Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week’s postcard is from Luke, the blogger behind Backstreet Nomad (@backstreetnomad on Twitter). Luke grew up in Newcastle, Australia, and despite having some of the best beaches in the world 10 minutes down the road he decided to pack a suitcase for 6 months in rainy old England in 2010 to ‘study’ at Leeds University. This was the beginning of an inevitable passion that led him to work on a Canadian Summer Camp in 2011, at which he gave himself the name ‘Marlin’, despite his favourite animal actually being a turtle.
Hi Luke! Tell us about your latest trip…
Earlier this year my wife and I visited the US and on this trip we stopped at a country town in Texas called Bandera, the self proclaimed cowboy capital of the world. Part of my travel philosophy is to focus on the small places and experiences that people may often overlook. This was born out of seeing too many cabs through too many skyscrapers while cropping too many iPad wielding tourists from the frame. Bandera is certainly one of those unique experiences. It has a population of 857, which, I was told, remains constant because every time a girl gets pregnant, a cowboy leaves town. The town itself is very cute and quiet, with an otherworldly charm. Some of the shop fronts legitimately looked like they were from the wild Wild West. I honestly still can’t tell if these people are just stuck in the 1850s and never want to leave or if they keep up the novelty for the sake of the outsiders. More and more I am leaning towards the former.
That sounds really cool. How was the weather?
We visited in April and the weather was cool, but pleasant. It was cloudy most of the time and we got a few spots of rain but for the most part it was lovely and didn’t stop us doing anything.
Where did you stay?
The place we stayed was 100% the reason for choosing Bandera as a location to visit. We wanted a ‘real’ ranch experience and this seemed like the area to do it in as there are plenty to choose from. We stayed at Silver Spur Guest Ranch, a place which is essentially setup for people to come and experience ranch life, without all the hassle of actually owning or living on one. The guest house is quite large with the upstairs mainly guest rooms and downstairs a large common and dining area, fully decked out with longhorn rugs, skulls and a random assortment of tools from the 19th Century. We clearly visited in low season as there was only one other family staying there at the time, and all the hosts would come sit with us for meals. In fact it loosely had the vibe of a camp, but for adults.
So, what did you get up to during your time on the ranch?
Our days were spent horse riding through their acres of property, exploring the property on foot and just enjoying the rustic facility that they have built. There is so much to explore around their property. Evenings consist of what they call hay rides, which is a ride in a trailer (with hay for seats), being towed around the ranch to go feed the long horns and visit a nearby State Country Area followed by campfire and s’mores. One night we went into the actual town of Bandera. We found a bar called the 11th St Cowboy Bar which didn’t look like much from the front but round back it was absolutely monstrous! It had a large stage, a big dance floor and plenty of seats. Plus 4 enormous barbecues so you can BYO meat. Unfortunately Monday nights are quite empty: just 6 or 7 people ‘singing’ karaoke. Apparently on nights that are not Monday and Tuesday there will be 500 people here all dancing the night away.
What a fun experience – with the exception of the Monday night bar or course! What was your highlight?
Our last horse ride for our stay took us up the hill and gave a great view of the surrounding hills and valleys. This ride was excellent not just for the amazing views of the surrounding valleys and hills but because I was able to have a really good chat with one of the resident cowboys. It was great to hear his story, which essentially consisted of moving around a number of different types of working ranches before coming to this guest ranch. These people live and breath horses, and would not be seen dead without their cowboy hats and leather cowboy chaps. So essentially my highlight was experiencing the people of country Texas. Basically if you’re not a cowboy in this town, you must be a tourist.
So what did the cowboy diet entail?
All the food we had was cooked onsite by the resident chef. It ranged from French toast and pancakes to sausages for breakfast and for dinner the specialty was anything with their home-made BBQ sauce. Seriously. Texans know their way around a bbq sauce recipe, don’t even bother trying to make it for yourself (like I have since attempted). Just buy some, take it home and enjoy it while it lasts.
Were there any funny moments during your stay?
When ordering a drink at a small bar called Chikin Coop, the bar lady asked me how old I was (because I look very young for 25). I told her I was 25 and she replies in her super strong southern drawl “Well I’m takin’ your word for it”. Didn’t even check my ID, just happy that I look honest I guess.
And finally, do you have any advice for anyone planning a similar trip?
From the research I did online, it sounds like all of the ranches in the area will put on a good show. But if you do stay on a ranch definitely go and visit the town of Bandera as well and if possible, visit between Wednesday and Satuday when many people visit the town for one of the big cowboy nights at the bar. I really wish we could have stayed an extra night to experience the dance-hall style of the cowboy bar in full swing.