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.

Catching the Earth Nude in Newfoundland

Here among black spruce on the rugged western edge of Newfoundland in Gros Morne National Park, we are battling a brisk wind that has rammed itself across the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Along with soaring shorebirds and spits of rain, it brings us diction.

Words like tuckamore.

Tuckamore (plural tuckamores)—noun—A spruce tree bent and entangled by winds on the coastal shores of Newfoundland.

Some Newfoundlanders I meet simply just call it tuck.

These tucks are tight as Trinity’s, not so much meaty but very, very evergreen. These tuckamores are the result of relentless calamity, of gales and spindrift, another word the wind delivers. A phenomenon that has salted the coniferous cleanliness of these hardy spruce needles.

Spindrift—noun—Sea spray, especially spray blown from waves during a gale.

These dwarfed trees crouch on the high cliffs.

They look like green clouds stretched by a high wind,  like cotton candy pulled from the paper stem, like the well-groomed but irregularly-shaped beard of an old, wizened man—like shapes I know I’ll have a hard time reimagining when I try to configure them in prose.

These trees are little heroes, I surmise. Brave little queeros.

Mascots in self-worth and survival.

They have been bruised and battered by the insults and harassment of northern Atlantic winds; tortured by snows, ice, sleet, and bone-chilling rain.

Yet still, they retain their place on the unforgiving terrain.

Their resistance is persistence.

They survive by shaping themselves, by streamlining themselves so that the wind glides over them.

They are immune to torment; made themselves invincible to wretchedness by banding together to form an impenetrable fortress.

 

Like the trees, I cower high above the sea for relief from the wind. My rain jacket is spruce green and I duck beside the tuckamore and I wonder how long it takes one to be bent out of shape, into invincibility.

I look out over the sea through my binoculars hoping for puffins and albatross, but I zoom in as far as I can and seek the North American mainland on the horizon.

It is too far.

I can only imagine the mainland of Canada—of maritime Québec and the mystery of Labrador to the far, far North.

I imagine all of us as little spruce trees sculpted by our own tribulations into our own individual shapes.

Gros Morne—from the French, meaning “great sombre” or “large mountain standing alone”—the namesake of the 697 mi² park’s highest peak.

We climb this peak on our second day in Newfoundland.

Its scalp is an arctic-alpine of an ‘island’ left over from earlier times where white, arctic foxes still pounce.

It takes nearly a half day but we arrive on the summit.

We see grouse bleaching their feathery coats for winter, luminescent lichen on rocks, a lone caribou, fossilized trilobites imprinted in rocks, and hawk eye views of freshwater lakes with 2,000-foot cliffs that were once fjords until the land rebounded and they were ostracized from the sea.

On our last day in the park we take a boat up one of these fjords, Western Brook Pond, where we see falls like Mare Piss and walls you’ve been tricked into thinking exist only in Norway or New Zealand.

Pond—noun—Typically, a small body of still water formed naturally or by hollowing or embanking. But here, in Newfoundland, ponds are massive lakes, which I admire. It shows the Newfoundlander’s charisma and hardiness—to make the vast and foreboding bite sized.

There are two common ways to arrive at Gros Morne.

The first is a six-hour ferry from mainland Nova Scotia to Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, followed by a three and a half hour drive.

The second is a direct flight from Toronto to Deer Lake, with an hour and a half drive to the park via the Viking Trail, highway 430.

We take a segment of the Viking Trail which eventually winds itself all the way to the northern peninsula to L’Anse aux Meadows where the only proven Viking settlement in Canada rests.

It is an overcast autumn morning and the rolling road is slick with last night’s rain.

Lining the highway are birch trees popping their bright fall reds like lovesick confetti and every so often, yellow caution signs depicting wrecked cars and giant bull moose with racks the size of bumpers.

As fellow INTO travel writer David Duran drives, I am on moose watch looking vigilantly for unexpected Alces alces.

It is estimated the park is home to the largest density of moose in the world, and our guide, Neil from Gros Morne Adventures, whom we meet at the park’s visitors center, later tells us of the region’s specialty moose-burgers—and that many locals have freezers full of moose meat stored for the winter.

While some tourists come to hunt moose in the surrounding region, most come to the park for rocks.

Neil walks us through the center’s extensive geology exhibition—we take note of the peridotite—which Neil uses to explain in the park’s founding as not only a national park, but as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In layman’s terms, the park is the geological field lab equivalent of Einstein’s laboratory.

Peridotite—noun—a dense, coarse-grained ultramafic igneous rock consisting mostly of the minerals olivine and pyroxene.

It is where the theory of plate tectonics was provided by geologists Robert Stevens and Harold Williams. It is also one of the few locations in the world where a segment of the Earth’s mantle lies exposed, for all to see.

Mantle—noun—a silicate layer of rock inside a planetary body bounded below by a core and above by a crust.

As David, Neil, and I drive to the exposed mantle, a mountain called the Tablelands, I muse on other silicate rock layers in our solar system like Mars, the moons of Jupiter like Europa, Io, and Ganymede—named for Zeus’ most handsome boy.

Tablelands—noun—(as defined by Across the Blue Planet) a barren reddish brown plateau that towers seven hundred meters above the Atlantic Ocean, stands alone as an alien landscape amongst the lush and hilly forests that encompass it.

We thread a rolling pass and descend into a valley so vast the road through it gambols like a wet tar ribbon.

We spot three caribous in the valley by a creek.

We are sure they are fattening themselves for winter.

When we step out of the car onto the trailhead, the peridotite rocks carpet the ground and stack themselves up the side of the Tablelands to 2,356ft—a landscape as bare as smooth buttocks—with tufts of vegetation in the gulches.

As we begin our rainy hike onto the weathered rockscape, I am overtaken by exposure. Today, we are stepping on rocks half a billion years in the making.

We stand on a segment of the earth’s mantle, described in the visitors center poetically as the Earth’s soul, that that has chosen to expose itself unabashedly for all to see.

This is the earth undressing itself.

The earth, naked.

This is the earth leaking its own nudes every day for the past 500 million years before nudity and nude leaks were a thing.

This is earth as an exhibitionist flaunting not only its curves but its vulnerable soul.

This is the earth in centerfold.

It is also a rust rocked landscape that I imagine Martian expats might migrate to. And like Mars, it is barren. Few plants poke up from the land because the minerals of the rocks are toxic to most flora.

Except of course, for the carnivorous purple pitcher plant, which Neil points out to us on the side of the trail.  

Thin stems with downward pointing flowers erupt from jugular leaf basins filled with water and ooey-gooey-bug goop as the plant slowly digests the drowned insect soup.

This is a plant the people of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador are particularly proud of—it is not only their provincial flower, but also their mascot which decorates their license plates, road signs, ferries, and official documents.

It is their logo.

Like them, and like the tuckamores of the black spruces, the flower is another being of resilience and gorgeousness on the Newfoundland landscape the parachuter traveler sees as seeming inhospitableness.

These pitcher plants among the rocks the hue of a lion’s mane are as colorful as the laundry lines we see in communities surrounding the park.

