Friday, July 3, 2009

Kayaking the Buffalo Bayou. Houston, Texas.

Why You Should Practice Getting In Your Kayak While In Shallow Water!

It took me more than a little convincing to get my friend Ovidiu to commit to taking the kayaks down a slightly unorthodox waterway. Rather than drive a few hours to the crystal clear waters of the Comal or Guadalupe Rivers in the hill country, I convinced him it would be fun to course down the twists and turns of the murky Buffalo Bayou as it winds it's way under major interstates and past huge skyscrapers in Houston, Texas. Here's Ovidiu before we put the boats in the water beneath the Waugh Street bridge on Allen Parkway.

It was difficult making our way down a steep, grassy incline to the concrete beneath the bridge. At 8:30 AM the heat was already creeping upward. July heat in Texas was the main reason Ovidiu was not on board 100%, and he was correct. It was stifling. Still, we managed to get down to the water and scout a suitable launch site.

It required two trips to make the very short portage as the hill was steep enough to require teamwork carrying the boats. At the base of the hill we made sure the water bottles, vehicle keys, and camera were all safely in plastic bags and well secured in the hatch. Entering the kayak took a bit of skill and a lot of nerve and balance. In the image it appears that the water rides up to the concrete but in reality it was a drop of a foot or more, so we stood on wobbly concrete blocks just past this bridge support to enter the boats.
As one of us held our kayak steady and moved out over the boat the boat slipped away from the docking area and that certain person basically did a one-way trip into the drink. (And drink this water you DO NOT want to do!)
Scrambling on the rocky surface below the water, spewing the brown liquid out of his mouth, this person had the unfortunate task of climbing the slick stones and finding the strength to pull a water filled kayak from the bayou for a second attempt! Darn.
Now I don't want to tell if it were Alan or Ovidiu that took a dip but I will confess that the clumsy oaf's name begins with a vowel!

The Rest Of The Story

It actually is rather worse than you have so far imagined as I must also confess that we decided to enter the bayou beneath the Waugh Street Bridge. Readers of the blog should remember that this bridge harbors 250,000 bats beneath the structure, all crammed into the expansion cracks... living, loving, pooping.
Look back at the above photos and notice the brown coating on the concrete below the bridge. Bat poo. Guano. Great fertilizer. Not so great when it coats the very rocks you are trying to scramble upon to get out of the tea-colored water that has been infused with the crap of a quarter-million bats!

This little fellow had a worse spill than me. Nearby signs warned 'Do Not Handle Grounded Bats'. I like that, grounded bats. Like I had to be told. They had no sign warning that swimmming in a bat crap soup would be a bad idea so I suppose I am OK.
The worst part of the ordeal is that the camera, though sealed in a plastic bag and seemingly totally dry, would not function. Somehow the tiniest drop of moisture killed it. So while the views were stunning I have nothing to share.

How To Cool Off After Swimming In Warm Guano Soup

Worst of all we have no pictures of the even more outlandish happening later in the day. After several hours of kayaking the temperature had soared to perhaps 100 degrees, the sun beat down on our skulls, and the water bottles ran dry. So we docked at Sesquicentinnial Park in downtown Houston, built in 1986 to celebrate 150 years as a state.
Getting the kayaks up the hill was hot and difficult, especially after I... I mean one of us, had fallen in the bayou.
Lugging the kayaks up a ramp to street level I told Ovidiu "I hear a fountain". This area of Houston is incredibly lovely. Across the bayou the Aquarium Restaurant with it's waterall and ferris wheel can be seen. Skyscrapers tower above the streets a block away. Bayou Place and fancy theaters surround the park, which also features an amazing series of waterfalls from street level to the bayou walkways. Cold, clear, running water.
"I'm getting in there", I warned Ovidiu.
For a moment he looked at me dubiously but before my tennis shoe had touched the bottom of the pool he was in too. We found a spot where the water fell several feet, cool and pounding on our hot necks and heads, and we lay back and relaxed.
The only nearby person, a homeless man, looked at us, smiled, and strangely he took out, of all things, a cell phone. He snapped our picture and called a friend to tell them of the crazy men in the fountain, all the while lending support for the idea with a thumbs up and a cheer.
So picture us, two grown men, lounging in a fountain as a hundred feet away traffic speeds by on Bagby Street, fancy women in expensive dresses enter restaurants, theater managers sit in their office scheduling upcoming ballets and symphony performances.
I don't really mind the dirty dip, but the day was tinged with regret over the camera debacle. Like all good pain in the butts, as soon as I arrived home can yuu guess what the camera did?
It stuck it's tongue out at me, said "Nana nana boo boo", and whirled to life.
I hate you Kodak!

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Douglas July 4, 2009 at 5:20 AM  

Bravo! Or maybe "Holy batshit, Batman!" As a guy whose camera failed him on his trip through the Battleship Park (because the memory card somehow got dislodged), I join in your harangue at Kodak.

Cora July 4, 2009 at 9:40 AM  

UGH! I do not envy that swim you-- I mean one of you *wink*-- took in the bat poo soup there, my friend. *shudder* Still, it gave you a GREAT story to tell!!

Alan July 4, 2009 at 9:51 AM  

Douglas, or shall I say Boy Robin, thanks for the sympathy on the camera. Not as bad as the time I lost 200 images of my brother-in-laws's visit just before he passed away. Devastating. That also was a memory card issue.

Alan July 4, 2009 at 9:54 AM  

Cora - The best travel stories are always the ones that wern't so fun when they were happening it seems. Still, I am not so sure I want my entire trip to be composed of such mishaps and misadventures, lol.

Mark,  July 6, 2009 at 9:44 AM  

To the Bat Kayak! Wham! Boffo! You even had one of those Bat-signs which states the obvious: "Do Not Handle Grounded Bats". What a remarkable adventure!

Alan July 6, 2009 at 9:54 AM  

It just didn't taste remarkable!

Adorabibble July 8, 2009 at 12:12 AM  

well silly man what did it taste like?
scratch that I'm not sure I want to know..
I hate technical difficulties.
glad you are okay, hang in there.

beth July 8, 2009 at 10:48 PM  

Waiter, there's a bat in my warm guano soup. Holy crap (haha) Alan! Someone out there must've gotten a clip of two crazy kayakers rinsing off in the fountain. I bet we'll see you on youtube in no time :)

Alan July 9, 2009 at 10:36 AM  

Adorabibble, Andrew Zimmern drank cow urine on TV the other night. Ugh! My bat poop soup was involuntary. Honestly it tasted like swampy water. Alan

Alan July 9, 2009 at 10:36 AM  

Beth - My camera being broken I actually wish someone had filmed us!

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