta, are said to be some of the most authentically made in the country—especially at a family run restaurant like Las Casona del Molino. When our plate arrives, each variety of the baked stuffed doughs is marked by a little repulgue, a marking. The cheese empanadas are poked with three holes and the beef empanadas are sealed with a criss-crossing braid.

The restaurant, built in 1671, began as a general store, transformed into a chicherías in the 1700s, before acting as a carriage house in the 1800s where it served as a supply for the patriotic troops during the War of Independence—now, it is a magnet of the city’s nightlife, but not just because of the empanadas. The main draw is the impromptu, no-frills, folkloric performances.

Each night, local musicians from Salta and the surrounding area come into the restaurant, take a seat (perhaps even at your table if there are open chairs…), tune their acoustic guitars and treat the entire restaurant to melodies as gorgeous as the evening’s atmosphere. As the night lingers, the musicians come and go and sometimes congregate for a super group performance of classics like Mercedes Sosa’s “Gracias a La Vida.”

Nights at La Casona del Molino start late and go even later—many stay past 4 a.m— and unlike so much of American nightlife, bring together multiple generations under one roof, or in this case, under the Southern Hemisphere sky that will have you harmonizing—

Gracias a la vida, gracias a la ciudad de Salta, tú me has dado tanto.

Beyond Berghain: An Alternative Nightlife Guide to Berlin

Berlin’s hottest club has everything: memes poking fun at its notorious exclusivity, a permanent line out the door, and yes, the likely reward of once-in-a-lifetime fun for anyone dedicated enough to get themselves in the door. I am not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong, I love fun! But on a recent visit to Berlin, I decided that life (and my trip) may be too short for Berghain this time around. So I did the next best thing and hit as many cruise bars, clubs, and back rooms as possible in a few short (but also very long) nights.

My favorite bars in any city are those that may have been voted most popular at some point, but have since mellowed without losing their original charm. I look for places where regulars still perch on the barstools, out-of-towners can get a taste of neighborhood culture, and drinks aren’t impossible to come by. Next time around, I’ve got my sights set on Berghain — and Kit Kat Club, Schwuz, and countless more — but I’ll be sure to visit these favorites, too. Berlin nightlife pretty much goes all night long, so scenes may vary depending on the hour and your stamina

Möbel Olfe

You can spot a teeming throng of bearded otters through the fogged up windows of this drinking hall in north-east Kreuzberg. Popular on Thursday nights but buzzy all weekend, Möbel Olfe is a favorite of Berlin’s alternative queer crowd and a popular stop for out-of-towners. Housed in an old furniture shop (look for chairs affixed to the ceiling) and tucked into a housing estate primarily occupied by Turkish families, it combines a friendly neighborhood feel with an attractive and eclectic crowd. Grab a beer on tap to blend in with the cool kids.

Grosse Freiheit 114

This maritime-themed cruise bar in the Friedrichshain district draws a chiller and more mature clientele. Named for a famous cross street in Hamburg’s red light district, it’s a friendly watering hole that aims to please an array of tastes. You’ll find a welcoming smoke-free area up front, a modest backroom in the rear, and a smoking section with different kinds of fun and games (like darts) in between. Combining a pub-like atmosphere with the option to get frisky, it’s the best of what Berlin has to offer.

Der Boiler

A visit to this renowned gay bathhouse is a must on any itinerary, even if you’re only in town for the night. The three-story Kreuzberg establishment, tucked into an alley off Mehringdamm, includes Finnish saunas, a whirlpool, steam maze, private cabins, darkrooms, and bar and cafe areas. Despite the fun being had all over its sizable square footage, the place is impressively clean thanks to its industrious staff. Relax, go wild, or both in tandem — the friendly and personable vibe is different than many similar clubs, where urgency and exclusivity can spoil the vibe. Sunday afternoon and evening are particularly popular, but with a steady stream of international visitors, you’re sure to make connections at any hour.

Tom’s Bar

A mainstay of Berlin’s gay Schöneberg neighborhood, Tom’s Bar has been accused in online reviews of both going downhill and having a too-exclusive door policy. Personally, Tom’s was my favorite spot for both its overall vibe and fun mix of patrons. Monday nights are 2-for-1 happy hour, which may have contributed to both its liveliness and my enjoyment. Though a second story backroom was under construction as of fall 2018, the existing area felt just the right size for meeting new friends and sharing a drink up front after getting acquainted. Bonus points for being named after Tom of Finland.

Woof

Gather all ye bears, otters, and fur lovers: Woof is where you’ll find your kin. This Schöneberg den attracts a thick-bearded, leather-friendly crowd and the men who love them. A modest-sized rugged bar area up front gives way to a compact backroom with a few private stalls and communal spaces for show-offs and voyeurs to commune in harmony. The sports-bar vibe is in line with most places catering to bears and their admirers. A stone’s throw from other Schöneberg favorites like Mutschmanns and Tom’s, it’s an ideal stop on a neighborhood crawl.

Ficken 3000

The meaning of this Neukölln club’s name is not tough to translate and gives a pretty clear indication of the vibe. But even with an aggressive monicker like Ficken, this overtly cruisy spot draws an offbeat but genial mix of punky, scruffy guys looking for action in the basement backroom or just to feel the beat upstairs. Next to larger clubs or more happening bars, Ficken may feel relatively sleepy, but sometimes that’s just the kind of pit stop you need in an all-night marathon.

Images via Facebook, Wikipedia, and official websites

Petroglyphs of the Green River

My cousin Haley wobbles out of our Winona canoe onto the muddy riverbank of the Green River as the tamarisk rustles in the hot wind.

We had spent the morning paddling the maze of Labyrinth Canyon as a part of a four day self-guided backcountry river journey that winds us from Ruby Ranch to our pick up at Mineral Bottom, nearly an hour and a half outside of Moab, Utah.

Utah

I waggle from the canoe, slipping in the mud that scoots below my Tevas. It is thick, river bottom sediment. I secure the stern of our canoe to a young cottonwood with a rope in a tight two half hitch and the bow to one of our 10 gallon water jugs for extra security. Our canoe is our lifeboat, we would be lost as a river running into an unknown sea if it were to catch the current and float away.

We snag our water bottles, a few snacks, and daypacks from the basin of the canoe and set off to explore one of the river’s remote side canyons in search of thousand year old petroglyphs we were told about by our outfitter, Kevin at Moab Rafting and Canoe Company.

The tamarisks are thick before us and smell like hay and honey. They stroke and tickle us as we ford through them on a little game trail (that I assume was cut by desert bighorn sheep.) It leads us into a separate dry canyon off Labyrinth Canyon — a canyon that once held the Green River within it, before its oxbow gave way and the river shortcut itself by miles.

In the clearing beyond the tamarisk, the canyon called Horseshoe stretches wide as taffy. Orange-red walls soar towards the cornflower blue sky. It is one of my favorite color contrasts — one imprinted in my mind when my eyes shut. It is a mood, it is a vibe, it is some serious Georgia O’Keeffe “Red Hills and Sky” (1945).

The greasebrush thickens, the faint trail narrows, and Haley kindly cuts me off, like she did when I came out to her one tequila heavy night in college, before she proceeded to steal the thunder and come out to me.

I say this in jest — we’ve been eminent in one another’s lives as we embarked on our own queer voyages — yes, through vastly different landscapes — but like the canyonlands of Utah and the LaSalle Mountains mountains above them, topography belonging to the same southwestern region.

She hikes ahead of me wearing her bikini top and pants and Chacos and a pair of very bro-y Oakley wrap-arounds with blue tints and a wide straw sunhat that keeps the sun off her face and lightly freckled shoulders. Her body is covered in the dirt of the canyon from all the swimming, from all the sleeping below the full moon on sandbars, from gusts of wind that have blown the little red particles onto her skin that stick like sand art. It is our third day of our canoe trip and we are dirty, happy, desert rats.

High noon blasts 100 degree sunshine onto the canyon floor as we wander further from the lush Green River. Cacti begin to punctuate the landscapes — mostly beavertail and claret cup — it is September, and the grasses are brown and gold and we fear the sun drying us up, too. We straight line for the thin yard-wide sliver of shade the canyon wall provides.

We mosey along the debris of fallen slabs and boulders in the shade where it is a full ten degrees cooler. Haley walks ahead of me and wistfully brushes a fallen boulder with her fingertips.

