People head to Austin, Texas for all kinds of reasons.
Some come to check out SXSW, the annual music/technology geek-fest. Others want to listen to some live music in one of the town’s hundreds of funky music venues. Still others want a relaxing weekend in the nearby hill country–or to see if the town is really as “weird” as the rumors say.
We came for the bats.
Yep, bats. Those little flying rodents that inspire fear and disgust in most sane people.
But the bats are quite a draw in Austin. Somewhere between 750,000 and 1,500,000 Mexican free-tailed bats (yes, those numbers are accurate) have taken up residence within the city’s Congress Street bridge. Every year, between March and September, those bad boys take flight en masse right at sundown so they can go find some food. And every night, hundreds of people come to witness the spectacle.
My friend Susan and her family suggested that we all kayak down with Live, Love, Paddle, a local outfit that offers daily tours of the bat-flying. And despite the fact that their FAQ page says that, yes, the bats may poop on you (though our guide was quick to point out that they are much, much more likely to pee on you–he suggested that you never, under any circumstance look up with your mouth open), we decided we’d give it a go.
Sure, it’s kind of a weird thing to do (in keeping with Austin’s reputation, I guess) but it was a lot of fun. We threw the kids in the front of our double kayaks and paddled about a mile and a half down to the bridge. They occasionally even attempted to help move us forward. Those in the know tied some cans of beer to their kayaks, letting it drag through the lake water to keep cool, grabbing a new can when thirst overtook them. And once we got to the bridge, we sat and waited for it all to begin.
It was something. It was amazing, really. One of those things, in nature, that make you stop and revel in the wonder. (And understand why so many people stare up at the sky, mouths open and risk the taste of a little bat pee–it was just that incredible).
Alas, the photo does not do it justice. But right at sunset, the bats started making their way out of the bridge in a swarm in search of sustenance. They circled like a huge bat tornado and made their way across the lake and over tall buildings. The guide said that some would even make it as far as the coast before coming back to the bridge before dawn. And those bad boys just kept coming. Just as you thought there was a end to the swarms, a new group would come racing out from under the bridge.
But, with the kids starting to whine for sustenance, we only stayed and watched for about 15 minutes. But the mass exodus goes on for a good while after that.
So, yep, we came to Austin for the bats. We got to kayak on a gorgeous lake, check out downtown from a different vantage point and even managed to witness something pretty damn miraculous at the end of it all. And no one, not a one of us (well, as far as we know), got hit by any bat waste. All in all, I’d call it a win.
Photos courtesy of Susan Baker.