Having parked for our first night in Amarillo’s Walmart, we tempted ourselves with the idea of another brief detour to Oklahoma, which would make up the 11th state we had explored. From here, we would then head south down the freeway to Dallas before winding up in Austin, which is where we catch a Greyhound bus to Durango, Mexico. The original plan was to drive the whole distance, but even Mexican-born Americans who had grown up in El Paso warned us that even they wouldn’t (in a van) attempt to cross the border and the surrounding areas that separate Mexico from the States.
“The police, the cartels, the locals… Anything goes, down there,” warned Juan, a mountain of a man who we would later meet in a car lot in Austin. As tempting as Oklahoma City sounded, we put on our sensible heads and decided we should give ourselves at least a week in Austin to try and sell the van.
And thank goodness we did. Within an hour of arriving, our advert was plastered all over Craigslist and Facebook ‘Buy and sell’ pages – and after numerous responses we went to bed convinced we would sell it for $3400USD, meaning we had only spent $300 for almost 7 weeks worth of accommodation and travel (ignoring gas costs). However, our optimism would be short-lived.
The first 7 ‘would-be’ buyers were put off by the Canadian plates, despite cutting the price by $1,000. We took the van to the Sheriff’s office and US Customs, who told us that we couldn’t get Texan plates on our travelling visas – and that we shouldn’t really be selling it (It’s illegal for travellers on an ESTA visa to make money within the country). We proceeded to visit the dodgiest looking second-hand car dealerships in town, with the rule that we should be scared walking into them. Hispanics baring gold teeth, with shotguns next to their computers and handguns in holsters, were our target audience. Here, we were told that our van had actually been listed as salvaged and rebuilt, and even the sketchiest dealers wouldn’t take it off our hands. On day 5 – having not really seen anything of Austin other than Walmart, Starbucks and three dozen car dealerships – we were told that the papers proving that we owned the vehicle were incomplete, and to complete them we would have to go back to Canada. Always do your research.
We slashed the price to $900, an absolute steal for anyone who trusted that we hadn’t stolen our van with the incomplete papers, and hoped that we could find some backpackers who wanted the van to either drive back up to Canada (where the plates would be at home); or down to Mexico, where anyone who was bothered by them could be bribed off. On day 8, we accepted the inevitable defeat and took $200 each to ‘scrap’ the van. I don’t believe the scrap merchant in his right mind would actually crush a fully-working van that still has hundreds of thousands of miles left to give – more likely he has the time to find an recently-immigrated painter-decorator who is in need of a van/a group of travellers who will take the van out of the States. This pleases me more than thinking that the beautiful van that gave us 10,000 miles of incredible memories has been turned into Coca-Cola cans; but I wish we could have ensured the latter ourselves. (Before they got cold feet about our paperwork, we found an Italian-Colombian couple who planned on driving down to Colombia; exactly the journey that our Chevvy deserved).
Oh well. We spent the remaining nights in Austin in Firehouse Hostel before catching our Greyhound to Mexico, finally.
Once the sun had gone down on the 9 days we spent here, we gave up trying to shift the van (apart from leaving a For Sale sign and our details on the dashboard), and explored the city at night. Austin has a huge reputation for live music, great food and modern art/architecture. A quick walk through 6th Street (the home of nightlife in Austin) would verify. Up and coming drummers sit with their kits on every street corner, and every bar has a live band playing either downstairs or on the balcony in the humid, desert air.
In terms of food, we parked just off Rainey Street, which had dozens of bars and food trucks hidden in bungalow shacks and caravans. You could get anything from Indian to tacos, fried chicken to Greek lamb, and if you leaned across from a bar to the window of a food truck you’d be able to enjoy it with a cheap(ish) bottle of beer. This area summed up what street food should look like, and would be well worth a visit for anyone heading to Austin, as well as 6th Street for pubs, clubs and everything in between. Locals were offended that we considered Santa Fe the home of barbecue food, and we checked out Green Mesquite on Burton Springs Road, which gave Whole Hog Cafe a run for it’s money, especially their pricing! I recommend a swim in the Burton Springs Pool just down the road before taking them up on the offer of a 3 meat plate for $10.99.
Other (nicely-priced) activities worth checking out: a free wander through the State Capitol building off South Congress- the intricate marble architecture would interest anyone with an eye for interior design; clambering over the brashly decorated graffiti steps of Castle Hill; and the Cathedral of Junk (a monumental sculpture, made entirely of salvaged materials, that sits inside Vincent’s garden at 4422 Lereina Drive). If you check out the structure, call ahead on 512-299-7413, give him a rough time of arrival and put some money in his bucket so that he can complete his creation. The sheer dedication that Vincent shows to his project reminded me of Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain.
Stay weird, Austin.