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29 May 2011

The Floating Continues, and the Austin I've Been Waiting For [no pictures!]

Floating downriver does not require much skill at all; in fact, all you do (literally) is just sit there, yet somehow I manage to suck at it!

As I explained in my previous post, I basically killed my camera by soaking it in the river. Real smart, Jason.

After realizing that my camera was dead, I quickly went through the 12 stages of grief right there in the hot Texan sun. I tried to walk back to the tube rental place, but I had docked myself in a private resort, and all the exits to the main road were fenced off. There was one way back, however: jumping in the water to go around the fence. So I was set to throw my camera and beers over the fence and then swim myself and my tube up to meet them, when, like a guardian angel, Ueli appeared right on the other side of the fence. He was wondering why I hadn't floated downriver in over 20 minutes. My flustered and panicked disposition must have given away the fact that I was grieving over my camera. We walked back, about 4 blocks along an abandoned set of railroad tracks, the pavement was so hot that my feet burned with each step. Then I realized that I had my slippers with me in the bag (because I was too smart to realize this earlier). Ueli barefooted it all the way back, over 200-degree gravel. I put my camera in the car, hoping against hope that it would dry out and that at least my memory card would be intact. We switched inner tubes to one without a bottom; there was a girl at the front desk, but she was just as sweet and sympathetic as the one earlier, despite my demandingly assertive tone. It felt reassuring.

We floated downriver again, this time going all the way. It took about an hour and a half, but I rushed us, because we got in the water at 5:30 and I thought that they closed at 6:00. So I urged Ueli and I to paddle ourselves downriver. At the now-infamous "tube shoot," I managed to get stuck swirling around in the same vortex. I had to get out of the tube and walk myself away (Ueli, like clockwork, was all the way downriver waiting for me). There was a second tube shoot which was just a waterfall, but I got stuck there too. Seriously?! Floating downriver does not require much skill at all; in fact, all you do (literally) is just sit there, yet somehow I manage to suck at it!

Juan in a Million and Floatin' the River

Ueli and I slept in. It had been several exhausting days of non-stop travel and activities, so it was time for us to heal and rest for once. It was close to noon when we woke up, and around 1:30 we left. We had breakfast/lunch at a casual Mexican restaurant, having a filling set of breakfast tacos.

Ok, we didn't go to just any "casual Mexican" restaurant, we went to Juan in a Million, made famous by the Travel Channel's Man vs. Food. Adam Richman traveled here to take on the Don Juan challenge, to set a new record of finishing 8 of their massive breakfast tacos. Let me tell you, calling these plates of eggs, potatoes, bacon, and tortillas simply "tacos" is quite misleading - each serving is like a double breakfast burrito.

Just finishing 1 had me stuffed the whole day!

Here's Adam's experience of the Don Juan challenge:

So after Juan in a Million, I check my phone and realized I had missed a call from Chris, a couchsurfer who was organizing a little get-together excursion to "Float the River" south of Austin in the small town of New Braunfels.

The Bats

After an exhausting arrival in Austin, Ueli and I headed back from the UT campus to our host's apartment. But along the way, we stopped by Whole Foods Market. And not just any Whole Foods, but the original/flagship store, on 5th and Lamar in Austin. It was quite the market - very big and with an unbelievable selection of anything you could ever want to eat.

We bought some ingredients to make some curry for dinner. Vegetarian curry. I was convinced that several days of road trip food (burgers and barbecue) were the reason that I was feeling so negative, so it was time for something healthy and light. That's the thing with traveling - it's really hard to stay healthy, whether it's eating right, getting enough exercise, or getting enough sleep. "Living as the locals do" in Texas means, to an extent, sacrificing your health. (However, it's not necessarily true in Austin - I've seen several vegetarian restaurants in town, and there are surprisingly many people riding bikes around town.)

After making some dinner for ourselves and Sharon, we noticed that it was close to sunset, so Ueli and I headed out to the Congress Street Bridge to see the famous appearance of the bats. I found a parking space south of the bridge, about 20 minutes before sunset, and we walked around to see the area before the sun went down. The east side of the bridge was already filling up with eager spectators waiting to see the bats.

We found a spot, then waited and waited. Several boats/barges carrying tourists had parked themselves on the lake below. Finally, about 15-20 minutes after sunset, the bats emerged. They started streaming out, right underneath our location on the bridge. It was already dark, so it was hard to see them in photos, but I could easily see them blasting out from under the bridge, looping around the bridge once, then rising into the sky in the distance. Where they were going, I don't know. But it really was quite a unique sight.

We returned to the apartment, and Sharon soon arrived (back from a full day at a networking event). We had dinner, then luckily we were ready for bed already. I say luckily because we had to first inflate an air mattress to sleep on. But the pump was a small little bicycle pump. So it took over an hour of taking turns pumping to fill up the mattress. If we had gone out, it would have been really late and pumping a mattress would have been the last thing we wanted.