The ones with freshly knitted wool neon socks on sale. Sold literally on the line. Or like the wonderfully polychromatic quilts the island is famous for, the ones ruffling in the sea breeze by the towns of park like Woody Point, Cowhead, and Norris Point.

Quilts, as described in the thesis of Lisa Ann Wilson as “emblematic of the ways in which individuals use creativity to help generate and affirm of both individual and shared senses of identity, meanwhile helping them (older generations) to confront the changes to the culture around them.”

Quilts so colorful and flamboyant and wonderful that it is hard to see them as anything but prideful.

We leave the bright plants to their neverending meal.

We walk through the intense rain until we come to a surging waterfall in the middle of one of the basins of the Tablelands, which, after such a deluge of rain has changed the rock’s color like a chameleon. No longer does the massive mountain emit a Martian orange—now the rocks are maroon, like the Bells in Colorado.

Otherworldly—adjective—Of, relating to, or being part of a reality beyond the observable physical universe.

As we return to the car, I imagine a bluebird summer day on the Tablelands. I imagine the contrast of the robin-egged sky against the soft orange of the dry rocks. The little hush of the stream and the buzz of a fly on its way into the belly of a pitcher plant.

But Neil is on to other seasons, telling us stories of winter when he skins to the top of the bowl of the Tablelands and skis down in wonderful, swishy turns.

This lovely man is telling me he has skied on the mantle of our earth. He is only adding more proof to my argument that our lives are fantasy novels if we let them be.   

Preternatural—adjective—Beyond what is normal or natural.

Photos by Miles W. Griffis

Greetings from Funner, California

It’s true, there is a city located in California that is called “Funner.” It’s a new-ish city in north San Diego County that was officially renamed by the Rincon Band of Luiseno Mission Indians. Back in 2012, the now-named Harrah’s Resort Southern California (the only hotel located with Funner city limits) was looking to stand out from the more than two dozen Indian casinos in Southern California, so the Rincon Band of Luiseno Mission Indians Tribal Council Leaders embraced the idea and voted unanimously to adopt the new name of the city. An official proclamation was adopted on August 1st, 2016 and Funner, California has been explaining itself to curious minds ever since.

The Mayor of Funner

With the renaming of a city came the inauguration of a mayor, and in order to keep it quirky, Funner named Baywatch and Knight Rider star and living legend David Hasselhoff as its first mayor. It all sounds a bit surreal, but this elaborate marketing scheme has proven to be successful and Mayor Hasselhoff doesn’t take his job duties lightly.

Quick Q&A with The Mayor

What was it about Funner that made you get up in the morning and realize that the role of mayor was for you?

Funner, California and I are all about the same thing — good times and enjoying life. When I was tapped to run for mayor and share this message with guests, I was immediately interested and was lucky enough to win the vote!

Funner is legit, and you are truly the mayor. Even the US Post Office confirmed that mail could be sent to Funner, California. Can you give the Cliff’s Notes-style explanation of how that’s possible?

It’s possible because Funner, California is just that – legit and here to stay. Not even the US Post Office can argue with that! But technically, the Rincon Band of Luiseno Mission Indians legally changed the name to Funner when I was inaugurated back in May 2017. If guests ship a package to Funner, CA, it’ll come straight to Harrah’s Resort SoCal.  Plus, the city has signs throughout the area to guide visitors to the destination – you can’t miss it.”

As mayor of Funner, we can only imagine that your job comes with a lot of really fun roles. What are some of your most fun duties at mayor of Funner?

When I’m on property, I like to visit all different areas of the resort to make sure people are living their best lives at all times. I have helped implement things like hidden golden tickets to surprise guests and I helped introduce the Fun Police that give citations (that are really prizes) to guests that are spotted having a good time and so much more.

I assume the mayor of Funner’s office must be a poolside cabana or something. Where does the mayor spend most of their time while on property at the Harrah’s?

I always stay in the incredible Mayoral Suite, which was actually renamed when I took office as the first official mayor of Funner. I also love visiting The Spa at Harrah’s for my favorite oxygen facial and enjoy dining at Fiore Steakhouse.

About The Resort Itself

With over a thousand hotel rooms, including 22 Wellness Rooms and Suites, the Harrah’s Resort SoCal has space for everyone. The resort boasts eight restaurants (with upcoming announcements of new additions) including Fiore, a steak and seafood fine dining experience, and ‘Ritas Cantina which offers to-die-for margaritas and a Baja Mexico menu, three pools, eight hot tubs, 23 poolside cabanas and a 400 ft lazy river. Plus, the first tribal owned brewery is located on the property, in addition to the existing bars that include Spiked, where you can sip on craft cocktails (ask about the secret menu). Gamblers can enjoy the 1,700 slot machines and 60 gaming tables. The resort also has a massive state-of-the-art events center that hosts all kinds of events, including concerts and comedy acts. 

Is It Really Funner in Funner?

The answer is simple: yes it is. The resort itself is just a short drive north of San Diego city limits, and as long you’re there to have fun, you’re very much welcome. The pool scene and cabanas are where you will want to spend most of your time when not indulging in the many, many food outlets or bars. The rooms are fresh, modern and spacious and the spa is intoxicating. Pro-Tip: Go for a concert/event and stay the weekend.

Standing at One of the Nine Corners of the World

I first learned about Fogo Island while watching a Netflix documentary series that highlighted an incredible hotel (which I’ll get to later). I was immediately drawn to this tiny island off the coast of Newfoundland. There was something about its remoteness paired with this architectural masterpiece that just called to me. I began researching more about Fogo Island, and once I discovered that some believed it to be one of the corners of a flat earth, I knew I had to make my way there. I’m not a flat earther by any means, and later I learned that there are actually 9 corners of flat earth, rather than four, but nonetheless, the island fascinated me.

Fogo Island is part of Newfoundland, Canada and getting there isn’t particularly hard, but it does require time and patience. Once you make your way to Gander, Newfoundland, the ferry terminal is just about an hour away. The Fogo Island Community is small yet welcoming and it’s apparent they are still adjusting to the influx of new visitors they are receiving due to the Fogo Island Inn (again, I’ll get to this place later).

Hiking to One of The Corners

Once arrived, I was determined to hike to the top of Brimstone Head, believed to be one of the corners of the flat earth. The hike itself wasn’t strenuous, and mostly consisted of walking up a very long makeshift staircase. At the top, the wind was powerful and the views were breathtaking. With the community behind me, all that was visible in front of me was blue ocean, a major disappointment in my quest to see the edge of the earth. Maybe the drop point was just beyond the horizon? I wasn’t there to question anyone’s beliefs, although most of the locals I spoke to mainly laughed off the flat earth theories.

Museum of the Flat Earth

My next stop in my quest to learn more about the flat earth theory took me to the most logical place; the Museum of the Flat Earth, a museum with a mission to preserve, investigate, archive and present artifacts relating to the flat earth. Although small in size, inside it was packed full of artifacts and documents. After reading through some of the basic material and having a look around, I was more confused than ever. I wasn’t fully grasping the flat earth conspiracy so I bought a mug and ended my investigation, vowing to make peace with the fact that there were people out there who truly believed the earth was flat. It was now time to move past my initial interest in the island and go learn about what truly makes Fogo Island so special.

