Austin is not only the capital of Texas, but it is also the self-proclaimed 'Live Music Capital of the World'. It's also one of the fastest growing cities in the US and can indeed stake a good claim on being the most liberal city in the state of Texas (it was the only city that didn't vote Republican in the recent elections). The city has cut a swathe through traditional Texan conservatism and is a hot bed of liberal thinking.
This is a city where a humble salamander dictates the designs of city planners, where old world charm is far from deceased, where men go two-stepping in Stetsons, and where gay men from greater Austin and beyond gather to celebrate the start and the end of summer. This is Splash - the ultimate gay excuse for a party1.
Where it's At
Splash takes place at Hippy Hollow, Lake Travis in north Austin. To get there you'll need to get a car and drive. This is because public transport is a luxury which mainly services the university and Down Town, which makes owning a car as necessary to life in Texas as drinking water or breathing air. There are some bus routes to Hippy Hollow but don't expect a small queue on Splash days. Before the actual day it's best to check the Austin Capital Metro Website for ways to get there.
And you'll need to get there relatively early as parking spaces and good sun spots are usually all snapped up by midday. If you have come by car, you can expect to pay a $5 fee which entitles you to that precious space for the whole day. There are very few shaded parking spots, so it is best to either buy a screen or be prepared for a very sticky welcome on returning to your vehicle. When you leave the car, have a check around to make sure you haven't left anything behind as it's a little bit of a trek to Hippy Hollow and one you want to do as few times as possible in the searing heat.
Among the items you should bring, you should pack the following;
Alcohol - Bring some booze with you as you will be there most of the day. It is best to bring it in a cooler as there is nothing worse than drinking tepid beer under a scorching sun when all those around have remembered to bring ice and a cooler. There are two unwritten rules about bringing alcohol to Splash; the first is that no glass bottles are allowed in the area (due to bare feet, and barer bodies); the second is that the main Splash celebrations are on a Sunday and this being Baptist country, you can't buy alcohol before noon on the Lord's day.
Water - The importance of water cannot be stressed enough as it is not only exceptionally hot in Hippy Hollow, but you will also be drinking alcohol. You'd be surprised how quickly dehydration can occur under such conditions.
Towels - You will need at least two towels; a huge one to lie on and another to dry yourself down after a dip in the lake.
Sunglasses - Another 'must have' item, but the pair you take must be carefully chosen as they need to be comfy, offer good protection and also be cheap. If you decide to lounge on a lilo, you'll need good protection from the glaring sun, but your sunglasses shouldn't be too expensive as there's a good chance of them slipping off your nose and into the lake.
Sun screen - This is a Texas summer and the words used to describe the weather are hot, hot, hot. Common sense should tell you how much to take with you, how much to apply and how often.
Swimwear - Or not. Hippy Hollow is a nudist reserve too. The decision is yours...
Food - You'll want something to nibble - use your imagination, just remember that you have to carry it all.
Camera and Film - The one thing that surprised this Researcher (being quintessentially British you understand) was the amount of people snapping pictures of those around them, with or without their permission. Basically, be prepared to be fair game for someone else's photo album. Whose album? The mind boggles.
Hat - This being Texas, you need a Stetson, preferably white and made from straw to reflect the heat. Not only is this your chance to be an urban cowboy, it is also a sensible move as the cowboy hat was originally a practical hat designed to protect your face and neck from the Sun.
Spare clothes - Because once you've left the lake, you'll need your disco pants to go dancing in.
The items you should leave behind are credit cards and wallets (there is only one place to spend cash, so just carry notes) and any jewellery that you particularly care about.
Once you've got all your essentials together, you need to get them and you to Hippy Hollow.
The Walk to Hippy Hollow
The entrance is next to the vending trailer (the last place for water, food and rubber blow-up accessories). If you take the steps and head left, you'll see the lake on your right. You have a 1km trek down this path so it's best to make sure that you have everything you need - this is one walk you won't want to repeat. On this path you will pass two public toilets on your right (not for the faint of heart) and no doubt will see a lot of nude bathers. These coves are reserved for the straight bathers - Hippy Hollow is round the only bend on the path. You know when you've reached it; thousands of gay men can't fail to make a lasting impression on the uninitiated.
How do you know you're at Hippy Hollow? You know you've arrived when you see hundreds of toned, tanned and tattooed Texans liberally sprinkled on the rocks which descend into the lake. You will be dazzled by a plethora of rainbow flags, towels and piercings and countless boats moored facing the crowds of men gathered. Welcome to Splash at Hippy Hollow.
You want to head about 100m to the point of a little isthmus where you can get a panorama of the scene before you. Now is the time for you to prepare for a day of lounging, swimming, safe sun and watch the world go by. People watching is one of the raisons d'être of Splash; toning and tanning are among the most popular past times of a large number of gay men and most like to parade with pride. If you're in the mood, then indulge them, if not, kick back, relax, go for a swim, enjoy the music - basically, do whatever floats your boat.
Run out of beer? Fear not... If you're well prepared (as is the intention of this entry), you will have a little blue wrist band that you picked up the night before at one of the many bars around town that celebrate the Splash weekend such as Oilcan Harry's, Boy Cellar or the Rainbow Cattle Company. Wearing this band entitles you to free beer from the two promotional boats that pull up half way through the day - you'll recognise them as they are the only two-tier boats around.
Splash is a gay event but it is not exclusively reserved for gay men and women. People turn up with their parents, friends and colleagues for what is a truly great day out. Children, however, are not allowed to Hippy Hollow on Splash days.
You will need to wear sandals for several reasons; the stones get hot, the stones are sharp and more often than not the stones have dog poo on them. You also don't want to go to the bathroom barefooted...
Don't get on a boat unless you are invited.
If you own a boat, etiquette dictates that you should let people use your boat as a stepping stone if they are trying to get on land/another boat.
At the End of the Day
Once you've drunk your fill, and you've had enough sun and swimming to last a weekend, it's time to head off for one of the best nights in Austin's gay calendar. If you are unsure of which circuit party to head for, ask anyone around as the chances are they will have a mental list of who should be seen where. Most of all, have fun.