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Monday, May 16, 2011

Travelogue: Off Season at South Padre Island

I’m back.  I didn’t mean to leave without saying goodbye.  It’s just that I ran out of time, what with packing and laundry and last-minute instructions for the dog sitter and all.  I tried to write while we were away, but the internet was down at the hotel, one of its many shortcomings.    

I missed you, blog readers.  Here’s a brief travelogue of our visit to South Padre Island.
Sunset on South Padre Island

SPI is best known for spring break, but it’s a whole different place this time of year.  When we first saw it across the bay, it looked like Cancun with all the new high rises since we last saw it.  Still, it’s pretty quiet during the “off” season.  Slow.  Peaceful.  Which is exactly what we wanted.  We ate, we beached, we drank, we shopped for things we may never wear again--the usual things you do on a vacation.  Here are some of the high points:

·        Eating.  We overate spectactularly.  In fact, I ate so much I made myself sick.  Seafood, naturally, is great, but they also have good Mexican food featuring seafood, like shrimp enchiladas and oyster bisque soup.  Not a bite of oatmeal the whole trip. 

§  Best food:  We tried only a few places, but the best food we had was at Blackbeard’s, Padreritaville, and Pier 19 (great sunset views--see photo above). 

·        Entertainment.  A bit thin during the off-season.  James scanned the “where-to-go-what-to-do” tourist newspaper, looking for places where we could have a drink and listen to live music.  I had my heart set on hearing a band called The Smoking Caterpillars.  Instead we meandered down the road and randomly stopped at a place called Padreritaville.   A chubby bespectacled guy in bare feet took the stage.  He was J. Micheal Laferty (yes, that’s the correct spelling), who, along with wife Cathy, own the place.  J. Micheal turned out to be a decent musician who writes and records songs, plus he was pretty funny.  He seemed to know everybody in the place, which, at this time of year, are mostly locals.  On our last night in SPI, we got a kick out of an eighty-something crooner booked at a hotel bar.  He had a repertoire of 2300 songs, and the crowd tried to stump him.  A very senior couple got up and danced to almost every song, cheek to cheek, with a bit of jitterbugging thrown in.  It was one of the those occasions where strangers come together and become a congenial group  before going their separate ways.   

·        Sightseeing.   We took a cruise on the bay to see dolphins.  The tour was billed as an eco-tour, but the “eco” part of the tour consisted of a deckhand describing a handful of hapless sea creatures sloshing around in a tub.  We saw plenty of dolphins, though, some with babies at their side.  We couldn’t miss the turtle rescue center begun by the “Turtle Lady,” Ila Loescher, many years ago. Now it is staffed by fresh faced volunteers from all over the country. They rescue and rehabilitate injured sea turtles and monitor the hatching of Ridley sea turtles, which nest on SPI every year.  Across the bay in Port Isabel we climbed to the top of the Port Isabel lighthouse, where many years ago, James’ Uncle Charles used to change the light bulbs.  We tried to visit a couple of history museums, but they were still closed, in spite of the fact they were supposed to open at 10 am.  Time doesn't mean much in beach towns.

·        Beaches.  The best thing about our hotel room was the view of the beach.  I loved sitting on the balcony watching the waves tumble in.  On the second night we were treated to an impressive storm, with strong winds, driving rain, and lightning over the seas.  The tides and undertows seem to be stronger and the water colder than beaches farther up the coast at Corpus Christi and Galveston.  Still, we spent time by and in the sea, slathering ourselves with sunscreen, then frolicking in the waves where it all got washed off.   

·        Shopping.  You would think our mission in SPI was to visit every single beach shop on the main street.  James was determined to find a pair of khaki shorts made in the U.S.A.  This turned out to be impossible.  Everything, even expensive “American” brands, is made in China.  Meanwhile, I did my own shopping while he was looking for shorts.  I don’t like to go out of my way to shop, but there we were, and these were items I “needed.”  This time I resisted the temptation to buy souvenirs for other people.  I know they wind up on a shelf somewhere until the souvenir recipient's next garage sale. 

Little Graceland in Los Fresnos, TX

·        Most unusual place:  The Elvis Museum.  The most eccentric place we visited was the Little Graceland museum in Los Fresnos.  This museum is in the home of Simon and Theresa Vega, and, as you might guess, is dedicated to all things Elvis.  We had to wait until 10 a.m. for Little Graceland to open.  Finally, an elderly Hispanic man hobbled out to open the miniature Graceland gates and invite us in.  He spent the next hour showing us his dusty collection of memorabilia, album covers, magazines, a life-size mannequin of Elvis, and anything else you can think of that features Elvis.  Simon even has a 1955 Cadillac like the one Elvis gave to his mother, except Simon’s Caddy is blue, not pink.  Simon has a special connection with Elvis.  They were in the same Army unit at Ford Hood, then in Germany.  He had snapshots of them together in uniform.  I asked Simon whether he was ever tempted to sell his photos, and he solemnly shook his head.  Clearly, the mere suggestion of such a thing was a sacrilege.  Simon ended the tour with a song he wrote about Elvis, which was actually produced and recorded in Nashville.  We sat down and listened in reverential silence.   Then we began the long drive home. 
Simon Vega and his Elvis museum

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