People & Culture:
I spent six weeks living and working in Laredo, TX. I will admit I had to get creative to keep it interesting at times, but I did truly enjoy myself. This southern international border between the United States and Mexico is a region hotly debated by many but in comparison only experienced by very few. Regardless of political stance, citizens of both countries live in extremely close proximity and interact on a daily basis. The culture of this region is undeniably different from the rest of America, however, it is a cultural region still just as valid as every other cultural region in the United States. The local residents I have met here are realistic about where they live yet they have treated me with the utmost hospitality and a respect that most critics of the border fail to mention. If you happen to make your way to this area here is what I recommend for a pleasant experience!
If you are just coming into town, don’t know your way around the area, and want to be well rested I recommend this hotel for lodging. Their location is in Northern Laredo right off of highway I-35 that feeds directly from San Antonio/Austin. Surrounding the hotel is a plethora of places to eat including fast food, sit down restaurants, HEB, and the Mall del Norte. The staff is very friendly and if you stay long enough they will get to know you on a personal level; as was my experience! Accommodations are optimal: the most bang for your buck. Cameras in the parking lot and around the hotel provide a satisfactory level of security.
If you are feeling more adventurous, take the Bob Bullock Loop from I-35 to Lake Casa Blanca between Laredo International Airport and Highway 59. The state park doesn’t offer much in hiking or biking trails but makes up for it in water recreation and lakeside views. Daily entrance fee is $4 per person and $18 per night for a campsite. Once inside the park be sure to grab a picnic table, fire up the grill, and watch the sunset over the lake fall into Mexico on the horizon. Don’t forget your fishing pole and I recommend getting on the water by renting a kayak from the local snack shop.
One of the most unique things I had the chance to do in Laredo was kayak the Rio Grande which serves as a natural border between the U.S. and Mexico. I had heard a few cautionary tales and read an article by NPR from 2013 about sanitation problems, but I decided to see for myself. I couldn’t find any outfitters in the area via google, so a quick Facebook search took me to Laredo Kayak’s page run by Ricardo. “Ricky” a local from Laredo and a U.S. military veteran gladly agreed to take me out on a half day trip down the northern part of the river. The river flow was surprisingly fast and it wasn’t very deep. The river’s depth ranged from three feet to no more than a few inches in some places.
I didn’t see any of the alarming sights they warned me about along the river such as drug trafficking, violence, animal carcasses, or raw sewage. To my pleasant surprise, we did see a diverse number of birds including several species of ducks, herons, and raptors. The highlight of the trip for me was watching an osprey fly right in front of us. The bird of prey held a fish in its talons as it soared up to a nest high above the river bank. We did not see a single kayaker, boater, or person along either side of the Rio Grande the entire four-hour trip. At the very end, we spotted a juvenile water moccasin laying on reeds that swayed in the wind just above the water. I understand the environmental health of the Rio Grande does not have the best history and this has created a negative connotation for the natural resource. I think it is important that people like Ricky become stewards of our most undervalued resources and try to change the way we value them. Conservation has to start somewhere and I am glad I could be a small part of it. There is still a long way to go.
When I remember, I pack a few frisbees in case I get the chance for a disc golf game. I’ve found this is a great way to enjoy some light outdoor recreation no matter where you are. Sure enough, I found a disc golf course at a local park in North Laredo. The course starts off by crisscrossing the park’s various hiking trails but quickly surrounds you with thick brush after a couple holes. I ended up losing a disc but still had a great time enjoy the surprisingly lush desert xeriscape contrasted with local art.
Continue along the Bob Bullock Loop around the Northside of the city and you’ll come to Texas A&M’s International University in Laredo. Most of the parking doesn’t require permits and there is a small green space in the center of campus designated for foot traffic only. Attend events to expand your knowledge base or interact with the student organizations to for cool activities. I tried an Elote-tostido (Corn & Chips) for the first time here and it was a delicious way to contribute to a student fundraiser.
This exhibit serves not only as a student environmental center, but a small zoo/aquarium open to the public. A great place for kids to interact with local flora and fauna that ditches the crowds and has a very cheap entry fee. Get up close in personal with snakes, turtles, fish, alligators, and even a bobcat!