Monday, July 16, 2007

When swans attack (and other Texas adventures)

Greetings and yee-haws from Austin! I am having a fantastic time thus far in this city, besides near drowning in sweat and humidity. I do understand why they call the heat oppressive here. Most days, while being in the 30s in celsius (90s in Farenheit), the humidity makes it feel like in the 40s/100s. The air is just thick, and you sweat from pores you didn't know existed. I'm showering at least twice a day, and dirtying a ridiculous amount of clothing,
The bright side is that almost everything, including the smallest stores and buses, are air conditioned to the extreme.

Austin is rife with black crickets that leap into unsuspecting folks’ hair and move suspiciously like cockroaches when the light is dim.

It is also a very (literally) green city, which is not what one would expect from protypical conceptions of Texas. Some of the areas, particularly by the rivers, are downright lush and nearly swamp or jungle like, with loads of birds twittering and cicadas chirping. It is also full of great huge deciduous trees.

(quality is a little lacking, as my camera battery was dead, so it is another cell phone pic)

Meeting people has been astoudingly easy. People in this city are generally an extraordinarily friendly bunch (sometimes a little too friendly, as I will get to....), and the city has a great artsy laidback vibe to it.
Although, not to disappoint-- it is still Texas, and I did see a man wearing a t-shirt (actually a sweatshirt hand cut into a t-shirt, to be exact) declaring "Global warming is a liberal lie!"
Funny, because that liberal lie may have explain his need to make that sweatshirt into a t-shirt.


The hostel I stayed at was right on the Colorado River, and was host to some spectacularly beautiful sunsets. One day in particular, another fellow and myself headed out to a little dock to take a few photos...

...when this lovely critter and several of his friends appeared.

In the distance, with the setting sunlight dancing across the water, they looked stunning. However, we noticed that this group of them were coming towards us in an alarmingly straight line, seemingly very focused. The lead one, oblivious to our photographic attempts, came right to the foot of the dock- and then stretch out his long, slender neck, and attempted to bite our feet! Given the dock was rather narrow, and he had several colleagues only feet away, we decided that this was the time to rapidly scurry to mainland.

We returned to the same general vicinity the next day, and saw several of them eyeing us from the shore.

Why do birds despise me so?


I feel painfully on display in parts of this city.

I only made it across the street from my hostel my first morning before a man pulled up and offered me a ride. It only went downhill from there- I was asked out at the bus stop by a guy who thought that informing me about where the narcs in the neighbourhood were located was a good pick-up line. I had to rapidly dodge across the street to avoid conversing with a man who pulled a sudden U-turn when I walked by. I have never been hissed, hooted, and hollered at this much since I was a 17-year old backpacking through Costa Rica.

It seems to be a certain subculture of sorts, as it is only in one specific neighbourhood that it appears to be common-- literally, as soon as I crossed the bridge out of downtown, the yells started up again almost immediately. It also nearly disappears if I am accompanied by any men. It was actually quite disconcerting, in all honesty, given that I had to tolerate four blocks of this each time I tried to leave the hostel, and it was actually making me rather nervous to do anything later in the evening. I am also perplexed as to how anyone will still honestly consider such behaviour flattering-- I actually don't consider it even slightly complementary, as it has nothing to do with me other than wearing summer clothing and being below a certain age.


Hostels are definitely a unique boarding experience. The "affordability" of one's surroundings certainly shows at times. For instance, this particular hostel only had hot showers-- which is near hell when one is in this kind of heat. The only solution to get rid of the sweat is to turn up the pressure so high that it is only a hot mist, rather than a hot direct spray hitting you. It was also an alcohol free premise (hostellers don't tend to be the mellowest of folk), and the TV room closed at 10:30, meaning that there is no good reason to have a night in. On top of that, you get used to navigating around a darkened room by light of a cell phone when staying in a dorm with 14 beds and a whole variety of sleeping habits.

However, the entire reason for staying at hostels, outside of cheap beds and full functioning kitchen facilities, is the ease at which you meet people. It seems as though travellers lack the automatic walls that people carry around with them in day-to-day life. One simply starts conversations with whoever happens to be nearby, and without the traditional boundaries, you just seem to be able to connect with people at a much quicker rate.

One of my new best friends commented on the oddity of these connections. It seems to be the norm that you meet a few people in a hostel, become very tight knit and spend the majority of your days together- and then never see each other again once you hit the road. It's a strange temporary but still genuine relationship.

Nonetheless, I am glad to say that I found myself part of those weird friendship bubbles for a few days with an American, an Australian, and an Irishman. As such, my few pre-course days in Austin were well-spent.

I spent the first day on my own. I just grabbed a bottle of water, a map, and bused to downtown Austin for a day of expectation free exploring. I managed to see a nice portion of the city, including (cell-phone taken again) the famous Capitol Building, the UT at Austin campus, a few parks, and some interesting neighbourhoods.