Time with Al

Fogo Island is made up for eleven communities, all with small populations of folks who have mostly been living there with their families for generations. I had the pleasure of spending a morning with a local named Al, a true storyteller who was born and raised on the island. His community of Tilting is a traditional fishing stage and heritage site. During the two-hour walking tour along Oliver’s Cove Trail, next to the ocean, we visited notable landmarks such as the Devil’s Rocking Chair, an ancient graveyard shrouded in mystery and rich folklore. As Al pointed out each site he told a story, sometimes of general history and other times, more personal. The tour ended in his shed, where he handed me a beer and then picked up his guitar and began singing, something he truly enjoyed doing with guests as evident by the smile on his face. It was all like a scene out of a movie, so unique and different, leaving me filled with knowledge about what life was like and how life is now living on Fogo Island.

Come From Away

Another amazing character I had the pleasure of spending time with on Fogo Island was Diane Davis. If you haven’t heard about Gander, Newfoundland, you most likely have heard of the hit Broadway musical, Come From Away, the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them. On September 11th, 2001, when all air traffic coming to and from the United States was grounded, the town of Gander ended up playing host to many, many transcontinental jumbo jets, leaving thousands of people stranded in this small town without access to their luggage. The folks of Gander opened their hearts and their homes and showed true hospitality to thousands of people from all walks of life. The musical tells the story of what happened that day and the events that followed. Diane Davis was living in Gander at the time and is a real-life character from the show, as a character was adapted from parts of her life and experience. Hearing her tell the story of that day was mentally consuming as she recalled every vivid detail of what occurred. She was truly fascinating as well as outspoken and hilarious. Now, living on Fogo Island, she’s like a mini-celebrity, willing to talk to anyone who has questions or just wants to hear her story.

Fogo Island Inn

The real reason people are flocking to Fogo Island is because of the Fogo Island Inn. Designed by Newfoundland-born, Norway-based architect Todd Saunders, the 43,000 square-foot Inn is perched on stilts and sits on the North Atlantic coastline, affording 29 suites with floor-to-ceiling views of the sea and sky. The X-shaped structure features a two-story west-to-east wing containing gathering spaces and a four-story Southwest and Northeast wing, parallel to the coast, containing all the guest suites.

One of the Inn’s most iconic spaces is the dining room, which features a dramatic vaulted ceiling that looks out over the ocean with views of the community of Barr’d Islands in the distance. Everything found inside the Inn was handcrafted or sourced locally, and the attention to detail leaves you breathless, as does the price point. That being said, the Inn is the brainchild of high-tech entrepreneur and native Newfoundlander Zita Cobb, and was conceived as a way to save one of Canada’s oldest rural cultures. With available jobs on the island basically non-existent, the island decided to build a lodge that belonged to the local people – a social business that funnels all surplus profits back into Fogo Island. The Inn has transformed the island, bringing jobs and sustainability, all while preserving the culture and encouraging locals to stay put on the island. The Inn has also already sprung new businesses on Fogo from past employees who were encouraged and helped by the Inn along the way. Bang Belly Café as well as Scoff Restaurant are two delicious businesses that initially started at the Inn.

Architectural Masterpieces

Todd Saunders, the architect responsible for the Fogo Island Inn, was also tasked with creating four incredibly unique artist studios that are part of a heavily sought after residency program. Each studio is located a short walk away from society to give the artist a remote feeling while working during their residency. Spending a day driving to and then walking to each of the studios is highly advised and very much worth it because they are just breathtaking to look at, and are beautifully photographed from every angle.

6 Last Minute Ideas for An Alternative Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, corduroy pants, and potentially contentious dinner table discussions are rounding the bend.

Maybe you can’t handle a family gathering after this divisive election cycle, maybe you’re just now realizing that your off days for Thanksgiving could be used for a little globe-trotting, or maybe you don’t care much for the actual turkey-slaughtering holiday and are hungry for a different kind of gathering. We’ve put together a list of six ideas to celebrate (or ignore) the holiday for a variety of budgets.

Book a One-of-a-Kind Cabin with Hipcamp

If you haven’t yet heard about Hipcamp, Thanksgiving is the perfect week to book your first trip. Known as the “Airbnb of camping,” Hipcamp offers thousands of unique properties and campsites around the country. Ever wanted to sleep in a bubble tent, tiny home, Airstream trailer, or treehouse like the one pictured above? Hipcamp is a great way to explore stunning privately owned lands, ranches, camps, and farms for a fraction of the Airbnb price. The site offers many retreats a short drive away from major cities as well as remote properties far away from it all. Grab your squad for a little road trip, strike up a campfire, and be thankful for a sky of stars.

Explore Eastern Europe with Contiki

No one to travel with? Group travel is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and make a handful of new friends. Contiki is the social travel expert for 18-35-year-olds and is currently offering a Berlin to Budapest adventure through Eastern Europe’s liveliest fall destinations. Starting on November 20 from the queer nightlife mecca that is Berlin, this 13-day trip winds down through the Gothic streets of Prague (with many Pilsner Urquells to be had), over to Krakow for three days of Polish immersion before finishing in the ruin bars of Budapest.

Contiki makes traveling hassle-free with a knowledgeable on-the-ground Trip Manager and perfectly strikes the balance between structured activities and personal time to experience the destinations on your own.

Queer Arts Festivals

Rather than consuming/buying over Thanksgiving and Black Friday, visit one of these international queer arts festivals and experience the joy of creation. Taking place this year over American Thanksgiving in London, U.K. from November 12-24th is the Gaywise Festival (GFEST), which presents “LGBTQI+ films, music, performances, art exhibitions, interdisciplinary art, poetry, book readings, workshops, participatory events, debates” and more.

Taking place from November 10th-25th in Adelaide, Australia is Feast Festival, a queer arts and cultural festival (and Australia’s third-largest queer event). The warm and sunny event draws a crowd of around 48,000 over the two week festival from Australia and the world over. There is endless entertainment at Feast, whether you’ve come to dance, attend queer cabaret workshops, laugh out loud at hilarious stand-up shows, visit innovative queer art exhibits, or just revel in the South Australia sun.  

Why Not Waikiki?

Still haven’t made it to Honolulu? Now’s your chance to check out Hawaii’s breathtaking capital and be one of the first to stay in the recently renovated rooms of the Queen Kapi’olani. After a 35 million dollar reimagining, the hotel now mixes the classic retro Hawaii spirit it’s been known for since the mid-60s with a breezy “modern aloha.” The state of the art hotel is only steps away from the cloud white sands of Waikiki Beach and looks gallantly at the stately Diamond Head. The best part? The 4-star property is offering rooms starting at $150 until December 20th, making it a perfect last minute trip for Thanksgiving.

