On the morning we left Houston, we managed to get away quite early and then slogged our way through the horrible Houston traffic to carry on west. One problem is that the obvious route leads you onto toll roads, which, while not being expensive, there is no way to pay for them, unless you have the sensor for the local electronic paying mechanism. This meant we had to work our way through the congested and appallingly surfaced back roads. The whole of this region suffers from subsidence, due to being on deep and unstable silt, so the pot holes were a challenge, even for Camel.
The heavy rain had left some puddles that were deep enough to almost make it feel like it had been worthwhile fitting the snorkel onto Camel. Eventually we managed to get back on the interstate and were once again heading west.
We wanted to stay in San Antonio, because we had heard from our friend Gail that the Mexican food was fab there and because Tim wanted to visit the Alamo.
There is a very fine KOA site a short bus ride from the centre of the city and it is a wonder that such a generously spacious site can survive without someone trying to build a housing estate on it. We always say that we have a large tent, because it is larger than a lot of the little two man jobbies that we see all over the place. Shockingly, the pitch the nice young woman gave us was so large we could have held a pop festival on it. It was the first site where we felt that they properly provided for tent camping in ages and there was grass, lots of trees and birds galore. One of the KOA staff came to chat to us and asked us about our travels and so I handed him one of the cards that I carry with our details so that he read it on line if he wanted. After he reeled off a list all the other, much more adventurous people that had done the same, I kind of felt a little embarrassed to be so forward.
It was a bit nippy at times…
As we were booking into the campground, we had seen signs all about the local rodeo. It turned out that it was just up the road, so the next day, after finally doing some washing (down to the last pair of socks each) we walked the mile and a half to the gates of the show ground and bought tickets for both the agricultural show and the evening rodeo. The show was delightful, with dozens of teenagers primping up various pigs, cows and birds ready to show them off in the ring.
We were intrigued to see several of them walking fine fat pigs around the place, just tapping them gently with riding crops too make them go where they wanted them to. This was most perplexing; when you see pigs being steered in the UK it involves a much more forceful approach involving a stick and a large board. We eventually found out that the teenagers are all given one animal to raise, a gelded boar, and spend serious amounts of time with them every day, treating them almost like a pet, hence such well mannered swine (most of them, one or two were a tad harder to handle, much to our enjoyment).
These chickens made me sad
When I asked a guy why they didn’t run away, he said it was because they were too fat and lazy to move and you could see bald spots where they had lost their feathers.
Sadly for me, there were no breeding pigs in that day’s show, so I thought there would be no piglets, but, luckily there were two or three in the education part of the show, where there were even, gasp, some sheep, a very rare sight in the USA.
We wandered around the various stands where they were selling cowboy boots and hats and a whole range of western paraphernalia. We came across this stand that seemed to be selling some really tasty food, until we realised that were actually dog treats.
The guy selling them said that they were made of human grade food and one year a group of inebriated young men had eaten loads of them because they were cheaper than the human food that was on sale. There was a fabulous display of western style photographs by a woman called Jo-Anne Meeker and when I commented on her wonderful buffalo pictures she said that she took them in Yellowstone. Great I said , do you think we will see some when we go there in April. Nope she said, because the park does not open until late May.. Blast! We have to leave the country at the beginning of May or we will outstay our visas.
We met this cheerful guy who was selling miniature oak casks that could turn vodka (moonshine?) into something like whisky or rum (well, you probably had to add flavouring also).
He was very interested in travelling to the UK and quite happy to chat with us for quite a while (business was pretty slow, by the look of it).
We had a lovely chat to a lady who was selling different types of chilli sauce that her husband makes and who warned us to make sure we fueled up before we headed west, as the fuel stations are few and far between. It is probably worse for RV drivers as they can only do about a hundred miles on a full tank, whereas, with our extra tank ,we can manage up to a thousand miles on a good day (with a following wind).
This very chipper older man was also selling chilli sauce stuff
His father had been in the Royal Airforce and then had gone over to Canada during WWII and then the USA to train pilots while his mother worked transferring planes, like quite a few female pilots did at the time. He managed to get his pilot licence by the time he was fourteen and then went on to disappoint his dear old dad by going into the navy (on an aircraft carrier, so not so bad)
There were bands playing and cycle riders doing stunts
There was fast food of every kind, stands selling bland American beer….. We were worried that we would not be suitably dressed, but despite seeing a lot of cowboy boots around, a lot of people were wearing ordinary shoes.
We finally went to the rodeo ring, not really knowing what to expect. Security was tight; we had to leave our backpack with the security guards, despite the fact it was empty. We had to go right to the top of the huge indoor arena, having to ask for help along the way, that place was massive! We inched our way along the vertiginous row to our seats and waited to see what would happen.
There was loud upbeat music and a great laser show. Then a group of Texas cowboys rode in at breakneck speeds, carrying flags followed by a group of riders with the most beautiful silver decorations, all carrying the Stars and Stripes.
Everyone stood up. The commentator got everyone to sit down, but then in came a single rider with another Stars and Stripes so they all stood up again. There were prayers and then a man sang the Star Spangled Banner, very touchingly and with huge warbling passion; you could see that the patriotic feelings ran deeply within almost everyone there. I remember standing up for the National Anthem at the ballet, when I was quite young, but it hardly ever happens nowadays in the UK.
