Reluctantly the next morning, we packed up our suitcases ready to check out of our hotel room. It wasn’t that we weren’t looking forward to the next leg of the trip – it’s just that it had been SO nice to have a real bed again after a week of sleeping in tents outside, and the next leg of the journey was going to be a long, 10-day slog with a different campsite almost every night. Still, the excitement of our next destinations out-weighed most of the disappointment of leaving the hotel behind.
As we loaded our cases back onto the minibus we met our newest companions; our Australian father-and-daughter contingent had departed us the day before and we had 2 new people replacing them; a chap from Scotland who, like many of the others in our group had just completed a 2 month stint being a camp counsellor for Camp America; and a lady from Switzerland who didn’t speak so much English but seemed very sweet. When we were all loaded up and on the bus, Ben told us that our first stop today would be on the way out of Louisiana – we would be having a swamp tour, with real live gators and everything!
After about 2 hours of driving and the first of the day’s bus naps, we arrived at “Captain Caviar’s Swamp Tours” and met the famous Captain Caviar. He told us he got his name after building up a multimillion dollar caviar business from the prehistoric choupique fish that lived in the waters of his home on the Atchafalaya basin. He then sold on the business and bought the swamp tour company, living out his retirement on the swamps. What a great life! He took us out on his huge, flat-bottomed, canopy-covered (thankfully!!) boat and instructed that we needed to stay seated whenever the engine was on.
We were out on the water for about 3 hours, riding around the enormous swamp, through a canal and out into the open waters of the Atchafalaya. During the ride we saw so many beautiful birds; herons, egrets, hawks – even an Osprey!
We were even lucky enough to spot a few gators! For the most part we only saw them very briefly while they swam past and poked the top of their heads above the water, but we got very close to a baby gator on a log – hopefully Mama Gator wasn”t too close nearby! When the tour finally came to an end we set up our picnic tables to make a quick lunch, then got back onto the road. We were headed for the Lone Star State!
The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. Oh how true this is. We crossed the border into Texas and immediately several members of our crew started celebrating. This is the state where they’d spent the last 2 months of summer camp so in a way it was like a homecoming for them. We stopped off briefly at a visitors centre on the state line so everyone could celebrate the arrival into Texas with some cheesy pictures.
Soon we were back on the road headed for our campsite – we were told by Ben that we would be camping in Sea Rim State Park – right on the Gulf Coast. When we arrived the first thing we noticed was the Texas heat; the campsite was humid, hot as hell and…pretty primative compared to what we’d experienced on last week’s campsites and the memory of the hotel beds seemed very distant. We pitched our tents on the hard stone ground (no grass to help with the comfort tonight) but forewent the rain covers as it would be far too hot to sleep with them; then went off to explore the facilities. There really wasn’t much at all, no showers and no electricity; just a couple of long drop toilets (but at least they had seats, we kept reminding ourselves). We were right next to the beach but as we’d been warned by Ben about a large local alligator population that liked to hide in the marshes between our camp and the ocean, I decided I’d give the beach a miss.
As the sun went down though, it was a different kind of wildlife that came out to play: mosquitos. And LOTS of them. We coated ourselves liberally in OFF spray but it didn’t seem to do any good, the mozzie bites came thick and fast so after dinner most people just saught refuge in their tents. I found it so hard to sleep that night because of the humidity, even putting my damp towel on top of my sleeping bag and lying on top of it in just my underwear (if I hadn’t been sharing a tent I may well have gone fully nude) but there was, at least, a small upside. Those amazing Texas stars, which we could see so clearly since we didn’t have our rain covers on our tents. It was an indescribably peaceful sight, laying on the ground and watching the constellations and Milky Way miles above us. The campsite may have been the worst in history but it had one hell of a view.
Now, while we’d all been worried about the alligators and mosquitos, there was one thing Ben hadn’t warned us about. At about 3am I heard some loud noises coming from near the trailer of the van. Footsteps of some sort of animals on the ground and loud snuffling noises, then the sound of something trying to attack our food coolers which were out on the ground. We had to stay in the tents, frozen with fear. I thought it must be alligators or….were there bears in this part of the US?! Ben told us the next morning it was neither; our camp had been visited in the night by wild pigs!! We could see all of the trotter marks for ourselves. Luckily they hadn’t managed to get into the coolers so all of our food was intact. As a group we opted to skip breakfast the next morning and just get the heck out of Sea Rim as fast as possible – we were back on the road by 7am, headed across the state to San Antonio, home of the Alamo.
