From the Windy City to the Breezy Coast
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AUGUST 21: So you have heard us talk about it many times, but one of the several reasons we chose to hit the road as full-time RVers was to be able to spend more time with friends and family. While we still don’t get to spend as much time as we would like to, we have probably doubled our time spent with family in the last few years. We are able to sneak away for visits on a last minute’s notice or plan stops to see them on the way to our next destination. However, not all of our family time results from our travels, often times they travel to us which is double the fun. We have been able to visit and spend time with friends in 8 states and family in 13 states out of the 18 states we’ve hit in our 2+ years of full-time travel. That’s certainly made our travels full of a lot of love, which is one of the three pillars of our blog name, See Simple LOVE. Our life and travels have all been good and made great with things like visits with family.
Shortly after we arrived in Texas last November, my sister who lives in Chicago was tentatively scheduling a trip to visit us during our year long stay in Port Lavaca. Originally she had thought a spring break trip would be in the books, but with school schedules and flight prices, the trip got planned for August instead. My sister, Krista, and our 5-year-old nephew, Ben, arrived in Houston via an on-time flight on Tuesday. Due to our up-in-the-air work schedule when she booked the flights, she had decided on a rental car to take on the 2+ hour drive from the Houston airport to our home “Charlie” in Port Lavaca. While Ben has quite a few traveling miles under his belt for a youngin’, this was his first flight. Like most, he was pretty intrigued boarding the plane and through take-off and landing, but wasn’t overly impressed on the time in between. I’m right there with you Ben. I absolutely love to fly, but sometimes the middle part is boring!
We spent the morning looking forward to their arrival. They pulled in shortly after 5 PM and we were greeted with hugs (aren’t they the best)! Even though we have been able to enjoy more time with family, it still isn’t often enough. It had been over a year since we had been together, which was a wonderful get-together in Ohio. The fall prior we were able to visit them in Chicago, which was full of lots of fun as well. So to put it mildly, I was pretty darn happy to have a week to spend with Krista & Ben. Jim, we missed you being here, but thanks for sharing your two favorite people with us!
We didn’t miss a beat and after dinner headed to the campground pool. I was surprised that it was locked, but lucky for us being an employee of the park, I knew the code to get us in. I simply figured someone had forgotten to unlock the pool as it had been closed earlier in the day for some palapa repair. The water was a little murky and that got us to thinking that maybe the pool was still supposed to be closed. Some others joined us, just when we were debating if we should actually be in the pool. I walked back to the RV to check my email and sure enough not long before, an email had been sent that the pool was going to remain closed until the next day. Yikes! Now not only did I had to break the news to Ben who was happy as a clam to be in the pool, but the other group of people who had just joined us for some pool fun. Talk about being a buzz kill! We finished off the evening with some fun games in the RV with Ben.
Wednesday morning it was back in the car for Krista & Ben as we headed toward Corpus Christi. Krista had requested a trip to the beach during here visit to Texas, being that it would be Ben’s first trip to the ocean. You all know by now that Russ and I never turn down a trip to the beach! Port Lavaca is located on the Gulf Coast of Texas and is only about 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico by way of the crow; however, to get to the Gulf beaches without wings or a watercraft, it is about an hour and 20 minutes. North takes you to the beach in Matagorda and South takes you to the beaches of Port Aransas with the in-between being barrier islands not accessible by roads. But head just a little further (20 minutes or so) South and you can be treated to the beaches of Padre Island National Seashore.
We arrived in the Corpus Christi area a little before noon and in need for a pitstop, not a Nascar-style for tire replacement, windshield wash and fuel-up, but rather for a bathroom break and lunch. However, I’m sure the windshield could have used cleaning too! Google Maps to the rescue for a nearby park, as lunch was to be made from a cooler of goodies in the back of the car. The name of the park was vaguely familiar and as we got closer, we realized it was located along Ocean Drive which we had driven on in a previous visit to Corpus Christi. It had caught our attention the first time as it is located waterfront right along the Corpus Christi Bay. It features a large playground, trails, and skate park as well as the exact things we were looking for - a bathroom and shaded picnic tables! So our pitstop was a bit longer than the typical 12-16 second Nascar pitstop along the track, but we were onto the National Seashore before long.
