Thursday 23rd February – Hey San Antonio, Let’s Rodeo!

When I woke, the sun was making colours in the sky, but it was still backstage. I opened the door to my van and lay in bed, watching the day come to me. Having a bit of seclusion, I had a shower at the back of the van before breakfast.

I left camp just before 9am and drove for five hours straight without a single stop. In that time, I left the ocean, crossed the border into Louisiana, skirted around Houston and came across a group of people riding on horseback across Texas, wagon and all. I decided to skip through most of south Texas on the recommendations offered by my Lonely Planet guide. Houston didn’t seem all that interesting and I’d already experienced Austin, so I just went straight across. It wasn’t until I passed Houston that it dawned on me I wouldn’t be seeing the ocean again for a long time. Upon reflection, I was glad I got to camp at right by the waves to say goodbye.

Finally, between Houston and San Antonio, I had to stop. I’d finished my audiobook so that was a definite sign. I found a sweet park in the small town of Shiner that was just perfect. I put down my Thai mat under the shade of a tree and enjoyed the cool breeze that pushed the butterflies around and felled leaves from the big tree. At the time, I thought that if the weather could always be just like that, I’d be a happy girl. I made sure I rested myself well, had lunch and consulted my Atlas for the best approach into San Antonio.

Back on the road, I was hot in the driver’s seat and after a while was back on big highways as I drove into S.A. Once in the city, I went straight to the Alamo, an old Spanish fort which is at the centre of the city and S.A.’s biggest attraction. Of course every parking space near it required payment. After ducking in and out of a lot that was asking $15 flat, I drove around a few blocks until I eventually came upon a spot that had some meters. Seemed it was only 30c an hour! I put my card in and before I had a chance to push any buttons, I’d paid $1 for a ticket that lasted me over two hours. Winning!

I walked the few blocks back to the Alamo to see what all the fuss was about. Turns out not very much, but thankfully it was all free. The only remains of the fort are the church and the grounds which have been turned into some beautiful gardens. The barracks also serve as a bit of a museum and memorial to the Americans who lost their lives defending their city. Probably the best thing I saw inside the Alamo was the police officers, dressed very smartly in their tan uniforms and utility belts, topped off with a large black cowboy hat. I almost asked to take a photo of them since they were wearing the hats in all seriousness, but I settled for a subtle snap instead, not sure how they’d take the request.

I wandered around the fort as you do, in amongst all the tourists and nt reading much of anything, but getting the general gist that a great battle was fought with only 200 hundred men defending the Alamo against thousands of Mexicans. The Americans only fell after they’d killed over 500 Mexicans, but eventually, Alamo was lost.

Here is where I experienced a fortunate turn of events. While wandering the gardens, I saw on a lamp post outside the grounds, a flag reading “Hey San Antonio, Let’s Rodeo! Feb 8-28”. No way… It was on my list to see a rodeo in Texas but me being me, of course I’d done nothing towards reaching that goal and here one had fallen into my lap! I sat myself on a park bench immediately and sussed it out on my phone. Twenty minutes later, I’d bought a $35 ticket to the rodeo show at 7pm that night. Woo hoo!

I walked on from the Alamo down to the Riverwalk, S.A.’s second biggest attraction. While the entrance to the riverwalk is shrouded in shops and malls, once on the concrete banks, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is something that would fit in very well in Brisbane. There were no railings to stop you falling in, which I’m sure will be erected soon enough, but without them it made the whole space very open and pretty. Tourists dined in various outdoor restaurants, enjoying their 5 o’clock drinks in the 31*C weather while the older generation tourists watched on from their boat cruises. I snaked my way through the whole river network before eventually heading back in the direction I’d come and back to the car.

Inspired by the drinkers out on the parade, as soon as I got back to the car, I fished out a beer from the bottom of the fridge and down it. So cold and refreshing! It was just after 6pm so I drove the few miles over to the AT&T stadium for my rodeo experience! It was semi-finals night and people were everywhere. Surprisingly, the stadium didn’t offer any of their parking lots to the public, so everyone was left to rely on private opportunists nearby. I elected to pay $15 for a fenced off lot across the road, even though I could have gotten it for $10, these people looked less dodgy than the cheap guys.

I joined the masses walking over to the stadium and found the will call window to collect my ticket. The lady was also nice enough to give me a quick run down of how the event would play out. Inside, there was denim, boots and cowboy hats everywhere. I definitely looked a tourist in my Thai pants. It was nearing start time so I went straight to my seat, finding it about ten minutes before the show started.

There was a lot of lights a music and crowd was buzzed. The show was introduced by an old man who was part of the rodeo hall of fame and he got the crowd excited about what was to come. The opening ceremony consisted of a few dozen horses trotting around the field in formation, their riders all bearing the national or state flag. Once the ceremony was over, I was surprised that the presenter lead the crowd in a prayer. Then, the national anthem! I love listening to this song. As another older man sang with a voice that wanted to lift the roof, a lady rode around the field on a horse bearing a ginormous American flag. The anthem sends tingles down my spine every time.

