29 Feb

Texas for The Win & A Taste of Mardi Gras

When you’re living out of a sixteen year old truck, home just happens to be wherever you stop for the night. Now that we’re rolling in Texas, Bruno has discovered a new amazing place to sleep at night: state-sponsored rest stops! Wonderfully clean and safe, they have great restrooms and spacious picnic table areas for cooking your meals. We could plan a whole other road trip trying to hit every rest stop in Texas, but that’s an entirely different trip. Welcome to Texas!

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We crossed the border into Texas with Bruno’s gas tank nearing empty. This was purposefully done, because our GasBuddy app was telling us gas prices in Texas were basically half of what we were paying in Mexico. At $1.64/gal ($0.43/L) we filled up Bruno in Laredo, TX for $20 USD!

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Texas has an interesting history with a lot of switch-a-roo’s. From the 1600’s to the 1800’s, the territory was variably controlled by France (1684), Spain (1690), Mexico (1821), and then it was an Independent Republic (1836). Texas ultimately joined the United States in 1845.

Driving through South Texas, Spanish culture permeates the billboards, street signs, and the grocery stores have lots of Latin American brands. Our route continues the tour around the Gulf of Mexico.

The top two things to visit in San Antonio were on our list. The River Walk is a great way to navigate the downtown area on foot. The pathways wind along the water below street level with offices and condos looming above.

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Even in the winter months, the greenery gives the feeling you’re in a city park. The riverside restaurants and hotels have patios open with tables in the sunshine.

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Since we don’t have any travel books for the US, we’ve been using WikiTravel as our guide to exploring the new cities. Thanks Internet! Our next stop in the heart of San Antonio is The Alamo.

When Texas (then called Tejas) was part of Mexico in the early 1800’s, Mexico had very liberal policies encouraging immigrants to move to Texas from the other US states. Many American settlers flowed into Texas, lured by the incentive of cheap ranch land. Over time, these English speaking settlers decided they didn’t like new policies being dictated by Mexico City and decided to start the Texas Revolution. There were a bunch of back and forth battles, one of which happened at The Alamo – a little fort in now downtown San Antonio. Long story short, a Mexican army of 1,800 stormed the fort and slaughtered the roughly 200 Texans who were held up there.

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At the end of the day, we spent the night at a rest stop east of San Antonio. The Texas Dept. of Transportation has a great map, showing which of its rest stops are newly renovated. Those are the really fancy ones. We’re talking bathrooms with sparkling granite counter-tops!

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The next day, we were treated to a nice lunch by our friends in the area (thanks Steve & Liz!), then headed further north to a cushy Airbnb rental in Austin, TX. We found Austin easy to navigate by bus with an affordable 24-hour bus pass ($2.50 USD)! We kicked off our tour at the Texas State Capitol Building.

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The city is also home to the University of Texas at Austin. It has a large campus with lots of green space, museums, and – wait for it – a massive college football stadium (on left). No US college campus is complete without one. Go Longhorns!

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A short walk from UT Austin is the city’s 6th Street strip of bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. This is the center of its self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World. We didn’t hang around long, but it looked like a pretty good scene!

The Colorado River flows through downtown Austin and there are a handful of large parks along its shores. Active Austin residents were out in force on a Sunday, enjoying the beautiful winter weather by bike and out on the water.

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We enjoyed the parks until Travis’ sandal broke and he hobbled us into a movie house. Austin has several of those new theaters where you can eat, drink and be merry in your seat while watching a movie. We gorged on Royale with Cheese burgers and shared a Peanut Butter Chocolate Milkshake (whoa!), while watching a bear attack Leonardo DiCaprio. It was all very satisfying.

After a 3-day stay, we left Austin for the megalopolis that is Houston. The convenient placement of another fabulous rest stop west of the city allowed us to stay outside the maze of traffic. We were ready to head to the NASA Space Center in the morning! They built a replica of the Space Shuttle Independence and attached it atop the retired Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905.