Champagne at the Spa

“Follow the road of golden bubbles” this Thanksgiving holiday to the Champagne vineyards and world UNESCO World Heritage site surrounding Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa. The newly renovated resort brings the first-ever luxury wellness destination to the famous French region. You may want to relax and enjoy resplendent days of Biologique Reserche spa treatments while sipping on crisp champagne as you overlook the gorgeous rolling hills. Or, you may want to take a cruise on the Marne River, float to heavenly heights in your first hot air balloon ride, or canter through the vineyard on horseback. Quiet and nestled among the vine-striped hills in the quaint town of Epernay, the hotel’s Michelin-starred chef creates innovative gastronomy using locally derived ingredients for the best non-Thanksgiving meal you’ve ever had.

Stay Local with a Twist on Friendsgiving

Don’t have the means or desire to get away from home? No worries. Instead of a traditional Thanksgiving feast, get together with your friends and do an apartment dinner party crawl. Here’s how it works: Each friend organizes or makes something. Start with cocktails at one friend’s before ride-sharing (no drinking and driving!)  to hors-d’oeuvres at the next, dinner at the third, dessert at the next, followed by nightcaps at the last (with plenty of room to alter your plan and be as creative as you wish.) Pick a theme for the event, dress up, and have fun. The idea is to keep you in motion and give everyone the opportunity to host and travel, proving you don’t have to globetrot to get around.

In Tofino, Bears and Otters

During our last roadside stop on a six-hour drive from Victoria, British Columbia to the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, my Dad and I watched a tall and lanky German tourist with a tuft of hair on his chest climb a twenty-foot rock in the hot August sun.

He stood on the edge of the smooth grey cliff, turned his back to the cold mountain water and faced the stands of giant cedars on the glacially-carved hillside. He paused, put his arms straight by his side and shouted, Eins, Zwei, Drei! before backflipping beautifully into a little cerulean pool of the Kennedy River.

He splashed and slid about playfully in the water as his friend, a much hairier and bear-ier man, recorded him on a GoPro from the side and boomed exclamations after capturing his friend’s daredevil stunt.

Welcome to Tofino, I thought.

Before my trip, I had gawked at photos of the gorgeous district of nearly 2,000 that sits on the Esowista Peninsula in the Clayoquot Sound and read about the region’s first people, the coastal Nuu-chah-nulth.

Tofino, British Columbia rests among a land of towering mountains, massive freshwater lakes, temperate coastal rainforests, seasonally snow-covered beaches, wolves, bears, sea otters, river otters, werewolves (seriously, Twilight: New Moon was filmed in the area) and epic Pacific swells that have made it an internationally known surf town. It is, in essence, a land lover’s paradise, a wildlife enthusiast’s dream, and an outdoors person’s playground, but the town welcomes all with a crafty food and arts scene.

After we got back into our car rental, we drove the remaining forty minutes on the Pacific Rim Highway that swerved us through the coastal marine layer and by wide black sand beaches freckled with white sand dollars before we arrived in town.

As my Dad and I settled into our little Airbnb on the waterfront, we watched bald eagles flap by as the sun set starfish pink over the Pacific. We watched seaplanes coming and going from Vancouver, struggling for liftoff from the water like flapping loons.

The following morning was overcast, with sprinkles of rain. Tofino, after all, receives about 200 days of rain and 7 days of snow a year. After grabbing coffee at Rhino, one of Tofino’s many little coffee shops, we strolled through town towards The Whale Center so we could get out on the water, take in the region by boat, and hopefully see whales. But I was especially hoping to see an entirely different sea mammal, perhaps my favorite animal, Enhydra lutris, the sea otter.

We checked in at the center for our tour before stepping into our mandatory firetruck red anti-exposure coverall flotation suits. As we waited for the other tour guests, I read about the company’s other experiences. They offered full-day tours to remote hot springs (perfect for the region’s moody, cold days) as well as “bear-watching” tours that took visitors to remote shores were black bears scavenged for food.

I’ve had the lucky opportunity of countless sightings on trails and at campsites from California to Canada with the beloved Ursus americanus, so I was happy we picked the whale tour, to see animals I rarely came across. That said, the thought of bears on the rocky shores beside the sea seemed truly exotic—I’ll have to come back, I thought.

After my Dad and I and six others boarded the small tour boat, we got a safety debriefing from our guide and captain, Howie, who told us of his love for his job. The man doesn’t take a day off during the high tourist season and also told us that he loves Tofino so much, he hasn’t left the area for over a decade. His Instagram is a love note to the region’s wildlife—he’s captured swimming wolves, breaching orcas, and rafts of otters.

Photo: Jeremy Koreski

Once on board, we threaded through the inlet slowly, curved around the peninsula, then rocketed out of the no-wake zone into the open waters of the Pacific. For a few minutes, we blasted across the sea as the boat smacked against the waves before coming to a complete stop.

Bobbing beside us was a large forest of bull kelp. It was slimy, brownish red, partially puke green, and wiggled with each oncoming wave. Also known as Nereocystis (which is Greek for mermaid’s bladder) the brown alga is an amazing specimen that dominates the waters of the Pacific Northwest. But we didn’t stop to inspect the kelp.

“Well, would you look at that!” Howie said over the boat’s intercom, “We’ve got an otter, here!”

Anchored and tied securely in the kelp was a large, mature sea otter lounging on its back.  It massaged its head with its furry little paws as if it were shampooing itself. Its face was lighter than its dark brown body and it began scratching the coarse fur on its tummy as its feet sculled about.

Its whiskers erupted from its wet nose that sniffed the smell of salt and kelp and exhaust from our boat’s motor. After another minute lounging, the otter flipped over and swam around the kelp, moving its long body like a slinky through the water in perfect grace.

My words can’t describe the wonder and I couldn’t capture the scene with my camera in the lighting, so check out these gifs of other sea otters to understand the show this otter was performing:

After years of otter obsession—sending gifs like these, postcards, and memes of the giant marine weasels playing, holding hands in large single-sex rafts, and smacking sea urchins with rocks—I finally had my first sea otter sighting and it was the most endearing wildlife sighting I’ve yet to experience.

This is otterly adorable, I thought to myself but didn’t dare say out loud.

Howie gave us some information about sea otters, as the animal continued to put on an adorable show, parading about with kittenish, buoyant, look-at-me gazes:

— Sea otters live 99.99% of their lives entirely in the water.

— They were hunted ruthlessly until 1911 during the otter pelt trade, until only 2,000 remained. The sea otter still remains threatened.

— They are one of the few mammals to use tools (stones) which they keep in a little armpit pocket for their entire life to break open sea urchins.

— Sea otters are listed as a species by Canadian biologist Bruce Bagemihl  (1 of over 450)  that has been observed showing homosexual/bisexual/queer behavior (OK, Howie didn’t tell us this, but, I researched it and so if you can handle it, check out this related story on Daz and Chip, two gay Asian small-clawed otters who once lived inseparably for 15 years in a zoo in Nelson, New Zealand until one died. The other died an hour later due to a heart attack).

— Sea otters are a keystone species, meaning, in layman’s terms, that the entire ecosystem relies on them.

