Not your average travel blog
There are many things which I sacrificed for the challenge of getting across the states on $6 a day; knowing where I’m going to sleep each day, some cleanliness and maybe some hygiene, some dietary luxuries, seeing loved ones to name a few. However, I did not bank on sacrificing, or indeed losing the ability to realise when I am being so blatantly hit on.
A new experience for me in Austin was to enjoy a roller derby. A hobby and minor sport in the UK, yet in the USA it is something that is, especially in Austin, rather a big deal.
The roller derby was definitely a fun-filled afternoon, I particularly liked the dowdy, brown couches that they had brought in and positioned under the commentators table, for the VIP fans. Some sacrifices are clear to comprehend and expect, however as unfamiliar as it was, while I sat at the back of one of the bleacher stands, high in the crowds, drinking a Lone State lager and eating a slice of pizza, one of the rather cute roller girls made her way up through the crowds, sat closer than most strangers would next to me, and began discussing my t-shirt, and my day. Unable to put my finger on simple, Texan forwardism, and after she had left, I asked my friend next to me if she was in fact, unwell. Amused by my complete lack of reciprocation, my friends joyfully ridiculed me at my interaction. I had obviously, unexpectedly sacrificed my mojo, and been out of practice for far too long.
Immersing yourself into a new culture often brings confusion. Nothing confuses my British taste buds more, than having a savoury/sweet breakfast. It’s just not something that is commonplace amongst the continentals or full Englishes that most Brits are used to. However, even though the portions in the majority of the USA are shamefully double that of any normal sized stomach (and I’m not a small guy), I am converted.
Maple syrup on American bacon works, fried chicken on a sweet waffle works, and although my mouth is still confused by the titilation, my tastebuds reluctantly rejoice over their debauched indulgence. One thing I didn’t understand earlier in my adventure however, was this compilation…
Another unfortunate gourmet affair, which I experienced for the first time in Texas, is that I haven’t been able to convince my mouth that grits are a good idea. Rather like a cheesy rice pudding made from corn, I don’t know whether to chew, spread them on toast, or just take one for the team and swallow. Like a coach blooding his young players at the end of an already decided game, I threw them onto the field of battle…but they lacked any eager action, failed to inspire another outing, and ultimately, let me, the rest of the edible team, and my mouth down. It’s a southern thing apparently.
Amongst numerous urban exploits and city excursions, I managed to visit Bastrop State Park – which was victim to one of the largest forest fires in Texas’s recent history. In 2011, after damaged power lines in a storm sparked the fire, 1600 homes were devastated. The large area is now undergoing recovery, and the forest is re-growing around the numerous, charcoaled tree trunks, sticking out the ground like oversized, black toothpicks, and some estranged brick chimney stacks, that used to be attached to the wooden houses built around them. As always, nature finds a way after fire; wildlife is flourishing and I ticked off some pretty lean-looking road runners and dozens of vultures (of which I always imagine to be scousers, sounding like the few from Disney’s Jungle Book), as well as some colourful arachnida, lizards, and mesmerising butterflies on my long checklist of fascinating wildlife. As was the same in Yellowstone, fire is like the hot and hedonistic intercourse, before Mother Nature gives birth to new life.
Natural disasters are not getting worse. Earthquakes, storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanic eruptions are all as intense and as distructive as they have always been – but we chose to build our lives around fault lines, on flood plains, or in the path of regular monsoons, hurricanes or tornadoes. It’s no wonder natural disasters are assumed to be worsening, but its mainly due to our stupidity of putting ourselves in harms way.
A certain amount of sympathy is required for victims of such disasters, but it does call for some common sense when looking at plans for the future of the human race.
We live on a wonderfully wild planet, but we must learn that to do so, we have to cease making the mistake of thinking that our planet can continue to cope with excessively growing the world’s human population, and stop assuming that it is not our fault when we are misfortunate enough to be in harms way. We used to be wild animals. We used to be a part of nature, instead of trying to control it. If we look at the wild, everything in it does something to contribute to, or aid a neighbour; bees pollinate while they gather food, large fish resist eating smaller fish while they have parasites eaten out of their mouths, trees grow and create ecosystems for everything around them, as well as produce oxygen for every living creature that needs it; humans on the other hand have resisted giving back to the wild what they take, and this needs to be addressed. I mention this because Texas’s reputation for its oil extraction is an obvious example.