Quite shortly after all the ceremony, the show got started. On my right sat an Asian couple who didn’t know a thing about rodeo as it was their first one. On my left though, was a group of people who looked like they could be Texans and turns out they were.  The woman next to me had done this many times before, it wasn’t her first rodeo! When I said I was visiting from Australia, she said “Welcome! Welcome!” as many Americans do. She was then my commentary for the entire show, explaining everything about each different sport, what the rules are and what constitutes good technique. Without her insight, I would have been lost throughout the whole thing so she was a good friend to have!

This is what happened:

  • Bucking Broncos. Cowboys ride bareback on bucking horses and have to last 6 seconds. They are scored on style and the difficulty of the ride. While I always thought that rodeo horses are inherently wild and buck anyone and everyone off them, this is not the case. They attach a strap to the back of the horse that hits them on the bum, making them try and kick it off.
  • Steer Wrestling. One cowboy on his horse chases after a steer. Once he’s caught up to it, he jumps from his horse, holding onto the steers horns. Once he has a hold on the small beast, he must turn it onto its back so all four legs are off the ground, often achieved by grabbing hold of the steer’s horns and twisting his head to force him onto his side. Quickest time wins and the winner came in at 4.7 seconds.
  • Mutton Bustin’. This one is for the kids and it is hilarious. These tiny kids of only 4 or 5 years old get onto the back of a sheep and hold on for dear life as the sheep runs across the field. Their only goal is to hold on for as long as they can. Thankfully they were all wearing helmets with face cages.
  • Calf Roping. This is a team effort where there are two cowboys, each on their own horse with lassos. As they both chase after the calf, cowboy #1 lassos the calf’s head then cowboy #2 must get is lasso around both the calf’s hind legs, rendering the animal completely immobile. Quickest time wins and they were all doing it in around 6 seconds!
  • The half time show was a Mexican on his horse that did some fancy lasso work, twirling it all over his body and around his horse, never making a mistake. Very impressive, but would have been cooler with a lit up lasso or something. His horse had never had it’s main cut so had gorgeous silver hair coming off the back of its neck almost reaching the ground.
  • Saddle Bronc Riding. This is the same as the bucking broncos, only with saddles. The ride is a little rougher so I guess these cowboys are pussies. Makes sense because most of these cowboys were extremely good looking, so they had to think about their faces.
  • Tie Down Roping. This one is definitely a show of skills. A solo cowboy on his horse chases after a very small calf. After lassoing its head, the horse knows to retreat backwards to tighten the rope while the cowboy jumps off his steed, gets the calf on its back then ties its four legs together. All in about six seconds.
  • Barrel Racing. This is for girls only and is all about speed. The cowgirl spurs her horse around three barrels, doing almost a 360 around each, without touching them. It was close competition and the crowd, including me, got right into it.
  • Bull Riding. The main event, as my Texan friend made sure I was aware, and I immediately understood why. Cowboy hats were replaced by helmets and neck braces were donned. Cowboys rode bareback on bulls, more wild than the horses and with a lot more power. The bulls had intimidating names to match their nature like Cracker Breaker and Aftershock. On the bulls they have to last eight seconds and of the twelve cowboys that went for a ride, only one of them managed to stay on and his time was 8.00 dead. It was rough.

 

It is definitely one of the roughest, ballsiest sports I have ever seen and I can imagine that each and every one of these guys goes back to their ranch after the rodeo season to carry on in their normal work. After seeing some of the falls the boys took off the bulls and their horses, I would hope they have some padding underneath their denim jeans and chequered shirts, but I fear they don’t. I’m sure every one of them left with bruises. It had been a two hour show and I didn’t feel the need to stick around for the country band that would be the late night’s entertainment, so I moved out of the stadium after profusely thanking my new friend for her commentary during the show. She was so kind that when I told her I was a solo traveller in my van she was concerned and I’m sure was about to offer me a place to stay, such is the Texan hospitality.

I eventually made my way out of the stadium and went for a wonder through the fair grounds. As I walked amongst the bright lights of the rides and the game stalls, I felt significantly lacking in the boyfriend department. Probably for the best, what would I do with a big puffy animal if I had one won for me? It was after 10pm by the time I got back to the car and cooked myself some left overs because I was starving.

I drove about twenty minutes out of the city to the closest Walmart/Cracker Barrel. The shopping complex was right by the highway and after sussing out the Walmart carpark, I opted for the Cracker Barrel instead. Neither of them were ideal really, but I was tired and didn’t need much other than a patch of tarmac where I wouldn’t be disturbed. I drew my curtains, put a buff over my eyes and went straight to sleep.

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