After Howie finished his brief overview of the otter, we slowly left the sopping wet creature—which broke my dear little heart—as we pushed deeper into the heavy marine layer in search of what? Oh right, whales…

After a few minutes of silence, looking left and right at the endless greyness that engulfed us, we had our first sighting. It was a lone humpback whale that came up for a breath a hundred feet from the boat, sprouted an eight-foot-high phloosh! from its blowhole, before flapping and dunking its massive whale tail into the water.

Whale, hello there, I thought but didn’t dare say aloud.

We trailed the lone humpback, giving it plenty of space as it popped up unpredictably after two minute long dives until it eventually swindled us and disappeared into the greyness. It was a beautiful animal, it really was. I absolutely love whales and am in awe of them and will march with Greenpeace until they are safe (looking at you, Japan), so don’t get me wrong here, but the thing about whales is if they’re being shy i.e. not swimming near you or breaching, you can’t really get a good look at them from afar. So while some of our snap-happy boat mates were especially sad to lose the whale, my mind was delightfully musing on otter things.

But, no luck. I predicted we were too far out to sea for otters who tend to hug the kelpy coastline. Instead, we caught our second whale sighting of the day: a grey whale that, like the humpback, would show us its long blubbery back and whale tail before disappearing for minutes, only to pop up hundreds of meters away.

We chased the grey whale, just like we tailed the humpback until it too disappeared into the greyness. It became a tired game, this whole whale watching charade—I asked myself, why don’t we just park next to the otter and watch it all day? We could have brought beers and snacks and just spectated, cheered on the little fella as it napped and munched on sea urchins? Surely that would have been more entertaining?

I crossed my fingers and hoped for more giant sea weasels, but, the three-hour tour went on and all we came across were a duo of harbor porpoises and a colony of stellar sea lions, stinking up a rock island. I realize the fortunate tour we were given with two whale sightings, porpoises, and other aquatic mammals (and some birds! Like Marbled Murrelets and Black Oystercatchers!)…but only one otter?!

On our return back to land, I began to consider the otter, not only because I missed it, but because I admired it. In many ways, the animal is a constant reminder of the pursuit of happiness — perhaps even the furry, whiskered embodiment of it. I considered its role not only as the most adorable creature in existence but also, in the gay tribe of people.

The otter, like the bear, is hairy, though, not nearly as burly. A bear was the German tourist videoing his friend, and an otter was the cliff jumper with his tuft of hair on his chest that fell down to his treasure trail. The otter, it seems, is not a twink, but also, not yet a bear or a cub. A rugged twink? Maybe. A rugged twunk? The human otter is an in between species; the question is, is it a keystone species like the sea otter?

Perhaps, it’s just a phase, perhaps it has to do with the right amount scruff to age ratio—but no matter what, I believe the tribe to be inclusive. I believe anyone can identify as an otter regardless of their body type, if they so choose, as long as they exhibit playfulness.

Photo: John Forde

When we box ourselves into groups and subgroups in our community, are we anthropomorphizing these animals, or are we zoomorphizing ourselves? Either way, it seems we are escaping from the confines and stressors of not only heteronormative humanity but from the limiting queer mainstream image we’ve been told is handsome. We can be something besides gay, besides human, besides… tragic. We can be carefree and happy, playful and lovable.

What the sea otter and its river cousin do that has cast the species in memes, viral videos, get well cards, ornaments, and gifs is promote an ever winsome zest for life through a buoyancy that is nearly impossible to not admire. What’s more, they show us, through their cozy rafts, an act of affection and connection, which is, no matter what we’re into, what we all yearn for.

It is the same playfulness I admired in the cliff jumper, who took the opportunity of a warm day on a road trip to enjoy his surroundings, to be active, silly, puerile, and adventurous. That may be one of the qualities I find most endearing — I hope one day for a partner with the same zeal for playful escapism. To jump with, splash with, and float side by side with.

To better understand what I’m after, please see the gifs below:

I was taken out of my otterly thoughts as the marine layer began to burn off and the afternoon sun began to throw itself on the water, turning what was once a grey and disorienting seascape into dark blue nirvana with a backdrop of titanic mountains and polka dot islands.

As we began to exit the open ocean for the inlet, we slowed and hugged the border of another kelp forest. I scanned as we crawled by. Everyone else on the boat, except for my father and I, had checked out. Their cameras had been stashed and they were celebrating their whale sightings no longer looking at the sea.

And so they missed, in my opinion, the best sighting of the day. To my immense enjoyment, tangled in the bull kelp were two otters. They were neatly camouflaged in the algae and held themselves together by their paws as they floated on their backs.

With their little eyes closed, the sun on their thick coats, and their bodies anchored in the kelp, they snuggled side by side, despite the ravages of the Pacific, and of life itself.

Isaac Flores and the Queer Muses of Barcelona

I met the Spanish photographer Isaac Flores at a cafe called La Principal, where we sat outside amidst the cars and the people and talked about his work, under the Barcelona sun. Sitting between a coca cola and a coffee, we discussed the thriving underground LGBTQ scene of Barcelona’s nightlife and Flores’s medium of choice. His work — his name — is known within the intimate group of Spanish queens and performers.

When I ask what parties in the city I should attend, he suggests Believe Club, where there is a drag show every night, but admits that most events are word of mouth. If I’m not intertwined with the community (which I’m not as a tourist in Barcelona), it can be difficult to traverse the whereabouts of the gritty underground scene. But if anyone knows, it’s him.

“Color can be a distracting thing,” Flores says of his black-and-white images. “The first thing you may see is a hat, or a lipstick color, or a dress. But in black and white, the first thing you see is the face or the eyes.” Still, he says, “I like to combine. I’m very versatile.”

The images in the dark, among the club walls, display people in contrast. The whites of their eyes and the blacks of their outfits eliminate unnecessary detail. The viewer is forced to look into the face of the model, their confident faces, their sensual poses. In his Belladonna series, figures in lingerie and strings of pearl necklaces are lumped over one another, looking directly in the camera, their identities both revealed and hidden. BDSM and body modifications are captured in these works alongside performances, freedom of sexuality, and the gritty underground of the city.

The black and white works examine the “present” state of the party, while Flores’s photographs in color are more polished, refined. They act as the “before” to the party. They are before the ripped tights, before the kissing on the dancefloor, before the sun rises the next morning.

It’s interesting to note when he chooses to decide to utilize color as opposed to black and white. Joy, and glamour are rich in Flores’s images, especially in the portrait of Gilda. The 90-year-old woman fled from a town outside of Barcelona where her brothers were trying to murder her. Gilda found safety in Barcelona. 

“I can’t portray her soul in black and white,” Flores says. “I wanted to portray her in color, because I think she was living a life in darkness.”

Flores shoots on polaroids, film, and digital, documenting the hearts beating in Barcelona. Through his lens, his models are glorified and, more importantly, archived.