Due to the relentless hospitality, Texas was definitely proving to be more of a luxury adventure. I may have cooked a few meals for my host, but Amanda treated me to some local restaurants where I was blown away by some of the dishes. Not only was I taken for breakfast in Austin, to a restaurant simply called “Bacon” (fairly self explanatory), but I also tried my first ever guacamole margarita; something that grows on you, with its thick and creamy, milkshake consistency.
I was also treated to my very first pedicure, and when I saw a man twice my size sitting amongst the twenty ladies in the room, we shared a strange yet comforting glance, followed by an assured nod of the head, acknowledging that we were highly outnumbered, and if things kicked off in any possible, dangerous salon war, that we would stick together. I felt rather relaxed amongst the numerous gossipers as they all indulged in being either roughly rubbed, lathered in gritty goodness, clipped and sculpted with fine, shiny implements, or drenched in lava-hot wax.
Texas is not famous for its wildlife, other than cattle, so when dark shapes form over the Colorado River running through Austin at dusk, and they are not rain-filled or made up of Mosquitos, its difficult to assume what they are. The largest urban bat colony on earth, mainly sleep and cuddle under one of the busiest and most central of downtown bridges during the humid days. The bridge and the river was flooded with people, eager to see the spectacle, and it wasn’t long before thousands of rat-sized bats drenched the skies below the bridge. The flying mammals took flight; quite an unusual treat in the centre of a city as they swarmed off into unusual, fast moving clouds.
I visited possibly the smallest, weirdest, most obscure and eccentric museum that I have ever come across one afternoon in Austin. The House Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata is a collection of “misplaced items” from history, which are arguably interesting and unusual.
Amongst the somewhat morbid items, which have been collected by the lovely Scott and Jen Webel are: a Faberge egg smuggled out of Russia which belonged to the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna (the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia), a miniature taxidermy crocodile, which sits on a conch shell – the oddity of this is that is cries genuine tears; a rotating wooden, 19th century cellulite massager – much like a giant cotton reel that you sit on, as it rotates and bumps your backside around. There is a whip that belonged to one of the first infamous female big cat tamers (Mabel Stark, I believe), and celebrity hair trimmings…the list goes on. The free museum tour is displayed in a young, eclectic family’s garage; decorated and well presented, it is worth a look if you want something completely, and wonderfully bonkers to pass an hour of your day. Donations are very welcome..
I once said inappropriately and at high volume over a quiet dinner with friends on a Greek island that, “I love Phil”. Despite their initial reaction of surprise and curiosity as to who Phil was, I’m afraid I had drunkenly admitted to loving Phil Collins, while my friends were unaware that his music was playing in the background. The lovely Phil is about to donate his expansive and impressive, personal collection of artefacts to the Alamo, in San Antonio. I was too early to catch the inclusion of his collection, but the historic site where Texas was fought over was impressive in the mid day sun.
I genuinely felt like I was seeing some ancient, human history – something difficult to find in the USA. Some people forget that when they say “old” and “historic” to me, I come from the continent where the history comes from (we also do some fine work in condescending sarcasm). The spanish, religious outpost was reminiscent of an ancient Spanish monastery, with beautiful gardens and plant life. It became a barracks for the Mexican army, and was the pivotal point where Texas was reclaimed by the forces of Texas America. With battles still heavily influenced by the sword, the Alamo feels older than it is, but it is definitely a huge draw for San Antonio visitors, holds huge significance for the people of Texas…and for the “Easy Lover”, Phil Collins.
I was again treated, this time to the riverboat tour around the centre of San Antonio. Informative, humorous and relaxing, it was the perfect appetiser before just one more indulgent trip off-trail. Creole architecture, southern jazz, Cajun cuisine, voodoo practices and a whole myriad of art and history awaits at the mouth of the Mississippi. Before contemplating getting my adventure and budget-challenge back on track, I am to experience, New Orleans.