“Whoa,” she says.

“What?”

“Look.”

There, ten feet in front of us, is a gallery of petroglyphs.

The rock has blackened around the carved shapes, but they remain orange, reddish, and bright as ever. It is as if they were pressed onto the rock that very day. But they were not, they were etched on the rock face a thousand or more years ago by the Fremont people, a people predating the Utes, Navajo, and Paiutes who later called the region home.

On the walls of the Glen Canyon Group rock are an abundance of sheep — identified by their curly horns, much like the ones whose trails we followed from the river and led us to the gallery. Beside the sheep, there are deer with pointed antlers, there are little resilient coyotes, there are some animals we can’t fully make out, a zoomorph, as well as two or three human figures sprinkled throughout — a minority among the masses of fauna.

We as a society are used to seeing sites like this in museums, removed from their original homes. But here in the canyon far away from anything, they rest largely undisturbed. They are among the hundreds of thousands of pictographs (paintings) and petroglyphs (carvings) living, existing, and dancing on the geology of the Southwest.

Their common viewers are the white-throated swifts, golden eagles, and turkey vultures soaring in circles above them. There are no ropes or railings, no signs that read do not touch, no museum employee watching your every move telling you to wear your backpack in the front — these petroglyphs are over a thousand years old and lay completely exposed to the elements and rare common passerby. They make the U.S. Constitution look spry and puerile. Their age constellates respect and we do not touch.

Many times when we travel, explore, camp, and backpack we forget to acknowledge the land’s original residents — typically we don’t even know the history of the places we visit, even when it stares us in the face.

We ignore past traumas of landscapes and the peoples who lived there because they make us, as non-native Americans, Australians, Canadians, and every other nation guilty of colonialism uncomfortable. Most of the time, this history has been erased, moved, eradicated, and displaced to make way for whiteness and guiltless consciouses.

That’s one of the reasons the Southwest is so significant; in many ways it is a largely unprotected, unwatched museum with evidence of first peoples literally carved into the landscape. Petroglyphs on the Kayenta and pictographs painted on the Navajo Sandstone tell us stories and speak a poetry of existence.

This brings us to territory acknowledgement — a practice gaining popularity in many civic events (especially in Canada) to help undo the erasure of colonialism. A site, Native Land, defines the process, “Territory acknowledgement is a way that people insert an awareness of Indigenous presence and land rights in everyday life.”

The act to many is “a small but essential step toward reconciliation”.

Native Land helps users generally identify indigenous territories that they are traveling to or living upon by location of zip code so the territory can be properly acknowledged. If I type in my zip code in Los Angeles, it shows the territory of the Tongva.

And when I pinpoint our exact location of drop in on the Green River, it shows the Ute, though, after reading about the area, I also understand the area to also have reports belonging to the Diné and Paiutes. So, outloud on the banks of the Green, I acknowledged the canyon, the river, and the territory of the Utes, Diné, Paiutes and the many other ancestral peoples that came before them.

When I first heard of the practice — as a white,  cis, queer man — I felt that it wasn’t my place to perform land acknowledgments. That in an attempt to be respectful as I passed through the southwest and acknowledged the land that I would be seen as inauthentic and phony, that I would be stepping on toes and doing more harm than good.

It wasn’t until I read Chelsea Vowel’s  Beyond Territorial Acknowledgements that I began to understand the practice better. A part of the text reads,“[land acknowledgements] can be transformative acts that to some extent undo Indigenous erasure…The fact of Indigenous presence should force non-Indigenous peoples to confront their own place on these lands.”

The key words are to some extent. Land acknowledgments are just the beginning.

They are the bare minimum on the road toward a societal reconciliation that many believe will help combat the further erasure of the history of indigenous peoples. A land acknowledgment before a trip makes non-natives grapple with the past, their history and lineage and ancestors, and again, as Vowel wrote, “confront their own place on these lands.”

It makes us ask, what is the backpacker’s place? What is the queer nature lover’s place? What is the birdwatcher’s, the alpinist’s, the Instagramer’s, the ranch owner’s, or the road tripper’s place?  How can we address our privilege constructively and help one another in our common journey to true allegiance for our land, its history, and the preservation of it and of all the cultures that call it home?

This is something we often forgotten even in the outdoor community, even though we spend intimate time on these lands. Coming across petroglyphs and pictographs all over the southwest have always been mandatory land acknowledgments themselves to me — how could one not acknowledge and respect the people who once called this place I recreate in, home? How could I not feel but a small tresspasser? It is only now that I vocalize this acknowledgment and when writing, do all I can in telling the story of a place, beginning with its first peoples.

Unfortunately, little is being done by our federal government to protect the pictographs, petroglyphs, ruins, or territorial lands of North America’s indigenous people.

Before our trip through Labyrinth Canyon, I read about a man who scratched his and his wife’s initials (surrounded by a love heart) onto the iconic Corona Arch, outside of Moab, looting in Bears Ears National Monument, as well as over 374 reports of vandalism (this year alone) in nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that were logged on the app Terra Truth, which helps users show exact locations of vandalism, wreckage, illegal off-roading, and looting on public lands.

The increase in these comes along at the same time as the shrinking of many public lands (like Bear Ears and Grand Staircase) were authorized by the Trump Administration in December 2017, led by former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who resigned in December 2018 with over 17 active ethics investigations to his name.

He departed officially in January, 2nd, during the government shutdown, as understaffed national parks like Joshua Tree and Yosemite are being littered with human feces, trash, and vandalism, with no federal employees to look after basic facilities.

By shrinking many of Utah’s monuments, the Trump administration literally cleared the road for many new oil, gas, and coal leases to be purchased. Their greenlighting of these leases and shrinking of monuments has left more than a million of acres of Bears Ears (the monument was shrunk from 1.35 million acres to 201,876 acres) exposed and without protection. Take for instance,  the illustrious petroglyphs in Moqui Canyon, the cliff dwellings in the Dark Canyon Wilderness, or the grand Cedar Mesa (which is said to contain 56,000 archealogical sites, some of which date back to the Clovis people who lived in the area over 12,000 years ago), as well as many other culturally significant sites.

Next to the petroglyphs Haley and I came across in Labyrinth, not far from Bears Ears, were the markings of 20th century visitors J.A. Ross, Ella E.V. Ross, Bennie J. Ross (1903), and Noel Jackson (1927). Beside these were seemingly recent carvings left other canoe trippers thinking they could leave their own mark beside the petroglyphs, in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but the tamarisk watching.

There was even another damn love heart scratched into the wall as well as a couple of other chaotic cat scratches for no purpose at all but recklessness.

This kind of vandalism on our public lands, especially in Four Corners region of our country with rich indigenous significance, history, and archaeological evidence show the Trump Administration’s aggressive disrespect and harm towards our indigenous peoples and our environment. It shows the administration’s 21rst century brand of colonialism (and white nationalism?) that continues to erase the proof of indigenous territories (and existence) from these landscapes.

The vandalism, selling, and mismanagement of our public lands also potentially erases the documentation of all historic queerness in the region. As I wrote about in “A Queer Ode For Bears Ears National Monument,” “Connell O’Donovan, an administrator at UC Santa Cruz and a writer focusing on queer Mormon history, found a petroglyph twenty years ago while living in Moab. He describes the petroglyph as “two men with erections reaching out to embrace each other; it dates to circa 800 CE.”

This is just one known instance of the documentation of what he categorizes through a queer lense as a possibility of queer archaeology. There is very little written on the subject. Perhaps, there are even more queer petroglyphs and pictographs to be discovered in the vast landscapes of the Southwest. How can we know if we sell culturally significant land to leasers? Shouldn’t we want to preserve the history the human race, no matter what we look/ed like, where we live/d, or who we love/d?

If vandalism and destruction of our public lands continue, there will be erasure to all of our histories. This is why it is important to know what land we are on, acknowledge exactly who we are, and follow the guidelines of leave no trace as we respectfully travel on land that was taken from indigenous territories.

How will we ever reconcile and unite if we erase each other, forget who we are, and dismiss all the terror and wonder we’ve ever done?