He grew up a little bit outside of the center of the city of Barcelona in Hospitalet de Llobregat, where his mother is a housekeeper and his father was a handyman. He explains that while growing up, he relied on small references to outside culture — like music videos (Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” from director David LaChapelle) — that pertained to his gay sexuality and exploration with more feminine qualities. He didn’t have any references within his community. He was reserved, and never enjoyed school. In order to fit in and stay out of trouble, he reshaped his identity. Because of this, he says, “I feel like I’ve lost an important amount of time from my childhood and teenage years.”

When Flores was 18, his mother bought him his first camera. “My mother has always been supportive,” he says. “I owe her everything.”

In 2017, he bought an analog camera.

I didn’t have any artistic intention, I just wanted to shoot,” he says. At 24, he is shooting what he knows—his friends, muses, and community. He was able to create a style for himself which includes the themes of his immediate surroundings.

When Flores finished secondary school, he became more intertwined in the Barcelona gay community, going to discotheques, falling in love for the first time.

“When you break with your environment you have to start again,” he says, adding that he feels blessed to now live in Barcelona. “I can dress like a monster and no one will want to punch me in the face. They aren’t going to treat you like a freak.”

In this city, he found a space to fit in, where he could thrive as an individual and be his true self.

“When it’s a party, I go to the club. It’s normal for me,” Flores says.

He usually knows everyone at the party; he isn’t a stranger.

“When you are giving something to the community, the community normally responds,” he says. By celebrating the queer community through photography, the scene welcomes him. Everyone loves a good photo of themselves, supporting a friend practicing their skills. He’s treated well in the clubs — he’s given drinks, admired by his friends, and, in the process, has built his portfolio.

Flores explains that word-of-mouth discos are preferred to the gay nightspots, as the city is attempting to crack down on clubs and their hours of operation. The non-profit social clubs that exist in Barcelona ( “cannabis clubs”)  are being regulated by authorities as the Barcelona City Hall plans to place restrictions on clubs which includes limited hours of operation.

“There are only 10 [LGBTQ] clubs in Barcelona. But when they don’t let you grow, it’s a little difficult,” he says.  “When you start, you think you will go big. But then you see a wall.”

Flores sometimes goes into the club without his camera; without the intent to work.

“The camera is an extra,” he says, “When I was a fashion photographer, I was a fashion photographer. Now, I decide. If I want to go to a party and not take the camera, I don’t take the camera. I take the camera when I know it’s going to work. I want people to see me as a person, not as a photographer.”

As an artist, Flores’s process is always intentional. He’s always choosing to shoot, or not to shoot. To create with color, or work with black and white. While the images are chaotic, wild with sex and parties, his practice is serious and thoughtful.

Flores’s work will always be changing, growing, and celebratory. In the queer utopian community of Barcelona, the parties continue and the shots are taken. At only 24, he is finding his ground documenting his queer underground, the images detailing the blur of the night and freshness of day. He is illustrating a timeline of queer figures in Spain, his work a historical mapping of the artists, performers, dancers, and identities that make up queer and trans Spanish people in this metropolitan city.

Isaac Flores’ book, “Barcelona Se Muere,” is now available.  

Header image of The Woolman Family

Transmasculinidad: Guatemala

In a conference room in downtown Guatemala City, Alex Castillo got up in front of a group of employees from the federal prosecutor’s office and explained what it meant to be transgender in a country without legal protections for people like him. He clicked next on his PowerPoint presentation, and an image of his own government-issued identification showed up with a glaring discrepancy: An “F” where there should have been an “M.”

The room was a safe space for the government employees, and Castillo made sure everyone understood that this was a place of learning and there were no wrong questions. Castillo and his colleagues at Asociación Lambda have trained more than 1000 state workers and police officers across the country. He uses his own life and body to teach and train these students. In many cases, this class is the first time these government employees will receive any kind of gender and sexuality education, especially about transgender issues.

Castillo’s students work for the state, and in many cases are the frontline of the government, interpreting laws in real time. They are police stopping people in the street, deciding how to respond to discrimination cases. They are the officers deciding whether to jail a transgender person in the female or male section of a prison despite a lack of regulations for that situation. They are the caseworkers receiving complaints of violence from transgender teens without formal rules for how to proceed when LGBTQ people have no protections.

Guatemala is a dangerous country for the transgender community, and LGBTQ lives are not protected by law. According to a study by HIVos, 71 percent of transgender women in Guatemala report experiencing discrimination, 60 percent have reported experiencing physical abuse, and 61 percent earn less than minimum wage. Another study by Red Lactrans noted that as many as 70 percent of transgender people say they were kicked out of their family homes.

Right now, a proposed bill is making its way through Congress that would allow transgender people to change the sex on their identity cards. But there’s also a proposed bill that would make it illegal for any organization — public or private — to teach sex education to minors. The work that Lambda does across the country is important and necessary, but trans Guatemalans remain vulnerable to violence, discrimination, and the violation of their basic rights.

One young trans man who participated in the project told us his family had brought a priest to exorcise him, and several other young teenage trans men were kicked out of school because of their gender identity. Many of the men we spoke to told us they had lost connections to their families and have had a difficult time finding work because their IDs out them on every job application, and they have no protection against discrimination. So many trans people we met want to pass and live a life free of harassment, but without the ability to change their sex on their identification, living stealth isn’t an option.

We are incredibly grateful to the Guatemalan trans masculine community that received us and told us their stories. It is an act of bravery whether you are out in your community or not. We cannot profess our appreciation enough.

 

Go to www.transmasculinidad.com for the full gallery and updates on the project. You can also find us on Instagram or on Facebook.

This story was reported from Guatemala on a fellowship from the International Reporting Project (IRP)

The Weekender: San Francisco

During your flight into the Bay Area, the San Francisco peninsula sticks out like a thumb from the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean. It connects itself to the greater area by a cobweb of great bridges that zip cars in and out of the tightly packed streets into the state’s renowned wine country and epic stands of gigantic redwoods.

Inside the city, a miserable socio-economic contrast is present: during just a short walk, the city’s relentless homeless crisis is unavoidable. As the public health department picks up hundreds of thousands of used needles a year, cranes assemble towering luxury condominiums. But despite the boom of the new tech presence that is quickly squeezing the city and expanding the Bay Area, San Francisco grapples with its own disparities. For despite it all, the city’s historically queer roots and activism persist, not only in unapologetic festivals like Folsom Street Fair and Up Your Alley, but in the essence of its marine layer, cemented into the hearts of the hills. No matter how many times you visit, it’s hard not to marvel at the city’s unwavering queer endurance.

Friday

6pm- The Castro

The heart of queer San Francisco beats strongest in its longstanding gayborhood, marked by a massive Pride Flag that shines and ripples in the cool northern California breeze. Start your San Francisco weekend in Harvey Milk Plaza perusing the hundreds of queer-owned businesses, bars, and restaurants. At the corner of Market and Castro Streets, revel in the history where many demonstrations, rallies, and protests took place that sparked change not only in San Francisco but across the nation.

