Sunday, June 10, 2007

South Padre Island: A Primer

Mermaid courtesy of Sandy Feet

After reviewing where my traffic is coming from I found out that a whole bunch comes from places where I don’t have friends, such as Europe and Canada. If you read this blog you might think we’re headed for some kind of disaster! No way, South Padre Island makes for an incredible vacation experience and for the few like me, you might fall in love and want to stay here forever.

Sure, many people are now booking trips in cooler destinations such as Maine, Minnesota, and coastal West Coast for a summer trip. It can get 100 degrees F in Texas in the summer but South Padre is usually a dozen degrees cooler thanks to a sea breeze blowing over 80-degree water. If cooler is better, October and November is the slow season here but we also have the fall bird migration and possibly the best weather of the year then – plus all the rental rates are lower. In December the “Winter Texans” show up with a large contingency from Canada and the upper Mid-West.

But what’s there to do here? The fishing and birding is nothing short of spectacular, and there are loads of opportunities such as to actually feed giant sea turtles in captivity. The surfing is great spring and fall, punctuated by an occasional tropical storm in the summer. Yours truly here wrote that the body surfing and body boarding is probably the best anywhere, since the sandbars extend so far into the Gulf of Mexico.

What I do is surf when the waves are big and fish the surf when the waves are small. This is quite cheap and very fun, everything from small whiting to tarpon and large shark right here (no worries, no nasty shark incidents lately). On the bayside you might want the services of a guide to locate sea trout, redfish, or the mysterious snook; most half-day charters are $300 USD for 2-3 people for a half a day.

But wait there are quite economical excursions to view the bay dolphins, which are a different species from the ocean dolphins. Many have names and one named “Mikey” is a legendary fish stealer around the charter boats. Others excursions such as “Fins to Feathers” do much more personal trips for dolphin and professional birding; former President Jimmy Carter took this service and enjoyed it immensely.

Mexico: our area is the eastern gateway to Mexico. Passport and visa regulations seem to be in a state of flux, but my wife just loved her “girl trip” into interior Mexico on one of those huge touring buses. Sanborne Travel is highly recommended. They take very good care of you and it is completely safe – but as a word to the wise, do not eat the fresh goat cheese unless you know you can handle it. Otherwise, a walk across to Garcia’s over the bridge into Matamoros can be quite memorable.

The lower Rio Grand Valley also boasts tens of thousands of acres of nature preserves, many accessible and within and hour or two of South Padre Island. For those who rented a sports utility truck with big tires or four-wheel drive, you can drive over 20 miles of beach all the way to the Mansfield Cut, a pass that separates north from south Padre Island. The naked beach, if you are so inclined, is about 10 miles north of the last beach access headed north.

What do we locals do? We always have some madness happening like a fundraiser or a Saturday night at the only beachside club called Wanna-Wanna, with the jazzy horn band called the Bongo Dogs or a Jimmy Buffet band called the Beach Bums. Every once in a while we find some construction wood and driftwood and head out to the north end of the beach (outside Town limits) for a bonfire on the beach, which can be quite satisfying especially with a moon. Otherwise we locals are frantically trying to make money because you don’t make any in the off-season.

Oh, I forgot to mention building sand castles – we have several world champion sand sculptors right here on our island. The “will you marry me?” design is very popular.

Suggestion: book trips like Tuesday to Tuesday, mid-week. The reason is the weekends are be hectic during the peak summer season and we all stock up for the weekend and cook at home then to avoid the maddening crowds. Days during the middle of the week can be fantastic, with lots of “elbow room.”

No, it’s not the Bahamas or Hawaii, but it is a unique experience if your expectations are middling, and if the travel costs are reasonable. We’ve been to both hallowed destinations and we still live here, right here on South Padre Island. Come on down, as we say in Texas.


MLeahy said...

You just reminded me of why I like to visit, except for the large shark. The CVB should pay you for this piece, nicely done.


~melissa said...

LOL, what I wouldn't do to be on the beach down there! Yes, we have our lakes here and it seems everyone has a lake cabin (except me and my family because they have condos down there). I happen to like that hot sticky heat! Our Beaches, just don't compare.


Sam said...

Hey Melissa! The wind dropped recently so we're waiting for some sea breeze for sure. The surf is flat as a mill pond, so tell your dad the surf fishing ought to be great. I'm going to go for a fish-n-dip right now as a matter of fact. Best regards. /sam

Tom Andersen said...

Bongo Dogs is (are?) a band! Now I understand.