In mid-November, I connected Veterans Day, a Mexican holiday, and one day of leave to a weekend, which equaled five days off. I crossed the border and took another solo road trip, this time across Texas to San Antonio and Fort Worth. In San Antonio I visited the Mission San Antonio de Valero (better known as the Alamo), Missions San Jose and Concepción dating back 300 years, and the city’s famed Riverwalk. I actually liked the Riverwalk so much I went there both during the day and later at night – thanks to my awesome AirBnB tiny house hosts who let me know the city would be turning on the holiday lights my first full day in town.
After a couple nights I headed to Fort Worth to see my friend K, who had visited us in El Paso in May during a trip home to Arizona to see her parents. K and I served in Peace Corps Macedonia together 18 years ago, and lived near each other for a handful of years in DC after I finished grad school in Australia. She was also a bridesmaid in my wedding, but this is the closest we’ve lived to one another in years. V and I had stopped by her place on our way to Juárez during the pandemic summer of 2020, and I was determined to make it back out there.
There were a couple of times driving all day on I-10 east across Texas I should’ve stopped and taken a selfie in the epic vastness of the desert. Alas, I did not. Cognizant I had jumped a time zone, I was trying to race the autumn sun to San Antonio.
Growing up in California, the most I knew about the Alamo was that it had once been the stage for an epic battle, and Pee Wee Herman took a Big Adventure to see its basement when I was roughly in the first grade. But Texans know a lot more about it; we know about the 1840s Gold Rush, and they Remember the Alamo which was established in 1718.
“You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”Davy Crockett, who fought and died at the Battle of the Alamo (1836), to his Tennessee constituents who did not re-elect him to Congress in 1835
Visiting the Alamo was free, but required an online timed ticket reservation. I was glad I had one because it let me skip a massively socially undistanced line when I arrived. I thought I would wander around until my tour time started, but you can’t get into the grounds at all until your window.
When it was my turn I went inside the church (the main iconic building), and also saw the courtyard and Long Barrack, the latter being almost 300 years old. In one of its rooms there was a short film playing that outlined the history of the Alamo and the significance of the Battle of the Alamo. I had already read about that on the history wall outside, but the movie did a good job of explaining the politics and nuances easy to miss. The park also had a one-ton cannon from the original battle still there, sitting on a replica carriage, which was pretty astonishing. It was in good shape but also had been buried for some years.
Although it was smaller than I thought, visiting the Alamo was definitely worthwhile. I had to park in a nearby parking garage and walk. In modern times the urban downtown area that has sprung up around its stone walls features little parking. A good time to visit might be in late February or early March, when each year the Alamo commemorates the days leading up to the siege.
After I finished my self-tour at the Alamo, I went across the street to a visitor center to find a bathroom and stumbled upon an entrance to the Riverwalk (Paseo del Río). I ended up walking for a couple hours around its twists and turns, enjoying seeing people eating in sidewalk cafes and restaurants, ducks and their ducklings paddling on the river, and boats lazily drifting by. It was a warm day for November, but the shade and water made it feel refreshing. I didn’t walk the whole 15 miles of the Riverwalk, but I did enjoy being right downtown. It almost had a European feel, but with a strong sense of the U.S. and of course, Texas.
I had kind of a bittersweet feeling while I was strolling the Riverwalk, mostly because it would have been nicer to do with V than alone. And it was because I was alone and not speaking to anyone that I was totally engrossed in my surroundings.
Most people were not wearing masks. In fact, most people were not doing anything I was doing: walking alone, wearing a mask because of the crowded, narrow sidewalks, or eating AIP-compliant and having to carry all my food around with me because I wasn’t sure where to get something safe to eat. (V had generously sent me with a cooler of 3-4 pre-cooked meals and I had my usual snacks of plantain chips and fruit.) It was kind of like watching the world move on without you and just being a spectator, but I reminded myself this was at least a little self-imposed. I could have traveled with someone else, but that wouldn’t have prevented me from needing to be on a special eating plan, nor being immunocompromised and having to be so careful to not contract a virus.
In the afternoon, after returning to my tiny AirBnB for lunch, I picked the two closest of the four missions comprising the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park to go see. The foundation of the city of San Antonio originated with six missions the Franciscan friars started in the early 1700s. The agrarian mission communities were more than simply churches; they were intended by the king of Spain to convert native peoples to Catholicism and teach them to live as Spaniards in the long barrack rooms ringing the compound, thus helping to maintain Spanish control over the Texas frontier. Specifically the friars taught the Indians to blacksmith, weave on European looms, cut stone, and make shoes and cotton clothes. Unclear what, if anything, the Spaniards were willing to learn from the Indians though! Three guesses and the first two don’t count.
The afternoon was so dry, mild, and lightly breezy I almost felt I could’ve been in California. Most of the grounds that originally made up Mission Concepción have long since been parceled off to local and residential development, but it is still a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark.
Mission San Jose had hung onto its large surrounding property. It turned 300 years old in 2020 and celebrated its tricentennial, noting on its website, “For some, this is a somber time to remember the difficult changes that mission indigenous people underwent during the colonial period. For others, this is a time to celebrate excellent site preservation and our vibrant modern local cultures.”
Obviously, feeling oddly lonely at the Riverwalk didn’t stop me from going back as dusk fell. I was rewarded with twinkling holiday lights and a festive crowd all around. It felt good to be part of it, even if I had to wear a mask, even if I couldn’t have a glass of wine, even if I couldn’t wear my hair down as I would have preferred due to the damage it has sustained in the past months, even if I didn’t have someone to share the experience with. I wandered happily, taking photos and smiling under my mask.
For some reason, I later only took a handful of photos in Fort Worth, and none of K and I together. Hello?!
We went on neighborhood walks with her dog Bruce, got ignored by her mad cat Amos, went and talked outside to a couple of her neighbors, hung out in the backyard, watched a Cowboys game, went to Trader Joe’s and Sprouts Farmers Market to buy food to cook AIP-compliant dinners (she made us chicken and salad one night, and NY strip streak with shrimp and asparagus the next), and spent a lot of time talking. One of K’s closest high school friends M and I share a not-well known autoimmune disease, so K knew a lot about AIP already and some of the challenges I’ve been going through with my hair falling out and other symptoms. We also went to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, a beautiful and peaceful place for a walk.
It was a really great visit, I got a lot of great advice for some puzzles I was trying to sort out, and when I hit the road for my all-day drive back home to Juárez, I felt glad I’d gone. Another 1,424 miles on the VW’s odometer, and more clarity of thought about what was next for me.