Soaking Up South Texas in San Antonio

Thanksgiving at home, a detour to Disney World, and a flight back to Tucson to pick up our car put us back on the road once again.  We spent one last night in Tucson and the next morning headed out for our first stop in Texas – El Paso.  On the way to El Paso we stopped at Saguaro National Park East and did one more hike with the saguaros, where Elliott proclaimed Tucson to be his third favorite city in the country.  (What a surprise coming from such a city/ocean boy!)  El Paso may be a very cool city, but we really couldn’t tell you based on this trip.  We spent one brief night there with a couch surfing host, his dog and his cat, and the steak dinner he prepared us left a great taste in our mouths that will come to my mind when anyone mentions El Paso.

The next day was a long day of driving which eventually landed us in San Antonio, where our time consisted of lots of food(!), lots of walking, lots of history, lots of river, and lots of music.  On our very first evening, our hosts welcomed us with home cooking that just melted in our mouth, covered with the obligatory Texas barbeque sauce.  The very next morning we were off to see the missions.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park consists of four missions plus The Alamo.  We started at Mission San Jose and the visitor Center.  We had a personal tour with a park ranger who explained how the Spanish came and built the missions in the area to expand Spain’s empire, working along with the Church who wanted to expand their membership.  The natives changed their entire way of life when they left their nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle to live within the mission walls.  Their time was divided by the mission’s bells into praying and working as a community to produce food and clothing.  This new lifestyle represented such a change that one might wonder why the natives chose to join the missions.  One reason was to eliminate danger and instability outside the mission walls.  Once the Commanche and Apache of the plains acquired horses, they became a fearsome threat to those tribes that did not fight as well.  The other reason often had to do with the fact that the Spanish had weapons and were willing to use them on uncooperative natives.

Later that night, we were entertained by our very own couch surfing host family, The Lavens, on stage at a unique place called The Cove.  The Lavens form a family band and play every Friday night at The Cove, where you can literally eat and drink while having your car washed and laundry run in the background.  And let’s not forget the playground for your kids and the pen for your dogs to run in!  This place was truly unique, and the food did not fall short – everything was organic, sustainable and locally grown.  We had a blast, sitting back sharing some bison nachos, listening to our host family rock the night away.  And Elliott jumped at the chance to fill in for their drummer for a song (we thought he was great despite his insistence that he was “rusty”).  Back at the Laven homestead, the party continued with a friend and fellow musician who came to jam the night away.  They even managed to produce a djembe on which Elliott felt confident in keeping the rhythm.

On day two we walked the three miles from our host’s house to the famous Alamo.  A mission once upon a time, the Alamo was long ago converted to a fort.  Here we learned about the 13 day battle between the Texans and Santa Anna’s Mexican army that ended most lives inside the fort, but out of which was born the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo.”  It was that battle cry that reinforced the Texans’ drive to win their independence from Mexico just a few weeks later.

After lunch I convinced Elliott to walk another three miles with me to the next mission, Concepcion.  The joy of this walk was that it was along the famous San Antonio River Walk.  Whereas this walk used to be simply a very short deviation of the river, the city of San Antonio has been working hard on the Mission Reach project which extends the River Walk all the way out past each of the missions, which are spaced about three miles apart.  When complete the new bike/walk paved trail will extend for over 15 miles.  Unfortunately at the end of our long walk we were only able to enjoy the outside of Concepcion, as it is a working church and there was a wedding going on.  We decided the outside alone was worth the long walk as we thought about the happy couple inside.

Since I’d had to bribe Elliott to walk so far that day, I owed him a dinner more exciting than microwavable Lean Cuisines.  On the advice of our hosts, we went to The Blanco Café, a fabulous little Mexican joint where the food was as reasonable as it was tasty.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when they served me a taco in addition to my two enchiladas, beans and rice.

On our last day, our host took us on a driving tour where we visited many sites including San Fernando Cathedral, Brackenridge Park and the famous Japanese Tea Garden.  After a great day in the city we enjoyed a great night barbecuing with our hosts and their friends, and yet another jam session featuring Elliott on djembe.  We even managed to squeeze in a little Latin dancing on the deck.


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