Leaving the Lower Valley

Our final day in the Valley was mostly a travel day, but we did have a chance to visit some Valley tourist attractions.

Although it wasn’t spring break, we did manage to step foot on South Padre Island.  After “missing” a turnoff, we drove over a giant bridge, taking us to the spring-break  hot spot.  Our visit lasted just long enough for a photo op…


…before heading to the Port Isabel Lighthouse.

The Lighthouse was constructed because of heavy shipping traffic. It was completed in 1851 and has been standing for more than a century and a half, with a light that could be seen for almost 16 miles. During the Civil War, the lighthouse was used as an observation point and afterward, it continued to guide ships until it was permanently abandoned in 1905.


The lighthouse now serves not only as a tourist attraction, but also as a community engagement point. For the past twelve years, for example, it has hosted a cinema night, where visitors come to watch films together.

Lighthouse Establishment Cinema (LHEC) at the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse! Fridays, June & July, 9:30 p.m. FREE to the public!

The people who show up for the movie obviously have a great tolerance for humidity, which we found somewhat oppressive.  It did not, however, prevent us from waiting our turn in line to get to the top.  Depressingly, the people who were exiting the lighthouse would tell us, “Gosh, it feels like a sauna up there.”  This was bad news, because we felt like the bottom of the lighthouse was already sauna-like.

Undaunted, we made our trek up to the top, where we admired a view of  an endless sea in some directions, touristy shops in other directions (Pirate Jack’s Gifts!), refineries in still another direction, and a view of South Padre from another.


It was the LEAP Center’s third trip to a lighthouse, the other two being at Tybee Island (next to Savannah) and Biloxi, MS.  Although the Port Isabel lighthouse had a bit of charm, it lacked the local support, the scenery, and the amenities of the other two we had visited.


And, with that, we headed back to Huntsville, where we would have less than 24 hours to prepare for our venture to Austin, Texas, for a trial internship in the state’s legislature.

From Baseball to Bowling: Striking Out for the Valley

After a morning of art and aquarium life in Corpus Christi, we set out for the Valley.  The night before, we went to a baseball game–Alex’s first.  Tonight, we stumbled upon a bowling alley next to our hotel in Weslaco, and decided to play a couple of rounds–our first in a very long time!

Beatriz Martinez, LEAP Ambassador and valley resident, joined us for the bowling game.


It had been a while since any of us had bowled so we knew it would be…interesting. All of us bowled pretty well the first game, which Megan won the first game–showing exquisite form.


Our second game, however, showed a marked dropoff among everyone except for Professor Yawn, who seemed energized by his loss to Chapa in game one.  In fact, he thinks he bowled his best game ever. He won after posting nine strikes (!)–while the rest of us spent significant time nursing sore arms from our efforts in game one.


It was a fun time filled with both embarrassing and proud moments!


Happy to say all of us made at least one strike!

For dinner we tried a highly recommended restaurant named Arturos.   We started off with Queso Flameado with tortillas and Avocado Pico de Gallo that we enjoyed while waiting for our meals. Megan ordered Tacos de la Calle, which she said had amazing fajita meat; I ordered something that I had never tried before, Enchiladas Suizas, which were chicken enchiladas topped with tomatillo sauce and oxaca cheese. Beatriz and Professor Yawn split the Special Mexican Plate that allowed them to taste a little bit of everything. We then had Tres Leches Cake and a Caramel Crepe for dessert.

With the bowling and the food, it was a sweet (and spicy!) way to begin our time in the Valley!


Corpus Christi in Six Hours

It’s not easy to prioritize your time in a City when you have just five hours to spend, but we did a pretty good job of it.

Our morning began by visiting The Texas State Aquarium. As a fish enthusiast, Megan was especially looking forward to this underwater adventure. We began with a shark exhibit…


…before moving on to the Lion Fish and Electric Eels.  One of the highlights was seeing the Aquarium staff in full scuba gear feeding these fish.


The Museum’s exhibits are well configured, giving you the opportunity to see them up close.  The jellyfish exhibit, for example, is in low light, highlighting the animals translucent tissue.


The sea otters, crocodile, and bald eagle were outside, and they were in separate exhibits, again configured in such a way as to maximize human interaction with the animals.  In the case of the sharks and stingrays, we could even put our arms in the water and “lightly touch the animals with two fingers.”


The true highlight of the aquarium are the dolphins.  The trainers brought out four dolphins, two of which were especially good at tricks.  Through mimicry, these dolphins learn to clap, jump out of the water, do flips, swim on their back, and even splash the audience!  Our favorite was a three-spin flip.


Next door to the Aquarium is the city’s Art Museum of South Texas.  The museum is housed in a structure designed by Philip Johnson and made from shellcrete.


The current exhibit in the Museum was of Texas Mixed Media, and my favorite artist represented was Mary McCleary, who is actually a Professor of Art at Stephen F. Austin University.  In her artist statement, she indicates she takes found objects and layers them onto paper in a way that “conveys an intensity which the viewer finds compelling.”  That was the case for me (Alex), and I’d like to see more of her work.

We also had a chance to see another Dale Chihuly, and I learned about the “Art Guys,” who have a work composed of clear glass tubes horizontally placed on the wall and filled with broken glass.

Megan, too, found a new artist she liked: Bill Meek.  A glass artist from Houston, his piece “Catharsis” is in a sun room overlooking a piece by Jesus Moroles outside the building.

Speaking of which, the exterior of the Museum is as intriguing as the interior.  The walkway to the building includes a large, ringed fountain.




