Ben Winston

Not your average travel blog

A southern threesome with some ex-presidents, and Lionel Richie

Reputations are rarely undeserved. If you’re known for being a flirt, chances are you’ve flung your eyelashes, maybe a few loose comments, and flicked your hips in the direction of someone’s face on a few occasions. If you’re known as being violent, it’s likely you have thrown more than your eyelashes and made contact, and word spreads fast if people dislike your unfortunate demeanour.
When you’re known being the over-sized, oil harbouring, barbecue-loving, Stetson-wearing, humid meat market with an accent so drawly, your words written down become “laaaaawwwwnger”; you’re the state that is little more amusing to a eloquently spoken Brit than some, but you turn up at the party and ya’ll reeeeaally know aboud’it.

The Lonestar State still lives up to its reputation, and it only takes five minutes of travelling over its endless flat landscape before I’m welcomed by the aesthetically rambunctious threesome of abundant cattle, slowly pumped oil wells, and denim-wearing, wide-brimmed-hatted cowboys.

As well as the alfresco menage et trois, one thing I was not prepared for, were the vast fields of wind turbines. Not only are the oil wells a reminder of why this state has been so wealthy, but now the turbines are a constant reminder in Texas, that energy sources are changing. Even in this part of the USA, where stoic capitalism is at its most obvious, its also clear that reputations, self awareness, sustainability provisions and what you must bring to the party, is evolving.

I wasn’t aware that Texans take so much pride in their hospitality. Seemingly, the ladies of Texas are apparently known for their welcoming nature, large personalities and undiluted, infectious laughter. Texans are simply friendly, and as long as you don’t upset their cattle cart, or try to tone them down, you’ll be just fine.

Detouring again, a thousand miles from my planned route, I landed myself in the city of Austin. With another incredibly welcoming host, who had planned joint ventures around her busy work schedule, I had a diary full of exciting city excursions ahead. Although fully immersing myself into the unaccustomed position of being her retro car’s passenger, for some of Texas’ city culture and history, it allowed me to relax a little, recharge away from the wilderness and catch up with civilisation.

Feeling like a bank in the movie Point Break, my Texas seemed to be harassed by a few ex-presidents. I visited the LBJ presidential library and archives in Austin, his ranch in the Texas hills (where the Italian sculptor Benini now has acres of art strewn around the humid hill sides), the John F Kennedy assassination museum (The 6th floor) in Dallas and the Johnson Space Centre in Houston.

Texas has thrown numerous successful candidates forward into the White House, the most recent of which was George Bush Junior. I couldn’t fail to be educated further on sections of recent presidential history. Although like all American history lessons, much of the story is steered very definitely into a propaganda-style box. Even though colourful, informative, well laid out and focused purposefully on the “positive”, much of the effects of “the greater good for the american people” are overlooked. American Indian history is often the first to be poorly represented, but in the more modern era, it is suspicious assassination facts and poignant conspiracies that seem to be conveniently not detailed (and how intriguing would the USA be without a few decent conspiracies?). These attractions are not near each other, and the equivalent of driving around the UK a couple of times only added to the splendid reputation of how hospitable my wonderful and enthusiastic host is. Although ironically, as the state holds such a reputation, Amanda is not from Texas.

I can’t discuss Amanda without tossing up hospitality, an endeavouring spirit and an enthusiasm for sharing generosity. I was treated, spoilt even, and welcomed with a fridge full of highly-prized, edible British products – including English back bacon, something which she sourced specially, and I have missed since I left home. I was also taken to see Lionel Richie in concert, and people inevitably saw the beard throw some unusual, disco shapes in flip flops. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Amongst the city excursions which included the impressive State Capitol building/House of Representatives in Austin, and accompanying Amanda to the questionable, but in the end luxurious Chinese massage spa; I helped pack vegetables at the Johnstone Organic Farm for a morning (and received a couple of boxes of product for my labour). It was here that I met one forward and gregarious granny, offering me both insight into her previous life as a crack dealer, and the most accurate sentence anyone ever, loudly thrust into my ears about Austin. She said it was “Texas’s apology”. Referring to both its liberalism compared to the rest of the state and its cities, and presumably, Austin’s leniency towards her youthful vices…

Texas continued to throw up some social surprises, and after a few more note-worthy experiences at a record store, a restaurant dedicated to bacon, viewing the largest urban bat colony in the world, being romantically approached at a roller derby, visiting the Alamo in San Antonio, and having a one room-tour of a tiny, garage museum of ephemerata, Amanda splurged in her holiday time (and maybe on an extra “sick day”) on a nine hour drive to New Orleans…

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Where am I now?

After extensive work and tours through Southern Africa, most of my time is spent between Malawi and Europe.
Go Untamed Safaris was striding into top gear, but volatile poitics in 2019, Covid in 2020, the impacts of Russia vs the World as well as insesent corruption forced my hand.
The dust is now settling. Everything has changed. New chapters are about to be written.

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