Category Archives: Travel and leisure

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.

Discover Houston’s green heart

There is no better place to discover classic Texas charm and appreciate Houston’s dramatic skyline than in and around Discovery Green.
Located downtown Discovery Green is nearly five hectares of spacious green lawns including a large lake, amphitheatre, children’s playground, interactive water feature, and public art works with the glistening Houston skyline setting an impressive backdrop.
Discovery Green was one of 10 international urban design projects recognised in this year’s Green Good Design Awards.
This is a favourite spot for locals and visitors to the United State’s fourth largest city with more than 2.3 million residents.
The name was selected from a city-wide competition as reflecting a green, active, and vibrant area while also capturing Houston’s role as a centre for discoveries in the fields of energy, space and medicine.
The centre point is a shaded walkway featuring 100-year-old oak trees that were transported to the site. Nearby two systems of jets create a myriad of water activity atop a gently sloping granite surface, with five-metre high arching jets serving as landmarks and smaller jets cycling on and off to invite park visitors for a closer look or some fun in the spray. These parklands are a great base to experience everyday life in Houston and are open daily from 6am to 11pm with free admission.
Discovery Green offers as much peace and activity as the visitor wants. Sit, read and talk or play bocce, shuffleboard, horseshoes and chess.
However, the high energy sports are just around the corner at the 18,000 Toyota Centre where the Houston Rockets lay-up and dunk with the help of star recruit Yao Ming.
At the opposite end of Discovery Park is The Astros baseball stadium at Minute Maid Park This is one of the best designed facilities of its kind and has a retractable roof making it the perfect spot to escape Houston’s humid summers.
Directly opposite Discovery Green there is always something to see at the George R Brown Convention Centre with over 1.2 million square feet of exhibition space, including 117 meeting rooms.
Not far away is the House of Blues and over its entrance are the words ‘In Blues we Trust’. Enter and you will find out why this is a must-do experience for lovers of live music. The original Blues Brother and Ghostbuster Dan Aykroyd is no longer a business partner in the establishment, but you can still buy a bottle of his namesake Canadian vodka in a skull shaped bottle.
Also popular during any visit to Houston is the 17-block Theatre District filled with culture, music, dance and theatre.
Just southwest of downtown is the Museum District that encourages patrons to walk to the many venues in this neighbourhood.
For the latest designer fashions and somewhere to shop until you drop visit The Galleria that has more than 375 world-class stores and dining spots and includes two hotels and an indoor ice rink below a towering glass atrium.
For the more price conscious visit Academy Sports and Outdoors for some real bargains and a great place to shop for souvenir sports T-shirts and clothing.
Downtown Houston is clean and well maintained. Getting around is made easy with over 2200 taxi cabs serving the sprawling outlying precincts, and a flat $6 fare for rides within the CBD.
All the senses are well and truly stirred as you would expect in a multi-cultural city, particularly as a result of its large Hispanic and Mexican population. Breakfast with a difference is Heuvos Rancheros. This classic Mexican meal is made up of fried eggs, Virginia ham, Cotiga cheese, refried beans and salsa on corn tortillas. It’s a hearty start to the day but in the evening nothing beats a Texas steak.
Spencer’s for Steak and Chops offers only all-natural locally grown beef. This is the ultimate steakhouse and its flavoursome offerings will not disappoint.
The restaurant is a short stroll from Discovery Green and part of the $285 million Hilton Americanos hotel complex.
The hotel lounge bar has a stunning custom-made, abstract mural of the world, with Houston as the centre bridge that links North and South America.
Here you are certain to experience southern hospitality with Houstonians, as the locals call themselves, among the friendliest people you will meet in the United States.
They are only too happy to highlight why Houston has this year been added to a number of ‘best’ destination lists such as Best Cities for Young Professionals, Top 10 Underrated Cities, and Top Destination City.

The sleek Houston skyline forms the dramatic backdrop for Discovery Green.
The sleek Houston skyline forms the dramatic backdrop for Discovery Green.
The water feature at Discovery Park invites park visitors for a closer look or some fun in the spray.
The water feature at Discovery Park invites park visitors for a closer look or some fun in the spray.