14.07.2010 - 14.07.2010 41 °C
I really haven't done any sighseeing as such since I've been here in Austin. This is mostly because of a combination of being hungover most mornings, it being exceptionally hot in the afternoons and laziness on my part. I was determined that that wouldn't be the case today.
So, having been disciplined and also thifty by not going out last night, I hit the track around Lady Bird lake for my morning run and afterwards, get out to explore some of downtown Austin. I started by making my way up to the Texas State Capitol. Austin is the capital of the Lone Star State and the Capitol is its legislative centre. The Capitol building itself is the largest State Capitol in the country and, I'm yet to confirm this, taller than the United States Capitol building. Texas is without doubt my favourite state so far, I will explain more later as the context will be more relevant. However, part of taking what I admire about Texas, also means accepting its peculiarities. Here is one. At the front of the Capitol ground is not a memorial to the the servicemen of World Wars One or Two, not even Vietnam. Instead there is a tall column dedicated to those who "Gaves their lives in the spirit of the 1776 revolution" on behalf of the slave-supporting Confederacy. I would be understanding of African-American Texians who did not find this dedication to be in good taste.
I took myself on a mini-Capitol tour (there are no restrictions to any parts of the Capitol building) before linking up with a guided tour. If you imagine the cross between a history professor, an undrugged child with ADHD and a ballet dancer you will just about have the right picture of this tour guided. He was clearly fascinated by history and he literally exorcised himself dancing around marble floors and he pointed out who went to war with whom and over what. I enjoyed it.
Texas' history is unique in the United States. Most of the area we now know from Washington state, south and south east across to Texas was once Mexican territory. In the early decades of the 1800s, Mexican President Santa Anna imposed direct dictatorial rule over most of Mexico, including the Texas territory. Unhappy with that state of affairs American and Mexican Texans combined to fight a revolutionary war in 1835. Santa Anna personally comanded the Mexican Army north to quell the insurrection. He won a notable victory at the Alamo, where after a thirteen day seige only a handful of Texan soliders survived. However, he was to be undone my the Texan Army commanded by Sam Houston at the eighteen minutes Battle of San Janicto (he basically attacked the Mexicans whilst they were on their siesta, fair??). Santa Anna was captured and forced to sign a treaty recognising the Republic of Texas. And so, for ten years Texas was an entirely separate nation from the rest of the United States. Over that ten years Texas continued to face hostilites from the Mexicans and was on the brink of banruptcy. In 1845 the Republic ceased to exist after it was annexed by the United States and became its 28th state.
Anway, all this history is supposed to help to explain why it is I've pretty much fallen for Texas. I've come to the conclusion that what draws me to it has itself been drawn from its unique history - the fact that it was its own nation and it's people were born citizens of their very own Republic, which they, and no one else had fought for. The people here in Texas at heart have a rugged individualism, yet they have an abundance of interest in their communities and other people. They are welcoming and charming - yet also reserved and content with their own thoughts. Texans won't pick a fight, but they won't shy away from one if it's pushed their way. You could face being shot without warning if you step on someone's land and threaten them, but even in the face of crime and terrorism the Texas Capitol is completly open for anyone to roam around anywhere, pretty much at any time - Texans understand how government should be, open to the people - a concept, which in my experience is far from understood in Washington. These factors combined with its wild, frontier landscapes make it unlike anywhere else I have been so far and somewhere I'm sure I'll be visiting again.
This evening I headed down to Barton Springs in Zilker Park. The springs are large collected pools of water, fed by a tributary of the Colorado and a popular site for tourists and Austin natives alike. The atmosphere was hot and humid, so without hesitation I jumped straight in. I was glad I hadn't dipped my toe in first because I might not have gone in at all! It was certainly refreshing! After adjusting to the temperature and paddling around for a while and jumped out to doze off on the banks. The time flew by whilst I slept and after sorting myself out I dashed down to the bridge with the bats and spent a little bit of time watching the incomprehensible millions of them zipping in and out of their nests.
Tomorrow I drive into Hill Country, to a ranch about two and a half hours south-west of here, near a town called Bandera.
There'll be plenty of horse riding and rodeos so I had better dust off my boots ...