INTO’s 2019 Travel Guide

INTO’s travel writers have collaborated to amass an adventurous, luxurious, and metamorphic top ten list of trending (and non-trending) destinations as readers consider travel plans for 2019. As always, we’ve combed for some of the most queer-friendly locales while making sure to include destinations outside of the typical LGBTQ+ travel circuit, so that seasoned travelers can push themselves out of their comfort zones. Happy trails, traveler.

1.  Celebrate EuroPride in Vienna, Austria

via Getty

On January 1, 2019 Austria will officially recognize same-sex marriage after a ruling from the country’s Constitutional Court, upgrading from legal partnerships. Wasting no time, its capital city, Vienna, will be the host of EuroPride 2019 (June 1-16th). But no matter when you visit, the city famous for its permanently gay-themed street crossing signals is a true epicenter for both the visual and performing arts. “The City of Music” is world renowned for its orchestras, operas, choirs, and chamber music—but also excites visitors with progressive house and electronic music at its over-the-top queer warehouse parties. 

2. Tour the Volta Region of Ghana

via Uprise Travel

As in many other African countries, homosexual acts are illegal in Ghana and discrimination against the LGBTQ community is rampant. Yet, queer-friendly tour company Uprise Travel safely guides visitors through Ghana, training their guides in inclusivity and LGBTQ+ issues. Their Southern Ghana Road Trip is the perfect introduction to the country and explores the off-the-beaten-path (and gorgeous) Volta Region, two and a half hours north of Accra. The trip takes visitors to Amedzofe, the highest village in Ghana, to a sanctuary full of adorable mona monkeys, and to the dazzling Wli Falls (the highest waterfall in West Africa). The trip then ventures to the nation’s western coast to see sobering UNESCO World Heritage slave castles and stunning beaches, like the secluded, palm-lined Busua Beach.

3. Camp and Dance at the GAYTIMES Music Festival in Victoria, Australia

While there are more prides, circuits, gay ski weeks, and queer film festivals than one can shake a stick at, there are still only a handful of queer music festivals. While GAYTIMES (February 15-17th, 2019) isn’t as big as Amsterdam’s Milkshake Festival, this intimate Australian festival, hosted high in the Central Victorian Highlands, may be one of the most unique. Hop down under to Melbourne, road trip up two hours to Lake Mountain Alpine Resort, and pitch your tent for a weekend of camping below the Southern Hemisphere stars at the height of Southern Hemisphere summer. Besides a lineup with over 36 acts, there are performance artists, art installments, and many workshops, classes, and activities. This is the queer summer camp you’ve always dreamed of.

4. Stargaze at the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico

via Getty

This UNESCO World Heritage site is said to be “as close as the US gets to Egypt’s pyramids and Peru’s Machu Picchu” and the largest concentration of ruins north of Mexico. Chaco Canyon contains artifacts and campsites dating back to 7000-1500 BC, though its monumental public and ceremonial pueblos date to around 850-1250 AD. Besides the incredibly well-preserved ruins, history, and archeoastronomy petroglyphs, the site is an International Dark Sky Park. But why visit now? Well, the Bureau of Land Management, overseen by the Interior and the Trump Administration, has leased 90% of the greater Chaco area to oil and gas development , endangering outlying artifacts, ruins, ancient roads, and sacred sites, as well as the serenity of the dark sky reserve. When you make the 3 hour drive from Santa Fe to visit, sleep under the stars at the Gallo Campground, and see the night sky just as the Chacoans saw it thousands of years ago, at least for right now.

5. Wander Argentina’s Remarkable Salta Province

via Getty

Tucked in the Northwest corner of Argentina — tickling Chile and Bolivia — is the larger-than-life Salta Province. Start your road trip in the province’s capital, Salta City, for delicious empanadas, folkloric music, and the chance to see 500 year-old-child-sacrifice-mummies at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology before venturing south through the polychromatic Valles Calchaquíes to Cafayate, a legendary wine town full of delicious Torrontés and Malbecs. Dive deeper into the province by exploring its three remote national parks: the tropical Baritú National Park (home to jaguars, ocelots and speckled bears), El Rey National Park (home to giant anteaters and tapirs), and the arid Los Cardones National Park (home to vicuñas, dinosaur tracks, and 25-foot tall Argentine saguaros—all below the towering 20,000 foot Nevado de Cachi).

6. Explore The Kingdom of Jordan on a Gay Tour

via Outstanding Travel

Visit Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world, with Outstanding Travel, a leader in gay travel within Israel and the surrounding region. Travel to Petra via Wadi Yatam and drive through gorgeous landscapes that lead you to the far end of Wadi Musa. The road there winds through the narrow, deep and stunning Siq (the shaft), at which the splendor of the burial shrine Al Khazneh (the treasury) is revealed. The tour then continues to the desert of Wadi Rum, filled with shades of red and orange sandstones. Here you can overnight in a luxury camp inside a bubble star tent so that you can enjoy the night sky from the comfort of your warm bed. It’s important to note that LGBTQ+ rights in Jordan are considered to be relatively advanced when compared to other countries within the Middle East. Homosexual conduct remains legal in Jordan, after the country adopted its own penal code that did not criminalize homosexuality as it previously was under the British Mandate Criminal Code Ordinance that lasted until 1951. That being said, LGBTQ+ people displaying public affection can be prosecuted for “disrupting public morality.”

7. Catch a Queer Film in India

via Sridhar Rangayan @sridharrangayan

In a historic decision, India’s Supreme Court ruled in September of 2018 that gay sex is no longer a criminal offense, overturning a 2013 judgment that upheld a colonial-era law categorizing gay sex as an “unnatural offense.” The court ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a fundamental violation of rights. And if you still don’t know about India’s famous gay prince, you should, because he is doing so many good things for the LGBTQ community in India. LGBTQ tourism in India is rising and now is the time to go (but please, just avoid North Sentinel Island…). As long as you are respectful of the local culture and understand that things may not run as smoothly as they would back home, you’ll find that India can be not only fascinating but also safe. Plan your trip around some amazing LGBTQ events like Mumbai Pride, which takes place in January/February, or some of the other prides in cities like Chennai, Delhi, Bangalore or Kolkata. Or, if queer cinema is more your vibe, check out the annual Kashish Mumbai Queer Film Festival, typically held in May.

8. Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall at World Pride in NYC

via Getty

News Alert: Did you catch the news of Madonna mysteriously showing up at the Stonewall Inn for a surprise New Year’s Eve performance? She gave a powerful speech before performing a couple of her hit songs and exiting. Many are speculating that she will somehow be involved in the 30 days of celebration that span June 1 – 30, 2019 in New York City. NYC Pride will be welcoming WorldPride as they mark the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and a half-century of LGBTQIA + activism. There will be over 50 events throughout the month with more than 3 million people expected to gather for the experiences. If you’ve been thinking about NYC pride, this would be the year to go!

9. Get Your Rocky Mountain High on in Colorado

via Miles W. Griffis

Quick shout-out to Colorado residents for electing the first gay man to serve as Governor of a U.S. State. Jared Polis made history this past November by winning the state’s gubernatorial race with 51.7% of the vote. Now, that alone doesn’t necessarily qualify Colorado as a top queer destination, but it does add to the long list of reasons why Colorado is extremely open-minded and welcoming. Colorado was also one of the first two states to legalize marijuana back in 2012 and the weed culture there is booming. Consider taking a marijuana tour while visiting the state to get a sense of how big the industry is (and because, well, it really is just a fun way to spend an afternoon). While on your tour (which mostly operate out of Denver), pick up some essentials and head out to seek adventure in some of the state’s most beautiful destinations. Ski towns like Breckenridge, Telluride, and Aspen are surrounded by the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains— the inspiration for John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” (1972). Best of all, each town also hosts their own gay ski week.

10. Become a Member of the 7 Continents Club in Antarctica

via David Duran

If you haven’t been to Antarctica yet, don’t worry, most of the world hasn’t either. It’s estimated that a very tiny fraction of the of the world’s population has made it to the 7th continent. Why go? Well, if you are an adventurer at heart and want to see things that most people will never see in their lifetime, a trip way down south might be just right. The icebergs alone make the trip worth it. But beyond the massive floating ice, the wildlife sightings are infinite and being up close and personal with whales, penguins and seals will melt your heart, but hopefully not the polar ice caps. Consider traveling with National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions for a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only visit the untouched region but to learn so much while doing so. Traveling with you on your expedition will be a team of experts and naturalists who use a range of exploration tools to help you experience wildlife and wild places up close. During your trip you can kayak amid the icebergs, stroll through crowds of penguins and step foot (many, many times) on the spectacularly remote continent.