Off to the side is a large piece by James Surls, who graduated from Sam Houston State University.


With all the art hitting close to home, we decided to stray outside the box for lunch.  Thus we went to a Vietnamese Restaurant (literally called “Vietnam Restaurant”) in Corpus Christi.  This seemed like an unlikely pairing, but the food was truly good.  I (Megan) ordered the Vietnam Fried Rice, which was delicious; Alex had the Vermicelli Noodles with grilled chicken; and Professor Yawn had the restaurant’s signature “Hot Pot” which, after being slow cooked for 25 minutes was, indeed, hot!  And very good.  It was our favorite restaurant thus far in the trip.

Before leaving Corpus, however, we felt somewhat compelled to visit “Mirador de la Flor,” which is a memorial to Selena, the Tejano singer.  Selena was shot at the age of 23 but she sold more than a million albums in her short career and paved the way for other Hispanic singers.


And with that visit, we closed down our time in Corpus Christi.  Although “hooked” by the beaches, baseball, sea-life, and art, we had business in the Rio Grande Valley, so southward we roamed.

But not before getting drinks at Coffee Wave.  We cannot recommend this enough!  The coffee was good; the Mexican Hot Chocolate was excellent, even on a summer day; and the Chai Tea Latte was amazing!  And with that, we waved goodbye to Corpus Christi!

Valley Girls: LEAP Ambassadors take to the Rio Grande Valley

After enduring the journey of the LSAT two days prior, Megan and I were ready to go on a different type of journey, one that involves beaches, baseball and sun! We packed up the car and headed to the Lower Rio Grande Valley—with planned first-day excursions to Victoria and Corpus Christi along the way.

Arriving in Victoria, TX around noon, we drove through a beautiful neighborhood filled with mostly Spanish architecture before arriving at our lunch destination, “The Pumphouse,”a river-side restaurant.

We began our meal with Fried Jalapeno Mac and Cheese wrapped in bacon, along with Shrimp Kisses, fresh gulf shrimp stuffed with pepper jack cheese, a jalapeno strop, and also wrapped in bacon.

Our entrees were just a wonderful.  Professor Yawn enjoyed the fish tacos filled with mahi mahi;


Megan adventurously tried the Monte Cristo, with grilled ham and cheese and roasted turkey on toasted brioche with melted cheese and a cinnamon burgundy drizzle.  I, on the other hand, went for the ribeye sandwich, which was very tasty.

The restaurant is notable not only for its food, but also for its history.  The property was originally owned by the Republic of Texas and was signed over to the City of Victoria by none other than Sam Houston, the President of the Republic.  The property remained in the City’s possession for some 170 years, serving as the “pumphouse” to the City.  In 2010 it was bought by its current owners and repurposed to a restaurant.  We are glad it worked out that way.

Corpus Christi is known for its seaside location, with beautiful beaches and the nation’s 5th largest port (in tonnage).  We learned about both in our brief time here.

We began our field trip with what we hoped would be a leisurely stroll to the beach.  Turns out, while we were 100 yards from the seashore, we were quite a distant to a swimmable beach.  When we realized the actual distance, we tried Uber—which showed no available drivers—and then successfully hailed a cab.  It was a pretty beach and the water was nice…


…although after about 30 minutes of swimming, Alex felt something bump into her back.  The something was a jellyfish, and after that encounter, we noticed many, many more.  With that, we called it a day, and headed back to the hotel to prepare for the night’s activities.

Everyone knows summer in Corpus is beach-time, but it’s also baseball season.  Corpus serves as the Houston Astros’ AA affiliate, the Hooks.  The team plays at Whataburger Stadium—Corpus is home to the original Whataburger—which is very family friendly.  The stadium has a water park, a swimming pool, a rock-climbing wall, and a Whataburger restaurant.

Before the game began, we got a few pictures, one with the world’s largest statue of a baseball player…


…and one with the team’s mascot!


We also learned to keep “score.”  Keeping score is different than keeping up with what the score of the game is; it actually involves a series of notation identifying the play-by-play unfolding of the game. We learned the basics in the first three innings, watched the game and a spectacularly evolving sunset,


at which point we were joined by Shelby O’Brien.  Ms. O’Brien is a former Austin Intern for the LEAP Center, and now works in the District for Representative Todd Hunter.  She educated us with interesting information about the area and offered us valuable advice for future internships.  It was a pleasure getting to her know her while also learning more about the community.


As an added bonus, Derek Fisher hit a three-run home run in the 8th for the Hooks to win the game 6-3.

On the heels of victory, and eager to learn more about the legislative process—in the district and in Austin—we joined Shelby for dinner at a place she recommended: Water Street Oyster Bar.  It was as good as lunch!  We had Oysters Rockefeller and Shrimp Picayune for appetizers, and they were amazing!  The Picayune was interesting and confusing, mixing both cayenne pepper and brown sugar.  Professor Yawn ordered it at Shelby’s suggestion.  It was good to see Professor Yawn have the opportunity to try something new, since he is encourages us to try new things.  Apparently, he had also encouraged Shelby to try new things in Austin, as well, and now the tides had turned.

As for me (Alex), I enjoyed the Blackened Chicken Fettuccine filled with creole spices and topped with a garlic cream sauce, and Megan enjoyed fresh sushi.  Not only did we learn that Shelby had amazing taste in food, but she was a pleasure to talk to, and it was particularly nice that she accompanied us to dinner despite an intense and long day (beginning at 6am).

It was a long day for us, too.  But despite the late hour, we made our way by the original Whataburger for a quick photo of the only double-decker Whataburger in the world.