Albuquerque isn’t your average white-picket-fence type of American town. Yes there are frat parties and cheerleaders and startlingly multi-coloured cereals. But it also has high crime and poverty rates, very visible homeless and drug problems, and a steadfast belief that the pedestrian is a mythical creature that simply does not exist.
Photo: Joey Millar
Public transport is a no-go for people hoping to avoid aggressive solicitation and downtown is eerily abandoned after dusk. Most visitors to the area get syphoned 100km north to the trendier Santa Fe, leaving Albuquerque playing the role of the forgotten Route 66 relic.
But despite the dust and the sweat, despite the bail bond shops and the run-down motels, there is something about Albuquerque that grows on you. There is a certain charm to the straight-talking, dry-humoured city unblushingly going about its business in the middle of the desert.
The biggest place for hundreds of kilometres around, the city seems unaffected by the tiptoeing liberalism of the East Coast and the white-toothed fakery of the West. It’s different – not prettier or richer by any means – but proudly different nonetheless.
In Albuquerque the influence of Hispanic and Latino culture is everywhere. Whereas in Norwich the height of diversity is the Royal Tandori on Unthank Road, in ‘Burque it feels at times as though you may have accidentally crossed the border. While it may be a Daily Mail reader’s nightmare, it is refreshingly new.
The city also offers a great array of travel options, with Mexico to the south, Texas to the east, Colorado to the north and Vegas, The Grand Canyon and California to the west.
Many tourist guides actually advise skipping Albuquerque altogether to focus on the smaller, artsier towns nearby. This couldn’t be worse advice. Yes, if you want mass-produced, crowd-friendly Native American knick-knacks then, by all means, head up the I-25 to Taos. If you want to experience an invigoratingly authentic American city, then throw away your Lonely Planet and head into the heat of the desert.