Honeymooning With Wegan

Meet Megan and Whitney Bacon-Evans, also known as “Wegan” of What Wegan Did Next. They are bloggers, YouTubers, LGBTQ+ activists, founders of the Find Femmes dating site, digital consultancy owners, the first lesbian couple to be featured on Say Yes to the Dress UK, as well as writers with bylines in Cosmopolitan, The Guardian, Huffpost, Lonely Planet, Marie Claire, and many others.

Outside of activism, culture, and visibility writing, they have become experts in LGBTQ+ travel, helping their over 140K+ combined followers with recommendations on trips, wedding planning, and honeymoons. INTO got the chance to catch up with the incredibly cordial newlyweds, get some advice on queer wedding traditions (hint: it’s a choose your own adventure), get tips on planning otherworldly destination weddings, and get their take on how the travel industry can adapt for queer honeymooners.

Lovers of Love Photography

INTO: When did you start getting into travel writing and what drew you to it?

Wegan: We have been writing about travel for years in our blog posts as we naturally started as long distance and met when Whitney studied abroad in London. Traveling has always been a part of our relationship; from traveling to each other’s countries or trekking to a new destination together like Paris, Portugal or Greece. Our followers loved getting to join us on our travels through our blog and YouTube channel, and we love documenting what we get up to and making recommendations. It’s important for us to highlight,  as a lesbian couple, where we feel is safe and also good for LGBTQ+ travellers to visit.

So many people are meeting online these days across the world. You call yourselves “long distance survivors.” How many years were you in a long-distance relationship? And what top three tips would you give to readers who are also in one?

Yes indeed, we did long distance for 4 years from Hawaii to the UK (2 oceans and a continent apart). It was incredibly hard, but of course, so worth it. Our top 3 tips to survive long distance are:

  1. You must equally be on the same page that you want this to work and the commitment needs to mutually be there.
  2. Communication is absolutely key. Taking advantage of all the free resources to keep you connected is so important. Make sure you use FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, and even good old fashioned hand written letters.
  3. Fix a date for the next time you will be able to see each other. We found that this helps a lot and keeps you going, knowing that there is a date when you’ll be in each other’s arms again. Even if it’s months down the line!
Lovers of Love Photography

Following your civil partnership in 2012 (with the U.K. getting same-sex marriage in 2013), what made you decide to do a destination wedding?

We just weren’t liking any venues in the UK for our wedding. We had been looking for months and nothing felt right. They were too stuffy and old, with often ugly coloured carpet or small rooms. It wasn’t until our first trip to Palm Springs, California where we saw a wedding getting set up at the hotel, The Avalon, that we were staying at that we started to get the idea.

Back in the UK we continued our search for venues and the woman showing us around the wedding venue asked what kind of wedding vibe/theme we were after and Whitney replied “umm… Palm Springs vibe?” So, the woman replied “Well… have you thought about getting married there?” Ha! We just thought it was out of the question, but we decided to contact the Avalon to see what the cost was and if it was even feasible. Lo and behold it wasn’t too much different from all of the UK costs, and as Whitney is American, and since we already had a beautiful civil partnership at Danesfield House in the UK, it felt right and fair to do something in America.

What were some of the biggest challenges of throwing a destination wedding? And what were the biggest rewards of it?

It was rather overwhelming to plan a wedding in a venue that you had only been at once and not even viewed as a possible wedding venue! Luckily, we were recommended COJ Events as wedding planners. We looked at their portfolio of weddings and loved them all, and then when we found out that the wedding planners are in fact a fabulous married lesbian couple, Cathy and Dorry, it was just the icing on the cake! As soon as we chatted with them on the phone, we were so excited to know that our wedding would be in their hands. Knowing another lesbian couple would be taking care of every detail of our big day really made us not worry.

The biggest reward was walking into our reception area on our wedding day, having fully trusted COJ and their recommended vendors. It looked absolutely spectacular, exactly as we had wanted it. Feminine, chic and classy. We still love it so much!

Lovers of Love Photography

Why do you think destination weddings have always been a popular option?

I think people are starting to realize that you don’t have to be confined to what’s around you. You can hop on a plane and fly to your favorite destination, or somewhere that has meaning to you and your fiancée or perhaps your family heritage. Also, I think it adds an extra layer of excitement, of everyone you love coming together in a new place and also giving some an excuse to travel to somewhere they may never had the chance or reason to go ordinarily.

You have a devoted and large following, what are some of the best tips you’ve given readers and followers about planning weddings?

The biggest lesson we learnt from planning our wedding is make your own wedding traditions. We tried to follow traditional straight traditions that just plain failed. When we started to look for our wedding dresses, we actually ended up being the first lesbian couple on Say Yes To The Dress UK. Megan’s mum was with us and she suggested that we should stick to tradition and keep the dresses a surprise from each other for the big day. We hadn’t decided what we wanted to do so we thought we’d give it a go.

However, the issue is that as a couple, we do everything together. We’re literally never apart. Megan particularly relies on Whitney to help make decisions, so she was finding it harder and harder, and after the 8th dress she tried on she still didn’t know what was right. Meanwhile, Whitney had already said yes to the first dress! But this ended up backfiring!  It made us realize that when it comes to a lesbian wedding with two dresses,  we preferred them to complement one another and so it didn’t look like we were going to to two different weddings!

Lovers of Love Photography

We also ended up breaking tradition by sharing a bed the night before the wedding, as being apart didn’t feel right. We also originally thought that we would get ready separately but in the end we all got ready together and it was so much fun. We then helped one another into our wedding gowns and instead revealed our dresses to our Bride Tribe and parents. All in all, we learned that you do not have to stick with tradition, and you can do what feels right for you!

What places did you consider for your honeymoon before you decided on Maui?

We considered popular honeymoon destinations, such as Maldives which is particularly popular in the UK. However, we found out that is it illegal to be gay in Maldives, and we didn’t want to head to a destination that criminalizes people for loving one another; especially when we’re celebrating our marriage! Instead we opted to head back to a place near and dear to our hearts, which is Hawaii. Whitney lived on Oahu for 6 years and we got engaged on our favorite beach there back in 2011.

One of the most controversial aspects of queer travel writing is the debate about traveling to non-queer friendly destinations, what are your thoughts on exploring these locales?

Ah, we find this such a tricky subject. So far we have stuck to visiting places where it is legal to be LGBTQ+. We personally don’t want to put ourselves at risk; lesbians tend to have lesser punishments than gay men, but we also don’t want to recommend places that would put any of our followers at risk. We wouldn’t feel right enjoying a 5-star luxury resort when outside of the gates, gay people are being punished to death.

That being said, there are many LGBTQ+ people that live in countries like this and we don’t want them to feel like we don’t acknowledge their existence. By completely avoiding these countries, a traveler may be missing out on wonderful experiences, culture and meeting people with incredible stories. We think we’ll assess traveling to places where it is illegal to be LGBTQ+ if and when the opportunity arises, and continue to focus on where is LGBTQ+ friendly for now.

Lovers of Love Photography

What was your experience like on honeymoon within the hotels, resorts, and beaches you visited in Hawaii?

As we were in America for 3 months around our wedding, we found that as couple about to be married, or as a recently married couple, that the majority of places just ignored that we were brides-to-be or on our honeymoon. We even stood their awkwardly in our big ‘Just Married’ straw hats checking in to a hotel and nothing would be said to us, hardly a congratulations, let alone a bottle of champagne to the room. The only reason it would bother us is because we knew undoubtedly that if we were a straight couple on our honeymoon, we would have been treated very differently.

For example, Megan’s sister and husband came out to California for a week before our wedding and pretended that it was their first wedding anniversary. They received complimentary room upgrades, bottles of champagne, macaroons etc. and we received nothing! Funnily enough Virgin came out with an advert that completely resonated with us, that depicted a world where straight tourists were treated the same as LGBTQ+ tourists.

Did anyone notice you were on honeymoon?