The drive out to the visitor center at Padre Island National Seashore is natural, wild, and untouched dunes. Being the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world, it is a wonderful natural place to enjoy. We parked at the Malaquite Visitor Center which was our first stop after suiting-up with our swim gear! While part of the reason for our selecting a beach trip for Krista & Ben’s visit to Texas was just that - the beach, the location we chose also gave Ben the opportunity to become a Jr. Ranger something he absolutely loved during an earlier trip this year for him to Mammoth Cave.
He decided he wanted to go swimming first, so to the beach we headed. After the initial shock of the ocean being salt water, rather than fresh water, he was game for riding the waves and digging in the sand. Ben is used to playing in the waves of Lake Michigan, but isn’t used to the water that splashes into his face being salty or warm. He had a blast and the warm water and sunshine made it wonderful for all of us. Russ was perfectly content playing the role of umbrella tender and embraced the shade it provided by flying through the pages of his current read. That is certainly one of his “happy places” and I completely understand as its one of mine too!
While one is never really ready to leave the beach, we were ready for one of our crew members to be inducted into a special group. Ben took his work seriously and completed his booklet on Padre Island National Seashore. Next step, was a few questions from one of the National Park Rangers on duty. Ben aced them and was sworn in as an official National Park Service Junior Ranger. He left with an official badge and a salute from us on his new Junior Ranger status. Great job, Ben! The only thing that would have made our beach trip better, was if we could attended a sea turtle hatching, but the public viewings were already done for the season.
We headed to the Airbnb we had booked for the night, located on North Padre Island. It was a condo complex with our 2-bedroom unit being on the 3rd floor, giving the adults in our group a little extra exercise and Ben too, but not sure he needed it! Instead of packing for the trip, Russ and I brought the hamper of dirty clothes hoping that what we might need would be in there. So first step was getting started on the laundry and amazingly it all worked out! After getting the laundry started, Russ and I joined Ben and Krista at the pool! We finished the evening off with some relaxing and an early bedtime for all of us.
We’ve haven’t used Airbnb a ton, but all of our experiences thus far have been great. We typically look for places that have a kitchen to save on expensive travel meals and this time the laundry was a bonus money saver! Speaking of money savers, if you don’t have an Airbnb account yet, we would love to offer you our referral link (www.airbnb.com/c/betsyg985) because friends don’t let friends miss a discount, plus we get some travel credits too which we promise you we will enjoy in your honor! You will save 4 Hamiltons once you book your first trip, that’s $40 you can spend on coffee or ice cream instead! If you book a trip you love, let us know about it as nothing beats a great getaway.
With a birthday only a few weeks away for one of the members of our group, our trip to Corpus Christi included an early birthday gift of a trip to the waterpark! Now don’t get me wrong all of us enjoy a nice float around a lazy river, but one in the group likes waterslides, wave pools and splash pads much more than the rest. Yes, Mr. Ben was only a few weeks from turning 6 and Hurricane Alley Waterpark was the way to celebrate. We got a heck of a deal with entry into the park being only $12 before Noon. Being thrifty travelers, we packed our lunch to eat in the parking lot prior to heading in before the clock struck twelve. Since aunts and uncles can be irresponsible, no one was forced to wait an hour before swimming. The pool crew was lucky they didn’t suffer the consequences of that decision. Slides were slid, wave pool waves were rode and trips around the lazy river were completed. Ben, thanks for swimming, splashing and racing down the slides with us. I’m staring to think that I want to go to a waterpark for my next birthday!
Without a doubt after a waterpark comes ice cream and definitely after a waterpark birthday celebration comes ice cream BEFORE dinner! Marble Slab Creamery was just the place, scooping small-batch ice cream, hand-blended with loads of mix-ins on a glassy white marble slab. I think all four of us created a blend to our liking and it was a much needed sugar rush after another day of play! Arriving back out our Airbnb home away from home, we were only out of our bathing suits enough to have some dinner. We had made our own ice cream concoctions, so why not make our own pizzas too. Then it was back in the suits to finish off the evening with a dip in the pool.
When Friday morning rolled around, it was time to say goodbye to the beach and the Corpus Christi area and head back to Port Lavaca. We fueled the car with gasoline and Russ and I fueled up with caffeine in the from of “The Undertow” one of our favorites from Island Joe’s. The Undertow is a layered double shot of espresso, cream and finished off with their homemade Mexican vanilla syrup. We may or may not have stopped there yesterday as well. Thanks for playing along with our love of coffee, Krista & Ben!
