Tall tales in Texas

They are off and racing armadillos near Corpus Christi in south Texas, USA.
This is one of the more unusual pursuits for those planning to visit this city that badges itself as all-American and hugs a coastal bend in the Gulf of Mexico.
Armadillos are part of the Texas folklore, and there’s even a World Armadillo Breeding and Racing Association.
This is cowboy country and Matt Strange’s family operates a real-life Texas themed events business that offers award-winning catering and entertainment that includes armadillo racing. Matt’s a walking encyclopaedia when it comes to these cute critters.
He says there are 18 species of armadillo and they don’t bite, but use their molars to chew food.
“They can walk underwater and hold their breath for six minutes to cross river beds. They can clean-up 30,000 ants a day which is just perfect to keep the fire ant population around here in check,” Matt said.
He instructs me to put on a pair of gloves and pick one of the two fenced lanes that are used for racing. The object is to herd the armadillo up the runway and close the doors on the box at the finish line. First one to do so wins the race.
I am paired up with an English visitor who looks very apprehensive when he is handed his armadillo. Matt’s the starter and we’re away, but my ‘mount’ is a wayward runaway while the next lane is fast and direct.
The nine-banded armadillo is common in these parts with its relatives having made their way from Brazil via Mexico. The mothers give birth to four babies all of the same sex.
These bizarre creatures have a bone-like external shell and resemble mini-dinosaurs. They are referred to by the locals as a ‘Texas speed bump’. Unfortunately drivers certainly feel a bump in the night from these hard-shelled mammals.
Matt says he used to run pig racing, but racing armadillos is hilarious and generates greater interest, particularly with international visitors.
The food’s just as good as the fun, with Matt’s family business well known for its catering. They were hired by former president George Bush and Mrs Bush to organise a congressional barbeque on the south lawn of the White House.
Corpus Christi is the largest coastal city in south Texas with a population of around 300,000. In the middle of the year it’s hot and dry with temperatures above 30 degrees centigrade accompanied by strong winds.
You can cool down with a Shiner Bock. This dark beer is brewed by the oldest independent brewery in Texas. It might be a local joke, but if you happen to walk into the wrong bar and ask for a Shiner, you may wind up with a black eye instead of a beer.
Corpus Christi is also home to former World War II aircraft carrier the USS Lexington that is a now a floating museum accessed via a walkway from the shore. This interactive experience includes five self-guided tour routes up and down steep ladders that take you through the flight deck, bridge and decks below. The mega theatre turns your seat into a cockpit of a jet fighter during war games.
Scenes from the Hollywood blockbuster Pearl Harbour with Ben Affleck were filmed aboard the vessel known as the Blue Ghost because of her paint colour and the fact she was the only carrier not to wear camouflage. Japanese propaganda announced her sunk many times but she was always to ‘reappear’ to fight again.
Other attractions of interest include the Texas State Aquarium with animal feedings and hands-on programs.
Dining out in these parts includes lots of beef, quail and chicken. Cheese grits made with oats topped with cheese, and even sausage grits are popular to kick-start your day. South Texas is also heavily influenced by zesty Mexican food specialities. Corpus Christi airport is serviced by short haul jet flights from Dallas and Houston.

THEY’RE OFF: Armadillo racing is harmless and part of Texas folklore.
THEY’RE OFF: Armadillo racing is harmless and part of Texas folklore.
BATTLE STATIONS: Relive the climatic battles of the USS Lexington when you board this floating museum.
BATTLE STATIONS: Relive the climatic battles of the USS Lexington when you board this floating museum.

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