8pm- Sichuan Spice

Not far off Harvey Milk Plaza on 18th Street is Mama Ji’s, a small Sichuan restaurant with tongue numbing spice. Most come for the Dim Sum, but end up sampling the rest of the menu, especially the Sichuan Leng Mian, the spicy cold noodle. Be sure to start with their spicy cucumber appetizer, and soothe your taste buds with their delicious wine, beer, and tea. Reservations are not accepted but service is lightning fast so guests never wait long for a table.

Late Night- Parties for Queer Women

Friday is certainly one of the best nights for queer women in the Bay Area. If you happen to be in town on the second or third Friday, be sure to venture to UHAUL SF, “San Francisco’s Party For Girls Who Love Girls!” The party has been around since 2014 and prides itself on creating a safe space for women and welcomes the “queer/trans/questioning community.” The party floats around the city in various venues so keep in touch with the latest on their Facebook page. For more events for queer women in the Bay, check out writer Brigitte Hoch’s guide for Do the Bay.

 

Saturday

8am- Gawk at Redwoods

Hi. Good morning. You didn’t come all this way just to sleep in. Arrive early to beat the crowds (and be sure to book a parking spot) at Muir Woods National Monument, a short 30-minute drive (that will take you over the Golden Gate Bridge!) If you’ve never seen a redwood tree, this is your chance. An old-growth redwood stand (some trees are over 1,000 years old) dominate the lush rolling hills of the monument and wow visitors. Choose your own adventure with a half-hour, hour, and two-hour loop on the Main Trail or get a canopy view by hiking a more strenuous 3-mile loop. You will want your camera to remember these giant friends.

11am- Foodies and Ferries

Time to chow down. The iconic Ferry Building is advertised as “a feast for the senses.” The 1898 building re-opened after massive renovations in 2003 to become a world-class food market that is a “community gathering place for the celebration of local culture and cuisine.” Alongside a smorgasbord of merchants and restaurants, the Ferry Building hosts a farmers market three times a week, with Saturday being one of the most popular days. You won’t go hungry here—have a coffee at Peet’s or Blue Bottle, a grilled cheese at Cowgirl Sidekick, or a cupcake at Miette Patisserie.

12pm- Radical Reading

Take your coffee to go from the market and zip over to Bolerium Books in the vibrant Mission District. The radical store has been around since 1981 and features an extensive collection of books and ephemera from “labor and other social movements, including the struggles for Black and Chicano equality, the Gay liberation movement, Feminism, and Asian-American activism.” It also includes a shocking collection from the Far Right to “preserve this historical record” for better understanding of the movement. You may lose hours here in these unique, queer, and one-of-a-kind texts.

1pm- Queer Crush

While you’re in the Mission, drop by Mission Cliffs, one of San Francisco’s oldest climbing gyms. The gym is a part of the chain of Touchstone Climbing gyms across California, which feature different chapters of the queer climbing group Queer Crush. The company holds large fundraisers for local LGBTQ communities every Pride Month and offers great introductory classes for first-time climbers. The gym also hosts yoga, acroyoga, and fitness classes for those with a fear of heights.

3pm- A Cold, Naked Plunge

Marshall’s Beach, located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a long, rugged, and secluded clothing-optional beach with a large queer presence. People come to the stunning beach to suntan, relax, take stately photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, and generally unwind from the confines of city life. Do be careful dipping in the water if you decide to cool off as it is rather chilly and rip currents are present, so it’s suggested to take a quick dunk near the shore if you must swim. Park or ride-share to the Golden Gate Overlook and hike the steep trail down the bluff to the boulder-strewn beach. Why not stay for sunset and watch the bridge glow in the last rays of the day?

7pm- Plant-Based Food

After showering the sand off from the beach, we’re headed back to the Mission for dinner to a true California staple, the original Gracias Madre. Since its critical acclaim in reimagining Mexican cuisine in an all plant-based and organic menu in 2009, the restaurant opened another location in West Hollywood in 2014. Be sure to try the Platanos con Mole Negro, the Quesadillas De Calabaza with butternut squash and pumpkin salsa, and one of their truly unique cocktails, the Rolled Fashioned, with mezcal añejo, bourbon, house sarsaparila, aromatic bitters, and since we’re in California, cannabinoids. Do make reservations.

10pm- Call Me Mother

For the best drag show, head to OASIS, a club opened in 2015 in SOMA (South of Market) by San Francisco drag legends Heklina and D’Arcy Drollinger. Mother is a weekly Saturday night event that opens at 10pm, with the show starting at 11:30pm. The event always features local SF drag queens as well as favorite Ru girls. Most recently, Valentina performed a one-woman show “The Valentina Experience,” and next month there’s a Janet Jackson Tribute, featuring A Star is Born icon Shangela.

Looking for the best after hours events? Check out Resident Advisor for a slew of dance parties, DJs, and queer events around the Bay Area. Rotating parties like A Club Called Rhonda and Desert Hearts touch down in SF from time to time.

 

Sunday

10am- Brunch

Good morning. Drink some electrolytes, it’s all going to be okay. Head over to Kitchen Story for brunch and order the award-winning Bloody Mary (seriously this thing is decked the [email protected]#* out with garnishes). The restaurant, located in the Castro, has a nice mix of California cuisine ranging from sweet to savory. You can’t go wrong at Kitchen Story, but do show up a little early as the place pops off on Sundays.

12pm- Gay Beach

I’m sure you’ve seen photos on Instagram of Mission Dolores Parks Sunday “Gay Beach,” where the southern slopes of the lovely and recently expanded and renovated hillside park are flocked with queer people enjoying a sunny afternoon with their friends. There are shirtless broskis, chatty rosé drinkers, and hungover picnic blanket snoozers. The park has incredible views of downtown and a happy and vibrant mix of San Franciscans refusing to acknowledge the weekend’s impending end.

 

The Snugs

Luxury- Hotel Vitale

There’s something rather special about the 180-degree deluxe panoramic circular suites at the Hotel Vitale, a part of the queer-friendly (and queer-founded) Joie de Vivre boutique hotel group. The large floor-to-ceiling windows frame the twinkling Bay Bridge as you watch pedestrians stroll along the beautiful Embarcadero boardwalk while sailboats sweep across the bay. The lavish hotel has expectation-surpassing service, a luxurious spa, workout room, as well as a handsome floor level bar and Italian restaurant, Americano. Rooms from $299.

Just Right- Galleria Park Hotel

Steps from the Financial District and Union Square is one of the most historic hotels in SF, another Joie de Vivre property, the modern and cozy Galleria Park Hotel. The hotel’s history dates back to the 1800s as it sits on the same land as the most luxurious hotels of the time, the late Occidental Hotel and Lick House. It’s said the martini cocktail was invented on the property; over a hundred years later and after $11 million in renovations, the Galleria Park offers guests a complimentary sipping hour every day in their colorful and cozy lobby. And on top of it, the property makes efforts to combat the city’s homelessness crisis with Project Homeless Connect. Fancy a pair of SF skyline socks? Rooms from $250.

Backpacker- Hostel International San Francisco Downtown

Located in the heart of it all, this award-winning (two years running) hostel is the perfect low-budget place to call home during your visit to San Francisco. The hostel features free wi-fi, breakfast, and a long list of incredible tours. Dorm beds from $40.