After a brief stop at Walmart to pick up some breakfast, Ben decided to take us to see a Texas institution – Buc-ees! For the uninitiated, Buc-ees is a gas station, but it’s so much more than that. It was like nothing I’d seen before: part gas station, part home-store, part clothing empire and part deep-pit BBQ café. And everything we saw was emblazened with the Buc-ees mascot, a big smiling beaver (who I imagine is named Buc-ee). It really seemed like you could pick up everything here, from every kind of confectionary, to BBQ sandwiches and meals, to fresh homemade fudge and beef jerky, to a whole section of clothes, toys and miscellaneous Texas-themed homeware. To top it all off, the Buc-ee’s bathrooms are (allegedly) world famous for being the cleanest bathrooms in the US. And it’s true, they’ve literally won awards for this (who comes up with these awards?!) years on the trot, and I can confirm they were definitely the cleanest bathrooms I’ve ever used at a gas station pretty much anywhere. They were also huge, because y’know. Everything’s bigger in Texas.
Eventually we had to get back on the road again and leave the strange world of Buc-ee’s behind. I was chuffed I’d managed to pick up some Beaver nuts, a brisket sandwich and a Buc-ee’s t-shirt, cementing my newfound love of Texas and Buc-ee’s. We continued our long drive across the biggest state of the lower 48, passing by enormous oil refineries and expansive fields of Texan cattle as we went. Eventually we made it to our San Antonio campsite – the KOA sign was a familiar and (after last night’s wild experience) joyful sight as we pulled in. Our tents were quickly pitched – we were in the rhythm of this now – and we dove into the camp showers to clean the last couple of days of travel sweat off our bodies. Pretty soon we were ready to head into the city, so we piled into the minibus again and set off to spend a few hours in San Antonio.
The two main tourist attractions of the city of San Antonio have to be: the picturesque river walk which takes you along the river through beautiful greenary; and the world famous Alamo. Everyone in old American movies always seems to say things like “Remember the Alamo” but I never knew why or even what the Alamo was. It turns out the Alamo was a fort in San Antonio – but before that a Spanish Mission – and during the Texas revolution the Battle of the Alamo was a turning point in the state’s history whereby a small band of people held off hundreds of Mexican soldiers for 12 days, which led to the creation of the Republic of Texas. (It didn’t stay a Republic long before it became a member of the USA though). “Remember the Alamo!” was a battle cry during the final fight and people still remember how Texas got its independance now.
The actual Alamo was a beautiful old building with a small museum containing lots of information and history about the mission, the invasion of Mexico and the Battle of the Alamo. I didn’t want to spend too much time here though – as cool as it was to see the place, the independance of Texas just didn’t strike a chord with me and so I left with a friend to check out the river walk instead. It was such a hot day, we decided first to check out the mall (I was so excited – a mall. An actual shopping mall! With shops. Clothes. Bags. Shops!! I love my Cayman home but I do miss shopping.) We didn’t buy anything but it was fun to explore and try things on. The river walk was super beautiful. I don’t think I could do it justice with just words so here’s a few pictures:
We still had a bit of time before we had to meet Ben back at the bus, so a few of us decided to try out Hooters! Another US institution, for those that don’t know, Hooters is a bar/restaurant that employs extremely sexy women as servers, and makes them wear very skimpy uniforms to highlight their “assets”.
It’s the most sexist thing ever but damn. Those women were HOT. #bodygoals. We just stayed for a drink as dinner was going to be at the campsite later that night. Everyone else then went off to explore the mall some more but something else had caught my eye – an arcade! It appealed to the kid in me so I decided to blow off some steam for half an hour playing some old-school arcade games. Total waste of money but a lot of fun – the time flew by and before I knew it I had to be back at the bus. Oh well – San Antonio you were fun! I wish we had more than 2 hours to look around you. Next time.
Camp that night was pretty uneventful so I took the chance to finally do some much needed laundry and chill out in the camp’s TV room watching wildlife documentaries. (Not my first choice but there was a guy already in there). All the travel is great as you get to see so much, but sometimes it’s nice to find to some home comforts.