We had a wonderful time at Maui Four Seasons. We were greeted with a lovely congratulatory card, rose and champagne. All of the employees of the hotel were very welcoming and didn’t bat an eyelid that we were on honeymoon. We loved swimming up to the infinity pool with a frozen mai tai inside a pineapple and watching out the view of the ocean as wife and wife. It was also hilarious in that we got to be known as ‘The Bacons’ by the other guests at the hotel and the token lesbian couple at the resort. Lots of straight people were coming up to speak with us, even waving from afar.

Lovers of Love Photography

What can the travel industry do to adapt better to queer couples whether they are traveling for a honeymoon, or vacation?

We would suggest that they pay attention to the booking and if there’s same sex names on the booking and they mention it is their honeymoon, then make sure that they then don’t get questioned if they want a king bed, or would they prefer two beds! We’ve heard of couples having to push two beds together every day and the housekeepers would separate them every day. All in all, it’s just treating a same sex couple the exact same as any other couple.

Details such as robes in the room, i.e. if it’s two women then likelihood is that they may require two short robes. Maybe just supply more options so there is more choice. One of us always ends up looking comical in a long robe draping to the floor, waddling around!

What are a couple things the hotel/travel industry could do at large to be more accommodating?

Two things that the hotel industry could do is to look at their marketing and to make sure they’re including LGBTQ+ imagery. Please do not use stereotypical images or cheesy fake shots. Look into using actual wedding or honeymoon images from same sex couples. If they haven’t had any same sex weddings / honeymooners then they should look into why this is and how they can market themselves to be more appealing and inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community. This is where our second point comes in, and that’s using LGBTQ+ influencers.

We can supply great quality LGBTQ+ content for hotels to use and in turn promote them as a great place to stay. Within this, please do not think you have to create an LGBTQ+ specific influencer trip and find everything ‘gay’ that there is to do nearby. We often want to do the exact same thing as everyone else — enjoy a great sleep, a yummy cocktail at the pool and a great dinner in your restaurant. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ influencers often get overlooked or simply one token influencer is chosen to join on a trip. It’s important to note that the LGBTQ+ travel market is said to be worth over $200 billion. Not one to be overlooked, now is it!

Lastly, what is Wegan doing next?

We of course want to continue to be visible lesbians challenging stereotypes and always be a safe space for LGBTQ+ to confide in. In addition, we have some exciting travel plans coming up, from Scotland to Canada to Florida and many more fabulous destinations. We also will be expanding our businesses further in 2019 and focusing more on some ‘secret’ projects which we will reveal hopefully in 2019/20.

Watch Out Tucson, Here We Come!

It’s always been a dream of mine to re-create every moment of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, because it’s the simple things in life that truly matter. The iconic movie has provided us all with so many quotable phrases, cementing its importance within pop culture. I woke up one morning to an overly anxious boyfriend who didn’t want to spend his day off sitting around the house, and he looked to me to come up with some brilliant last minute plan, because apparently, that’s what I do. Day trips for us have become sort of a norm, as we don’t mind spending time in the car and are typically both eager to explore places we haven’t been to or spent much time in.

Since we were in Phoenix, we had lots of options for day trips, but today was the day we would finally make it to Tucson. Living in downtown, we drive past the 10 freeway every single day, and the massive overhead signs before entering the onramps read “Los Angeles 10W” and “Tucson 10E.” We had taken the 10 towards L.A. countless times but we had never gone outside of the Phoenix Metro area heading East, until today. As he quickly Googled things to see and do in Tucson, I pulled up the famous clip from the movie where the two friends hop in their borrowed Jaguar XJ-S and zoom off to Tucson. Within minutes, we were in the car, with the sunroof open (it was the closest we could come to a convertible), on our way to Tucson.

The journey to Tucson from Phoenix is relatively simple: You get on the 10 freeway and drive East for about two hours until you reach the city. Between the two cities is a whole lot of nothing, reminiscent of portions of the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. As the city appeared in the distance, though, I was genuinely shocked at how big it appeared. Somehow, within the span of a decade since I had last been there, the city had transformed. Driving into downtown Tucson, we found a parking spot and ventured off to see what we could find. We had about 6 hours in total before turning around and heading back to Phoenix, so the next time you are looking for a quick day trip to Tucson, here are three must-not-miss experiences that will give you a good taste of what Tucson has to offer.

HUB Restaurant and Ice Creamery

After that long stretch of nothingness before arriving to the city, you will be famished. Head to historic Congress Street in the center of downtown Tucson, find a parking spot, and wander your way around until you find yourself at HUB Restaurant. The restaurant is located in the city’s fastest growing and most exciting area, and there’s tons of street parking available. If for some reason you find yourself parking further away, no worries, the Sunlink Streetcar passes right past the front doors of HUB.

I’d suggest starting off with a cocktail, possibly the Tucson Tea, made with vodka, tequila, watermelon liquor, black tea, HUB hibiscus syrup and citrus. Or go for the Old Pueblo, made with local whiskey, orange peel, sugar, HUB brandy-soaked cherries and orange bitters. Just remember this is a day trip so drink responsibly. For food, the Glory Curds — Wisconsin cheddar curds flash-crisped with sriracha ketchup — are heavenly, as are the cornmeal and ancho chili dusted calamari. For mains, the Airline Chicken, a roasted airline breast served with fingerling potatoes, sauteed brussels sprouts, bacon bits, bourbon cream sauce, leeks and watercress is pretty tasty. But you guys, save room for the Mac & Cheese. Your options include a classic mac, bacon, chicken or lobster, with the latter being the obvious favorite. If there’s room for ice cream, they are known for their unique flavors like Mexican Wedding Cookie, Guava Tamarindo Chamoy, Strawberry Tres Leches Cake and even Vegan Chocolate.

Pima Air & Space Museum

I grew up in Southern California, next to (a now defunct) Marine base, and my parents would always take me to the air shows. What kid wasn’t obsessed with airplanes? For aviation geeks, though, the Pima Air & Space Museum is like finding the treasure at the end of the rainbow. The museum is filled with aircraft of all types from all different eras of aviation. The hangers are filled with aircraft while the outside is a beautifully preserved airplane graveyard. The museum is one of the largest non-government funded aviation museums in the world, featuring over 350 historical aircrafts, from a Wright Flyer to a 787-Dreamliner. Sitting on 80 acres, the museum opened its doors to the public in May of 1976, growing immensely to encompass six indoor exhibit hangers (three dedicated to WWII). Having that Dreamliner there is seriously exciting, and it was the first aircraft I ran to once I reached the outdoors portion of the museum. During my visit, I did see a 777 in a hanger just outside of the public access area, so I’m hoping that during my next visit, it will be ready for public viewing.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Chances are, when you Google image search Tucson, one of the first things you will see is this glorious church. A national historic landmark, San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission in 1692. Construction of the current church began in 1783 and was completed in 1797. The church is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. The interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings and allows visitors to step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space. There is no charge to visit the Mission, and some 200,000 visitors come each year from all over the world to view what is widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States. Just keep in mind when visiting that the Mission was created to serve the needs of the local community, and although everyone is welcome to attend Masses, the church is first and foremost a church. I personally enjoy the outside more and could easily have spent all my time just observing the landscapes and color-changing sky around the beautiful church.

Unique Utah Hotels to Drool Over

Utah isn’t just home to those pesky perfectly uniformed duos that go knocking on your door from time to time, asking if you want to learn more about their multi-planetary believing church. It’s also home to some of the most incredible untouched land in the nation!

With five national parks and 44 state parks, Utah is an outdoorsman’s heaven. There are so many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors that one might think that packing a tent might be the best option — but fear not, tent-hating folks. There are other options beyond laying on the ground in a cold tent. And no, I’m not necessarily suggesting a typical hotel room; instead, these Utah hotels  offer some unique sleeping options and surroundings. For the next time you are in an adventurous mood!

 

Airstreams — Escalante, Utah

Located just off the Scenic Byway 12, visitors will feel like they are in a movie scene all their own as they cruise down the famous route to America’s most beautiful parks and attractions. The Shooting Star RV Resort welcomes travelers looking for a more unique accommodation experience, allowing them the opportunity to vacation like an old-timey Hollywood star with a selection of nine Airstreams decked out to feel like the movie set trailer of classic films. And the icing on the cake is the campground’s classic outdoor movie theater which offers 1960’s classic cars as seating for couple to cozy up under the Utah stars.

