Thursday, May 22, 2014

south padre island, revisited

This trip was different. It was a peaceful journey whose sole purpose was to rejuvenate my soul. I wanted to spend my days on the beach, staring at the water, reading a book, doing nothing. And it was that... kind of.

Jenny and I arrived just around 7pm, checked into our hotel and booked it to Clayton's for the most delicious piƱa colada that I've ever had and a little beach time. After a quick bite, we ended up at Coral Reef. Apparently, this is the local hot-spot. It's an utter dive karaoke bar. It was a Monday night and not terribly crowded, so we settled in for some entertainment... and were absolutely not disappointed. Shortly after our arrival, we ran into a friend of Jenny's, Shelly. Shelly and her date decided to hang out with us and had obviously been there for a little while. He gets up on stage to sing a horrendous rendition of Picture with one of the locals and is very... how do you say... "affectionate." With himself. In what was one of the oddest displays of courage I have ever seen, he kept caressing his groin... not like grabbing it Michael Jackson style, just kind of rubbing a little to the left. All three of us were pretty distracted by it, but found it hilarious. And really odd. Around this time, a group of teachers arrive. They are in town for a conference and will be leaving in a couple of days... one of them, a strapping 6-foot-tall, country songbird, catches my eye and we begin a long and tedious game of flirtation. I have horrendous stage fright and am trying to find the nerve to get on stage with this handsome fella. I don't. No amount of liquid courage can overcome my debilitating affliction, unless it's in a private room with dear friends. I have thought a lot about this and have determined that it stems from a place of vulnerability. Singing is a very personal expression... of pain, of joy, of anger, and of love... and putting that part of yourself out there for people to judge is overwhelming for me. My throat closes up, my heart races, my vision goes in and out... it is such a horrible feeling, a complete loss of control, that I feel anxious writing about it now. Alas, my romantic serenade in a seedy bar at the end of society in a small Texas town will never be. At least for now. We enjoy the emcee, the cocaine-laced woman celebrating her 50th birthday, the what we assumed to be grandmother in her minimalist attire (read: saggy boobs, "fupa," the whole nine exposed for any- and everybody to enjoy... I do have to give her props. I will never be that brave.), the young boys being molested by the birthday party, the teachers going buck wild. It was so fun!

We wake up Tuesday in time to enjoy the free breakfast at the hotel. We race down, me still in my nightgown, to make our Texas-shaped waffles and horrible coffee. It's been decided that we will find some coffee to make in our room for the next couple of days, but that the waffle picture was totally worth it. So bad, yet so good. I wonder how many of the little children and young mothers in the kitchen are actually guests of the hotel and assume that it is less than a quarter of the people down there.

I wanted to take Jenny to Manuel's, because a) it's delicious, and b) it's an icon in Port Isabel. As usual, we order the breakfast tacos, and as usual, they are enormous... on homemade flour tortillas with crappy melty cheese that is just to die for. Behind me is a brick wall that has been painted white and is covered in sharpie graffiti. I ask the owner if I can write on it and he tells me that it's $5 per brick. The money goes towards the local food bank, so I am all in. It took me a minute to decide on how I wanted to leave my temporary mark, and I am so happy with the words I chose:
"The quality of our lives is a reflection of the investment we make in crafting it to our liking." - Bahram Akradi
Memento vivere!

They were absolutely perfect for how I am feeling in my life right now and completely embody the trajectory my life is taking. Of course, neither of us finish our "tacos" so we pack up the rest to save for later and head out. We head to the grocery store for some provisions... water, beach umbrella, coffee, more... before heading over. The next stop is the local grocery store for provisions, fruit, avocados, beach umbrella, etc. 