Then came the actual rodeo (pronounced like us Brits do, not like in California or ‘Pretty Woman’). The riders have to stay on a bucking horse for eight seconds.
They make the horses buck by both training them and then putting a tight band around the horse’s body just in front of their hind legs. It sounds easy, but the riders were thrown around like rag dolls, only allowed to hold on with one hand, with the horses almost becoming airborne. The riders have to hold their legs in a certain position and then make sure that they do the same thing with their legs and so, if they last the eight seconds, they are allowed to use the other hand, two other riders come to rescue them by pulling them away from the horse and the band is then released from the horse’s back. The riders are then given points for style. If they fall off before eight seconds or start with their feet in the wrong position they get no points. It’s obviously is a painful experience, because they all walked ‘like cowboys’ afterwards.
We were treated to steer wrangling where someone has to jump off his horse and wrestle a steer to the ground
(much harder than it sounds), steer roping, where they had to get a lasso around the steers horns, team steer roping, where one cowboy has to get a rope around the horns and the other around BOTH back legs, how on earth they did that goodness only knows, but two did. The most charming events were the one when they got tiny children, aged from four to about eight (with crash helmets and body armour on) to hold on tight to the back of a sheep and then see how long they can stay on for.
One or two made it right across the stadium. Another one was they lined a whole lot of older kids up and they had to catch a calf, wrestle it to the ground and then rope it to pull it over the finishing line. I could almost hear the old Benny Hill music playing in the background as mayhem ensued. I loved the horses.
This guy did a fantastic lasso act
although I thought his horse could win a beauty contest.
We lasted at the rodeo for a couple of hours and enjoyed it immensely, but after a while there are only so many times you can watch a guy fall off an animal before it becomes a tad old. The thing that most impressed me about the event was the fact that they give huge amounts of money to a variety of charities and to help children with their education. I could not decide how cruel it all was, but the animals all seemed to shrug it off after their tussles and then trot back to their enclosures (apart from one naughty steer, who gave the recapture guys the run around and kept going back to join his buddies who hadn’t been wrestled with yet).
We went out of some doors and then realised we didn’t know where our bag was. We trekked around the building for ages until we found a sympathetic guard who pointed us in the right direction. Eventually we found the right place, retrieved the rucksack and then tried to find our way back to the campsite. Luckily we found a nice security lady to put us back in the right direction (we were totally headed in the wrong one) and we walked around the HUGE site. We passed a policeman with a cool looking bike and then spent quite a long time chatting to him about bikes in general.
He was in the local traffic division and was as perplexed as we have been as to why Americans generally refuse to wear crash helmets. He said he had recently been to a fatality where the speed of the crash was only thirty MPH. It was a delight to watch Tim and the cop bonding over bikes; it is probably a universal language. We managed to find our way back to the campground without falling down any of the potholes we had seen along the roadside on the way there. As we walked into the site, we came across Trace Blair
who owns a small ranch. He was more than happy to show us around his luxury horse box/ people trailer. He had brought his daughters to the rodeo to show off their various animals and was passionate about encouraging youngsters to get involved in agriculture. He told us that it is very expensive to buy land in Texas and that the pasture is so poor, especially in the west of the state, that each cow needs 50 acres and you need a hundred thousand acres to run a decent herd. He was thrilled to bits that we had been to the rodeo and that we were interested in ranching.
The next day we got ourselves in gear and caught the bus into town. I was intrigued to watch these grackles (very much like British starlings) making the most of the shade from a street sign.
We met some lovely people on the way who guided us to the place Tim most wanted to go to locally; the Alamo. It is quite surprising to roll up to the site of the Alamo and realise that, unusually for a battle site, it is slap bang in the middle of town.
The place is held as a shrine, which I found quite difficult. When we looked at the list of the Alamo dead, not one came from Mexico. It appeared to me that everyone had come to steal land from Mexico.
We headed into town and walked along the delightful river walk.
San Antonio has obviously realised that it can make its way through tourism and the river walk is wonderful. The water pours by, through and underneath shops, hotels and restaurants. You can walk by the river, sit and eat and drink OR you can take an incredibly manic forty five minute cruise where you can have the abbreviated history of EVERY building on the water front spouted at you in staccato style and come away with a bruised brain.
We had a lovely lunch at one of the Irish pubs by the water
where I ate a proper lamb stew with so much flavour I could not help thinking of my mum’s cooking and then we went to find somewhere to buy some stamps so I could finally send my alligator postcard to my granddaughter. (I subsequently managed to lose the whole blooming sheet) It turned out that the only post office was in the same building as the law courts, right back by the Alamo. We had to go through security to get to the place where we could buy stamps and they would not let Tim take his penknife through.
We caught the bus back to the campground, feeling like we had had a great day. When we got back to the tent we realised that we had new neighbours who were also camping in a TENT (pretty exciting) and we got chatting with them. Cindy, Gene and his brother Michael were on a trip to see relatives in San Francisco and were planning to head into San Antonio to see the lights. I have to confess that we led them astray with beer and wine and we had a lovely evening chatting with them. Cindy and Gene live in Chicago (called the windy city, because of the politicians blustering on, not the weather conditions, apparently) and Richard lived in St Louis. My only real regret is that I forgot to take a photo of them, but perhaps they will send us one!