Conestoga Wagons and Teepees — Capitol Reef, Utah

Embrace the most authentic, adventurous accommodations Utah has to offer by catching some z’s in a Conestoga Wagon or teepee at Capitol Reef Resort. Nestled among the Red Cliffs, guests can relax under the peaceful stars with warm fire pits, soak in brightly colored sunrises and sunsets as they light up the red rocks, and feel like a true Western explorer. The resort has both modern resort amenities and spacious arrangements at hand. Sleep up to six in the wagons (that come with private bathrooms) or choose a luxury teepee (also with private bathroom), decorated in traditional western furnishings to ensure that authentic western feel.

School House — Park City, Utah

You know those old school houses from the movies? Well, now you can sleep inside of one. Don’t expect chalkboards and wooden desks, but instead look forward to pure luxury at Park City’s twelve-room boutique hotel, Washington School House Hotel. Built in 1889 and part of the National Historic Registry, this landmark now hotel is the only mountainside luxury hotel adjacent to the US’s largest new ski resort, the connecting Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort.

Crater — Midway, Utah

OK, you might not actually sleep inside the crater, but you can sure enjoy it while staying at Homestead Midway Resort. Over 10,000 years in the making, the crater is a geothermal spring, hidden within a 55-foot tall, beehive-shaped limestone rock. Once inside, visitors can go swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, enjoy a therapeutic soak or even take a stand up paddleboard yoga class in the 96ª water! The crater is actually the only warm scuba diving destination in the continental U.S. and attracts many diving enthusiasts from across the country. In addition to the crater’s unique offerings, Homestead Resort offers guests charming accommodations and boundless recreation amidst classic architecture.

National Park — Brian Head, Utah

Tucked away among reaching peaks, red rocks covered in winter snow and winding roads boarded by tall fir trees lead the way to Brian Head Resort. The resort (located within Cedar Breaks National Monument Park) has welcomed tried-and-true mountain enthusiasts for over 50 years. The hidden gem is the locals best kept secret, offering The Greatest Snow on Earth® with an annual snowfall of over 360 inches and Utah’s highest base elevation, including two connected mountains (Giant Steps and Navajo) inviting guests to explore over 71 runs and 8 chair lifts. Resort guests can shred down steep terrain, cross country ski to a personal look out spot at Chessman Ridge Overlook, cozy up with an intimate dinner and gaze upon impressive constellations during a Dark Sky certified star party.

How Trip-Planning Apps Use Data to Keep LGBTQ Travelers Safe

With marriage equality increasingly becoming the law of the land in many countries, and with cities throughout the world acting as bubbles of LGBTQ acceptance, it is easy to think that world travel should be safe and simple.

But just this year, a French couple was attacked in St. Petersburg on the eve of the World Cup, and a study in January found that 2017 was the deadliest year yet for the LGBTQ community in Brazil, where more than 300 queer or transgender people were slain as a result of targeted violence. The United States is not immune either; as recently as 2016 a UK government travel advice website warned LGBTQ travelers against visiting parts of the U.S. that had passed homophobic laws.  

Despite all this, signs point to an increase in LGBTQ travel as more companies look to tap the queer market. This makes safety a top priority in the queer travel industry.

In September, GeoSure, an app that provides safety data for travelers, introduced a new LGBTQ category. With coverage for over 30,000 neighborhoods around the world, GeoSure’s LGBTQ ratings help queer travelers can get a sense of how safe it is to be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity around the world. Now TripIt, a master itinerary and trip planning app, has incorporated this data into its platform.

The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA)  has a fairly comprehensive website aimed specifically at the LGBTQ traveler. Last year, the IGLTA published a lengthy report on the state of global LGBTQ tourism compiled in conjunction with the World Tourism Organization, but it is not easy to see what places are safest at a glance.  

“We always encourage LGBTQ travelers to do their homework into the laws, cultures and prevailing attitudes of the destinations that they are visiting,” John Tanzella, president of IGLTA told INTO. “And so the more tools that are available to assist in the data-gathering process, the better.”

“Information and safety go hand in hand,” Tanzella continued. “It’s important to remember that there are still more than 70 countries in the world that criminalize same-sex relationships; and of course, even having positive laws doesn’t mean that prejudice toward the LGBTQ community has been eliminated.”

Though the IGLTA has plenty of information on its website, it can be overwhelming. The report itself is well over 100 pages, consisting of recommendations and a comprehensive compilation of case studies submitted by tourism stakeholders who have benefited from their outreach to LGBTQ travelers. But it does not distill the resources into individual neighborhood safety ratings.

When asked about accuracy, Jen Moyse, director of product for TripIt, says that while the app is too new to have much user feedback, she has found it to be “quite accurate” and that feedback from social media has, so far, been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s been nice to see people tweeting like crazy, especially this week with the LGBT safety scores,” Moyse tells INTO. “It feels unique.”

Michael Becker, CEO of GeoSure, the company compiling the safety scores, tells INTO that the company began as a “data science and predictive analytics company.”

After partnering with statistical scientist Don Pardew, Becker asked the question, “Can you risk-model and boil down to a quantitative exercise this notion of traveler safety? [Pardew’s] answer was yes.” Becker continued, “We take all this data and put it into a statistical meat grinder, our algorithm. [It’s] based on years of experience of risk modeling. They change over time and by location.”

Becker tells INTO that GeoSure compiles safety scores based on information from “hundreds of sources,” including international law enforcement groups like the CIA and Interpol, and health associations like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control.

Sometimes the scores can be unexpected. In one instance, Portland, Oregon does not score as well as nearby suburbs of Gresham or Vancouver, Washington, despite its large LGBTQ population. Perhaps the historical data of these rapidly changing neighborhoods has not caught up, the infrastructure is not as robust as the community, or more individual metrics need to be put into GeoSure’s proprietary algorithm. For example, Becker didn’t mention aspects such as numbers of LGBTQ community centers or queer-owned businesses included in their safety calculations.

Further complicating matters, said Becker, “You can have an LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood within a high crime district, but as an LGBTQ community member you may feel safer; you might be safer. Of course the opposite may be true as well.” Though data scientists see these metrics contributing to risk levels, the user cares more about safety, which is harder to quantify.

User feedback is essential for that reason. It may even help GeoSure identify the more vulnerable members of the LGBTQ population such as trans people or people of color, which are currently not a separate category in either app, though they are more likely to face assault.

It’s easy to submit a positive or negative experience from within the GeoSure app, but TripIt has no way to give feedback on how safe a neighborhood feels or whether you’ve experienced any discrimination. Lack of an easy reporting tool within TripIt could skew crowd-sourced information towards individuals seeking out a data-driven company like GeoSure rather than casual travelers. It is something to consider as GeoSure continuously updates what Becker calls their “secret sauce.”

Although they don’t use GeoSure’s quantified analytics, there are some LGBTQ-specific travel apps out there. An app called Wimbify got a lot of attention when it launched in 2015 as a queer version of Couchsurfing, but it has not gotten any press since and the version currently available from Apple was buggy and available only in Italian. Man About World is a digital gay travel publication, but you cannot plan or book directly from it, nor is it integrated with public transportation or other real-time features that TripIt provides. This modern version of a more typical guidebook a la Damron, Lonely Planet, or Fodor’s, is also aimed almost exclusively at gay men.

There are accommodation-specific apps that cater to the LGBTQ community, whether you’re looking for a hotel, a B&B, or a homestay. Purple Roofs, “The best place to find small, ‘family owned’ and gay-friendly accommodations” has been around since 1999 as a website, but there is no app. misterb&b is much slicker; it has a website and app that both closely mirror their more famous counterpart, Airbnb. Airbnb does not have any way to search for LGBTQ-friendly accommodations specifically, but it does offer diversity training on its website for new hosts that includes an LGBTQ and gender-bias specific section. This was implemented after a string of racist and homophobic incidents made news in 2016. So, in theory, every booking should be queer-friendly, although that says nothing about the surrounding neighborhood.

It is easy to see how safety ratings from GeoSure could be incorporated into travel apps, city guides like Yelp, transportation apps, publications and more. “It enhances the experience for their end users,” Becker noted. “[The LGBTQ community spends] over $210 billion annually. It’s a massively powerful market.”

