San Angelo, Carlsbad & Santa Fe

From Austin we moved onto a few smaller places on our way to the wonder of Monument Valley. First up was San Angelo, which if you didn’t know is one of the top 5 places for sheep and goat auctions. It’s also one of the best places to go if you’re interested in early American frontier life. Those two facts alone give you some idea of what we got up to there… not a lot. Still, our room had big double beds and the hostel had washing facilities so it served as a laundry stop if nothing else. We had dinner at a burger place that gave you a celebrity name when you ordered which they’d then shout out when your order was ready; I was Emma Stone. That really was as wild as it got. Feeling pretty tired everyone except me rejected Jack’s offer of getting drinks (although beers were had at dinner, don’t think for a minute we broke our streak of drinking every day) so we headed to pretty much the only bar in town and got educated by the most enthusiastic bartender of all time. That was the extent of our time in San Angelo, I didn’t even take any photos.

Next up was Carlsbad! I remember it being so hot here as we headed deeper into the desert. Coming directly from San Angelo we went straight to Carlsbad Caverns which is one of 300 limestone caves, is 1000ft deep, has 30 miles of passages and has “The Big Room” which is the largest underground chamber in the USA. Pretty impressive. It was used as location for the film Journey to the Centre of the Earth, if that means anything to any of you. Going down into the cave was easy and it was really interesting to see all the stalagmites and stalactites and the way the lighting was done actually made some of them look quite pretty. We took a breather when we reached the bottom of the slope and waited with some other explorers for the rest of our group to which Lynsey said “there’s more life in this cave than in San Angelo!” – which will forever be hilarious to me, but maybe you had to be there. The trek back up to the top was a killer but we did it in record time and after a quick pose to get our traditional group photo we piled back into the van and made our way to the motel, stopping only for pizza, beer and classic red cups. That evening in Carlsbad will always be one of my favourites – a sunset, pizza, great company, hysterical games of beer pong and a swimming pool with our phenomenal aqua yoga. You can’t beat it.

Our final stop along the way was Santa Fe, home to the oldest house, oldest church and the second cleanest air in America*. It gets 310 days of sun each year and is apparently the 5th most romantic city… I’m open to opinions on that.

I don’t remember doing anything there apart from going to a bar and playing shuffleboard. Half the group headed back to the hotel to make the most of the laundry facilities and enjoy a chilled evening whereas the rest of us found another bar; which felt like it hadn’t had unaccompanied girls in it since the dawn of time so we were home by 11.

Not far from Santa Fe is Roswell, featuring one of the worlds largest mozzarella factories. It’s also the birth place of John Denver and Demi Moore and of course, is home to the UFO Museum and Research Centre. This last fact is why Roswell is even on the map at all. Back in 1947 it was the site of an alleged UFO crash and has been a hub of alien and UFO themed stores, museums and restaurants (there’s even a flying saucer shaped McDonalds) ever since. As we were in the area it seemed silly not to spend $5 on the museum, however opinions of this experience did split the group. Some thought it was the highlight of the trip so far and others thought it was a waste of time. I was somewhere in the middle but I have to say it was as interesting and as weird as you’d expect it to be. The video below was probably why I was swayed.

Honestly. There really are no words. Our time in the middle of the desert couldn’t have been stranger but we loved it all the same (I think Ana loved the gift shop here more than most).

Next stop Monument Valley!

*American Lung Association 2013

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Houston & Austin, Texas

Houston was a surprise destination for all of us; the itinerary had mentioned Austin but not Houston and considering we were there the two weeks after Hurricane Harvey we weren’t expecting much. How wrong we were! Thankfully we saw almost no devastation within the city and our hostel only had minor damages – a damp ceiling and a broken toilet in our room, both of which were nothing compared with what we could have faced.

Let me back up for a minute though and tell you about about the swamp tour we went on en route to Houston. Before we left New Orleans we stopped off at Cajun Pride Swamp Tours and had a boat tour of the swamps and bayous. It was interesting, interactive and our tour guide completely loved what he was telling us so his enthusiasm was infectious. We learned about alligators and saw them up close and personal (video below) watched raccoons and got to pass round snakes, skulls, and Handbag the little alligator.

After all the excitement it was time to climb back into our trusty van, our home from home, and head on to Houston. Five hours later we arrived and quickly visited a ‘waterfall’ in the middle of a little park which was heaving with teens taking prom photos before continuing to our hostel to get ready and head out for dinner. We thought Houston would be a quiet night; dinner, drinks and bed but it turned out to be one of the best nights we had. I think it gets the award for most surprising city but perhaps it’s what we made of it.

We had dinner in an underground food market type place where you could get anything from sushi to pizza to tacos so everyone got something they loved. We then headed to the emptiest bar on the strip for a drink or two – we bagged a booth and settled in. Five glasses of wine later and the place was packed so we took it in shifts to dance so we didn’t lose the booth. Tactical. Four hours later, add in more wine, a few beers and a swimming pool and you’ve got a great night. Intellectual conversation, shared drinks and swimming under the stars with your new found best friends is unlike much else. Houston, you were pretty special.