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A tram-tour of the NASA campus is included in the general admission, where you’re shown around the currently active buildings of the Space Center. We also got to see the Mission Control Center from the Apollo program, which has been restored and preserved to it’s state from the 1960’s. All the equipment you see here is original and was used during the most famous Apollo 11 and 13 missions. What a piece of history! There was also a lot of enthusiasm from our tour guides on the upcoming manned missions to Mars. It’s gonna be awesome!

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East of Houston, oil refineries are the name of the game and the landscape flattens out all the way to Louisiana. The wind gusts were so intense on the freeway that our Coleman stove escaped its bungee cords and flew off Bruno’s roof with gusto, narrowly missing cars in the next lane. Amanda had written it off, but Travis pulled the nearest U-turn, determined to go back for it. To our gleeful surprise, it was dented but had not exploded. This is the little stove that could. Travis was able to collect the pieces, kinda bend everything back together, and so far it still seems to be working. We cooked dinner on it that night at the rest stop!

We made it to New Orleans just when Carnival was starting to ramp up, only six days before Mardi Gras. This time of year, there are multiple parades every night leading up to Fat Tuesday, and tons of people crowded in the streets with open alcoholic beverages in-hand. Here’s a nice picture of some partially drunk people petting the police horses on Bourbon Street.

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We hung out on Canal Street waiting for the first parade to start. There are streetcars that normally run this main thoroughfare of the French Quarter, but public transit was all out of whack and detoured with the Carnival festivities. It was mildly confusing to get around and after waiting for a bus that never showed, we had an Uber car to take us back to our Airbnb.

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New Orleans by day is a different animal. Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral are at the center of the French Quarter, with all different types of musicians entertaining tourists on the street. Two guys busking with bongos and a drum kit were fun to watch, one of them was free-style rapping at people as they walked by.
Hey little girl, why so mad? Your family ain’t that bad. You should be glad I ain’t your Dad.

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Trying to blend in with the locals at a coffee shop in the hip Arts District.

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We’ve become quite adjusted to driving on Central American roads, and suffering the heavy costs and variable quality of the Mexican toll roads. Driving in the US is now officially a (boring) breeze thanks to the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, also known simply as “the Interstate”. Here’s a nice picture of the I-59 in Mississippi heading towards Alabama.

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With one final night of camping at a rest stop outside Birmingham, Alabama, it’s our last camp for a while. We booked Airbnb rooms for the big cities coming up and there was snow in the forecast for Tennessee. So far, we’ve spent a total of 55 nights sleeping in Bruno over 10,000 miles / 16,500 kilometers. We’re ready for winter now… we think.

  • Eric

    What, no picture of the recovered Coleman stove?!

    What a great adventure you guys are having. Thanks for bringing the rest of us desk jockeys along for the ride. Welcome back to the USA.

    • Amanda

      Eric, I was so sure this thing wasn’t going to make it. Plus, Travis had us pulled over in the left lane on the freeway picking up the various components – I was too frightened for him & Bruno to pull out the camera!! 🙂

  • SE

    Great tip about the map with the new/remodeled rest stops in The Republic of Texas. I envy both of you and your freedom. I wish we would pull the trigger and execute something similar. Enjoy the rest of your journey and great save on the Coleman stove!

    • Amanda

      Thanks SE! Camping at rest stops never would have occurred to me, but they were really quite swanky 🙂 I hope you can get the ball rolling on some travels of your own! All the best.

      • Ken

        awesome blog! did you guys actually sleep in Bruno, or do you pitch tents out at the rest stop?

        • Ken

          Oops, just answered my own question lol. I just looked at your fixing up Bruno post and the photo of your sleeping bag in the back.

          • Amanda

            Hi Ken! Never seen anyone pitch a tent at a rest stop… I would question whether personnel would be ok with that?! We put up our curtains inside Bruno and anonymously flake out for the night. We often get funny looks with our elaborate kitchen setup on the picnic tables at breakfast & supper time, but never had a problem. Thanks for reading!