The 2018/19 Queer Ski Guide

Early winter storms across North America, Europe, and Asia are setting up a solid base for the 2018/19 ski season. California’s Mammoth Mountain has already received a sickening 103” of snow total this year and is reporting a 40-60” base, while France’s Val D’Isère is reporting up to a 59” base. Needless to say, skiers and snowboarders are optimistic for the season ahead following last year’s worrisomely dry winter.

As gay ski weeks and winter prides gain popularity (there are some 20+ official multi-day events planned for 2019), it’s clear that more and more mountain towns are making efforts to embrace queer visitors and locals — from the legendary events in Europe, to this year’s newest Elevation event in Tremblant, Quebec, all the way to the southern hemisphere’s ski weeks in Australia and New Zealand.

Rainbow Mountain, A Heaps Gay Snow Week

The avid snow sports enthusiast knows the most economical way to get the most days on the slopes is to buy one of the main three collective passes — rhe Epic Pass, this year’s brand new Ikon Pass, or the Mountain Collective. Each provides access to numerous ski resorts around the world. While the passes (specifically the Epic and Ikon) are controversial in the industry for monopolizing skiing — and come with steep price tags, to boot — they are making it easier than ever to see the world by ski and board, as well as to connect with like minded winter sports enthusiasts at a variety of queer ski events.

Below is our list of the top three major ski passes with resorts providing access to the largest number of gay ski weeks.

The Epic Pass (7 Host Gay Ski Week Resorts, 1 Resort Nearby a Gay Ski Event)

The O.G. multi-resort pass, the full Epic Pass ($949) is the giant in the market offering 65 resorts around the world, seven of which have resorts hosting official gay ski events. Having recently acquired Whistler to the pass for the 2018/19 season, the pass now holds access to the  “Winter Event of the Year” voted by the 2017 Gay Travel Awards–Whistler Pride and Gay Ski Week. On top of Whistler, the pass also holds 2 days at Tignes-Val D’Isère and  2 days at Paradiski, hosts to one of two of the biggest gay ski weeks in Europe, European Gay Ski Week and European Snow Pride. The Epic Pass marks itself as this year’s most queer-friendly ski pass.

Events hosted in Epic Pass Resorts:

1. Whistler Pride and Ski Festival, Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, Canada (January 20-27, 2019) — unlimited

2. Winter Rendezvous, Stowe, Vermont, USA (January 23-27, 2019) — unlimited

3. Elevation: Utah, Park City, Utah, USA (February 21-24, 2019)— unlimited

4. Telluride Gay Ski Week, Telluride, Colorado, USA (February 23 – March 2, 2019) — 7 days restricted

5. European Snow Pride, Tignes-Val D’Isère, France (March 16-23, 2019) — 2 days restricted

6. European Gay Ski Week, Paradiski, France (March 23 – 30, 2019) — 2 days restricted

7. Breck Pride Week, Breckenridge, Colorado, USA (Dates TBA) — unlimited

Resorts Nearby Gay Ski Weeks:

Rainbow Mountain, Thredbo, Australia (August 29-September 2, 2019)

While Thredbo isn’t on the Epic Pass, its neighbor Perisher is. With unlimited days and  only an hour drive from Thredbo, skiers could enjoy the Heaps Gay Rainbow Mountain events at Thredbo, while using their Epic Pass to ski Perisher.

Source: Telluride Gay Ski Week

The Ikon Pass (5 Host Gay Event Resorts, 1 Nearby Gay Ski Event)

The brand new Ikon Pass ($1049) enters this year with 38 destinations to lip sync for its life against the Epic Pass. With five host gay ski weeks and one nearby resort to a gay ski week, the Ikon Pass is another incredible option for the queer skier with some of the biggest gay ski weeks like Aspen Gay Ski Week (now in it’s 42nd year) and all three Elevation events, including the brand new Elevation: Tremblant. The pass also extends your ski season to the Southern Hemisphere with events in New Zealand and Australia.

Events hosted by Ikon Pass Resorts:

1. Aspen Gay Ski Week, Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado, USA (January 13-20, 2019) — 7 days restricted

2. Elevation: Tremblant, Mont-Tremblant, Québec, Canada (January 31-February 3, 2019) — unlimited

3. Elevation: Mammoth, Mammoth Mountain, California, USA (March 13-17, 2019) — unlimited

4. Rainbow Mountain, Thredbo, New South Wales, Australia (August 29-September 2, 2019) —7 days restricted

5. Winter Pride Queenstown, The Remarkables, Queenstown, New Zealand (August 30-September 8, 2019) — 7 days restricted

Ikon Pass Resorts less than an hour from gay ski events:

Elevation: Utah, Park City, Utah, USA (February 21-24, 2019)

While Deer Valley Resort is the closest to Park City, Alta & Snowbird, Solitude, and Brighton Resorts, all on the pass, provide a great sampling of terrain for the avid skier attending Elevation: Utah looking to explore the greater Wasatch Range while getting the most out of the Ikon Pass. All have 7 day restrictions, except for Solitude which is unlimited.

Winter Rendezvous, Stowe, Vermont, USA (January 23-27, 2019)

Stowe is not on the Ikon Pass, but Sugarbush is. Only 45 minutes from Stowe, the resort is great option for 7 days of skiing while attending Winter Rendezvous.

Elevation: Mammoth

The Mountain Collective (4  Host Gay Event Resorts, 2 Nearby Gay Ski Weeks)

The Mountain Collective is the cheapest of the three passes at $489. It provides the least amount of resorts at 17 and restricts skiing at only two days per resort. However, it still contains a total of four host gay ski week options. Best of all, the ski weeks it does allow access to are some of the most well known, including Aspen Gay Ski Week and two of the revelrous Elevations, making the pass perfect for the weekend warrior looking to get in a couple days at a resort during their most queer-friendly weekends.

Events Hosted by Mountain Collective Resorts:

1. Aspen Gay Ski Week, Aspen, Colorado, USA (January 13-20, 2019) — 2 days restricted

2. Elevation: Mammoth, Mammoth Lakes, California, USA (March 13-17, 2019) — 2 days restricted

3. Winter Pride Queenstown, The Remarkables, Queenstown, New Zealand (August 30-September 8, 2019) — 2 days restricted

4. Rainbow Mountain, Thredbo, New South Wales, Australia (August 29-September 2, 2019)

Mountain Collective Resorts less than an hour from gay ski events:

1. Elevation: Utah, Park City, Utah, USA (February 21-24, 2019)

Park City is not on the Mountain Collective, but resorts Alta, Snowbird, and Snow Basin are and are less than an hour from Park City, meaning skiers could get 6 days of skiing during the event.

2. Winter Rendezvous, Stowe, Vermont, USA (January 22-27, 2019)

Stowe is not on the Mountain Collective, but Sugarbush is.  Only 45 minutes from Stowe, the resort is great option for 2 restricted days of skiing while attending Winter Rendezvous.

Alternative Tips to Gay Ski Weeks

Source: Ski-Bums.org

While the above passes present some of the most economical ways to experience multiple gay ski events, beginners and less avid skiers may want to look into individual gay ski weeks closest to them to save if only skiing for a day or two as many of the events have great deals. Looking for a less rowdy ski trip? Check out Ski Bums, ‘the world’s largest club of LGBTQ skiers and snowboarders’ or the Pacific Northwest’s Ski Buddies. Both clubs, and there are many others like them, organize all-inclusive group trips around the world.

Images via Getty

The Weekender: Brooklyn

No guide can withstand the quick turnover and ever evolving swing that takes place in New York’s second largest borough. Designed for the first time visitor, this guide is Northwest-centric—grounding visitors in Williamsburg with excursions to Bushwick, Greenpoint, and DUMBO, but also an unexpected whisk to King County’s southern edge, Coney Island. Besides its many restaurants, cafes, and trend-setting storefronts, Brooklyn is a queer culture paradise, with a host of parties, readings, art galleries, and intellectual entertainment; it is, after all, the original home of Sasha Velour’s now international drag show, Nightgowns. And so, if Nightgowns is the ‘drag artist’s drag show’ then Brooklyn is the American queer culture aficionado’s home base.

Friday

5pm-Riverside Walks

Begin your weekend with a walk on the waterfront in one of Brooklyn’s newest (and cutest) parks, Domino Park. Located in Williamsburg on the banks of the East River, at the site of the historic Domino Sugar refinery, the park is now a long narrow ¼ mile strip with lounge chairs, a playground, a bocce ball court, a volleyball court, and a dog park. Designed in partnership with the same landscape company behind Manhattan’s esteemed High Line, the park also features a lovely suspended catwalk that stretches the length of the park from the gantry cranes to the tasty Tacocina restaurant. Watch the ferries zoom in and out of harbors, cars zip over the Williamsburg Bridge, and get five star iconic views of Manhattan.

