This post is written by Katie, about her solo trip to Houston to obtain visas for Brazil.
I had appointments at the Brazilian Consulate in Houston on Tuesday at 10:25am, 10:50am, and 11:10am to obtain visas for most of my RoboCup team and JT.
Since I did not want to drive over early on Tuesday morning, I decided to camp at Stephen F Austin state park on Monday night and then drive the remaining 45 miles to the consulate on Tuesday morning.
I left Austin around 2pm on Monday after stopping by the lab to pick up the final visa application papers from Patrick. I used Waze for the first time on the drive, and it proved helpful in notifying me of construction right before the park’s exit and changing my route to exit earlier and hence avoid the traffic.
I got to the state park at 4:15pm, and registered for site 93 in the ‘walk-in’ camping area (it was farthest from the bathroom). The park office closed at 4:30pm, so I wanted to arrive before then so I didn’t have to deal with filling out the ‘late arrival’ envelope (which is always a pain when you have a state park pass). I went to check out the site, and then decided to go eat before setting up camp and hiking (mainly since it was still lightly raining). I considered the Subway that was close to the park in a truck stop, but had a bad feeling about it after seeing it and finding out that they were out of multiple types of bread – so I drove 8 miles closer to Houston and found a Popeyes. Yay! My chicken tender combo was not very warm, but it was still good.
After eating dinner, I drove back to the state park, set up my Mountain Hardware Sprite 1 tent (that I borrowed from UT RecSports), and then went hiking. The trails ended up looking longer on the map than they were in reality, so I improvised and ended up covering a pretty substantial portion of their trails (~2.7 miles – RV bathroom to Ironwood to Barred Owl to Sycamore to Brazos Bottom to Opossum Loop to Ironwood). It was nice hiking on the almost empty trails – I only saw one other group during the entire hike. I did see many deer, toads, grasshoppers and rabbits. The trails were generally flat and wide, so I probably could have worn my tennis shoes instead of hiking boots.
After hiking I sat near the group dorm and picnic area near the walk-in tent camping campground and got out our new Chromebook to blog for a while. I was surprised that the park actually had wifi that reached beyond the entrance station. Some of my guide school buddies would not approve of bringing a Chromebook and blogging on a camping trip – but it was actually pretty nice. I even saw three different owls (and heard multiple more) while I was sitting on the bench!
Around sunset (8:30pm) I drove to the shower building and showered. I could not get the water to be cool/cold, so I had to take an uncomfortably warm shower. Considering the temperatures outside, I was hoping for a cool shower. Otherwise it was clean and nice. After showering, I retreated to my little tent to blog more and relax. I quickly noted that to avoid the two huge spider webs (both with pretty scary spiders in them) while walking from the road to my tent I had to first walk around a tree and then curve outward to my tent.
It was nice lying in the tent, looking at the stars, and listening to the frogs, insects, and owls. When I got up for the long walk to the bathroom around 1am I saw a skunk on the way back. It was also nice to have solitude while camping – there were only two other tents in the 25 site campground!
I slept well despite the loud noise from the frogs, insects, owls, and nearby train track. I used my new Therm-a-rest RidgeRest SOlite sleeping pad that I recently bought at the REI garage sale. I think I will be even happier with its performance when it is cold out, as reflecting body heat back to you is it’s main selling point. I awoke to the sun starting to rise around 6am, but waited for my alarm at 7am to actually get up. I packed everything up in less than 30 minutes, and then went to the shower house. I figured out how to get cooler water in the shower, so my shower was pretty refreshing. Then I dried my hair and put on some nicer clothing for my consulate visit.
I left the park around 8:30am. Waze said my drive would be 55 minutes and traffic was not bad so I stopped at a Chick-fil-a 3 miles away from the consulate for breakfast. The Chick-fil-a was actually really good. This was a pleasant surprise as other Chick-fil-as in Texas have been disappointing.
I was also surprised to find free garage parking when I arrived at the consulate. I waited in my car until 9:55am and then went into the building. After signing in with lobby security (and showing my drivers license), I went to the 11th floor.
My first appointment was not until 10:25am, but my first set of applications were taken when I arrived and the second set (10:50am appointment) was taken soon after. The second set came back pretty quickly, and the first set came back around 11:10am. I waited a bit, and then inquired whether I could submit the remaining two applications (11:10am appointment). They had forgotten I had these final two, and quickly processed them. All of the visas were done by 11:45am. Interestingly, the visas take up a full page in your passport and have your picture.
The drive back to Austin was pretty stressful due to heavy, intermittent rain showers. I actually had to get off at an exit and rest for a while when the visibility got too bad. I still got back to Austin around 3:30pm, unloaded my car, and unpacked (including hanging up the tent to dry on the tent handing nails we nailed into our ceiling).