I unfortunately didn't take into account the stifling nature of the heat, which meant that a good portion of my wanderings were spent searching for air-conditioned places, water, or washrooms due to all the water I was drinking.

The second day my new found BFFs (I hope you all get the sarcasm in the second F, due to my earlier comments) and I first got lost in residential Austin, which was actually a welcome distraction, and then went out to Barton Springs Pool. The pool is actually really amazing. It is located in Zilker Park, and is actually just an enclosed portion Barton creek and is fed by spring water. The water is quite cool (68F), but amazingly refreshing and chemical free. It felt incredible in the heat.

Though (lesson of the day!) I learned that if thunder is heard above, swimmers are not permitted in the pool for a whopping 30 minutes afterwards to prevent liability for lightening strikes!

That evening, we ventured to the infamous 6th street strip, which apparently has over 50 bars/pubs/clubs along it. There is no cover charges, loads of live music, and there are people outside of every bar trying to recruit people into their particular establishment through promises of drink specials. We ended up spending the bulk of the evening at a rooftop patio, where my Australian pal, in stereotypical Aussie fashion, wooed the bartender, who plied us with many free shots. We all spilled out onto one of the most conjested streets I'd ever seen at 2 am. We stayed up until 4am to keep my new Southern friend company, as she decided a sleepless night was in order before she caught her 6am flight.

Sunday morning I was forced out of bed by a mandatory wake-up call. The Australian had disappeared off with the blonde bartender the night previous, so the Irishman and I decided to venture into a funky area of town known as South Congress.
We spent over an hour exploring this store full of random antiques and random knickknacks known as Uncommon Objects, which included such priceless treasures as...

Golf-ball dogs

Mushroom (and clown!) needlepoint

Mounted ducks

... and fish

Racist movie posters with Pacific Islanders eating babies!

And lots of Texas style costumes, which I may or may not have posed for multiple photos in.

We followed up the antique shopping with catfish tacos... I don't care how gross you think it sounds, they were absolutely delicious! And hangover curing at that!


I am now checked into the dorms at UT at Austin. I'm sure I will have more comments to follow about the university, which is enormous, and is themed to look very hacienda-like, which these great orange bricked buildings (except for the 80 thousand seat concrete football station dominating one's line of sight). I lucked out in getting a wheelchair accessible room, which is much larger than all the other rooms, but is still appropriately box-like, as dorms are supposed to be. Today was the first day of classes, which actually looks like it is being set up really well. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to just talk to people about ideas without an expected level of output- it's like my passion is coming back. Unfortunately, I actually have a load of readings to do before I head out for a wild Monday night with a bunch of classmates-- so I will have to cut thoughts on the topic short.


And a final note to all of those whose blogs I normally read, as well as my few new commenters- I'm pretty short on time these days, so I can't play blog stalker as well as in the past. I've had to take several days to get this post written. But don't worry- I still love you all, and you will get my full attention as soon as possible.


Beth said...

Sounds like you're having a wonderful time (with a few exceptions.) And the pictures are great even via cell phone.
Continue to enjoy the adventure and all things new!

Ant said...

Yee-haw indeed!

Looks all very nice, and is sufficiently challenging the stereotype in my head of Texas. (Though they do sound like Republican swans to me... :op)

Hope the classes continue to be fun!

(We seem to have similar travelling blog-styles btw: lots of pictures, descriptive narratives and latent guilt for not having time to read other blogs...)

iFreud said...

No worries - I know you are really busy! Thanks for sharing your observations and experiences though! A wonderful morning read with my coffee...

eric313 said...

It's all good! You can take your time; poetry reads quick, and you can have a nice plethora of pieces to choose from on your own time.

It's vacation time around here for everyone! Blog activity is at low ebb.

Sorry about all the crappy examples of ill baved men folk down there. I'm sure you've met many gentelmen as well. It is bad when you can't be unacompanied outdoors.

btw~ the sweatshirt/t-shirt guy probably smelled like a conservative lie!

captain corky said...

Enjoy your time in Texas. Where are all the cowboys?

Jeff said...

Keep taking those huge bites of life and don't worry about anything else.

Speaking for myself, I would rather you spend what limited time you have keeping us filled in on your goings on rather than wasting time reading my nonsense.

Drama Div@ said...

Awesome to hear that you are in Lone Star state! have a great time, Princess

Dorky Dad said...

WHAT???? You mean that "I can tell you where the narcs are" ISN'T a good pickup line? NOW they tell me. No wonder I never got dates.

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

Sounds like you are having a ball.

I've always wanted to go to Austin, mainly because it is the stomping ground of blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan.

I'm loving the horrendous movie poster.


Crashdummie said...

Wow, you seem to be doing alot of things. I kinda feel unproductive now... bummer.

Wicked pics though…

All Mod Cons said...

I SO want that golf ball person!

Jocelyn said...

It's been awhile since I've been to Austin, so this was illuminating, especially the comments/yells you get from men. Ewww.

Great musings on hostel life.

Do have fun!