Houston, Prepare for Re-Entry!

Trip Start Oct 24, 2010
Trip End May 10, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Monday, March 14, 2011

The next leg of our trip took us literally around the world. Our journey from Beijing to Houston (via Newark?) took us over 24 hours and threw us into a time zone 12 hours away. After four movies, one book and a few in-flight magazines, we arrived back on American soil with our bodies and minds utterly exhausted and confused. The uncomfortable cat naps that we managed to doze into along the way did little to make up for the night's rest that we had skipped.

We dragged our feet to the baggage claim area where we saw two familiar faces waiting for us with big smiles and open arms. It was Mama Grace and Papa Gino! They had flown down from Toronto to meet up with us during our three day stop over in Houston before we jet down to South America. Suddenly we forgot about our jet-lag and had a jolt of energy. Seeing my parents reignited the travel fever since this was the first time on our RTW trip that we had official travel buddies. We were excited to explore the city and taste the regional food that Houston had on its menu.

Houston is the fourth largest city in America so we had little time to waste. We hopped into the rental car that Mama Grace had arranged and drove to the hotel that Mama Grace had booked and graciously paid for. I gotta say, having your parents around makes traveling a lot easier. If we had arrived in Houston alone, our plan would probably have involved a crowded public bus, a lot of walking and a rude hostel with stinky sheets. Instead we got a personal SUV (when in Texas…), a bell boy to carry our bags to our room, and the most comfortable bed we had slept in months. It was a strange feeling to actually understand the language we heard around us - we had been struggling to learn so many new languages during our travels that we were not used to understanding all the ambiant words around us. That night Becky and I both fell right asleep with smiles on our faces; we felt a sense of home being back in a familiar culture and language. We also felt happy knowing that family was right next door.

The next morning Becky and I were up at 5:00am and ready to go. We stalled for as long as we could, then called the parents to see if they were awake and ready to get the day started. (Ha! And they thought they were going to get a vacation out of this!). We decided to try and fit all of the touristy things we wanted to do in the first day. The two main attractions in the area were the Houston space centre and Galveston beach. But before we whipped out our camera and hit the road, my belly was craving a big American breakfast - something you just can’t find abroad. Like a beacon in the distance, the GPS in our car read IHOP: distance 3.1miles ahead. We rolled in and took our seats. I am not exagerrating when I say that every other person seated around us was morbidly obsese....what is that saying, everything's bigger in Texas? Our waitress was very kind and smiled at us, flashing a full set of gold teeth. As she scribbled down our order and we noticed her blue painted fingernails were as long and sharp as talons. Our food arrived and we gobbled up a round of omelets and pancakes and washed it all down with what seemed like a liter of coffee. Mmmm… It may seem odd how much joy this breakfast brought me, but coffee is often the most expensive thing on menus in Asia so we rarely ordered more than one cup. The concept of a bottomless mug has not been grasped overseas. After mug after glorious mug of IHOP brew I was shaking all the way to the space center.

When we arrived at the Johnson Space Center we quickly realized that we were a little out of our age group. The place was an interactive playground for kids of all ages and their parents. Good thing we brought my parents along to chaperone. Since it was spring break, the place was packed with hundreds of families running from one exhibit to another. We walked around the space center taking in as many of the activities as we could before we ran out of steam. We read about the history of the American space program and got to explore some exhibits that showed the inside of the shuttle and international space station. I quickly realized that I would not do well as an astronaut considering some of the tight spaces that they have to live in (I developed claustrophobia after my sister locked me in the trunk of a car as a kid).

After leaving the space station we headed to Galveston for an afternoon drive along the coastline. We didn’t spend much time at the beach packed with spring breakers; I was eager to head back to the hotel and get ready for the "main event" aka the real reason that I had suggested a stopover in Houston: Texas BBQ.

That night we feasted at Good Co. BBQ. The joint was a simple cafeteria style restaurant that was exploding at the seams with character. We ordered up styrofoam plates of traditional Texas style ribs and brisket with a side of corn bread, beans and coleslaw. The tomatoey BBQ sauce was exactly what I was hoping for. We sat down around a communal picnic table and talked about our travel and how everything was going with the family. It was a great dinner but by the end of it Becky and I could hardly keep our eyes open.

The next day was dedicated to errands. We needed to replenish our packs with essentials that cannot be found easily on the road. Becky learned this lesson the hard way when I ran out of deodorant in rural India and only found something that claimed to be deodorant with a "sexy" scent. She had to live with my “sexiness” for the next month. Also, that afternoon the ladies decided to fit in a couple hours of pampering at the local nail salon. My old man and I took a seat at the nearby Starbucks and waited until our ladies finished with their “much needed” pedicures.

That night we had another great meal at a local Mexican restaurant called Cyclone Anaya’s in midtown Houston. Even though it was a Wednesday the place was packed. Luckily a table for four had just opened up and we were seated right away. We ordered up a set of traditional Mexican dishes and a round of margaritas that were the size of 7eleven BigGulps. After dinner we walked around the neighborhood in search of some dessert. At a local bar we saw some college kids playing a game of corn hole and eating some finger food from a bucket. We stopped to check out the scene when someone said “Want a crawdaddy?” My mom asked what a crawdaddy was and the table of backward hat wearing guys explained that they are seasoned crawfish. Then they proceeded to give us a tutorial on how to eat a crawdaddy. They twisted off the heads and sucked out the brains and “delicious” juices, then ate the mini but meaty lobster-like tail after dipping it in some seasoned sauce. If we hadn’t just finished a massive TexMex dinner we might had just pulled up a chair and ordered up a fresh bucket of crawdads for ourselves.

The next morning we took our time getting out of our plush bed, wanting to soak up the comfortable accommodations before we moved back into hostel dorm beds at our next stop in Lima, Peru. After an amazing lunch at a local New York style deli my parents dropped us off at the airport. We thanked them for their generosity - they had made our brief time in Texas extra special (grazie ancora, mama e papa! vi amiamo!). They suggested that we just come home early but we knew that there was a whole new continent waiting for us to explore. We had two months left to discover South America and we were going to take advantage of every day and see as much as we could!
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