7pm-Vietnamese-American

Di An Di is one of Greenpoint’s newest Vietnamese restaurants and serves one of the meanest bowls of soup in the borough. When I visited, most patrons around me slurped up the #2 — the Beef Deluxe Noodle Soup, but it was the Pho Thin Ha Noi that stole the show for me. Owners Kim Hoang, Tuan Bui, and chef Dennis Ngo define the restaurant as “Vietnamese-American,” drawing from the Vietnamese food scenes of their native Houston and Northern Virginia. The space is bright, full of plants, and is the warmest welcoming meal to the borough.

9pm—Catch a Show at the Sawdust

(Nightgowns, sashavelour.com)

The home of Sasha Velour’s Nightgowns when the iconic drag show isn’t gallivanting itself around the world, National Sawdust always has an incredible line up of talent, from musicians to performance artists. Coming up in the next month are shows like Neneh Cherry, Baby Dee’s Big Swan Song, and V Town, “the last bastion of resistance in an imagined dystopian near-future…a dramatic set of character studies in song.”

Saturday

10am-Queer Diners

Steve Viksjo for Jarry

It’s worth getting up a bit early for a stroll through the 525-acre Prospect Park before grabbing a bite to eat at Meme’s Diner. Queer-owned and (mostly) queer-operated, the restaurant combines sinful comfort food and elegant drinks—think fluffernutter and stovetop mac and cheese alongside a mezcal martini. Its owners, Libby Willis and Bill Clark, described the restaurant as “very, very gay” to Jarry Mag, saying: “We really hope to make everyone feel comfortable.” They’ve trained their staff to use gender-neutral language as well as preferred pronouns. Best of all, every brunch starts with a free bowl of sugary cereal—I was a sucker for the marshmallows of the Lucky Charms.

11am-Historical Scavenger Hunt

Begin this scavenger hunt of a small part of Brooklyn’s queer history by seeing Green Pastures: Walls of Jericho (1938), by gay Harlem Renaissance sculptor Richmond Barthé, at the Kingsborough Houses. Continue to The Walt Whitman Residence on 99 Ryder Street, the only site in New York City associated with the poet, where it is said he lived while finishing the first edition of Leaves of Grass.

Continue to the Transy House in Park Slope, “a transgender collective operated by Rusty Mae Moore and Chelsea Goodwin from 1995 to 2008” that acted as a safe house for trans and gender non-conforming people. Finish with a trip to Brooklyn Heights and the Oliver Smith/Truman Capote Residence, where Capote lived while penning some of his most famous works, including Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1958).

1pm-Coney Island

No matter the time of year, Coney Island always provides kitschy, campy entertainment. Summer offers the carnival enthusiast with thrills and funnel cake at Luna Park while winter presents a more austere landscape of bizarre contrasts, perfect for the experimental travel photographer. In any season, a walk along the Atlantic Ocean Boardwalk is a refreshing escape from the city and a visit to the Coney Island Museum or the New York Aquarium is an easy way to lose an afternoon.

4pm-Shopping in Williamsburg

https://www.instagram.com/aland_usa

Be ready to bring out the big bucks in Williamsburg—but even if you aren’t looking to spend, taking a stroll around the neighborhood and checking out the luxury clothing and design stores is always a hoot. Look for Pilgrim Surf + Supply for big-ticket surfwear, The Hill Side for more masculine styles, Concrete + Water for more feminine styles, and the brand new ALAND, the U.S. flagship store of the popular South Korean retailer that specializes in high fashion streetwear, to help give your closet a little bit more Seoul 😉

6pm-Zaaaa

I mean, you’re not going to not have pizza while you’re in New York. For the classic pizza parlor experience, head to Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop in Greenpoint and make sure you bring a coat because there can sometimes be a line snaking out the door. From my informal questionnaire in line, the most popular pie seemed to be the Grandma’s. Looking for more pizza on your trip? Try the nationally famous Roberta’s near Bushwick on 261 Moore Street.

7pm-Starr Bar

Rex for New Visual Collective, www.starrbar.com

Some of the best performances, comedy, and poetry readings (as well as some great late night revelry) can be found at Bushwick’s Starr Bar, a Brooklyn staple for the performing and literary arts “that celebrates and supports movements for social justice.” Check their calendar for an up to date list of events ranging from the “Queer Abstract” variety show, to readings from issue launches of Femmescapes magazine, and even monthly swing dancing lessons on their lively Swing Night.

Late-Queer Parties

Writing a brief general guide to nightlife in Brooklyn is damn near impossible. With so many queer parties popping up left and right on different nights and first to fifth Fridays, it’s not easy keeping track. Check out our friends at Gayletter’s excellent weekend event round-ups (many of which take place in Brooklyn) as well as their informative party section. Here’s a list of a few favorites, catch them if you can!

Rotating parties like Papi Juice, Bubble_T, Hot Rabbit, and Onegaishimasu typically take place in Brooklyn but hop around from time to time.

Can’t find any pop-up parties while you’re in town? You can always rely on one of Brooklyn’s most popular queer bars, Metropolitanfor a Thorgy-Thorgeous time, or for a clubbier scene, check out Outputwhich hosts a variety of electronic acts and occasional queer parties like Horse Meat Disco.

Sunday

10:30am-Vinegar Hill House

Vinegar Hill House is one of the coziest brunch spots in all of Brooklyn, and it’s v. v. v. Brooklyn. Set beside the lovely cobblestone street at 72 Hudson Avenue, the restaurant serves incredible comfort food, but always with a twist. It’s hard not to fall for the apple sourdough pancake with Normandy butter or the cheddar jalapeno grits. Reservations, as with most joints in New York, are highly recommended.

12pm-DUMBO

John Von Pamer for Brooklyn Flea

After grabbing the noms, head over to DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) to the well-known (but always fun) Brooklyn Flea that’s been popping up below the Bridge on weekends since 2008. Open from April through October, the outdoor market is the biggest in Brooklyn—you can buy vintage clothes, antiques, art, handmade goods, smoothies, food, and coffee from wonderful, creative, and innovative independent vendors. Not only is it one of the most adored flea markets in the world, but as the Flea’s site claims, “Time Out NY named the Flea one of New York’s Essential Pick-Up Spots.” Visiting in winter? No worries, while not *technically* in Brooklyn, just across the river the indoor Smorgasburg + Brooklyn Flea Winter Market takes place on weekends at the Atlantic Center (625 Atlantic Ave. )

The Snugs

Fancy Pants—The Williamsburg Hotel

The Williamsburg Hotel

Located on “the right side of the river,” the Williamsburg Hotel is one of the many Brooklyn-chic hotels rising high above the East River. The Williamsburg stands out for its upbeat atmosphere, double-height ceilings, outdoor terraces, Manhattan views, and colorful rooms. Enjoy the hotel’s rooftop pool in warmer months, weekend parties, and the popular Sunday Jazz Brunch. The hotel has yoga classes onsite as well has free passes to the local Brooklyn Athletic Club. Be sure to zip around the neighborhood on the hotel’s complimentary bikes by day and the speedy chauffeured tuk-tuk by night. Rooms from $295.

Just Right—Pod Brooklyn

Pod Brooklyn

Pod Brooklyn, Brooklyn’s first micro-hotel, offers cozy, clean rooms for the savvy traveler looking for wallet-friendly accommodations. The hotel blends their modular rooms with large, welcoming communal spaces like its rooftop bar ‘RFTP,’ a work/play lobby, four terraces, a fitness deck with seasonal classes, and beer garden. Best of all, the well designed layout makes it easy for the solo traveler to make new friends. Its prime location four blocks from the Bedford Avenue L train station and near the East River Ferry make it a great location to explore not only Brooklyn, but all of Manhattan as well. Rooms from $125.

Backpackers-Airbnb Rooms

If you don’t mind renting a room in Brooklyn with a host, there are rooms as low as $45 per night (plus booking and cleaning fees) that will allow you to pick a room for your stay exactly where you want to be in the borough. Rooms from $45 and up.