From Houston we headed to Austin! A slightly slower morning from what I remember but three hours later we arrived at the Salt Lick, a proper Texas BBQ. The vegetarian options on the menu were zero. I got potato salad and coleslaw, neither of which looked like either I’d seen before but they tasted alright. Austin was hot hot hot so a few of the girls did a wine tasting experience while the rest of us relaxed in the sun and played boules. Since it was such a scorching day we went to Barton Springs Pool, a fresh water spring/swimming pool where we swam and relaxed for the first time in a while – activities every day are pretty exhausting no matter how fun they are. That evening we got pizza and beer (so America) and watched thousands of bats fly out from under a bridge, which sounds boring but it was actually pretty cool and there were so many people there watching with us. Maybe it just says something about Austin, that that’s the best evening entertainment they have. Just kidding, I’m sure the nightlife is great we just didn’t really get chance to sample it apart from a few drinks (a bucket full of beers for $12) here and there. Day two was spent exploring the street art that was displayed all around the city and it was pretty impressive, and very instagramable. We went to the Capitol building which was a rather nice air-con stop as well as educational of course and then we wandered the shops and tried on cowboy hats and boots once again, far more up our street and a few of us bought bandanas for our upcoming Monument Valley adventure.

Our hostel in Austin was interesting to say the least. The girls bathroom was being renovated so we had to use shared facilities but the rest of the place was nice and the lake behind the building was stunning, especially at sunset. The only issue we had with our time there was that we had a threatening sleep-talker in our room. Whether he was joking with us or whether he was serious we’re still not sure but we felt unsafe to say the least. The hostel staff were super helpful with the situation and moved us immediately but it was still a pretty odd. The screenshots of our messages to each other still make me laugh now.

Maybe I need to give Austin another chance but for now it’s not top of my list of places to return.

On to San Angelo!

Friendship…

Friendship.

This post has been months in the making because I’ve found it difficult to find the right words to explain my thoughts fully. Hopefully, with a bit of luck, it’s turned out how I imagined it would and I hope that it can be helpful and reassuring to anyone who’s feeling anything similar to me… 

I think friendship is different now from when our parents were younger, at least that’s how it seems in my family. If your parents didn’t go to university, most likely their friends live in the same city as them, or one not too far away unless they’ve moved in more recent years. Up until I went to university, I was the same. I had all my friends a simple bus ride away. Granted, they all lived in different directions but it was still pretty easy to meet up with them; you saw them at school every day and you’d hang out at the weekends for shopping or sleepovers. Friendship was easy. Sixth form for me was pretty much the same as school apart from the introduction of a few German exchange students, one of which I’m still best friends with today. 

Of course the next step is university where you met people from all over the country and whilst making friends at uni is pretty easy, maintaining those friendships once you’re in different cities is where things need a little more effort. Suddenly there are very few original friends in the city we’d all started in which was a strange feeling. It was a bit like being newbie here, having to start over and make friends again. To meet up with friends from school or university now required planning (as well as time and money) since they were scattered in various places all over two hours away. Friendship is team work, it’s give and take. Sometimes the people you thought would be there forever, aren’t. They’ll let you down and a message from them will be too much to ask. You’ll see them maybe four or five times a year and they won’t see anything wrong with it. It takes a little time to accept that not all friends are “forever friends” and that’s okay. However there may be times when someone you thought you’d never speak to again comes back into your life and however daunting and strange this may seem at first it could well be a blessing. It’s also okay to keep people out if that’s what’s best for you. Only you can make that call. Give it the time and effort you think it deserves and go from there. People change, friendships change – it’s not the end of the world. There will be people who show up and never leave, don’t take them for granted – they’re keepers. 

There may come a time when you realise that you don’t really speak to anyone from your school days anymore and that’s okay. You may only have one or two people that you still speak to and that’s okay too! Reconnecting and meeting up with my best friend from secondary school is one of my favourite things to do because although we’ve been leading separate lives for nearly as long as we were at school together we’re still the best of friends. Having known each other for over half our lifetime it’s so cool to be able to say “I knew you back when…” And reminisce together. It’s equally as cool to be able to catch each other up on our current lives and discover that we still both have the same interests and values and that actually, between us, not much has changed. Cherish these people – they’ll be the ones with the best photos at your 40th birthday party. 

Sometimes it may seem that everyone is moving on, settling down with new friends and partners and families and you’re still where you always were. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong. You have your new friends and you’ll get where you’re going soon enough too. It’s a good idea to check in with the friends who are on the same page as you, chasing a similar path – they’ll be feeling exactly the same and it’s nice to reassure each other that you’re not both crazy.