Three LGBTQ Salvadorans On Why They Joined A Migrant Caravan Heading to The U.S. Border

The images from the caravan were shocking; a small girl huddled in her mother’s arms, surrounded by Mexican riot police, and a man shielding an infant from tear gas. This disturbing scene — which took place on the international bridge between Mexico and Guatemala on October 19 — went viral, and back in El Salvador, Loly Mendez watched as the photos streamed through her Facebook feed.

With this repressive action, the Mexican government hoped to deter the thousands of migrants who had traveled together from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala from crossing its borders, but it had the opposite effect for Mendez, a 26-year-old trans woman from El Salvador.

“This is my chance, to escape El Salvador and escape the violence against us,” Mendez told INTO. She packed quickly, throwing “two pairs of pants, two shirts, 295 dollars, and a dream” in her backpack, and took off the next day. Mendez crossed the Suchiate River that divides Mexico and Guatemala on a shoddy boat made with inflated inner tubes, and met up with the caravan in Chiapas, Mexico. For the past two weeks since joining the caravan, she has slowly been making her way towards the United States, relying on the generous donations of food and water from Mexican people along the way.

Over the past six years, El Salvador has faced skyrocketing levels of violence, which has taken a bloody toll on the civilian population and has been especially devastating for the LGBTQ community. In a March 2017 report for the Interamerican Human Rights Commission, the Salvadoran organization COMCAVIS Trans said the root causes of the violence were “a concentration of wealth, a high index of migration, the inability of the state to meet the basic needs of their citizens, failed peace agreements [following the country’s civil war],” combined with “disinformation, prejudice and repeated arguments of exclusion of all that is not considered normal.” While there are no precise statistics, local Salvadoran organizations believe that at least 145 LGBTQ people have been killed in the past three years within the country.

Mendez had already started her transition, but realized it could put her life further at risk when a close friend was killed in her hometown of San Antonio. “They threw her off a bridge,” she said, holding back tears. “But first, they strangled her. She was trans. They strangled her with a rope. She died.” Mendez had planned to have breast augmentation surgery, but then received threats from men in the town: “They said that if they saw me with a big chest, they’d cut them off.”

Having already suffered from a machete attack while working as a vendor at a sports stadium, Mendez knew that threats like this were to be taken seriously. She now travels with a letter from a former teacher that documents the abuse she has endured and hopes to use it to apply for asylum in the United States.

The U.S. asylum application process is incredibly difficult to navigate from within one’s home country, which leads the majority of people to travel to the United States and turn themselves in at an official border crossing. Their cases are then evaluated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, where officers evaluate whether there is enough evidence to show that they will be tortured or persecuted in their own country.

If what’s called “credible fear” is established, an asylum seeker is often released to a family member, usually with an electronic GPS ankle monitor, and is then expected to attend a series of court hearings which can span over a couple of months or even years. Ninety-three percent of migrants who traveled on a caravan earlier this year were allowed into the United States based on credible fear interviews, as reported by BuzzFeed.

President Trump has used this mass exodus of migrants as a rallying point during the midterm elections. In an October 29 tweet, Trump called the caravan “an invasion of our country,” saying that no one in the caravan would be admitted into the United States at the border. In multiple follow-up tweets over the next couple of days, Trump referred to the border as “sacred” and repeatedly claimed that the caravan is made up of violent thugs and gang members.

Trump also deployed an extra 5,200 troops to the border, and they are expected to face the fewer than 3,500 people in the caravan — which numbered over 7,000 people at its peak but is dwindling in numbers as it grows closer to the U.S. border.

Misinformation about the caravan has already caused violence in the U.S., too. The shooter who killed 11 Jewish worshippers at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last Saturday had spewed racist rhetoric against the migrant caravan, echoing Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and claiming the caravan was a Jewish conspiracy on the online forum Gab.

The Salvadoran organization COMCAVIS Trans published a flyer on their Facebook page reaffirming people’s right to migrate, while recommending that LGBTQ people not attempt to join the caravans due to militarization at the U.S. border and the likelihood of being detained.  

However, this did not deter Mendez nor her friend Danny Ruiz, a 25-year-old cis gay Salvadoran man who she is also traveling with. They walk and hitch rides, advancing an average of 10 to 20 miles a day, getting an early start to avoid the blazing sun in the 90-degree weather that broils the Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.

“They laugh at us for being who we are; they shout things at us. They don’t make room for us in the trucks, so we have to walk more,” Ruiz told INTO. He says that people have screamed “maricones,” (“faggots”) at them, and have thrown bottles. This doesn’t deter him from proudly sporting a rainbow flag of sorts, crafted from a pair of swim trunks he’s hung from a stick.

Tatiana Merino, another trans woman from San Luis Talpa, El Salvador, buddied up with fellow trans women from El Salvador and Honduras and has had a more positive experience on the caravan. She fled El Salvador four years ago when the local members of the MS-13 gang preyed on her vulnerability and put her to work for them. “They wanted me to sell drugs, pick up extortion payments, to bring drugs to jails,” Merino said. Her family was poor, but they knew how to survive. It was the violence and gang threats that made life unbearable. That’s what led her to head north.

Merino spent four years in Tapachula, Mexico before she joined the caravan, making ends meet by preparing tortillas and cleaning houses. She worried that if she applied for asylum in Mexico, she would be deported back to El Salvador and possibly killed. Recently, three trans women she knew were gunned town back in her hometown.

The Mexican government does not allow for free passage of migrants, especially if they hail from Central America. Due to recent pressure from the United States government, Mexico bolstered security on its southern border with Guatemala and Belize as part of the “Southern Border Program,” an increased border security measure. Since implementing this program in 2014, Mexico has actually deported more Central American migrants than the United States.

This increased enforcement forces migrants to take circuitous routes in which they are subject to robbery, extortion, kidnapping, rape, and murders. When Mendez saw the caravan enter Mexico on the news, she seized the opportunity to meet up with them in Tapachula, which is the first city they crossed.  

If Mendez, Merino, and Ruiz turn themselves in at a port of entry at the United States and try to apply for asylum, they may be sent to immigrant detention while they wait for their cases to be heard. This presents its own risks. Roxsana Hernandez, a 33-year-old transgender asylum seeker from Honduras, traveled across Mexico with a caravan and died while in ICE custody in New Mexico on May 25. She was HIV positive and did not receive proper medical attention while in detention, despite being housed in a special transgender unit at the Cibola County Correctional Facility.

Ruiz says he’ll settle for Tijuana, Mexico — which he imagines is safer for gay people than El Salvador — but Mendez and Merino still harbor dreams of living in the United States. Mendez and Ruiz both hope to work at hair salons, and Merino hopes to meet up with a friend in Maryland and do whatever she can to get by.

“[In El Salvador] we don’t have people defending us. They treat us like we’re monsters,” says Mendez. “The U.S. isn’t perfect, but it’s better than what we have. It’s a free country — free from the persecution that we face.”

Photos by Fred Ramos