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Southside Soul (US - TX, LA; Mex - TM, NL)

kileskus

Junior Member
Joined
Jan 20, 2019
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15
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A taste of Texas, a lick of Louisiana, a tot of Tamaulipas, and a night in Nuevo Leon

I’m a budget traveller so this TR likely won’t interest some, but I will include my experience crossing the US-Mexico border as well as some interesting small towns from my Texan road trip and tips on intercity buses. Apologies for the lack of photos and the bad quality of the ones that made it – I hadn’t originally planned on writing a TR.

The entire trip was rather last minute as I was intending to save up for another Eastern Europe trip, but STA had $750 for return Melbourne-Houston via Auckland on Air NZ. It seemed like an excellent deal and I have a good friend in Texas, so took the plunge.

The basic plan was:
-take buses to New Orleans
-go on a Houston-Dallas-Austin road trip, stopping by in several small towns along the way
-drop by Mexico to get alcohol (and experience the culture, of course) by going Austin-San Antonio-Laredo-Nuevo Laredo-Monterrey on buses

It looked something like
route.jpg

The flights
Entry: Air NZ gives expedited immigrations processing and it took less than an hour.

Exit: On the IAH-AKL flight there were many empty seats – there was only one person in the three rows on my right! One of the flight attendants, who seemed to be experienced – said she’d never seen a flight that empty. The FAs spread the passengers around, and a few people got their own row. I overheard one person who had been given a Skycouch row this way say that he had a great rest.

Overall, I found the crew to be quite distant (though professional) and though I have nothing to complain about given that it was economy and an excellent deal, I did find it slightly disconcerting that on a 13+ hr flight there were no eye shades/toothpaste/bottled water provided, which were available for economy passengers on long-hauls I’ve taken with other airlines. The meals were great, but airplane food always tastes great to me (as does hospital food – I don’t quite understand why people complain about these two). They definitely seemed to have good variety as the same meal options never popped up on the four flights I had with them.
 

kileskus

Junior Member
Joined
Jan 20, 2019
Messages
15
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Houston -> NOLA (Megabus)
Nearly didn’t get on because the bus’s side screen said San Antonio and displayed a New Orleans-Houston-San Antonio route, but we realised a few minutes before it left that the bus number matched the one on our tickets.

You can reserve seats when booking online for an extra $2. The front seats on the second deck had more legroom and, of course, a good view.

The toilet is at the back of the lower deck. There’s also no sink.

They really jack up the AC on overnight buses (this one and the Greyhounds I took were almost always cold). I was in t-shirt and shorts because it was 37 degrees outside, so spent the night shivering. Bring a jacket for these buses just in case.

New Orleans
It’s a cute, walkable city. There’s a modern public transportation system (with a daily pass cost of $3) but for the southern side of the city I found it more interesting to walk around and look at the colourful houses. Since the city burned down twice, it’s quite rare to find a house in the original architectural style, which were built from driftwood from the Mississippi. One of those remaining houses is in the northern part of the French Quarter and belonged to Marie Laveau, a free woman who used her connections and social manoeuvring skills to buy the freedom of other slaves and smuggle them to Canada.

She was a famous practitioner of voodoo, which is a bona fide religion based on the religions that the slaves brought over from their native countries, especially Haiti. A lot of the preconceptions we have of voodoo entered our public consciousness as a corollary of the cultural effects of the Code Noir, where slave owners had to discourage all religions except for Catholicism among their slaves.

brainstorm.png

houses.jpg


For nature, there are a few museums around, like an insectarium and the Audubon Nature Institute which comes with a zoo, aquarium, and butterfly centre. Cruises along the Mississippi or kayaking in the bayou are also available.

bayou.jpg


The streets are lively – lots of people around, and occasionally some bands, though they weren’t jazz ones per se. There’s not much street art around, which I found a little surprising, though if you’re looking for a visual arts fix the New Orleans Museum of Art is not to be missed. Aside from the usual European art from the Renaissance onward, they also have Louisiana settler and Native American art. It’s located in City Park, where we also ran into what we thought was a tent revival but turned out to be a Zulu cultural celebration.

At night the French Quarter is an interesting place to be, lots of music and people having a fun time. For example, there’s a place that sells cocktails with a toy shark, where trusting the shark in leads to an eruption of some red liquid into the drink – it’s called a ‘shark attack’.

Unfortunately I can’t comment much more on the nightlife since ID was always checked. I was told that one should endeavour to arrive early to try to avoid bouncers, but didn’t have the opportunity to verify that.

The cuisine is quite well known so I’ll be brief: seafood, jambalaya, gumbo, praline, po’boy. (I went to a Vietnamese restaurant and on the menu they described banh mi as “Vietnamese po’boy”, which from my Melbourne-dweller point of view was hilarious. But it’s not inaccurate!)

In short, it’s a city for culture-lovers, nature-lovers, and decadence-lovers. I would definitely recommend doing a tour or two around here as there’s just so much to discover.