We pack up and head over to the South Padre Island Dolphin Research & Sealife Nature Center
for our dolphin watch. I have been on several of these large barges that accommodate ~50 people. It's not very fun... you can't get close enough to the dolphins and it's generally pretty noisy. Through a little online digging, I found this lovely woman named Scarlett that takes no more than six people at a time out on her pontoon boat and was intrigued. We show up to the spot and are greeted by Domino, a rescued African spurred tortoise. I chased him around the building trying to catch a picture of him before figuring out that he's only still when he's eating, hence the kale. I had no idea they could move that quickly!
We explore all of the handwritten tips, pictures, and fact cards posted all throughout the exhibits, check out all of the rescued animals on display, and start to get excited about our little trip into the gulf waters. The clerk that checked us in let's us know that we should head out to the boat as she hands me a little snack pack of cheetos. I am confused, but take them without question. We climb into the little pontoon and are greeted by two older couples... one from Norway, the other randomly from Austin... Rozzi the dolphin dog and Penelope the pot-bellied pig! As we pull out onto the water, I am instructed to feed the cheetos to the animals, which results in lots of laughter and adorable photos from me and my riding companions as we move closer to dolphin territory. We start to see some activity, so Scarlett kills the engine and tells us that we need to call to the pod of about ten that we see in the distance. We all start clapping and calling in high-pitched voices... probably looking like loons... and the dolphins actually responded! They started surrounding our little pontoon and performing for us. They came so close to our little boat and stayed with us, jumping around and flashing flippers. Every time they would swim under or switch sides, Rozzi would run to the edge of the boat and bark to them. It was really just too much. At one point, one of the barges pulled near us and the pod swam away. As soon as the barge left the area, they came back to us. We spent almost two hours on the water with them and it was truly one of the most spectacular experiences of my life. So special.  

 After we said our goodbyes, we made our way back to the island and popped over to the Sea Turtle Rehab and Rescue facility. I've always been conflicted about the human interference of this place with natural selection and have never come here before. Taking a tour completely changed my perspective and was an unexpectedly emotional experience. Almost all of the turtles in care have been affected or injured by human process. Gerry is a 35-year old, 150 lb. Atlantic Green sea turtle whose human toured him all over the country after he was stranded by hurricane in the 80's. He has been so socialized, he can no longer feed himself and will live the rest of his days in a tank. Many of the other injuries were sustained from boating and fishing, pollution, and predator attack. Cracked shells are sutured using zip ties, prosthetics are used to allow turtles with only one fin to swim, split PVC is placed at the bottom of tanks to replicate natural foraging for food. It's truly incredible. ALL sea turtles are listed as threatened, endangered, or critically endangered, so the facility fights hard to rehab each one brought in to be releasable. Those that are not, are kept for educational purposes and companionship. The facility is a non-profit organization and operates off of donations and proceeds from the sale of merchandise in the adjacent shop.

We spent the next few hours on the beach under an umbrella reading, splashing, singing, relaxing.
We get cleaned up and make our way to Laguna BOB for some live music and grub. Danica performs a long set of covers while Jenny and I flirt with the bartenders, Brandon and Jesse. We have a few drinks and decide to make our way back to Coral Reef to finish the day and to meet up with an old friend of mine, Louie. Louie meets us there after he gets off of work and we spend the next couple of hours trying to play catch up over a completely different scene from the night before. The music is so loud, we are screaming at each other, and the crowd is definitely rowdier and more aggressive. Not fun like the night before, but still very entertaining. My guy from the night before is there again and I try again to build up the courage to sing with him. Not happening. At the end of the night, he comes over to chat and I realize that he's probably pretty young. I ask him how old he is and find out he's 24. Ugh. Jenny and I don't believe him at first, so he pulls out his license and it is still in the vertical format. Fourteen years my junior is a little much for me to handle. I must attract/be attracted to younger men because of my youthful glow.

We wake up Wednesday and slowly make our way to Isabel's for lunch. Heavy cheesy goodness was the perfect hangover cure and exactly what we needed to get going. After lunch, we try to do a little shopping, but soon discover that most of the items for sale are just tourist garbage. No thanks. We make our way back to the beach and enjoy the quiet of the crashing waves, bird-watching, people watching... again, the perfect way to spend the afternoon. After beach time, we end up at Cap'n Roy's for dinner. The food was incredibly heavy and left both of us feeling weighed down. Wednesday ended up being an early quiet night for us.

We wake up Thursday and make our way to Yummie's Coffee Shack for what ended up being the best food we had while on the island. If we had known, we would have eaten there every day! We finished our lunch, ordered more to take with us, and then hit the road home. Like most people, I'm always sad when an experience ends. Somehow, the drive home always seems to be longer than the drive to the destination. But I am so grateful for this trip... what a wonderful way to spend four days. I had incredible company, great music, once in a lifetime experiences.