Apologies for the length of this post…it just all added up.
We should have listed to you, Stu. When I asked about the Gulf coast of Texas, you suggested Port Aransas, on the north end of North Padre Island. Before we left Guanajuato, we checked out a few hotels there, and they were either outrageously expensive or full-up. We looked at a map and decided maybe something closer to the National Seashore, on the south end of the island would be good. So we booked a room at Comfort Suites there. Mistake #1. The hotel was awful. But that’s a minor thing.
We checked in on Friday evening. Our room had a little balcony that looked across the street at the more luxurious Holiday Inn and the beach beyond. The beach itself—well, it’s hard to be critical of a beach. The sand was the softest and the whitest I’ve ever seen, and the water was wonderful, crashing waves, warm. But to get there, you had to make your way past the pick-up trucks parked just above the high-tide level. Apparently that’s the thing here: you drive onto the beach, plant a flag in the ground (a Texas flag, or a skull and crossbones), and turn up your radio. One of the biggest tourist attractions is renting four-wheelers and careening around on the sand.
So much for beaching it. Let’s check out the National Seashore, just a few miles south. We stopped at the gate, found it cost $10 to get into the park. One of the highlights of the national seashore, we were told—in addition to the migratory birds—is that you can drive your car along the beach. Wow. What we weren’t told was that the $10 would be good for seven days. If only we’d known—maybe we’d have gone in and driven up and down the beach. Instead, we saved our $10 fee for another day.
We’d seen some ads for kayaking. Now THAT sounded like fun. We’d get moving early on Saturday morning and drive to Port Aransas—just half an hour north–where apparently you could rent kayaks. And it might be a nice little town to explore. Nicer than where we were. We arrived, not quite sure where to go, but we saw a sign for a coastal research and visitors centre and figured that would be a good place to start. We wound through the little town until we found the centre—closed. Permanently, it seemed. Oh well. We also saw signs for a boardwalk for bird watching—which we found without any problem. This whole area is a great place for shore birds, though we’re too late for most of the migratory species. I’ve been thinking about birds and birders, but I will save these thoughts for a later post and hopefully include some photos. I was particularly taken with the moorhen, whose name I am determined to remember.
After the birds, we began to look for the kayak place in earnest. It was already mid morning. We had just a name and “Port Aransas”. We stopped at a touristy shop, thinking they might know where to go. They knew nothing; thought maybe they’d seen a kayak or two sometime. We found the address for a tourist information office. Surely they could help. But when we arrived, there was a sign in the window saying the office had moved to a new address. Neither we nor the GPS could find the new address. After half a dozen illegal u-turns, we gave up and stopped in a gelato and coffee shop for a late morning pick-me-up. There, we saw a sign for bird walks at the national seashore, daily, 9:30 am, until the end of April. Why had there been no notice of that where we were staying, just a few miles away? Tomorrow, we decided. For sure. A good way to start the day before moving on.
But today, the kayaking. I found a phone number and learned that the place was really in another little town, just a short ferry ride away. Another illegal u-turn, and onto the ferry. Within minutes, we were on the other side, facing a 3-mile long line-up of cars waiting to go where we had just been. Why?? And would we have to wait in that line to get back? No, said the GPS. There was a “long” way around.
We had the names of two kayak rental places. We found the first. Closed. We found the second. A really nice guy explained that we couldn’t kayak today because of a combination of a high pressure system and wind. Not enough water depth. By now, it was noon. He recommended a great place for lunch—so far, along with the bird sanctuary, the only success of the day.
He also explained that the long line-up of cars was to an annual sand sculpture event at Port Aransas. Now THAT could be fun. Surely the line would have cleared out by the time we finished our lunch, and we could check out the sand sculptures! After shrimp and crabcakes, we headed back to the ferry. The line had indeed shrunk; now it was only two miles long. Quick u-turn, and the long way around to our hotel. No sand sculpture. We arrived back at at 3:00, having spent most of a “non-travel” day in the car without doing much of anything.
We made our way past the pickup trucks to spread our towels on the beach and relaxed by the water for awhile. I got wet in the breakers, but the water was too rough to go far. We ended the day with a supper of cheese and crackers in our room and a long walk along the beach, where the trucks are clearing out for the day. Tomorrow would be better.
And so, this morning we got moving in time to take a short nature walk. An overcast morning, nice breeze. No birds or wildlife, but interesting vegetation—a place where desert and grasslands meet, I guess. I’ve seen lots of cactus and lots of grass, but this was the first time I’d seen them sharing space. Then on to the visitors centre.
“This is where the bird walk starts, right?”
“Yes ma’am. But there isn’t one today. The folks who lead it have left the park. Check out Bird Basin, on our way out of the park. Usually lots of birds there.”
Bzck into the car, off to Bird Basin, where we find a sign informing us we’d have to pay a second fee to get in. Forget it. We’d already paid $10 for nothing.
So. No coastal research centre. No Port Aransas Visitors Centre. No kayaking. No sand sculpture. No bird walk. No bird basin. A beach full of pick-up trucks. And five hours of driving without getting anywhere. Time to get off the island! But first, gas up. We pull into a gas station where none of the buttons on the tanks work, including the button that says that if none of the buttons work you should signal an attendant. While Jack is fussing with the gas, I go into the little store to buy a couple of bottles of wine. Oh—you can’t buy wine until after noon on Sundays in Texas.
Back in Corpus Christi, we found a bird sanctuary and boardwalk where we saw a great assortment of water birds—avocets (very neat), egrets, herons, plovers (we think), a variety of ducks, and in the bushes on the way to the shore, one loud cardinal.
Tonight we’re just into Louisiana. Tomorrow, probably New Orleans for 2 nights and then we’ll have to make tracks north in time for the Easter Bunny.