The weekend we were there, there were two events: Midsummer Mardi Gras and the running of the bulls. The second is a nod to Louisiana’s Spanish history – after wrangling with malaria, fires, and useless swampland, the French basically gave the region to the Spanish. Due to limited time we had to miss both of them. For those of you who do visit, be sure to check out what events are on!

NOLA -> Houston (Greyhound)
Night bus again, and again the AC was uncomfortably busy, though less so than Megabus’s.
 

cjd600

Established Member
AFF Supporter
Joined
Oct 19, 2010
Messages
1,114
Sounds like a fun trip, happy to ride along!
 

Silvia

Active Member
Joined
Jun 7, 2018
Messages
798
I lived in Monterrey for about 5 years during university. It is a fascinating place, although the traffic is getting ridiculous! The bus from Laredo to Monterrey shouldn't take too long from memory.

I tend to go to Monterrey every 2 years and who doesn't like a cheap meal, shopping and low cost alcohol.

Enjoy the trip :)
 
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kileskus

Junior Member
Joined
Jan 20, 2019
Messages
15
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The Comanches
One of the main themes for this trip was the Comanche tribe. Where I grew up, I was more familiar with totem poles and the Pacific northwest coast Indians. The Plains Indians – the most well-known among them probably being groups like the Cree, Apaches, and Sioux – were evocative of buffalo and teepees. So I set out endeavouring to learn more about the Native Americans who inhabited Texas, and the Comanche, “the most powerful Indian tribe in American history”, really caught my interest.

The Comanches were the earliest and best Native American adopters of the horse that the Spanish brought over, and they used this to become a feared tribe of fierce, mobile, stealthy, and incredibly skilled warriors. They were, according to Wikipedia, “at one time or another, at war with virtually every other Native American group living on the South Plains.” They halted Spanish expansion northward and French expansion westward, and put up a 40-year fight against the American army later on, capitulating only in the late 19th century. And that wasn’t due to direct military defeat, but rather an erosion of their way of living as the settlers decimated the buffalo population on which the Comanches depended on for sustenance and culture.

Captives from their battles – be it from other tribes or the settlers – would be killed, tortured, or incorporated into their tribe. Their most famous captive is probably Cynthia Ann Parker, whose son Quanah Parker became the chief of the last Comanche band (they operated in bands rather than one centrally-governed tribe) to surrender.

That’s enough history for now – just a bit of background to explain some of my destination choices. They were also a gateway of sorts with which I learned about the ethnic diversity of Texas as a whole, because Texas is a lot more diverse than perhaps pop culture leads us to imagine.
 

kileskus

Junior Member
Joined
Jan 20, 2019
Messages
15
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Houston -> Dallas (via Navasota and Groesbeck)

Driving along the highway out of Houston, one sees a lot of American and Texas flags. Texas is the only state where the state flag can be the same height as the national one, because of its stint as an independent country. The sheer number of flags being flown is, someone told me, “a Texan thing”.

Navasota is a town built around the railroad that used to run through it. It’s the blues capital of the state and has an interesting small-town vibe – historical buildings, drive-through ATMs, climbable fire escapes, plenty of antique stores. (Antique stores seem to be a thing in small towns, not sure why.)

nav2.jpg

Abandoned railroad tracks aren't the only no-longer-used iron lying around.
nav1.jpg


We dropped by Groesbeck for lunch at Mary’s Breakfast and Burger Barn, which really is a repurposed barn. This is the inside:
barn.jpg

I had a chicken-fried steak sandwich (steak made like fried chicken, have a look below) with a side of southern hospitality.
chicken fried steak sandwich.jpg


Just a little bit north of Groesbeck is Fort Parker. In 1836, around the time of the start of the 40-year struggle against the Americans, the Comanches raided the fort and took hostage, among others, the nine-year-old daughter of the landowner – Cynthia Ann Parker.

She was assimilated into the tribe, married a war chief, and gave birth to several children, one of whom, Quanah Parker, would become the Comanches' last chief. He knew English, which probably helped him negotiate better terms for the Comanches over the years and during their surrender. He would go on to become a wealthy and influential figure in both Anglo-American and Native American circles.

Cynthia Ann, on the other hand, was captured back by the Texas Rangers, who were finally able to win battles against the Comanche by being as ruthless as they were. She tried to return to the tribe but was caught each time, and until her death refused to assimilate back into white American society.

The fort was closed on the day we visited, and the only glimpses I could get were through gaps in the fence. It wasn't particular big - there were a few small huts and some pens for animals. Here's the blockhouse from the outside:
blockhouse.jpg


We had wanted to get to Dallas via Waco and West but didn’t have enough time for that. Apparently the main attraction in West is a bakery that sells the best kolaches in the state. Kolaches are a Czech pastry with a sausage inside. They’re considered a breakfast food here.

Texas has the most Czech Americans of any state, many of whom are descendants of 19th century immigrants. They mostly came in the 1850s, due to such factors as the revolutions of 1848 and the wars the Habsburgs were getting into (the Czech weren’t keen on getting drafted to fight for Austria’s interests).

Dallas
I really only came to see the Sixth Floor Museum in the Texas School Book Depository, from where Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK. You can look out of the window next to where he had set up.

jfk.jpg
 

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