We took the scenic route home by driving up Mustang Island to the ferry in Port Aransas. We have crossed the ferry here before and it still is funny to us that the trip across is only a quarter mile and takes less than 60 seconds. We thought Ben would be amused by being in a car on a boat and he seemed to enjoy it. Maybe not as much as me, but what can I say I’m always on cloud 9 on a boat. Short as it may be, the ferry ride also provided a momentous event of our time in Texas - I finally saw a dolphin! Actually there were 4 or 5 surfacing in front of the boat on our way across the channel. If you think I get excited about being on a boat, you should see how excited I get to see dolphins and then sharks and whales just put me into a whole other enthusiasm category.
Once back on dry land, we set the GPS for Texas Lakeside RV Resort. As usual, Russ played the part of chauffeur and quickly adapted the route to my request to stop at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Ben loves turtles and we thought we might catch a glimpse of some turtles and other wildlife with a stop there. It would also serve as a good lunch break. You might remember we went there in March in search of the migrating Whooping Cranes who call the wildlife preserve home for the winter.
It was a bit more off our route than I had anticipated, adding more time to our trip back to Port Lavaca than would have been preferred by the Pilot passengers. We arrived, stopped at the visitor’s center to register and heading for some wildlife viewing. Our first stop was at the “Alligator Viewing Area” where we immediately spotted a gator.
We then proceeded to the picnic area and quickly learned that not only had my decision to stop here added more time to trip, but also about a thousand more mosquito bites. YIKES! Picnic lunches are a big favorite of mine, but they quickly become unpopular when there are swarming skeeters. Thinking things might get better when we spot some wildlife, we moved along down the road to Jones Lake. We reached the end of the boardwalk and find a view that is entirely blocked with tall swamp grass. Another negative mark on my idea. We turn around and move briskly with all appendages swinging wildly to avoid bites from those blood-suckers. With only one more area where I think we will see some turtles, I have my fingers crossed. Well, consider that strike three you’re out, but we did see some mating crickets and a blue dragonfly that Ben helped photograph.
Not all ideas can be good ideas, so thanks for playing along Russ, Krista and Ben. Then, I kid you not a few weeks later on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge facebook page, they posted this….
Not sure that would have solved the mosquito problem, but would have increased our likelihood of a turtle spotting. Oh well. About 45 minutes later, we arrived home to Charlie. And guess where we headed??? The pool with Mr. Fish, I mean Ben! We had a lovely time playing lots of games with diving rings with a 5-year-old who was really good at coordinating the rules. The pool was back open and back to its crystal clear and clean self. Dinner was a shrimp boil, but took patience by all of us eaters as it took an ever-loving long time for the water to boil. I mean it was a huge pot, but still, why? But we did fit in a lesson about what temperature water boils. Thought that would make you proud, Mr. Science Teacher Dad!
Saturday morning rolled around and it was time for Russ and I to go back to work for a few days. We had rearranged the schedule several times with Bob and Maria due to visits from both our families and our trip to Ohio. We were able to get several days off with Krista & Ben, but did have to work the weekend. Lucky for us, we work where we live and we were able to see Krista and Ben throughout the day. I even occasionally peeked at the pool camera to see Ben having a blast playing in pool with his momma! Plus, I was guaranteed to get a visit from Ben in the office once he realized that’s where you had to go to buy fish food. The fish in the catch-and-release lake in the middle of the campground definitely gained a few pounds while Ben was here!
Plus the addition of pool nightcaps were a nice way to end our mundane workdays, as we typically don’t do that.
Before we knew it, Monday rolled around and it was time for Krista and Ben to head back to Houston to be close by for their flight the next day. We squeezed in all the important things before they left the campground, pool time, a game of Stack Jack (Affiliate link. It’s a fun kiddo game, I promise!) and feeding the fish.
One last lunch together, this time at Taqueria La Finca which is about 3 minutes from the campground. We had yet to frequent the place and after we stuffed ourselves silly (those chips and salsa can really getcha!), we would be interested in a return trip! Good food, good service and the company was fantastic. Thanks Sis for treating us to lunch. We said our goodbyes in the parking lot and everyone but Krista settled in for a nap, Ben in booster seat in the car and Russ and I back home in “Charlie.”
We haven’t gotten to be physically present all of your firsts Ben, but love that we could be a part of your first plane ride, first trip to the ocean, first trip to Texas and first alligator and dolphin in the wild sightings! May the future hold many more adventurous firsts and we hope we can be part of many more of them. Krista, I am so thankful for a sister who shares a love of travel and takes the time to make it happen! Much love.